TRAVEL : Half Of My Heart Is In Havana
You are all aware of the US history of relations with Cuba. I think there is a forever sunken image in my mind of Elián González taken ashore off the coast of Miami in 2000. Later came the trade embargo and Americans were not allowed to freely travel between the US & Cuba. In 2014 former President Barack Obama reinstated travel and lifted some travel restrictions in the hopes to normalize a relationship between the two nations.
Cuba from what I new was a magical place, deep routed in a "interesting" government history, and splattered with color, culture and vintage American Cars.
My hearts desire once again led me to a surprise trip for my husband and I to travel to Havana, via Chicago & Miami.
THINGS TO NOTE
Getting to Cuba
This is the easy part, (well sort of) have a passport, book the flights. Seems easy enough?
Well American travelers are allowed entry to Cuba under one of a variety of reasons- in order to successfully gain entrance while not violating US laws/policies we had to travel under the reason of. "In plight of the Cuban people". What does this mean? We are traveling and will have direct connections to Cuban citizens while providing them with money or goods. (this part Is important so don't forget it)
Dollars & Cents
Americans are not allowed to use US Credit cards at ALL in Cuba. Everything is cash. So make sure you bring plenty, but be smart as you never want to advertise traveling with large sums of cash. We pre-booked and paid for a hotel via an online application- so this saved us from having to pay on site. We also booked events and excursions via AIR BNB experiences. this way we could book while in Cuba, but via our credit card and the AIR BNB app, so this would not deplete our cash too much.
There are two types of currency in Cuba, one PESO for locals and one for tourists. I did not quite get this- but we went with it.
All Cubans do not have access to the internet like we do here in the States. In order to utilize the internet (which mind you only works in certain areas) you have to purchase internet cards, allotted in certain time incriments and enter the code into your mobile device. So this goes for an cellular use like making calls etc.
Our Experience & Highlights
We arrived to Cuba mid day, and were greeted by our driver (remember the experience booking via AIR BNB I mentioned above?) I surprised my husband with a vintage car to pick us up from the airport. An Awesome man name Juan who took us through parts of Havana on a tour of sorts until we arrived to our hotel.
Once at our hotel we quickly changed, spoke with the concierge for dinner reservations, and he was able to get us in to Chef Ivan Justo. You see Chef Ivan is the former personal Chef of Fidel Castro. The food was delicious, the restaurant itself was stunning, and we reserved the entire terrace to ourselves. It is a must go-to when in Havana.
The next day we hired a vintage car for a tour of Havana, he took us around sharing endearing stories of his childhood, the government, day to day life and hidden gems we would have never found on our own. (blacked out cigar shops (be careful as many "fake" cigars are sold in Havana) flaming cuban coffee, a jungle forest where locals practice sanatoria and much more.
We explored quite a bit on foot, cautious to not shy too far away from the hotel late at night (never once did we feel unsafe, but our Spanish is laughable and we did not want to not be able to find our way back)
A must stop is the La Florida bar, the home of the Daquiri. the building itself is out of old Hollywood, a regular stomping ground for Ernest Hemingway. So much so it is Said the daiquiri originated here and a bronze statue of Hemingway is seated at the end of the bar. The Daquiris were DELICIOUS too!
We stumbled upon an art fair, listened to street music, smoked cigars, swam in the rooftop pool, smiled with locals, and saw a dinner show. All in all Havana was an experience to last a lifetime and I hope that one day we can go back.