I had the opportunity to visit Havana, Cuba this weekend. It was my first time back there in years. When I was a college student, I had an opportunity to spend the summer at the University of Havana (part of a study abroad program), studying Spanish and Latin American history and experiencing a country known as much for its timeless beauty as its controversial government. I was able to return to the country as part of a face-to-face educational program, and it was yet another amazing experience.
I traveled solo and flew Copa airlines from Washington, DC via Panama City to Havana. I was able to purchase my visa at the Copa counter in Panama for $20. I stayed at a Casa in Vedado which is a 10-minute drive to Old Havana. They have shared taxis for 1CUC or you can take a private taxi for 5 CUC. I always took a private taxi as I love the private experience. I also hired a classic car for an hour tour (40CUC) and a horse and carriage for an hour for 25CUC. There wasn’t much around the Casa I stayed in. I saw a park and a restaurant across the street and was able to walk to the Hotel National but everywhere else required a taxi.
The Cuban men are very friendly. Almost every man asked me if I wanted a Cuban boyfriend. The people are nice and service was very good.
If I have an opportunity to go again I will stay in Old Havana as that’s where the action is. There are tons of shops and restaurants with live music. I went to a restaurant called O’Reilly 304 and they had amazing food and drinks. I also tried my first Cuban cigar at the Hotel National.
Tip: Only buy cigars from reputable shops that have boxes with the seal. Every person on the street will try to sell me fake cigars. This lady purchased a box of cigars off the street and when she opened it, she realized the cigars were rolled with brittle banana leaves instead of soft leaves the Cuban cigars require. When she unrolled them, they were filled with bugs.
I was able to buy wi-fi from the hotel up the street from my Casa. For 2CUC was able to enjoy wifi for an hour. Cuba isn’t like the United States where wifi is readily available in most places so expect to have to purchase that service when you get there. My phone didn’t work so expect to be disconnected for a while.
Some additional highlights included: cruising along the Malecon in a ’57 Chevrolet Bel Air, learning more about the government at the Museum of the Revolution (quite interesting, to say the least), visiting local farmers to learn more about their organic urban farms which are feeding their communities, checking out Ernest Hemingway’s home,
Finca Vigia, dancing on stage at the Tropicana, eating my weight in rice and beans, lamb, flan, and ice cream at various paladares, and of course, heading back to where it all began – the University of Havana.
It was an informative yet beautiful return to an even more beautiful country.
If you get an opportunity to go to ANY city in Cuba (especially Cienfuegos or Trinidad), GO!