So I did it. I took the plunge and went to Havana, Cuba. This was the most challenging trip I think I’ve ever planned. With talk of travel bans, and limited internet service, I felt so vulnerable as a solo traveler, but I did it.
While trembling and feeling completely uncertain, I booked my flight and started making plans.
A week before I was to arrive, one of the largest and most powerful hurricanes in history struck Havana hard. My back was against the wall, I had to make a very tough decision, and I had to make it quickly.
I had no clue when I might be on this side of the World again, Trump is threatening to cut off our rights to travel to Cuba, and while I purchased insurance, when I called to inquire, I got shifted around and blind transferred countless times. I had a strong feeling that it would take an Act of Congress to get my money back.
I decided that I would just go to Cuba, and if it was a complete disaster there I’d jump in and help with the relief efforts.
Honestly, if no one had told me that there had been a hurricane there a week before, I wouldn’t have had a clue. I arrived just as they re-opened the seawall, and besides a few cut up trees and places that locals could point out to me, it literally didn’t affect me at all.
So now to the good stuff…
Where did I Live?
With both budget, and a desire to connect with the Cuban Culture as much as possible in mind, I opted to go with Airbnb.
I rented a room at Villa Margarita. Margarita has been in this home since 1950, and she takes great pride in it. It felt like I was living in a museum. The wall art, decor and antique “what-nots” are sure to keep you intrigued.
My room was spacious, well lit and cool with great air conditioning and a window for fresh air. The shower was clean and the water was hot. Most importantly the bed was especially soft.
I was originally hesitant to go to Villa Margarita, as it is not located in the center of the city. However, I knew that I’d have a bit of culture shock in this unique town, so I opted for something a bit nicer, and a bit outside of the touristy areas.
The best part about Villa Margarita, was that I only paid $10 USD per night. This was a steal for the value that was offered. Here is the link to the listing. Please keep in mind that the prices may vary depending on the room that you select and the time of year that you inquire.
If you go to stay with Margarita during your time spent in Cuba, please be sure to tell her that I sent you. Also, if you have never used Airbnb before, sign up using this airbnb code now. By signing up now the discount will be saved to your Airbnb account. If your timing is right, you could score a place like Margarita’s absolutely free. Should you opt for something a bit more pricey, you will still get a reasonable discount because you signed up with this code.
Day 1: Get Out of Town, and Go to the Beach!
I know, I know, I threw a curveball. Yes, I took a little trip within this small trip. I personally LOVE nature and knew that I needed to experience just a bit of it to fully appreciate my trip to Havana.
I also knew that just 45 minutes outside of town, was a local gem of a beach, called Santa Maria del Mar.
To be completely honest with you, for some reason I expected the beach to be lined with tourist attractions and restaurants. I’d planned to go and hang out, walk the beach and grab a bite to eat.
Margarita reminded me to take my bathing suit and I thought, sure, why not? Just in case the water is very appealing I may want to stick my feet in. She also tried to convince me to take my beach shoes. I opted not to, as I didn’t have a beach bag. So with a bathing suit in my purse, I started my adventure in a floor length dress.
The second I arrived I realized why Margarita had insisted that I put on my bathing suit and beach shoes. This beach was even more raw and underdeveloped than I expected. This was wonderful, but I was less than prepared. I tried to walk a bit in my leather sandals and eventually had to take them off. I searched for a place to change, and there wasn’t a single building or hideout near.
Some lovely Cuban ladies saw me wandering around, a novice with my Spanish, I found a way to let them know that I was looking for a place to change into my bathing suit. They ended up creating a human wall for me to stand behind, as I prepared to take on the beach.
I spent about 2 hours splashing around this most beautiful body of water while taking in the fact that I was actually able to kick back and enjoy it all on a Thursday afternoon.
It meant a great deal to me. I’d actually had plans to visit Cuba a few years back. My direct supervisor assigned me to a work trip there. After foolishly failing at the good ol’ game of “Office Politics”, the trip was abruptly reassigned to one of my colleagues.
Needless to say, I was very disappointed.
I laid out on that beautiful beach that day, feeling quite redeemed. It’s interesting how things come full circle. To learn more about my tumultuous Corporate America journey as well as how and why I finally escaped, click here.
After hanging out at the beach for a few hours, I found a little discreet corner to change back into my dress and I went and explored the Havana Seawall, and all that surrounded it. It’s a beautiful place to roam around and I’ve been told that it offers you the best view of the city. It’s complete with old Army Bunkers, and if you happen to go at night, specifically 9 p.m. you can see the nightly Cannon Ceremony.
You will see waves crashing against rocks, and you can visit the Christ of Havana, a massive statue that no words or photos can ever properly describe.
The Havana Seawall is a perfect place to have a picnic, people watch, or just sit still and breathe in some fresh air. Just like everywhere else in Havana, there are plenty of beautiful classic cars gracing the streets, so by all means, find one that you connect with and strike a pose.
After hanging out at the beach and exploring the Seawall I was hungry. I went to a restaurant near Margarita’s. I opted for a traditional Cuban dish, after all, I would only be there for a short period of time.
I walked home, took a shower and took a quick nap before I’d go out on the town.
I woke up at about 7:30 p.m. and got all dressed up so that I could spend an evening at the Famous Fabrica de Arte Cubano. This spot seemed perfect for me. It’s indoors so I felt safe with this selection, and there you can find art, music, food, drinks and more. I was so hurt when I arrived only to find out that the establishment was on a one-month break and wouldn’t open up again for a few weeks. This left me with no choice but to explore Old Havana a bit by car. My driver was sure to show me the hotel that Beyonce stayed in and the restaurants that she ate at while there. My night ended pretty early, but it was fine by me. I’d had a full day and welcomed the much-needed night of rest that was to come. By all means, if and when you visit Havana, please go to Fabrica de Arte Cubano and have enough fun for both you and me.
Day 2: Take a City Tour with Havana Memories
I can’t recommend taking a tour with Havana Memories enough. They provide a classic car and 7 hours of none stop education while exploring this most characteristic city.
I have to embarrassingly admit that I was not aware of the culture of Cuba. I knew a tiny amount, but not as much as I probably should have before arriving there. My tour guide Yanet was wonderful about getting me up to speed. There was no question that she didn’t have an answer to. She was beyond friendly, super authentic and fun to talk to.
I genuinely felt as though I spent the day with a friend. She’s also a wonderful photographer, so this tour gave me everything I could have ever imagined and more.
I won’t go through every single thing that we saw and experienced because it was a long and full day, however, I will now wrap up the blog with some photos from the experience.
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