It’s AMAZING. That sums up my thoughts. It might be my new, less than a 5 hour flight, favorite destination. I need a few more trips to decide. But here are some things I want you to know:
· Don’t overthink the Visa. Select the category and make sure all of your paperwork is in order. I selected Educational Activities/People-to-People. I had each day on my itinerary all typed up and my activities planned. While I was there, I met a girl who is a Professor at a major University, so she selected Professional Research. So be sure and select the category that applies to you and stick to it. Most importantly - don't LIE. To review the 12 categories, click here.
· Currently, American credit and debit cards are not accepted anywhere. So take MORE cash than you anticipate needing because the small things will add up. I converted USD to Euro and converted to CUC as needed. Also, some of the stores accepted Euro – but no one will accept USD.
· Havana has 4 neighborhoods: Old Havana, Centro Habana, Vedado and Miramar.
o Old Havana, which is the UNESCO World Heritage Site, is where the colonial history is located. LOTS of walking and where I wish I had spent more time. So much to see. The architecture is old and beautiful.
o Centro Habana is Havana from the early 20th century and where you can find the Museum of the Revolution, which is also the former Presidential Palace. I did a tour of the Museum, it was interesting, but can be skipped if you are short on time. The neighborhood is interesting and worth a walk around. Especially for the photographers.
o Vedado is where the Malecon (sea front promenade) begins and where the National Hotel is located. This is also where Revolution Square can be found along with the large iron sculptures of Che and Camilo Cienfuegos mounted on the side of 2 buildings. There is also the Jose Marti Memorial, where you can take an elevator to the top for a view of the city. Also be sure and check out Columbus Cemetery where many famous individuals are buried.
o Miramar is an exclusive residential area and where most foreign embassies are located.
· The art scene is bananas. Art and Galleries everywhere. You can’t see them all. Don’t try. Take your time to enjoy the ones you do see and go back to see the others. But a must is Fábrica de Arte Cubano (FAC) fabricadeartecubano.com. It’s an old oil factory that has been converted to an arts space. There are dance lessons, live music, beautiful art, and a DJ.
· The “classic car” game is real. They are everywhere, and they are beautiful. I paid 25CUC for a one hour ride around the city in a 1957 pink convertible. But I did a 6 hour tour of the city in a hard top classic car that was air conditioned. It was more comfortable and I didn’t have to smell diesel for 6 hours. I booked this tour through Havana Journeys. They were great. Very knowledgeable and patient - because I'm sure me and my daughter were asking a LOT of questions.
· Wifi is scarce. I didn’t bother buying a wifi card and searching for wifi signals. I went to a local hotel a couple of nights to check in with friends and family. I paid 10CUC for an hour and that was enough for me.
· People, People, People are everywhere. And they are friendly. And they want to talk to you. So if you don’t speak Spanish, be sure and download the Google Translate app that doesn’t require internet. Everyone I met was familiar with typing in what they wanted to say and waiting on you to type in your response. · You will dance, because music is a big part of the culture. Calle Obispo is a great place to find bars where you can find good food, great Mojitos – and of course MUSIC.
· I’m not a foodie – but the lobster I ate was the best lobster I’ve ever had. Once on the beach and once at a local restaurant that I went to with a friend and the family she was staying with. And it was very affordable. I ate lobster twice.
· My favorite spot of the trip was Fusterlandia. I even got an opportunity to meet the artist, Jose Fuster. This is a MUST DO.
There are lots of blogs and books available for you to read - so take your time and do so. I took day trips to Vinales and Varadero (beautiful beach). I booked both tours via Tour Havana With Roly. I contacted Roly using his Facebook page and he is very responsive.
That’s all I will say about my time in Cuba. It’s truly a place you have to see to believe. Meanwhile, my pictures can be found on my Facebook page.
See you in the skies!