I have to start off apologizing for being absent from the ‘blogosphere’ for the past week. With work travel, personal travel and well, just life, Sarah In Style had to take a ride in the back seat. Nonetheless, I am back, and ready to write!
With that being said, a few weeks ago I shared with you my initial thoughts of Cuba upon my return back to the good ole U.S.A., so now it’s only fitting that I share with you all of my tips, trick and recommendations, should you take your own journey south. While I know not everybody will be able to make it, especially with the changes to the travel ban, if you can, I hope this will help make your trip one that is full of culture, good food, great scenery and memories you can carry (maybe in an old car!) for a lifetime.
- Pack light, but pack smart. Within one hour of landing I talked to three people whose bags had been lost. Not by the Cuban airport, which is reassuring. However, Cuba is not a place you can easily restock what you packed. Finding clothes and toiletries is almost impossible and you don’t want to run the risk of having to do it. I took the chance and was okay, but I would not go that route again.
- You will sweat, so you will need enough clothes to not scare away the new people you meet.
- You will want to change throughout the day, but you won’t need any overly dressy clothes. For girls, a nice dress for dinner is perfect. Guys can get away with nice shorts and a collared shirt. And girls, you won’t need heels! The streets are dirty and uneven and you will just risk injury to yourself or your beautiful pumps. If you want something dressy consider a wedge, but you will be fine in sandals…even if you go to the club.
- Don’t wear flashy jewelry. While the country is very safe, the locals don’t wear flashy pieces and it will make you stand out. My host even advised me not to wear my gold watch. The simpler the better. Plus it is HOT, so you won’t want a ton of jewelry anyway.
- Bring your own water filter. Use this wherever you stay, and even to brush your teeth. (I thought I would be okay brushing with their water and had some major tummy issues for a full week. You don’t need more detail, trust me.) Drink bottled water when you are out, and use your filtered water to refill the plastic bottles you buy. That will help cut cost on bottles you have to purchase.
- Take more money than you think you’ll need. You will need to take only cash with you, since you cannot use American cards in Cuba. (I took one just in case I had to use it over the internet for an emergency.) The recommendation is about $100 per day. Keep in mind that shows and tours can add a good amount to that. Figure out what “excursions” you will do before going and the cost of those, so you have enough. Better to take money home, than wind up with none there. For the seven days I was there, I spent about $600, not including my flight and accommodations, which were paid for before hand.
- Exchange as much as they will let you at the airport (ideally a couple hundred) to get you through the first couple days. Exchange the rest at a hotel or a CADECA (you can ask the locals where they are, but be sure they don’t sway you elsewhere). A bank will take forever. I learned this the hard way. I tried both a hotel and a CADECA and it was much quicker.
- Bring a safe or luggage lock, so you can keep your extra cash, valuables and passport safe at your choice of lodging.
- Practice Spanish before you go, and take a translation book. Having been to Spain last year I thought I would be okay in Cuba. I was wrong! Something about their language is different and I was lost. I would have been fine had I brushed up on my basics before I left. You will want to interact with people, so you will be glad to have less of a barrier.
- Take snacks and Tums/Rolaids. You will find out quickly you cannot easily buy a typical snack. You want a protein bar or a candy bar, you won’t find it. You likely won’t need it, as I never was hungry enough to want more snack, but in case your stomach gets back like mine did, a comfort food from home would be good. That is also where the Tums/Rolaids comes into play.
- Real Havana by Mario Rizzi. Before you go, read this book. The information was wonderful to have. The book is well written, gives you thorough info on the culture, ideas of where to eat, where to stay and where to go.
Where to Eat:
- Floridita: Located in Centro Habana. This is a famous spot for daiquiris, and was a former Ernest Hemingway hangout, when he was in town.
- La Guarida: Located in Centro Habana. This place is very popular so I would recommend a reservation. They became well known for a movie that was filmed there, which won an Oscar. The only Cuban film to win an Oscar. The food was good, but the setting was great. The building it is located in is stunning.
- La Bodeguita Del Medio: Located in La Habana Vieja. This is another famous Hemingway hangout, known for their mojitos. The night we were there they had live music which was fantastic. The people in Cuba are so musical, and so talented.
- Restaurant Paladar Genesis: Located in La Habana Vieja. A man named Ernest, who owns this restaurant told me I was an angel. This is not why I recommend it, although that was a nice addition. The food was great, and cheap. I had salad (basically tomatoes in Cuba), lobster, rice and beans, dessert and a drink for $12 CUC. And this is normal in Cuba!
- Habana Libre: Located in Vedado. This is a perfect place for a drink in the middle of the day. The AC will be very welcomed, and the views from the 25th floor bar will leave you breathless. Get a pina colada. It’s frothy and refreshing.
- La Moraleja: Located in Vedado. This place was a gem we stumbled upon. The setting was amazing, the service was impeccable, and for $25 CUC (basically $25 dollars) you get appetizers, 2 drinks, dinner and dessert. They also surprised us at the end of the meal with a shot of local rum and a cigar.
- Casa Miglis: Located in Centro Habana. Go here for for dessert. They have amazing grilled plantains with ice cream.
Things To Do/See:
- Convertible Ride: Take a ride in an old convertible, you won’t regret it! You can find these all over the place, and can rent them by the hour. They will drive you past all of the main attractions, plus further into Havana to areas you wouldn’t normally go to, like the rain forest in the middle of the city.
- Tropicana: This show is just amazing! It feels like a step back in time, when Havana was a place for the wealthy to stay and play. The theater is open air, which is perfect in Cuba. The dancers are splendid and the costumes are extravagant. Well worth the money!
- Cigar Factory: Since Cuban cigars are so revered across the globe, this is a must. Seeing the working conditions is humbling. The space is not bad, it’s just the heat that overwhelms you. Very cool to see how they are made though.
- Malecon: A very popular spot with the locals at night, but equally as beautiful during the day. Great spot to take in coastline views of the city.
- Fabrica de Arte Cubano: This is a really fun place to spend your evening. It’s a night club, art gallery, and bar all in one. You can stroll through the galleries with drinks and also see live music and dancing.
- Walk: Sounds simple, but it is the best way to see the city. You can walk through all of the neighborhoods and get a sense for the area and how the locals live. Great opportunity to find restaurants, little markets and take pictures.
- Airbnb: Located all over the city. If you want to get a true sense of Cuba, this is the way to go. Ours was in Centro Habana, and was just incredbible. We had amazing hosts, who were so friendly and sweet. The place was immaculate, had AC in the bedrooms, and bathrooms connected to each bedroom. I would highly recommend it!
- Hotel Nacional: Located in Vedado. This hotel is stunning and classically old. Not only would be it be a great place to stay, it is a fun spot to hang out for the day. You can pay $25 CUC to enjoy the pool for the day, which includes access, plus $20 CUC food and drink credits.
- Gran Hotel Manzana: Located in Centro Habana. This hotel looks like a new transplant direct out of NYC. It is beautiful, centrally located, and has an incredible rooftop.
- Iberostar Parque Central: Located in Centro Habana. This hotel is not quite as new as the one above, but still beautiful, and would provide much more of the creature comforts from home. The pool and rooftop restaurant might be my favorite spot in the city. You have 360 degree views of the city, live music, and a sense of calm from the chaos down below.
I hope all of this info is helpful to you if you are planning a trip to Cuba, or even daydreaming of it for the future. If there is anything else I can share with you to help you out even more, don’t hesitate to let me know. I have hundreds more photos I would gladly share, and many more things I could recommend to make your trip one you won’t forget. Happy planning fellow travelers!
Signed with Style,