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)!

img_6602

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!

img_4207

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.

img_6370

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.

img_6381

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

img_3965

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.

img_6319

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
.img_6691

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.”

img_6499
img_4084

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.
img_6372
img_6707
img_6460

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!

img_6458

A Pirates Life for Me

Every city around the world has that one thing that they are famous for. For New York, its broadway. For Chicago, its their wind (or comedy shows). For Philadelphia its their cheesesteaks, and their direct attachment to America’s history.

But for Tampa, its Gasparilla.

It loosely looks like New Orleans Mardi Gras, but with swash buckling pirates invading the town.  The whole town shows up dressed as pirates towing their red wagons decorated as Pirate ships and have their hands ready to catch as many bead necklaces as humanly possible.

The parade is based off of the life of Spanish pirate Jose Gaspar, who as the legend says was a naval officer in Spain before he ran away to piracy in the late 1700s. As it goes, Jose Gaspar traveled along Florida’s coast and dropped his treasure around the peninsula before nearly being captured by the East India Trading company that was hunting pirates.

In every legend, Jose Gaspar is captured but takes his own life shouting:

Gasparilla dies by his own hand, not the enemy’s!

img_5943

Now, there is a parade which honors his invasion into Tampa that is celebrated every year. This Gasparilla Parade is one of the biggest turn outs for the city of South Tampa. Everyone lines the streets of Bayshore and eagerly waits for parade floats of different pirate crews make their way downtown, as they have every year since 1901.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetThis adorable tradition also includes a pirate crew taking their boat (float) downtown to kidnap the local mayor at the time until he gives them the key to the city. If you have never been to an invasion, it is absolutely a sight.

You will follow the pirate crew of Gaspar around downtown until they land in the center of a park (which has already been set up for the skit) and either side with the pirates, which is encouraged, or with the mayor.

Each year the skit is played out a little differently, but each year the Pirates ask for the key and the Mayor at the time (this year Bob Buckhorn) says no.

Then a battle is waged or the Mayor is kidnapped until the invasion a few days later.

The invasion is when anyone and everyone who has a boat will sail together into the bay following the Gasparilla ship through the water. This is Tampa’s big event and among the other events that take place with the Gasparilla season; the parade is the most attended.

img_5979

This is Tampa’s big event and among the other events that take place with the Gasparilla season;

the Gasparilla parade is the most attended.

And, because I am allowed to give my biased opinion, its the most fun!

img_5959img_5972img_5988

People will build crazy large and intense floats to throw out beads and coins, and anything that could be considered pirate treasure and the goal is to catch it. Because who doesn’t want treasure?img_6020

If you are ever in Tampa around Gasparilla time, make sure you dress up like a pirate and head to the parade. You’ll fit in immediately.

So, go to Tampa. Its an incredible little city that has sports teams galore, amazing restaurants that are home grown, but most important; you’re gonna find pirates. And you might even meet the Mayor.

Be prepared if you go to the Gasparilla parade (and not the childrens parade) it is adult. Basically its an excuse to get drunk with your friends and collect the most pirate booty you can. If you're not about that life, you've been warned.