Where do you live when you’re not traveling? Boston, DC, and Albany, NY

Who went on the trip? A group of 5 girlfriends.

What was the Trip? 5 nights in Havana with a couple day trips.

What were your interests/goals on the trip?  Experience the culture & people and learn more about its unique history.  And have fun doing it!

Anything especially awesome?

Air B n B house we stayed was GREAT. Get the breakfast each day for 5 CUC/person. Nicola and Indira were great hosts – each room with own bathroom but one room did not have AC.

Hotel Nacional worth seeing – great back patio area for drinks, peacocks strutting around and live music. You can also buy wifi there.

We used a Cubatur guide  Ivan and he negotiated 5 CUC for old taxi to take all of us to Old Habana. Walked around old Habana with Ivan. Recommend the walking tour to orient yourself. Key to have a guide that speaks good English. Also worth it to be able to ask him/her many questions about the govt/life there. Also did Revolution square which is worth seeing. Lunch at La Casona de 17 across from the other Hilton – great rice and beans.

Dinner @Café Miglis – Cuban/Swedish combo that was delicious with a great ambiance. In central Habana (weird area) but near La guardia.

Hemingway House is cool. It has great views if you get a clear day. – he had 11 cats there – his wife built a tower for him to write in but he preferred to write in his bedroom and the tower became the home for the cats. You cannot enter the house but can see into it from windows. In the bathroom next to an old scale you can see how he recorded his different weights as he lost a lot of weight when he was sick toward the end of his life. Can see his old wooden fishing boat, Pilar, which is cool to see.

Went to Hotel Capri for drinks, pool, and a nice view of the city. El Cocinero is cool, it’s a restaurant on the rooftop of old factory. You need a reservation and make sure you go up the narrow stairs to the chimney bar for drinks. Next door is Fabrice de Arte (FAC), which we would have liked to go to (see steiny email) but it was a Saturday night and absolutely packed so we couldn’t get in.

One of the days we hired Yosmany 1955 Pontiac car. Took 2 hour and 45 mins to get there. Arrived to tobacco plantation which was a highlight. Hot caballeros who gave us a cigar rolling lesson, we tried their organic cigars (no additives) dipped in honey, and the guy leading it made tons of sex jokes. Bought their organic cigars to bring home. Rode “semi automatico” horses along countryside (horse names were great: coco loco, el president, mojito, el caramel, and cubalibre). Next stop was a coffee plantation that was disappointing…continued on horses to a lake that was pretty but we didn’t stop and then a cave that we walked through. Lunch in town of Vinales with Yosmany at El Campesino – great views and good chicken. Overall, Vinales was worth the excursion. Worth it to see the countryside of the country and enjoyed the car ride/seeing life of Cubans/grilling our driver about all things cuba/his life.

We did beaches in Varadero one of the days. We’d heard varying amounts of time to get to Varadero, likely does depend on the car you take and how old it is. It was 2 hours each way (maybe even a little less, depending on stops) with Yosmany. Varadero is very developed – has a plaza with wifi everywhere (paid), tons of shops and restaurants. Believe it was Plaza Las Americas. We went to the Hotel Melia and tried to crash the resort amenities on their beach (chairs, towels, etc) but were rejected. The beach was still beautiful, white sand and amazingly blue water and palm trees.

We did drinks in Havana at hemingway’s watering hole/place he rented a room called Hotel Ambos Mundos for drinks on rooftop. Heard the city’s cannons that go off at 9 pm every night and pretty sunset view.

Dinner that night at La Guardia (very cool old building with apartments and fancy restaurant in central Havana made famous by a movie called Fresas y Chocolate). Touristy but good food and great ambiance on rooftop terrace. Reservation needed.

Other tips that might be helpful to future travelers?

You can buy a Visa for Cuba at the airport. We flew AA and they had a travel desk setup for travelers to purchase them there for $100 USD. Heard that other airlines it may be less. The cost of the airline ticket includes required health insurance for visitors to the country.

Traveled under US govt. category “Educational Activities, person to person contact.”

Take Euros as the exchange rate for Euros is better than USD. 10% markup for USD. For 4 full days, spent about 700 or 800 Euros. We changed a bit of money at first at the airport but heard that those exchange rates were worse than they are at cadecas (change house) in the city.

60 CUC for the cab from the airport (van cab) to Vedado. Our air b n b host said arranged a driver to be standing there with a sign with our names on it.

Try to avoid the govt cafeterias and eat at paladres (people’s houses that they have turned into private restaurants).

Have many mojitos and cuba libres (delicious rum/coke combo).

Read book ‘Waiting for Snow in Havana’ about a young Cuban boys life in Havana during the revolution. Gives good picture of that time and the history of the country.

Wanted to watch “Buena Vista social club” and ‘Fresas y Chocolate’ but unfortunately never got around to it.

Anything you disliked or things you would have done differently?

Had dinner at Café Laurent (terrible fish, do NOT recommend).

We went to the Hotel Melia and tried to crash the resort amenities on their beach (chairs, towels, etc) but were rejected.

Would have spent more time on the trip generally. With more time, could have seen more. Didn’t even have time to go to one museum.

What would you do if you had one more day? If you had one less day?

If we’d had another day, I would have done more museums and maybe spend the night at the beach so its not a long day spent in the old car.   If we had one less day, I would have skipped the beach.

Average cost per night of one hotel room and cost of an average entree?
Entrees for dinner were around $20. Our Airbnb was cheap about $130/night for an apartment that slept 6.

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