Trip Report: Havana Cuba
Cuba was on our wishlist of places to visit in 2017. We can finally scratch that off our list! Havana is dilapidated yet beautiful in it’s own way. Times are certainly changing quickly for Cuba. We wanted to visit before the tide of American tourism changes the country too much. It was certainly an experience for us. In our Trip Report: Havana Cuba, we take a quick look at some of the highlights of our trip. Also if you haven’t already, check out the video from our trip!
Cuba is a hop and a skip away from the United States. There are many U.S. based airlines that fly there now including American, Delta, United, Frontier, and Spirit. For our trip, we chose Southwest Airlines because of the awesome Companion Pass which is pretty much “buy one, get one free”. Southwest flies to three cities in Cuba. We flew down from Atlanta to Fort Lauderdale and then connected to Havana. All Southwest flights to Cuba have to connect through Fort Lauderdale as of current.
Cuba has two popular types of lodging: hotels or casa particulars. In looking for lodging for our trip, we found that hotels were incredibly expensive yet lack some of the basic touches of American hotels. Casa particulars are rooms or apartments that are owned and rented out by local Cubans. Casa particulars are the best way to learn about everyday Cuban life and really connect with the people. Casas are also extremely affordable compared to hotels.
For our trip, we found an awesome casa through Airbnb. Our host family was pleasant and welcoming and we really got to see how Cubans lived. It also helped that the casa was close to all the sights in Old Havana. Our casa only costed us $29 per night which was an absolute steal compared to a $300+ per night hotel. Not only did we pay a fraction of the cost of a hotel, we also helped out a local Cuban family by providing them business.
Cuba is hot and humid year round. What we experienced was totally unexpected. The weather in Havana during our trip was spectacular. The daily high temperatures were in the mid to late 70’s with lows in the upper 60’s. We talked to our host family and they told us that this was not normal and it was due to a cold front. Though we didn’t experience the true Cuban heat, we immensely enjoyed the spring-like weather.
Havana has plenty to see and do, especially in Old Havana. We made a list of places that we wanted to see and knocked off pretty much all of it with the exception of a one or two places. Most of the sights that tourist want to see are mainly in Old Havana. We also walked through the Centro district to experience more of the real Havana. Havana, outside of the touristy streets of Old Havana, is mostly what you would expect from photos. The buildings are worn and run down. The streets haven’t seen repairs in decades. It was definitely an experience to say the least.
Culture and People
Before our trip, we read up on the Cuban culture and people. Many travelers have talked about how open and welcoming the people of Cuba were. So we traveled to Cuba with the expectation that the people are not as well off yet friendly and congenial. We heard that Cuba was relatively safe so we let our guard down a bit.
What we experienced was something a bit different than our expectations. When we travel, we like to keep our minds open to new ideas, thoughts, peoples, and cultures. We try to embrace the place we travel to and really get to know how the locals live. The people of Havana were…challenging. Maybe it was the language barrier, maybe our expectations were set up a bit high, or maybe the tides of tourism have already brought in the negative aspects of tourism.
We had many interactions with local Cubans in Havana. They all start off seemingly well if them inquiring where we are from and asking us how we like Cuba. Some people tell us about their lives and some ask about our lives in the states. Since we’re Asians, Cubans are always surprised to hear that we are Americans. At the end of every interaction though, the Cuban person always asked from something. Some asked us for coins or money and one lady even had the audacity to ask us for gifts. This was not what we were expecting at all.
It seems that the people in Havana have learned the art of the tourism con now. They know that we, as Americans, think that the Cuban people need gifts due to their strict government and lack of resources. While that is partly true, it is entirely different to expect gifts from visitors. Imagine if you had visitors over to your house. Would you ask them for a present for visiting? We understand that the average Cuban makes less than $30 per month but just thought that these experiences made us reflect on our expectations.
Everyday it just seemed like we had to fend off the scammers, people yelling “China” at us, and other people trying to rip us off. We can’t say that our experience is representative of all Cubans in Havana. Our host family was awesome and we like to think that they are representative of true Cubans. On our return, we talked with some long time travelers to Cuba about this and they had said that this type of culture doesn’t occur much outside of Havana. We hope that this is true because Cuba itself is a beautiful country. Hopefully tourism makes things better for the people.
Food was a surprise in Havana. Before our trip, we were worried about restaurants in general because it seemed that many things we read made it seem like it would be near impossible without having reservations in advance. Thankfully though this wasn’t the case. We found many restaurants throughout Old Havana and did not have any issues with just walking up and getting a table. The offline TripAdvisor app was extremely helpful in finding some great places to eat.
We also had read that there are many citizen owned restaurants called paladares which have improved up the Cuban culinary scene. These paladares are typically located in a home that has been converted to a restaurant. The most popular ones require a reservation…which is difficult for your average American. We tried to get reservations to a few of the more popular paladares through our casa but did not have any luck.
The food itself was very similar. The proteins, vegetables, and spices were all nearly the same throughout the restaurants we visited. The main differences are the preparation of the dishes. With that said, we did eat some delicious food in Havana. Oh, there is also some nice street foods like churros and ice cream. 🙂
We can certainly say that our experience was enjoyable and eye-opening. It was like stepping back in time. Things are changing quickly for the country. If you plan on visiting, make sure to do your research and to set your expectations. In the near future, we’ll post about some tips and tricks for visiting Cuba so make sure to check back soon! Let us know if you have any questions or comments about our trip or Cuba in general in the comments below!