First encounter with Cuba

Hi everyone! I am just back from what could be one of the best vacations me & Louise had since we started traveling together. Cuba has long been on my wish list as so many other destinations. But I have to admit that I had mixed feelings when we finally booked the trip because of all the bad things I had heard about the food. But wow, I am so grateful we did go. We landed on what seems to become a historical day in Cuba´s history, 17 December 2014.  >>Read more under “Statement by the President on Cuba policy changes”.

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In this first post I would like to introduce traveling in Cuba by sharing our experiences and some pictures and information from our first days in Havana. At the bottom of this post I have also added a small teaser of what will come in next posts 😉

In Cuba the most common accommodation for independent travelers is the so called “casa particulares”.  It means that you rent a room in a private resident. Most “casas” rent one or two rooms but the one we picked in Havana had a lot of rooms for rent. Our pick was called “Casavana” and is situated on floor 5 in a high-rise building on a nice avenue in the area Vedado. Many tourists likes to stay in Habana Vieja (Old Town) but I had read that for salsa dancers Vedado was the best pick to base ourself. And after looking at the Tripadvisor reviews I was convinced. After trying both casas and 4/5 star hotels in Cuba I can tell you that this place was better than a five star hotel. And one of the owners, Ana, who is mostly around is an intelligent, very service minded woman with perfect English. We could not have had a better start.

In casas there is always breakfast service and in the smaller once also dinner service. Since casas are so intimate it is a great way to meet other travelers to share experiences with. And guess what, wifi is hardly possible to find in Cuba which means that travelers in Cuba are actually looking at each other and talking like in the old good days 😉

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Havana is just how you would imagine Cuba. You have the old colorful American cars everywhere, old and very run-down buildings in many architectural styles revealing worn beauty.  You even have a Capitol building 🙂 In Habana Vieja restorations are ongoing everywhere. That is of course fantastic but makes it very hard to discover most of the small alleys. Coming back to the accommodation part, we are so happy we picked Vedado as our base. I personally was not so fond of Habana Vieja but liked Centro and Vedado more. One part was the restorations but I also found Vieja a bit creepy at night, however always felt very safe in Vedado.

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On a rooftop terrace in Habana Vieja we spent our two first mornings taking private salsa lessons. I dance Cuban salsa since before but was eager to learn more. When we heard that a guy from our hometown Göteborg was going to arrange lessons during the time we were there we decided to partially join. It was me, Louise and the arranger + one more girl. We were all assigned a professional partner and together we practiced both Cuban salsa but also one of the origins to Cuban salsa called Rumba. We even did some Rueda de Casino which is a style where many couples dance together and makes moves to playful commands. Good fun! For independent travelers we heard good reviews about”La Casa del Son“. Most casas are also able to arrange private lessons in your casa 🙂

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Staying in Vedado was enriching our Havana experience since we had to utilize the common taxis every day to get around. Before I explain that further I want to shortly mention the money matters for tourists. To keep it simple, Cubans use their own currency called Cuban Peso (CUP). Tourists are only allowed to use the so called Convertible Peso (CUC). 1 CUC is pretty much equal in value as 1 USD. The difference in value between CUP & CUC is so huge that they must be viewed separately. You will understand what I mean if I put it like this: A Cuban employee earn as much in CUP as a tourist pay for a dinner out in Havana in CUC. I think this needs no further explanation. But it might make you draw some interesting conclusions during your vacation. As example; many public toilets will demand 1 CUC from a tourist to use the toilet. It does not take much mathematics to understand that “toilet lady” must be a lucrative business. I write this to clarify that things is a bit complicated when it come to money matters.

Now back to the cars 😀 You simply wave to the old veteran cars on the street, jump in and hop of anywhere during their route. It will cost you no more than 1 CUC pp as a tourist and is good fun as you share ride with the locals. If you need to go to a more specific address you need to take your own cab. Apart from riding in the cool cars me & Louise enjoyed very much to stroll around in Vedado and surroundings to just view all the colorful beauties passing by.

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Finally in this post I like to mention a bit about food in Cuba. If you stay in a “casa” and they have dinner service, go for it!!! In most places you get a three course home made meal for 10 CUC and compared to what you will be served in the state run restaurants the meal in your casa will be many times better and the experience & service is very personal. If you are in cities like Havana you will also have the choice to find yourself a private restaurants, so called Paladar. The price will be around 20-30 CUC for a two or three course meal with a drink or two. Some of them will be super delicious, some of them OK. Paladares are sometimes a bit tricky to find as they are based in normal buildings in regular residential areas (most of them are out of the tourist areas). Just google “Paladares Havana” if you plan to go. One that we found and returned to no less than three times was the Swedish owned “Casa Miglis“. We had read about the fantastic food there and considering being Swedes we found it rather amusing to discover this place. But the reason for returning two more times was simply because the taste & quality of the food was the best we had had in a long time. For me the pasta dish on below picture was even better than anything I had in Italy earlier this year. So if you are a foodie, go out and discover the Paladares in Havana!

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In the final post about Cuba I will re-visit Havana with some pictures from the legendary Malecón and some more street life images. Below the small teaser for coming posts as mentioned initially. Enjoy!

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Teaser future posts 🙂

After Havana we spent three days in the beautiful Viñales area, famous for limestone cliffs and tobacco fields.

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The next destination after Viñales was Varadero, beach destination #1 in Cuba.

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After lazy beach days in Varadero we went to the colonial town Trinidad with its colorful & lively streets.

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We then spent a few more beach days in the island Cayo Coco before returning to Havana for a few last days of salsa dancing.

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About Jenny Trozell

Swedish girl with a passion for travelling, Latin dance and meeting new interesting and fun people :-)

Posted on January 18, 2015, in Cuba and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Wonderful pictures. I visited Cuba back in 2007 and I also stayed in Vedado. Such a cool area, and it had a much more authentic feel than the old town. I was supposed to stay in a casa particulare, but didn’t get on the first flight out of Paris, so I was one day late. I ended up staying at a public hotel instead, and woke up with bed bug bites all over my body:/ Looks like you had a wonderful trip.

    • Thank you 🙂 Yes, Vedado is for sure more Cuba than Vieja. Interesting that you have been there, but less fun with the bed bugs. I have had them too a few years ago. A nightmare.

  2. This is a super photo record of Havana Jenny and I’m glad that Cuba was one of your best trips. It was for us as well. I’m waiting to see more. 🙂

  3. Such beautiful impressions about Cuba. I am Cuban and I felt I was there with you! Thanks for this!

  4. Thank you so much Jocy! You have a beautiful blog too that seems so interesting. But I hardly speak Spanish. I have forwarded it to my friend, she speaks some and will have to translate 😉

  5. Glad to read that you enjoyed your travel in Cuba! I did have great time there and reading your posts make want to visit Cuba again, maybe I will wait until the relationship with US is solid so I can see the differences…
    The food in Cuba lacks of variety but indeed, like you said, the casa’s food usually delicious and generous 🙂 Oh one thing I miss in Cuba was good tea – gladly I brought tea with me all the time (he-eh, weird habit ;))

    • Hi Indah! Happy that you enjoyed my Cuba post 🙂 Cuba has something very special, and I left with a feeling that has been hard to process. I guess my salsa dance enriched my experience too. want to go back again…

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