After years of dreaming and months of planning, I was finally here listening to a live Reggaetón band, with a beer in hand and gazing at the night sky. It was at that moment that I realized what I had done, I was in Havana.
Havana saw the majority of its construction in the 1930s due to the rise in tourism. During the 1950s Havana attracted over 300,000 tourists including Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway wrote many famous novels in Cuba and lived there for the later part of his life. However, life in Cuba got pretty difficult after the1958 weapons embargo and the 1962 blockade by the United States. Today, Havana is still affected by these events as the streets are riddled with dilapidated buildings. Cuba has since done restorations to many of their buildings and more are expected to follow as tourism continues to grow.
After restrictions were eased in 2014, more and more Americans started to visit Cuba. Since then there have been rollbacks to the changes made in 2014 which has made it more difficult to visit. However, it can still be done. Several airlines still visit Cuba that sells Cuban visa’s.
Here's a list of things that can help you secure entry into Cuba if you are a U.S citizen:
- A Passport (Passport card is not sufficient)
- Passport should be valid for 6 months after your return.
- An empty passport page for your Cuban stamp. Although it's not mandatory, it does make a cool souvenir.
- Have a valid reason to visit Cuba. You will be asked to fill out a form at the airport with your reason to visit.
If you want to avoid the above hassle, try traveling through Mexico or Canada to Cuba.
Things to know before visiting Cuba
Once in Cuba, go ahead and exchange your currency. It’s time to explore! I took a taxi to my accommodation that I booked with Airbnb. However, many Casa Particulars have walk-in rooms available if you truly want to immerse yourself into the Cuban experience. I decided to stay in Havana as I wanted to be close to the action. The taxi was $25 CUC and took around 30 minutes. My Airbnb was located along El Malecon, where I spent many nights partying in the streets with locals. I can remember it as if it happened yesterday, drink local rum and having great conversations. I even played a lookout a few times as they swam along the pier. (It’s illegal, please don’t attempt!) The people are kind and welcoming and will encourage you to let loose and have a good time.
In the afternoon, I visited Plaza Vieja (Old Havana) and scurried the streets in search of a local meal. The first stop was Taberna de La Muralla. A micro-brewery in the heart of Old Havana that which is known to have one of the best Cuban sandwiches. At nights, the streets come alive with music and performances. If you're with a group, try a beer tower and let the melody of the night pass you by.
If you looking for more attractions, wander around Havana. The area has some of Cuba’s most notable attractions, this includes The Naked Lady Riding, Armas Plaza, and Cathedral Square. Also, nearby is the Capitol building and central park. A great way to See Havana is using the Havana bus tour. It covers the major attractions all for $10 CUC. If you have a little more cash to spare, spring for a tour in a classic Cuban car. (Daily rates are negotiable)
Cuba has a great nightlife. There is an array of bars to visit and party with the locals. Start the night at La Bodeguita del Medio and have a refreshing mojito. El Dandy is a local favorite, and you can have drinks with Mr. Hemmingway himself at LA Floridita Bar. Hemmingway visited the bar so often that there is a bronze statue of him inside. For a great experience, take the Hemmingway pub tour, or to save money, visit the establishments on your own.
My Airbnb host was the highlight of my trip. My host emphasized the importance of enjoying the moment, which helped during the hassle that comes with site seeing. She also made breakfast at a cost of $5 CUC and translated for the most of my trip. Overall, I felt like I had the true local experience, which I would not have received at a hotel! I was even invited to family dinner on my last night in Cuba! (What a great experience!)
There is something in Cuba for everyone! Throughout this trip, I only scratched the surface. I hope to return before modernization takes over and Cuba as we know it, loses its charm. After my experience, I can now describe Cuba as a place frozen in time where simplicity is king.
Editors Note: Opinions expressed here are the author's alone, not those of any parties mentioned. None of the entities mentioned has reviewed, approved or endorsed the content listed in this post.