I’m going to be brutally honest here… My husband has been wanting to go to Cuba for 2 years… really since Obama lifted the embargo. Personally, it wasn’t on my radar. I did NOT care one bit about going to Cuba. We live in Miami for crying out loud – where EVERYTHING is Cuban. For me, I just wasn’t feeling it… and my main reason was because I knew that we weren’t going to take our little girl. She’s almost two and this was the first time in her whole life where we’ve been apart for longer than a few hours. To say that I was having separation anxiety is a HUGE understatement. I cried for days leading up to us taking this trip. DAYS. Her grandparents were keeping her at our condo. I knew she would be in good hands and be completely spoiled for 4 days. (We’ve since had to re-learn the word NO! I suppose that’s what grandparents are for!) The closer and closer the trip got, the more and more I prayed for peace of mind… I knew deep down inside that we needed this little get-a-way just the two of us, but the thought of leaving my baby was almost paralyzing. I know – I’m super dramatic. I can’t help it. Once we got there I was fine…It’s amazing what a little coconut and rum will do. Around day two my anxiety lifted and I was truly able to enjoy this time with just him. It ended up being one of our BEST vacations.
Actually, I’ve decided not to use the word ‘vacation’… we’re going to call these “Life Experiences” from now on because we come back home more tired than before we left. When traveling with Omar there is very little time for relaxing. We have to cram as much stuff in to our allotted time as possible! And this trip was just that.
Below is an outline of what we did each day on our trip. If you get the chance to go to Cuba…. GO!!! It will not disappoint. The people are super friendly, it’s fairly easy to get around, and the beaches are some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. I will be honest and say, I wasn’t too impressed with the food. We had a couple of REALLY good meals and a couple of not so good meals… Being a big foodie I was a little disappointed in the food scene. Everything else exceeded my expectations!
Here are a few things to remember in planning your trip:
- Don’t go to Cuba if you think it’s going to be a “cheap” vacation. It is in fact NOT a cheap place especially if you like to do excursions and touristy things. If you’re American, you’re going to lose money and your credit cards will NOT work (at least that’s what we were told). For example: if you exchange $100 you’ll get 87 CUC back.
- Cuba has two currencies – one for the citizens and one for the tourists. Make sure your money has the monuments on it!
- If you want to stay in a 5 star hotel, (which I 100% recommend – I like to be comfortable and have amenities when I travel. Yes, my husband rolls his eyes, but agrees and accommodates me!) stay at the Iberostar Parque Central!!! It was wonderful and the staff was exceptional – always very helpful with any questions we had.
- You most likely will not have wifi unless your hotel offers wifi cards for you to purchase. We bought wifi cards each afternoon (so I could FaceTime baby girl). It cost us 2 CUC for each card. On the other hand, it was liberating being somewhere and knowing you couldn’t get on your phone every place you went. We needed that break!
After a 20 minute drive from the Jose Marti Airport in Havana we arrived at our beautiful, 5 star hotel in the middle of Old Havana – the Parque Central Iberostar. Our room wasn’t ready, so we threw our luggage in a holding room and asked for a driver to take us to the BEACH! We had been watching the forecast all week and Wednesday was the only day of nothing but sunshine (according to the weather man)… before leaving for the beach our driver dropped us off at Francesa, a cute pastry shop for a little cafe cubano and a cinnamon roll! Twenty minutes later we were walking on the Santa Maria del Mar Beach. And let me just tell ya…. this beach did not disappoint. It was absolutely BEAUTIFUL! Crystal blue water, a perfect sandy beach, and the BEST part was the waiters that brought whole coconuts with the top cut out and rum to pour in to it. They would politely tell you to suck some of the coconut water out so there was plenty of room for rum! I’m not a rum drinker at all, but this Havana Club Rum was AMAAAAAAAZING! (Side Note: It’s not a good liquor to drink too much of because when you mix it with the coconut water, you CANNOT taste the rum. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.) I refuse to say how many we had. 😉 Not only did the waiters bring rum, you could also order food too. Omar saw a group of people eating lobster and said, “We HAVE to have some of that!” Delicious and fresh from the ocean LOBSTER?? Sign us up!!! It was served with rice, plantains and veggies. Such a good lunch!
For dinner that night we had a restaurant in mind that we wanted to go to (Van Van), but our bike taxi guy suckered us into going to another restaurant called El Guajirito. The service wasn’t very good and neither was the food. We were super disappointed to say the least. I ordered the Seafood Paella and Omar had the Picadillo (his favorite Cuban dish!). My food was super salty and his really didn’t have much flavor. It was a sad dinner compared to our lobster on the beach for lunch.
This was the day we did NOT sit still. Omar kept us on the go the WHOLE ENTIRE DAY! Thank God for Cuban coffee!!! We took an old car tour throughout Havana (SO MUCH FUN!) and saw the following: (This tour costs 35 CUCs per hour.)
- Revolution Plaza which occupies the Hill of the Catalans, National Library, Ministry of defense, the National Theater, Sports History Museum, and several monuments including a monument of Jose Marti (a Cuban hero who freed Cuba from Spain) and large portraits of Cuban Revolutionaries Che Guevarra and Camilo Cienfuegos. It also has the Palace of the Revolution, Ministry of Interior, and the Ministry of Communications.
- Fusterlandia: artist Jose Fuster turned a neighborhood into a beautiful open air museum of his mosaic artwork. This area had a lot of cute shops with homemade souvenirs and art pieces. We bought Gaby the cutest little baby doll from here along with some maracas.
- Parque Almendares: a beautiful park that sat along a river and had big, beautiful very unique looking trees.
- Castro’s Compound: we couldn’t see his house, but you saw his land (where it started and ended) cameras and guards were everywhere! No pictures were allowed.
- The City of Miramar: where all the big houses in Havana are located.
- Columbus’ Cemetery: we actually didn’t go in to this area, just drove all around it. It was HUGE.
- And last, but not least we saw all of the different foreign Embassies.
We went to dinner and a Cabaret at the Buena Vista Social Club and witnessed the sounds of the Legends of El Guajirito, an Afro-Cuban group; we had a 4 course meal – Cheese plate, Vegetable Soup, our main entree was Swordfish with Saffron Rice (you had a choice of beef, chicken, or fish), and Tres Leches for dessert. The Cabaret was SO MUCH FUN! The music, singing, and dancing was engaging and so beautifully done. We LOVED how they interacted with the crowd. It was a perfect night! I would 100% recommend this to anyone visiting Havana. You will not regret it! (Dinner and the Cabaret was 60 CUCs per person – totally worth the money.)
We spent the morning touring around Old Havana and exploring a few more things we wanted to see. The guy that drove us to the beach on Wednesday also drove us around to these last few places. He was such a sweet guy! We were so thankful he was with us because had he not been we would’ve had a really hard time finding the Chocolate Museum! Yes, Havana has a CHOCOLATE MUSEUM! I’m not really sure why they call it a “museum”?? It was more like a chocolate shop. This is in a super touristy area so be cautious! People are trying to sell you anything and everything. We made the mistake of taking a picture with this lady dressed up in Cuban wear (see photo below) and afterwards she said, “5 CUCs, please.” We just looked at each other, rolled our eyes, gave her the money, and refused to speak to anyone else trying to sell us something. We only tried a few pieces of chocolate while we were here. We thought about taking some back to the hotel, but because it was 1000 degrees outside we were worried it would melt before we got back. A taste of a couple pieces was just enough!
We also went by the Plaza de la Catedral. I’ll be honest, this wasn’t exactly what we were expecting, but it was cool to see! Cathedrals in Europe and cathedrals in Havana do NOT look the same! This was more like a courtyard to me.
Havana has a smaller replica of the Jesus statue that Brazil has… so, obviously we had to go check it out! I’m so happy we did because it was here where we saw a family from BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA (where I’m from). We saw one of their kids wearing a t-shirt that said ROLL TIDE, so we had to ask where they were from! It’s a small world, people!
After all of our touring for the morning was done, I had to sweet talk my hubby into taking me to the pool for the afternoon. This girl needed some time to RELAX! Our hotel had a beautiful rooftop pool where you can order food and drinks and enjoy the SUNSHINE!!! They also have live music! We ordered burgers and fries AND a strawberry daiquiri for lunch at the pool. I won’t lie when I say this was one of our favorite meals on the trip. Seriously, DELICIOUS.
Later that night we went to the Jazz Cafe and listened to some of the BEST music we’ve ever heard before. Cesar Lopez Havana Ensemble performed, but the group that performed before them was, in my opinion, SO MUCH better. They could sing, let me tell you! And they way they danced and interacted with the audience – OMG!!! I LOVED IT!!! They charge 10 CUCs per person, but this included 2 drinks per person as well. Because we weren’t super hungry, we just ordered a couple of appetizers here. The food was pretty good… but the drinks were SO strong, I couldn’t drink mine – light weight, I know. Thankfully they had wine! 🙂
We spent the day walking to nearby areas that only took a few minutes to see and you didn’t need a taxi or bike taxi! We walked into El Floridita – which is known for their daiquiris and this is where Ernest Hemingway hung-out. This is a huge tourist spot and absolutely no where to sit when we walked in… so we didn’t stay for very long.
El Malecon – is a sea wall and roadway that stretches 8km along the coast in Havana. It is GORGEOUS! In one direction you have El Morro (a fortress guarding the entrance to Havana Bay) and in the other direction you have a beautiful city view over looking crystal blue waters. Super romantic!
Later that evening we had dinner at A Prado y Neptuno (a block from our hotel) and had a super delicious lobster dinner……..THEN…….My sweet husband took me to the Ballet!!!! Neither of us had ever been to a ballet, so it was a very special time to share together. It was the icing on the cake that made a perfect ending to our trip! The theater where the ballet is is absolutely BEAUTIFUL. The architecture and elegance of this place was one of my favorite things we saw. Only one weird thing about this place – a man sat outside the restrooms with a little table that had toilet paper on it for you to grab on your way in to potty… I didn’t really understand why?! The bathrooms were updated and clean…just not so sure why they didn’t put the toilet paper in the stalls? Other than that – the ballet is a MUST see if you go to Cuba! My absolute FAVORITE FAVORITE FAVORITE part of the trip was when we got home and my hubby surprised me with a gift he bought for me on our trip. I’m not sure where I was when he bought it… and this may sound totally cheesy, I don’t care… but it meant the world to me. Normally when my birthday or a holiday rolls around he takes me to one of my favorite stores and lets me pick out whatever I want… which is fine. I love that. BUT… coming home and being surprised with a gift that he put a lot of thought into and knew I would like…something that HE PICKED OUT… Ahhhhh! MEANT-SO-MUCH. Just when I think he never really listens to me… I know he hears me, but I question, “Is he LISTENING?”…he SHOWS me he is. Actions always speak louder than words!
To my husband, the love of my life: THANK YOU for yet another absolutely wonderful “Life Experience”. I can’t imagine doing this life without YOU. ❤
Random Pictures that have no rhyme or reason!
Our first bike taxi ride…
Me…just being weird – as usual! If you get the opportunity…. GO to Cuba!!!