It’s a question we’re often asked. For us, it went beyond the reasons of unknown exploration and the wild romantic notions of a country that many just don’t understand. We wanted to meet the people, taste the food, feel the old brick streets beneath our feet and, to be honest, break free from Americans for a hot minute. We wanted to see it for ourselves; immerse ourselves in the history, the folklore and all that had been whispered to us throughout our lives.
Would we love it?… we didn’t know and that’s what we loved most about going. It was completely new territory. The US had just opened up the borders in January of 2016, after 56 years. In fact, The Obama administration recently announced on Friday, October 14th, 2016 that new executive actions would be put into place- travelers can now purchase and bring home, an unlimited amount of Cuban rum and cigars, as long as they are for personal consumption. The laws on Cuba are changing rapidly and their gates are opening up more and more for Americans every day, so why not go? Technically, the only thing that’s separating us now, is 90 miles of water.
10 REASONS WHY CUBA SHOULD BE YOUR NEXT TRAVEL DESTINATION-
1. The Casas Particulares:
Who knew that the first Airbnb came from Cuba! Casas are small business establishments that are usually built within the family home, rented out to travelers and are a fantastic way in which to immerse one’s self within the culture. Casas can be booked as a private room or shared, it all depends on what you prefer. They often come equipped with an AC, full bath, and a balcony.
2. Rum, Cigars, & The Food:
Cuba is a paradise for many of the senses so it should be no surprise that the “Queen Bee” of those: Rum, Cigars, and Food, get to share in this category. Cuba produces some of the world’s most delicious brands of rum. They start with your basic white, used primarily for such cocktails as the daiquiri or mojito, to various dark rums which are aged in oak casks for a wide variety of years. They are made from the richest of materials and are often full of flavor. The logic is similar to that of wine- the older the bottle, the more complex the flavor. Santiago de Cuba and Havana Club are two of the more well-known brands within the Country.
For cigars, the traditions and routines haven’t changed much over the last century and are consistently made from organic, high-quality materials. Did you know, that it takes over one hundred different steps to produce a single Cuban cigar?! They are still, to this day, hand-grown, hand-picked and hand-crafted. No machines… I just dropped the mic.
Many warned us that the food in Cuba is awful. Not true. First off, you’re surrounded by the ocean. The seafood is plentiful and often delicious. Chicken and pork are also popular dishes, served with a side of black beans, rice, and plantains. In between, have a Cuban sandwich as a snack- basically a ham and cheese sandwich on Cuban baked bread. Throw in a Cuban cup of coffee and you have yourselves the perfect lunch, fit for any budget.
3. Street Life:
Our first morning in Havana, we opened up the storm shutters, leaned over our balcony and watched a vibrant morning unfold before us. A man called out to us selling bread while kids began their walk to school. Three neighbors watched us from their balcony, sharing the latest neighborhood gossip while sipping on small cups of coffee. At sunset, it was the same routine all over again. Everyone comes out to play, chat, observe and share in their community. Even when they decide to retire to the indoors, the door is usually open. The street life in Cuba is romantic, completely social, and always a constant. Walking up and down the city streets is one of the best ways to get to know the people.
4. Untouched Landscapes:
There are many environmental laws in place that protect the Cuban landscapes and oceans. From national parks to coral reefs, mangrove forests, and organic farms, there is definitely a strong sense of environmental pride within the country. Much of Cuba’s coastline has also remained undeveloped, creating a safe haven for rare and indigenous animals. For these reasons, it is one of the most majestic places to visit and photograph. While there, please be sure to continue that respect, by being aware of what’s around you and what you’re leaving behind. Due to the lifted embargo, Cuba’s environmental policy is sure to be challenged over the next few decades so as tourists, we should help to preserve it as much as possible.
5. The Malecón:
The Malécon is comprised of a roadway and seawall that stretches 5 miles in length. Originally built in 1901 by the military for the purposes of protecting Havana from the water, it has since become the perfect happy-hour hot-spot. It is the perfect place for socializing, car cruising, fishing for the daily catch or for simply catching the sunset. It’s one of the greatest views of the Havana Harbor and the sunsets are to die for. Grab yourself a juice box (aka rum in a box) and get to know the locals here.
Much of Cuba has been frozen in time, 1959 to be exact, the year that Castro and Communism came into power. The American response was to then create a commercial, economic, and financial embargo against Cuba, in 1960. The platform for Cuba’s historic preservation was founded off of these two events, creating an awe-inspiring time capsule. The crumbling facades and classically preserved Chevys serve as a symbol to this day. Visitors are instantly transported and can readily view history around every corner.
7. Vintage Cars:
With the embargo of 1960, came a freeze on the imports of all new cars (including parts) into Cuba, thus leaving the average Cuban with an extremely limited amount of automotive options. In order to maintain the condition of their cars, they had to become extremely creative, utilizing only what they already had. They very quickly became the MacGyver’s of the automotive industry. It’s amazing to see actually. During our visit, we were always searching for the updates made on each vehicle. We saw everything from Chinese engines being placed within the old American frames, seats reupholstered in duck tape, and five-gallon buckets utilized as gas tanks. There is a strong sense of patriotic pride when it comes to these cars, you instantly sense it upon viewing the car and its driver within, as they slowly coast down the city’s narrow streets.
Cuba currently has a rich assortment of music being created within their country. Reggaeton, rhumba, salsa, rap, rock, Afro-Cuban jazz, hip hop, electronic. These genres can often be heard within concert halls, cafes, and dance clubs, with many American producers also looking to Cuba as a new recording destination. Street musicians can often be found on various corners and parks as well, it’s a state-licensed job after all. So if you stop to enjoy, make sure to tip them as well.
9. The people:
The people of Cuba are what make up 80% of the Cuban experience and staying in the casas is a great way to get to know them better. They will often chat, cook, swap stories, or lend a helping hand. Many Cubans don’t own televisions, smart phones, or computers so their primary focus is on human connection. They can be found engaged in such activities as taking the family goat out for a walk, rebuilding their house or playing baseball in the alleyway. Just before sunset, you can always count on lively streets, populated door frames and energetic balconies. Cubans often make you feel like you’ve come home to distant relatives and are some of the most hospitable people I have ever met.
10. The White Sand Beaches:
Cuba contains white sand and warm Caribbean waters for days! Playa Ancón, Playa Pilar, Playa Paraíso, Bahía de Baracoa, Varadero, Cayo Levisa, are just a few. Some are more populated than others but they never feel over crowded. With the numerous beaches, comes numerous activities, snorkeling, scuba, rowing, swimming, boating or just plain drinking. There is something for everyone. Grab yourself a rum bevy, walk yourself out into the clear blue bath water and get yourself a tan! The water will rejuvenate you. We played in the water for hours and it truly is the fountain of youth.
So the number one reason to go to Cuba is because you can! It’s now completely open to Americans. Go! Cuba is magic. It’s a way of life and the ultimate travel adventure. Whether you choose to swim the beaches of Varadero, walk the streets of Havana, or dine on the music created in Trinidad, this Country is a wander luster’s paradise.
We will be sharing more tips and photography from this breathtaking country so stay tuned!