Geographically considered a part of North America, and culturally a part of Latin America, this 42,426 sq mi island in between the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea is known for its endless white sandy beaches, beautiful architecture, rum, old cars and of course, old cars…
To those filled with wanderlust, consider putting Cuba on your list. I recently got a chance to visit with my brother and his friends and friends of friends, who were all insanely fun and made the trip an incredible one!
In my opinion, all Caribbean beaches tend to look alike – even if you haven’t had a wee little too much to drink. And I’m not just saying that because I lost all my beach photos because I happened to drop a borrowed camera into the Atlantic Ocean the day before the end of my trip – with alllllll the photos and videos on it.
At least I had another camera with a trip to Havana left!
The best thing to do in Cuba would be to leave your expectations at the door and treat this like a unique experience. For one thing, don’t go there for the food – although we did have a lovely meal at Restaurant El Triton at the Aqua World in Veradero.
You also have to keep in mind that they make their living on tips and those who work in “privileged” positions in hospitality and tourism share what they receive with their families to stretch their food rations, etc. – I was told by a few Cubans that the $15 a month for food depletes rather quickly. So, they have to hustle – a lot. You won’t be bothered too much unless you look like a tourist. If you do look like a tourist, politely say “No gracias” and move along or plan to make sure you budget enough to tip left, right and centre. Tipping also goes a long way at the resorts, where you may be able to get a bottle of alcohol for a lesser price from the hotel bar than at the stores. As far as safety is concerned, I heard that it was unsafe to wear jewelry, etc. It’s actually a very safe country as long as you don’t do something stupid.
This goes without saying, but don’t exchange your money at the resort – the banks in the city have better rates. Cuba has 2 currencies – the Peso (CUP) for locals only and the convertible peso (CUC), which is on par with USD.
Things to do in Cuba:
Lying on the beach in waves of drunken stupors all day and night may work for some and if so, the resort life would be perfect for you. A quick stop at a “Mohito hut” for refills at the bar may be the only “work” you do all day. There’s also the pool or the free 30 minute paddle boats available should you get bored of drunken lounging. As far as drinks go, I make it a point to sample local libations and this time it was Santiago de Cuba (Rum), Legendario (Honey Rum), and unfortunately I cannot remember the others but there was a cream of Rum and Chocolate Tequilla (although I don’t know if the Tequilla was local). We were also introduced to a Cafe Bon Bon (coffee with condensed milk) which we drank religiously with one of the above shots – the perfect Cuban Ice Capp/ Frappacino.
Apart from the resort life, there are various tours to Veradero, Havana, Jeep Safari tours, water tours (like sailing a Catamaran to swim with dolphins and snorkel), Scuba, sky dive, etc. We didn’t try all the tours but as far as snorkeling goes IMO, there are better opportunities in other countries, although I did hear good things about the Jeep Safari tour. I would say that the Havana tour was my favourite – I could’ve spent days there. The colorfully painted weathered buildings took you back in time. Some even had bullet holes in the walls. There were beautiful cobbled streets – one street in particular made of wood, not stone! And the cars from the 50’s just added to the experience.
The famed Cuban Cigars… they’re always sought after but a little birdie told me that Nicaraguan ones were smoother. I’ll save the comparison for when I make it to Nicaragua. In the mean time, there are a lot of different types of Cuban cigars and cigarellos. The top global ones are: Cohiba, Montecristo, Romeo y Julieta, Partagas, Hoyo de Monterrey, H. Upmann, and Jose L. Piedra. Cohiba, the flagship brand was created in 1966 for President Fidel Castro and was made at a previously secret but now famous factory El Laguito factory. It is a medium to full flavoured smooth cigar. Some locals recommend the older and better known Montecristo (1935), a medium to full bodied cigar with the perfectly balanced blend to the Cohibas. An even older brand Romeo y Julieta was created in 1875 is a classic medium bodied cigar. Partagas (1845)has a deep earthy flavour and all of the cigars and cigarellos in that line are hand made except for two. Each brand is also numbered, which is simply the shape and size of the cigar or cigarello and has nothing to do with the quality or how they are made. I purchased one of each but have yet to try them – I’m saving that for my next trip to Toronto, where I left them or bring them back with me once it’s legal to do so in the States.
It was a lovely trip with great friends, wonderful memories and we made a few new friends there too! I believe that life is too short to visit the same place twice but if I do go back to Cuba, (maybe when the gates open up to Americans in 2016?) Chas and I will have to Salsa at Tropicana or Casa de la Musica. In the mean time, enjoy a few more photos from our adventure:
Love & Laughter,