On the 19th November 2019, myself and Ash embarked on our first Caribbean adventure to Cuba. We stayed the whole time in Havana but explored the other parts of this beautiful Island as much as we could.
This blog post captures our special moments there as well as sights and attractions we feel were totally worthwhile but if you want to see a more in depth capture into our holiday – head on over to my YouTube Channel for a one off vlog of our time there. BUT for the time being read ahead for highlights and recommendations we have of our trip!
N.B. We did have a very rollercoaster of a holiday in Cuba due to missed connection flights, we both became very ill whilst away and had a few mishaps but I wanted this blog post to highlight the positive points and not to focus on the negative in the hope it may help those of you who could be considering travelling to Cuba yourselves!
Exploring old Havana
We stayed in Airbnb’s for all of our time in Cuba because as mentioned in my previous travel blog to Iceland, we much prefer the feel of Airbnb’s. It’s cheaper for one thing, but it gives also you a sense of staying within the heart of the community. We were very lucky to have stayed in two beautiful homes – one run by a Cuban chef and his wife an the other owned by a Cuban cocktail maker known by the name of Densil (comment below if you want the links to both of these, as both were superb and I would be more than happy to share!) Both places we stayed were in a fab location situated right near the Malecon and was just what we needed for our base in Havana. The hosts in our first Air BnB were extremely accommodating when both myself and Ash became ill – very grateful for this!
View from the rooftop from our Air BnB
PLACES TO VISIT
During our visit we obviously visited and saw A LOT but thought a few iconic places deserved a mention in case you’re reading this and thinking of visiting Cuba yourself.
The Malecon – This was our little spot in the evenings (on either a good day or a day where things weren’t quite going to plan) to unwind and chat. Having no WiFi or phone use in Cuba was extremely refreshing. We spent time chatting for hours, watching the beautiful sunshine go down and enjoying the Cuban people laughing and singing together. Cuba is never short of live music and this can be heard from all 8km of the Malecon.
Old Havana – We were lucky in our guide to have an old walking tour of Havana which we did on one of the days where we felt things were going right. It took us into museums, streets with live music, the cathedral and any more interesting sites. On this day we found some lovely bars around the area and got chatting to some lovely Cuban locals who didn’t try to scam us! This is probably the best time to note that Cuba is unfortunately well known for its scams, so get clued up about them before you go and make sure you don’t fall for them!
The forts of Havana – (Also known as Castillo De Los Tres Reyes Del Morro & Castillo de San Salvador de la Punta) these forts lie adjacent from one another on the bay of Havana. They are well worth a visit for very little money. You can catch a cheap boat to go over that only takes 5 minutes and the restaurants that over look Havana are beautiful there. I personally think you get the best views of Havana here up on the hill and we throughly enjoyed exploring these out of tourist season! You could also catch a good sunset here and wait for the canons to fire at 9pm every day to symbolise the end of the day.
Exploring the old forts
PLACES TO EAT/DRINK
We ate at a few nice places whilst in Cuba and others we would recommend for drinks only. I will however be truthful and say now that Cuban food is not great. Both myself an Ash were very ill from meat and fish there meaning we had very little choice for the duration of our trip (we later found out they still ration a lot of their food) but don’t let that put you off. We still found some lovely places, some of which we found in our Lonely Planet Guide to Cuba but others were recommended to us by some of the lovely locals. I would highly recommend the latter and not just going by the guide books, simply because the locals know the BEST places to visit to really immerse yourself in Cuban food and culture (most food places turn into bars at night where tables are pushed back so that you can salsa the night away!)
Sloppy Joes Bar – This was our saving grace when we found it – situated right in the heart of Havana! It was actually recommended to me by an old teacher of mine but we throughly enjoyed sitting in here with a daiquiri (yes what else!) And it was the only place we could find a sandwich with ketchup. Now that may sound terribly British but when you’re recovering from being ill its like being home from home. Despite the name, it is not an English bar but more Spanish. Ash was happy because the football was on, I was happy because I had ketchup (another item you cant find in Cuba) and all was well!
El Floridita’s – A MUST if you visit Havana. The famous bar where Ernest Hemingway once sat and invented the perfect Daiquiri. Although a bit of a tourist trap and the cocktail itself will set you back more than most bars in Havana, you can’t go to Cuba and come away saying you didn’t go.
Castropol – This hearty restaurant situated right on the Malecon was another one of our personal favourites whilst we stayed in Havana. It was a stone throw away from where we stayed whilst in Cuba and we throughly enjoyed the dishes this restaurant served. The pizza and pasta were the best options for us when trying to avoid meat or fish and the sangria was like no other. The staff were incredibly friendly and very hospitable, so ended up eating here twice as a place we could trust! The warm sea breeze in the evenings was perfect for outside dining and was recommended in our guide. Great little spot!
Riding in a 1950’s Havana taxi
THINGS TO BE AWARE OF
There were a few things on our trip that I had done a bit of research on before we went but experiencing a place will have you seeing things in a different way. Therefore, these are the things that I wish I had been more aware of before going.
Scams – Like anywhere with a high tourist take over, scams in Cuba are at their all time highest. Be careful in accepting to go anywhere with someone trying to sell you something, wether it be to travel in a bike, coco or old style taxi or following someone to buy some cigars. Always make sure you agree a price before you hop into any type of taxi and ONLY buy cigars from the factory or a reliable source because chances are people who try to sell them to you on the street aren’t selling you the real deal. Everyone in Cuba is out to make money somehow, so be wise to people with ulterior motives.
Money – We spent a whole day in Havana trying to find a working ATM for our cards. No where accepts chip and pin or contactless, so make sure you come armed with cash before your trip or let your bank know where you are going. You cannot exchange GBP to CUC in the UK due to Cuban money being a closed currency but make sure you bring money to exchange and get clued up about the two different currencies operating in Cuba (CUC is worth far mor than CUP).
Food – We were very disappointed with the Cuban food, unfortunately both myself and Ash became very unwell on our trip. Cuban food is still very much rationed amongst the locals and tourists. Be careful of meat and fish and make sure you only eat in places that a tour guide or guidebook has suggested. We made this mistake of trying to be adventurous and the outcome was not so nice! That being said they do offer a wide range of dishes but expect little salad and vegetarian options!
Sunset on the Malecon
Overall, our little trip in Havana was a crazy one. Cuba as a country is growing, albeit slowly, but I would highly recommend taking a visit. For me, it was a very character building trip and it has opened my eyes to how grateful I am to be living in the UK. Although we met some strange characters on our trip, we also met some lovely ones, and it is a trip I will most certainly not be forgetting in a hurry!
Have you been to Cuba? What did you think? Can you share any other tips in the comments below?