Cuba Calling

For years, Cuba sat just out of reach for most U.S. travelers, dangling just off of the tip of Florida like a forbidden fruit. Romanticized by some of today’s most significant cultural icons and most nefarious underworld types, Cuba has long been associated with escapism. From Hemingway to Luciano, Cuba has long played on the imagination of North American’s and until recently, took some creative maneuvering to access.

Words by Matthew Vanatta
Photos by Ashley Camper

Cuba is a paradox. Wrapped in duality, Cuba appears to be somewhat of a living time capsule. Halted by U.S. trade and travel sanctions, many Cuban’s long for modernization. However, Cuba’s lack of corporatization is also the key to its undeniable charm. Like an old painting, Cuba’s faded pastels, classic automobiles and breezy Caribbean culture seem to draw on a certain nostalgia for North Americans.

As trade and travel embargoes continue to be lifted and old regimes slowly fade into the sea, Cuba like most places will undoubtedly change. Eventually, the effects of commerce will take place and Cuba will join the rest of the world in a globalization defined by technology that is moving at the speed of light. The Cuba of today surely won’t be the Cuba of tomorrow and for any travel or cultural enthusiast that longs for Hunter esque adventure and the romanticism of old Havana, the time to plan a trip to Cuba is now.

Where To Stay:

There are a number of hotels in Havana, but if adventure and affordability are part of your travel plans check out:

Casa Particular – A Cuban home share and B&B site that lets you pick a home within your price range. Many include meals for additional cost.

Airbnb – Some locations in Cuba, but if your Spanish is limited, it might be beneficial to look for one with a host who speaks english. Havana has a number of Airbnb’s that range from artsy kitsch to upscale.

What To Do:

Calle Obispo – This popular street running through the center of Havana offers a wide range of shops, street food, art and hangouts. It specifically caters to tourists, but it’s central location and good people watching make it a must see.

National Museum Of Fine Art – For cultural and creative enthusiasts, the National Museum of Fine Art offers a wide range of work from both Cuban nationals and internationally renowned artists.

Hotel Raquel – Stop by the Hotel Raquel and enjoy a drink on their stunning rooftop balcony. The art deco design and detailed architecture will be a favorite amongst the creative class.

Surf – Cuba has a small but rich surf community that will welcome you with open arms into their lineups. There are no surf shops in Cuba, so make sure to bring everything you need for your trip and some extra wax, leashes and stickers to share with the locals.

Bar Floridita – Enjoy daiquiris and feel literary at one of Ernest Hemingway’s favorite hangouts.

What To Bring:

Pack light and bring comfortable walking shoes. Make sure to bring a swimsuit for the beaches and travel size toiletries to leave for your Casa housekeepers. Don’t forget a camera as Cuba is filled with stunning architecture, beautiful countryside and Caribbean pastels.

Off the Beaten Path

Vinales – A small country town about a two hour drive from Havana. Beautiful cliffs and caves intersect with roaming countryside to form a stunning landscape. Away from the hustle and bustle of Havana, Vinales offers a genuine look into the lives of the Cuban people. Relax, ride horses and smoke an authentic hand rolled Cuban at one of Vinales tobacco farms.

Cayo Jutias – A great choice if breezy beaches and crystal blue Caribbean water are more your speed. Enjoy fresh coconut water and take boxing lessons from the locals right on the beach.

What to Drink:

Rum – Cuba is well known for its rum and was the original home of Bacardi, but after moving to Puerto Rico once Castro came into power, Cuban rums, like Havana Club, became the national rum of choice. So get your Hemingway on and sip rum like a boss while fishing for marlins or opt for a mojito that will blow your mind.

Coffee – Cubans harvest world renowned coffee, which will be a favorite amongst enthusiasts. Grown in the rich soil of the Sierra Maestra Mountains in Eastern Cuba. O’Reilly Coffee Beans are amazing and the coffee shops and cafes are quaint and lovely.

Bottled Water – Make sure to purchase bottled water before heading out as the coffee and rum are good but also dehydrating.

Currency Tips:

A safe bet is to budget $100.00 a day and it’s convenient to convert your money at the Havana airport. The exchange of USD to CUC is 12% and is about $1 to $1. The locals actually use the Cuban Peso (1 cent to the dollar), so be cognizant of different pricing once they figure out that you’re a tourist.

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