As soon as I had decided I was going back packing, (I better stop calling it backpacking - it was basically a 3 month holiday whereby I packed my belongings in a backpack instead of a four wheeled suitcase) I knew I wanted to go to Cuba. If you are thinking about it I suggest you go soon. Things are slowly starting to change for the Cuban people and the landscape will follow suit.
I hadn’t given too much thought as to why Cuba? After visiting I now know the answer and still ask that very question with a different inflection. I have always been someone who lives through her eyes. I always choose a book by its cover am an an absolute magpie, bedazzled by anything sparkly and eat with my eyes full! So my instant magnetism to Cuba was the propaganda of colour and the 1950’s time capsule that spams my Instagram account coupled with my love of south and central america.
The first most important thing to note about Cuba is that you have to buy the currency when you get there. There are two types of Peso. The CUP (which is for Cubans) and the CUC for foreigners. Pricing is different for locals as is for tourists. Mentally prepare yourself for this before going and get over it now. You will be able to enjoy it more when you get there. At the time of writing this the CUC was similar to the £/€/$ as almost a 1:1 which makes Cuba a very expensive place. When you get to the airport there are three bureau de changes (one outside and two upstairs). TIP: Get your cash changed up at the airports as queuing to change cash at a bank in town can literally take hours. If you are european you can also use your bank cards and ATMs. Most things; food, water, toiletries, taxis are the same price as back home. A bottle of water will be $1/1.50 CUC and a decent meal $15 CUC. Just to be clear the price of beer is not an indicator to how expensive a city. I have never understood why travel writers mention this? I don't even like beer.
Also if you are travelling alone (and female) be prepared to be constantly bombarded by taxi drivers screaming "taxi" in your face. On arriving at the airport after an incredibly comfortable flight with Virgin Atlantic. I was accosted by a taxi driver who proceeded to escort me to the bureau de change, waited for me to change my money then took me to his taxi and drove me to me casa. For me there was no getting away. Note that a taxi fair into town from the airport should be no more than 30CUC.
The customer is always right (unless in Cuba). Finding a fresh edible meal was a challenge. After the revolution Cuba still lives off mainly tinned produce and unless you are a local with a ration book, it is difficult to find fresh vegetables, eggs and milk. Breakfast was my best meal of the day as I tended to eat at my casa or Air BnB, for $5 CUC you can get eggs, bread, avocado, a plate of fresh fruit and whatever baked good. Plus juice, tea and coffee. My favourite restaurants in Havana were El Dandy and NANO. Although Nano more for the bar snacks and cocktails than their main dishes. You will hear a lot about Cuban food being bland and terrible before you go, to give it its due, it’s not bland. They season food well. It’s just that it is very limited in terms of the ingredients that are available to them so if you try and eat western or European food, you will most definitely be disappointed. Most ingredients are tinned it processed and bizarrely they love to cover everything in barbecue sauce...god only knows why?
Tacos from El Dandy
Karl Largerfeld chose Paseo del Prado for his runway show Chanel Cruise 2016/17 and now I completely understand why. A beautiful walkway lined with marble and romantic street lights. The buildings that adorn each sidewalk are both regal and delicate in every pastel hue the mind can conceive. When you take walk along here be sure to stop off at Tatagua for a cocktail or a meal. Cocktails are $2.50 for a mojito or daiquiri and you can grab a sandwich (I had a Cubano) for $1.75 or a full meal of Steak or Lobster for $16. This place is a cute find and the staff are friendly. Plus it’s one of the few places you can get WiFi.
I recommend the hop on hop off tour bus, which I know is incredibly touristy. Its a great cheap way to get aquatinted with the different neighbourhoods in Havana and see al the incredible buildings the city has to offer. I recommend booking most trips/excursions in advanced. Air BnB was great for that. We book a dance class for around $30 and it was the highlight of the trip.
Then my parting recommendation has to be Fabrica De Arte Cubana. It an incredible surprise as it brings you right out of the 50's into the future. A converted warehouse filled with DJ's, bars, dancing, art exhibitions, cinemas and all manor of nooks an crannies to sit back and enjoy your mojitos. What is great about this place is that it is cashless. You receive a card that you get stamped every time you get a drink or food then pay the balance as you leave.
If you are slightly tempted to visit this delightful city then please do go before its unrecognisable. Bon Voyage!