What to do in Havana Cuba in ONE weekend

Being in Cuba has to be one of the highlights of my life.

This secret world that I have longed for for years I was finally able to explore, and I didn’t do it alone. Sometimes, the greatest adventures are meant to be shared. So, Im going to share it with you.

If you’re in Havana and only for the weekend, here are some things that you MUST do.

As a fellow traveler, I usually check online and read about a place before I decide to hitch my wagon to it (usually..) and I did for Cuba. I read blog posts and news articles and everything seemed fresh and new because the travel ban for Americans to go to Cuba was lifted (#thanksObama)!

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I am a woman who loves lists, so
armed with my pen and a fresh page in my bullet journal, I was ready. I had seen movies about Havana, and especially Havana Vieja (old Havana) and I was dying to see if what they portrayed was true.

Dani (my friend that I went with) and I both had seen Dirty Dancing Havana Nights and  we were excited and expecting to salsa every night!

If going salsa dancing is not on your list, add it. Even if you’re not good, its Havana. You have to salsa in Havana. Salsa.

Speaking of lists, here is mine! Here are the things I did that I think everyone should:

1) Ride in a 1950’s car. They are taxis and it’s a blast!

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They will take you anywhere you want to go in the city, and who hasn’t dreamt of riding in the back of one of these babies since seeing Grease with your mom as a kid? The taxi’s don’t have a timer in their car, so before you hop in to see one of the most iconic cities in this country, make sure you have settled how much you’re going to pay. We didn’t pay over 20 paso for any trip (and the airport is about 40 mins from Old Havana).

2) Go to the Malécon at sunset.

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Because you’re not a idiot, you are well aware that Cuba is an island meaning it is surrounded by water as has some fantastic beaches.

Well, Havana Vieja doest have a beach, it’s more of a boardwalk. But this is where everyone goes at sunset and plays live music and drinks fantastic cuban rum.

If you’re here for sunset, you’re not moving until the sun is gone. Its too beautiful to leave.

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But maybe you get hungry when the sun sets. And as someone who just wants to eat great food and hear amazing stories, I get that.

So Dani and I went to a restaurant called La Presidenté which was right on the Malécon. If I can’t tell you about another restaurant (which I will.. in a different post) this is absolutely one to go to. And order a Mojito with Ropa Vieja. Your world with change.

And SPEAKING of mojitos..

3) Order a Mojito at the rooftop restaurant and bar of the Ambos Mundos hotel.

This was probably the greatest find that Danielle and I made. I think I may have had one

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mojito in my entire life before going to Cuba. And it was probably just a sip of someone else’s. They’re not my go to drink. HOWEVER, it’s the best drink in Cuba because of the homemade rum that is there.

Also, the view is incredible.

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It over looks the bay, and I won’t lie. We went back twice. The birds eye view is everything.

4) Go Salsa Dancing!

Like I said, it absolutely should be on your list. It was on mine, and we wanted to go to Casa de la musica, but it was closed for renovation. That is where they danced in dirty dancing. Instead we went to hotel Florita and danced to our hearts content and sweat through our outfits… You didn’t need to know.. but its true
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img_6380Wonderfully enough, Dani and I found excellent dancing partners who taught us the moves. Danielle, being much more fabulous than I, had done salsa before. Unfortunately for Alfredo, my salsa partner, I was not at the same level.

But the best part of being in a new place with wonderful people is that  they will teach you what they know.

 If you can’t dance, go out any way. Get yourself a mojito and head out to make yourself some memories. You (most likely) won’t regret it.

5) Have a daiquiri at La Florita

Ever heard of Earnest Hemingway? He’s just one of the greatest authors of all time who also happened to fall in love with Cuba. He moved there and wrote a book called “The haves and the have nots” about a man in Cuba.

 hemingway-at-the-bar2He is quoted saying La Florita makes the worlds best daiquiri and should look “like the sea where the wave falls away from the bow of a ship when she is doing thirty knots.”

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There is now a statue of him on his favorite bar stool spot for you to take a picture with, which is exactly what I did.

The Hemingway daiquiri is the most expensive drink I had in Havana but because its Earnest Hemingway I gladly put down the 6 pesos. And it was incredible. He CLEARLY knew what he was talking about.

6) Cigar smoker? Cuba has it for you!

Im not actually a smoker at all. Danielle is and she knows that you can’t beat a cuban cigar from Cuba. There is a whole story in getting the cigars that I will share later. For now, I will say that going to one of the bigger hotels to buy your cigar is a fabulous idea. They will have lots of variety of cigars and they will sell you just one (if you just wanted to try it without getting an entire box). Thankfully we did that.. because Cigar smoking is not for me.

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It should be noted; there is a way to smoke and a way not to. I am now very aware how not to smoke. But, when in Cuba.

7) Hang out with the locals!

This should go without saying, but in a new place you absolutely should meet the people who live there. There is beauty in going to a place you don’t know and finding yourself and friends and passion.
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Dani and I were a little nervous about the lack of Spanish that we knew going into Cuba, but luckily, a lot of the Cubans we met spoke broken English. And that combined with the Spanish we knew, we were able to talk to everyone we wanted to without a problem. It also helped that we spoke about 60% Spanish together. Meaning.. I can speak about 30% of Spanish, but Dani knew the other 30%!

8) See a Museum

Maybe you’re not a history buff or care to read about how people lived back in the day, but here you’re going to want to jump in that people group. Dani and I went to two different museums. Both were old homes- and by homes I mean palaces.

Because Cuba has been closed to America, it has been this wonderful secret that I didn’t know much about. Seeing their history helped me to fall in love with the people and the culture (not that I needed help).

If you only have a short time to be in Cuba, go to Havana Vieja. You will not be disappointed.

There are some things that I would let you know now that I have been.

  • Pack toilet paper and take it with you. Some bathrooms don’t have it, and the ones that do will charge you for it.
  • Download the map.me app. This is an offline map and it saved us more than once.
  • Take a nap. Don’t try to do it all, relax a bit. Take a siesta and go out for more after!
  • Most places will accept euros. They will charge extra for american dollars, but the euro and peso are 1 for 1, so the math is easy.
  • Try foods you can’t pronounce because they are delicious. But if you need a safe bet, papas fritas are french fries.

Here are some Spanish phrases that you will use, so practice:

How much is that -Cuánto cuesta 
Thank you - Gracias
Where is the bathroom - Donde estas le bano
I love your country - Me gusta tu pais
Take me to the Airport - llevame a El aeropuerto

Have fun practicing! If you’ve been to Cuba, what did you get to see and do? Are you planning a trip? Do you want someone to come with you? Im in.

Caio!

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Two Minutes Too Late.

I had a stupendous weekend in New York City. If you only have 48 hours to spend in any city, this will always be my recommendation. But this isn’t a post about New York. It is an honest account of what it can look like to travel alone.

Shall I regale you with the story of trying to get home? Prepare yourself, because it teeters on the dramatic side. 

The f train (accurately named), which is the only train to take out of east side without a 1.5 mile walk, was running slow. And by slow I mean 20 minutes late. That’s okay. It eventually came and I jumped on, squeezing between the packaged commuters. I was able to jump off at the correct station and got turned around looking for Penn Station. Luckily I have a great sense of direction and only got lost twice.

It got crazy on the train from the beautiful city of New York to the now known clingy city of New Jersey.

I hopped on another full train to cross the water into the unknown that would bring me to the holy land (or the airport). After buying another bus pass to get to the airport I shoved into yet another train. My love for trains had not been diminished, but was wearing thin..

It was only when I got to the security line when I felt the pressure for time. Half an hour and three times through the medal detector later, I was informed that I was at the wrong gate!! (It was not mentioned before but I was told which gate to go to by a horrific liar!)

In order to get to my gate I must traverse by bus to the correct part of the airport. Like most bus drivers I have come in contact with, this man was not pressed for time. He had no problem taking his time and driving possibly slower than a broken car without a wheel.

I could feel myself start to lose it.

I was breaking down just a bit as I watched the minutes tick by. It was 3:14. One minute before the doors closed. He pulled up and threaten a broken door by waiting to let me out. I jumped out and booked it to my gate. I was so close!! I ran the handicap ramp with shocking grace, only running into the wall once. And then, I saw it! It was beautiful, but there was no time to gaze in wonderment. I ran, full force toward gate B41. I showed my ticket to the lady at the gate fully believing I had made it.

“The doors just closed, mam. We have given away your seat.” 

I missed it. I had failed.

I would never get home and I would be stuck in Jersey for the rest of my life.

I collapsed on the ground tears flowing full force.

There are moments in your life that are beautiful, and there are moments when you are hysterically crying in an airport in Newerk.

This was that day.

After, I kid you not, a full 4 minutes of crying on the floor, I was told that it’s possible to get on the next flight. Still sobbing, I tried to regain any pride I had left and got into a unmoving line for option b. I was unable to control my emotions. It was as if I hadn’t cried in years and this was the moment that I broke.

A young (attractive) man came up to me. He must have been concerned about my mental health because he calmly said “you should probably breath so you don’t pass out”.

It was then I realized I was hyperventilating. Luckily, like most extroverts, talking to someone calmed me. It was possibly to process rational thought again. Of course I wouldn’t be trapped in New Jersey. There would be tons of flights and it was absolutely possible to get on one of them. He said he was a medic and that’s when I knew (though anyone could have guess before) that I was being dramatic.

So, after a few more sobs and a conversation with the ticket booth ladies, I was put on standby for the next flight 3 hours from then.

Most of the time I love airports. They are a place where everyone can be from different worlds but its equal playing ground. Everyone is traveling. Everyone is the same.

Layovers can be fun, but unexpected layovers in a clingy city that wants you to stay there forever, those are best handled with an exorbitant amount of French fries.

So, moral of the story is, never take the F train, and if all else fails, Irish Nachos. (Google Irish Nachos and enjoy your life being changed)