EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a companion story to a previous story we featured about Cuba by Shawn Underwood:
Story & Photos by Michelle Codd
Ever been curious about what traveling to Cuba would be like?
We recently returned from the mysterious communist island and had an amazing experience. There are hundreds of reasons of why you’d go to Cuba. In addition to documenting our adventures on my blog, coddess.com, I’ve highlighted 15 reasons why you should visit Cuba:
- Because you can!
It sounds like it would be challenging to travel to Cuba. This is what we thought prior to actually going. I researched everything from the airline tickets to the money exchange and it seemed like all the tasks on my list were challenging. Technically, Americans have twelve categories that we can legally travel under without the threat of a fine. Being a blogger, we chose to travel under the banner of Journalism. This box, out of the twelve categories, was checked for flights into Cuba and for lodging with Airbnb when we reserved our rental house.
- Witness history
When you’re in Cuba you are witnessing the operations of a communist dictatorship. Cubans thought that this Revolution was going to last for 6 months and it has dragged on for almost 60 years under the same regime. Driving through the country, the billboards on the side of the highways portray messages of praise for the Revolution.
- The people are resilient
Unlike other poor countries, Cuba wasn’t always poor. Beautiful public buildings and grand Spanish homes are evidence that life for the Cubans wasn’t always dark. Some fled and left all their possessions thinking they’d return, others stayed and still lost everything. Seeing people live on 20 dollars a month, driving the same car for 60 years, and live without simple items that we take for granted.
- It’s safe
I’m not sure you’ll find a safer place on the planet. Guns and drugs aren’t available and violent crimes are almost nonexistent. Pickpocketing is and theft may occur (we didn’t experience any) and an American traveler would be the perfect target.
- Cuba is a big island with lots to see
We only just scratched the surface venturing down to Trinidad for a night and scuba diving in the Bay of Pigs. We hired our beloved “history teacher turned cab driver” for the week that gave us a complete tour including fruit stand stops, driving next to drying rice on the road, an afternoon at an all inclusive “resort”.
- It’s the home of rum and cigars
Havana is where Ernest Hemingway helped to invent the daiquiri. We enjoyed $2.00 Mojitos everywhere. There are tobacco factories to visit and a large humidor in the Hotel Nacional.
- Lodging is cheap
Originally, when arranging our trip, I consulted a couple of travel agencies. They both told me that I was out of luck for the year as Havana’s hotels were booked up through the year. We used Airbnb to rent our house, or â€˜casa particulare’. Our house was $100 a night – which was on the higher end of price ranges. We could envision how they entertained before the Revolution in our grand 4-bedroom place with high 12-foot ceilings, beautiful marble and Spanish tiles and elegant furniture throughout. We had three different maids and two security guards (not quite sure why we had security guards) that we got to know and love.
- Food is cheap
We were a little worried about the food in Cuba. The blogs and books spoke about how bland the food was. We found different â€˜paladors’ that offered an array of dishes away from the Cuban fare. Paladors are private â€˜restaurants’ that are opened in someone’s home. Lobster was regularly on the menu for less than $20.00. You can eat Cuban sandwiches for $1.50 or you can have filet mignon for around $20.00.
- Cocktails are cheap
Drinks are around $4.00. Mojitos will run around $2.50. There are few imported beers. More readily available are their local brands – Bucanero and Cristal are the Cuban beers that we tried. Buconero, my favorite, is their dark brew.
- They love Americans
We heard numerous times, “We are now amigos-the United States and Cuba”. The Cuban people were lovely. I got the feeling that they were cautiously excited. They have been trained not to really get excited about the future of Cuba.
- It’s like a step back in time
The streets are littered with classic old American cars and outside of the city, you’ll find horse and carriage as a popular means of transportation. Once exclusive, stucco homes are crumbling and hotels have “light” remodels that fall into more of the maintenance category. Stepping into the Hotel Nacional you can feel the splendor of the 1930’s wealthy period of Cuban’s history.
- There is so much to see in the city
We ventured down to Trinidad but could have easily spent more time in Havana. In Havana, we went to the Castillo De Los Tres Teyes Del Morro and toured the 16th century fort and walked down the Malecon, the seawall along the city. We toured museums (sorry, no English) and stopped into an antique shop in between food and beverage stops. We went to the tiled neighborhood – Fuster Town where we bought some art. It’s gritty but that’s what we loved.
- Transportation is easy
Cabs are everywhere and easy to access. Even private owners turn their cars into taxis. There are pedal powered 3 wheel cycled cabs, small three wheeled motorized cabs that look like football helmets, buses and of course collectivos – the pre-1959 collectable cars turned taxis. You may want to rent a car if you want to travel the island, but while in the city you probably don’t want to deal with parking, traffic and potholes.
- You’re not completely in the dark.
Hotels have internet available for a small fee. We just missed it, but Sprint and Verizon are available for roaming cell service in Cuba. It’s expensive so using Viber or another wi-fi phone option is more economical.
- Go while it’s still pristine
From talking to the locals, I don’t feel like Havana will change any time soon. Free enterprise is allowed now and we saw some evidence of it, however, you won’t see a Starbucks for a while. The regime is still very guarded and wants to cash in on the tourism trade themselves before opening it up to others.