Ninety miles off the coast of Florida, you’ll find a country that is unlike any other, surrounded by the turquoise water of the Caribbean. It’s a place not many Americans have been, which is why I found myself intrigued to visit once the travel restrictions were temporarily lightened. Almost three months ago, while on a first date with my now boyfriend Jordan, we planned a trip to Cuba. On our third date we booked our flights and exactly one week ago we returned from an eye-opening adventure, feeling grateful for the life we live in America and concerned for the people of Cuba and the way they are forced to live.
We wanted to experience Havana in more ways than a typical tourist would by adding some local flair to our trip, so we chose to stay in an Airbnb located in a residential neighborhood right outside of the hustle and bustle of Old Havana. We were blessed with two lovely and gracious hosts, Randy and Claudia, who live just two doors down from their rental and quickly became our new Cuban friends.
Although our trip began with a two hour wait for our bags at the airport, we tried to stay positive. (Okay, Jordan stayed positive. I was hot and thirsty and whining. HA!) Randy and Claudia were outside waiting for us and still managed to greet us with big smiles when we finally made it outside with our luggage. Jordan grabbed a beer for the car ride (at the hefty price of $1) and our moods were instantly lifted as we rode in the back seat of an old fashioned American car. The warm breeze was blowing through our hair and our wide eyes were jumping from one place to another, trying hard not to miss anything that was happening outside the window.
Our first day was spent exploring Havana with Randy and Claudia. They took us on the city bus, taught us the proper hand motions to successfully hail a cab, and showed us all over their city until we were too tired to stay out any longer.
I fall in love with every new city I meet, and Havana was no exception.
One of the strangest things about Cuba (besides no cell service and being unable to use credit cards) was the fact that they don’t have toilet paper in public restrooms. It’s so hard for Cuban people to get many things to their country, even simple things like toilet paper, sunscreen and Advil that we might take for granted. So yes, I walked around with a roll of toilet paper in my purse the entire trip. But I also had a drink in my hand at all times, so YOLO.
On day two we were on our own to navigate around town, although Claudia was kind enough to arrange a car to pick us up so we could avoid having to hail a cab on our own. (Our lack of Spanish made it a little difficult to tell the drivers where to take us!) Once we made our way back into Old Havana, we found ourselves sitting outside at a little cafe, enjoying a cup of coffee and eating the only Cuban breakfast option we could find- toasted ham and cheese sandwiches.
A sweet old man was serenading us on his accordion as little kids skipped by in their school uniforms, smiling from ear to ear as they listened to the music. Although most Cubans live in poverty, there is a contagious amount of cheerfulness and joy around the city.
I suppose when you don’t know any different, you easily learn to love the life you have.
The rest of our day was spent exploring the streets of Old Havana, drinking mojitos and daiquiris in several different bars and restaurants, along with finding the best places to take photos. Drinks typically run from $1-$4. The most we payed for a daiquiri was $6, which is unheard of, but that was at the Floridita, which is where the daiquiri was invented and where Hemingway spent his days. Yes, it’s a tourist trap, but we had to do it!
An hour of day two was spent touring the city in the back of a pink 1948 Ford convertible as our sweet driver Ray showed us all the different neighborhoods and historical monuments. It might have ended up being one of the most fun days of my entire life so far.
The amazing thing about Cuba is that you can spend one day in the city and the next at the beach and feel as though you’re suddenly on a completely different vacation. On day three, we got up early and headed two hours east to the amazing beach town of Varadero. Luckily, we had Claudia to set us up with an amazing driver who actually had AC in his old fashioned car. We never felt more luxurious.
The clear turquoise water and white sand we found in Varadero was definitely worth the drive. There are beaches much closer, but we wanted to be sure we found the prettiest one we could. And I’d say we succeeded.
After a long day in the hot sun searching for buried treasures and taking more selfies than you can imagine, we found ourselves ready for a chill night in the neighborhood. It all started with me experiencing my first ever Cuban cigar on the patio of our apartment. I have to say, it wasn’t bad.
For dinner that night, Randy and Claudia insisted we try their favorite local restaurant, La Fondita Heredia. The shredded beef, rice and beans and fried plantains did not disappoint. If you want delicious food outside of the touristy area, this place was absolutely incredible.
On our last full day in Cuba, we couldn’t decide if we should go back to the beach or keep exploring the city so we split it up and did both. We stayed close by and visited a less glamorous but still beautiful beach about thirty minutes east of Havana called Playa Del Este. There’s nothing like a cooler full of beer, a bluetooth speaker, and crashing waves in the hot sun.
The second half of the day, we kept exploring the never ending city. Every block had something to see and the entire city was like one huge work of art. Although many buildings were crumbling, most were so beautiful to look at we couldn’t stop taking photos.
The bright colors and the friendly faces make you want to walk for hours getting lost in the culture.
We returned from Cuba last Thursday and on Friday Trump announced he was changing some of the new policies Obama had put in place when it comes to travel and trade between the US and Cuba. If you’re hoping to visit, you still can, but it won’t be as easy as it has been the past year or so. Click here to read all the details on Trump’s new travel policy, which should be official in the next couple months.
I’ll probably never find myself on a more eye-opening adventure as I travel to new places. Cuba will forever hold a special place in my heart because of this short time I spent making new friends, exploring the city and discovering what it’s like to be immersed in a completely different culture. My advice? If you get the chance to visit Cuba, take it. You won’t regret it.
Special thanks to my new favorite travel partner & extremely talented #InstagramHusband Jordan Heid for all of the incredible photos! 🙂