La isla bella de Cuba… Let me begin with saying how appreciative and fortunate I feel for the opportunity to visit this country. My family is from this communist gem, located in the middle of the Caribbean, and due to their regime I never thought I would be able to visit as soon as I did.
It is unlike any other Caribbean island that I have visited. And I’ve been lucky enough to have visited a fair share. So let me share with you my good times in Cuba.
One of the reasons Cuba is so different from any other Caribbean island is because of their strong views on socialism. I am not going to enter deeply into the realm of politics, but Cuba has kept their own authentic culture and pride because of the revolution of 1959. Whenever I have visited family in other Caribbean islands, or just for vacation, these areas are much more “Americanized.” I understand that touristic places are only trying to make their visitors feel comfortable, but because of this quality I feel like I am simply visiting another state with a nicer beach.
Don’t get me wrong, I am one of the proudest Americans anyone will ever meet. Maybe it’s my inner gemini coming out, but I need a change every now and then. So when I go to another country and see the same American antics, I find it to be a bit frustrating.
The people here are very inviting, and to my surprise love Americans. That is one thing that I think Americans misunderstand, including myself before the trip. Thankfully, politics is not of much interest in a Cuban conversation. So let’s get to the fun stuff.
When you walk down the streets of Havana it’s like walking through a time capsule of the past. The men greet you with a head nod, then some sassy remarks, the old cars try to zoom by with their taped on transmissions, the colorful buildings could use a new paint job, but everything still shines bright in a new and unfamiliar way that draws you in.
Everyone should walk through Old Havana down Obispo to sip on a cafecito in a nice café, and get a couple of souvenirs while you’re at it. But before that stop at my favorite restaurant in all of Havana, Ivan Justo.
I would also suggest to walk down the Malecón (boardwalk) and just get lost in Havana. You will bump into people playing music, and if you are lucky maybe a small vendor selling homemade ice cream. Even just the locals sitting around will sniff out the fact that you are foreign, and want to pick your brain for some intellectual conversation.
To understand the people and the country better you should learn some history, which there are plenty of small museums throughout Havana as a whole. However, if you do not want to spend your whole trip jumping from one museum to the next there is one place in particular that encompasses all things Cuban.
To get a crash course in Cuban history, get a tour of Plaza de la Revolución, and go into the Jose Martí Memorial. A good tour guide will drive you to the Plaza and explain to you the different national figures of the country.
Che Guevarra, Camilo Cienfuegos, Fidel Castro, and all the figures that brought forth the revolution will be shown in wrought iron murals on the buildings surrounding the Plaza.
Jose Martí is the legend of Cuba. He was a poet that helped Cuba gain independence from the Spanish crown in the mid 19th century. His poems are all over the country, and have been incorporated into many Latin songs. Even if you do not go to the memorial, you will see Jose Martí everywhere throughout Cuba.
Nonetheless, I suggest that everyone visits the memorial so that you have a full understanding of his impact. There are also amazing views of the whole city of Havana at the top of the memorial building.
After you have spent a good day having a blast from the past you have to hit the beach. The closest one to Havana is a 20 minute drive, Santa Maria, which is straight up sand and surf. It’s a lovely beach, but not at my level of adventure.
But if you want cliffs, caverns, clear blue waters, sand, lagoons, and a pure untouched paradise you will have to go further. Varadero is the most beautiful Caribbean beach that I have ever seen!! It is about an hour plus drive outside of the city, but well worth it. If I ever go back I would spend my whole vacation there.
Here are some more pictures from my amazing time in Cuba…