14 May The Cuba Experience
It has been said a million times: “go to Cuba now, while it is still authentic”. And people will probably say it a million times more. Before the Americans flood this paradise, with their all-inclusive resorts and McDonald’s and the Cuban culture is lost. But after spending three weeks on this island, I am convinced it will take a lot more than some Americans and hamburgers for the Cuban culture to get lost. These people are proud of their country, of their food and of their way of living. Even if they don’t own a fortune and have some struggles. So. I would like to rephrase that sentence “Go to Cuba”. Into; it will be authentic for a pretty long time if you ask me, it’s a hell of a country. And while you are there, here’s what you definitely should do to enhance that Cuba experience:
1. Turn of your phone and enjoy the ride
If you are as addicted to your smartphone as I am, this might sound a bit scary. But after a few days of digital detox, you’ll ask yourself why you have never done this before. You see, in Cuba internet and WIFI are not that common. A lot of people don’t even have an internet connection in their homes, let alone on their mobile phones. And they don’t miss or need it. Some Cubans even believe that the internet should be banned from their country since it is making people less and less social. Do as the Cubans do, let go of the feeling of always wanting to be connected to the whole world. Yes, this also means no Google maps and no Instagram. Just look around you, talk to people and feel completely lost and happy.
2. Drink a Mojito every day, wherever you are
Relax, you’re on a holiday, a little boozing and snoozing won’t hurt. Specially not when you are in Cuba, home of the Mojito. This delicious rum cocktail is what it is all about in this country and you should try as many as possible. No Mojito is the same, whether it’s because of some secret ingredient, the vibe or the view. Not to mention that fact that this elixer of life usually is cheaper than a cola. So it’s best to take another one.
You can get one on every street corner, but these are my favourite places:
Hotel Nacional – Havana Vedado: this famous hotel bursts with history and the drinks come with an amazing complementary view.
The little beach hut on Playa Los Cocos – Playa Giron: where the lifeguard is your bartender and the prices will have you order round after round. Centro Recreativo La Punta – Cienfuegos: in a little park, at the southern tip of Cienfuegos, a perfectly well dressed bartender will create a masterpiece for you with precision and craftsmanship. Of how I wish I was there right now. Hostal Colina – Trinidad: on the road to disco Ayala, this casa particulara offers ‘special Mojito’s’, and they sure are special. Just like the garden you will be in while drinking them.
3. Travel with a Taxi collectivo, even if it is just once
Getting around Cuba is easy if you book the Via Azul tourist busses. But it’s fun when you book a taxi collectivo! You’ll share this oldtimer ride with as many people that fit in the vehicle (and sometimes even more) and your luggage on top. This is traveling in style, Cuban style. it’s easy to arrange your taxi collectivo on the streets, many drivers offer their services. Usually it’s easy to bargain and to come to an agreement of the price. Just never pay in advance, you can settle that with the actual driver on the day of your trip.
4. Only stay at Casa Particulara’s
Thinking about booking a hotel in Cuba? Don’t even bother (unless you have unlimited funds and are aiming for an ultimate high-end holiday). Try a casa particulara, you won’t be disappointed. these casa’s are rooms that are rented out by the Cubans. Usually they come with your own bathroom, your own rocking chair on the porch and sometimes your own entrance. And if you are lucky, with breakfast. It’s the best way to travel for a reasonable price and feeling the local vibe. Also, Casa owners have lots of friends and family in other cities, so if your traveling onwards they always know a new casa and will even arrange it for you. Easy does it!
Casa Eliza – Rafael Trejo, Vinales: spotless rooms, your own entrance and breakfast under the gazebo. Oh and it’s just on street behind the mainstreet, hello centre location!
Casa Hostal El Castillito Yaya y Monolito – Playa Giron: great food, big rooms and Yaya is like a mother to the guests.
Casa Castro & Anita – between C43 and C44, Varadero: big rooms, great location and sweet people. What more can you ask for?
5. Taking a dive
Cuba is home to some real sweet diving spots. However, the best ones are hard to reach and will eat half of your budget. But there is this one place, between two very tiny villages, where the water calls your name and you won’t loose oxygen over the price. Bahia de Cochinos (Bay of Pigs) is where you need to be. There are several dive spots, suited for beginners to the more advanced Dive Masters. First timer? At Playa el Tanque you can go into the water without a boat. Just put on your tank and goggles and go! Best village to stay for this dive trip: Playa Giron. It offers not more than about 4 dusty roads, some houses and a war museum. But it has a beach, some restaurants and the divers bus to take you to the fishes. Dive and chill, my friends.
6. From Cienfuegos to Trinidad through the mountains
Cienfuegos, it’s a pretty town a lot of travellers skip. Which is a shame since it is the perfect city to do absolutely nothing for a day or two (and sip on those amazing Mojito’s I mentioned earlier). But beside that cocktail, there is one reason why I would urge you to go to this city, and that is the way out to Trinidad. In Cienfuegos you can book a tour at Cubanacan to travel to Trinidad through the beautiful Parque Natural Topes de Collantes, including the amazing El Nicho waterfalls. At the end you will be dropped off in Trinidad. This private tour will take you through the mountains in a jeep, with a real Cuban tourguide. He can tell you all about the surroundings as well as the (communist) culture and lots of other stories. Plus, he knows exactly when El Nicho is not flooded with tourists and you have the natural swimming pools to yourself (oh and he can take stunning pictures from you). You’ll drive past small, simple villages (which have a school and a discotheque) and taste the most amazing coffee you will ever taste at this small cafe in the middle of the mountains. If you are lucky, you’ll also have the chance to sing along to The Backstreetboys playing on an old CD in the car. Here’s your authentic experience!
Enough said. Go to Cuba. Enjoy it to the fullest.
Read Jill’s tips about New Zealand here: