Cuba North America Travel

Cuba Photo Diary and Initial Thoughts

Oh, Cuba. Without a doubt one of my favorite destinations I’ve been to this year. It’s hard to articulate what I love so much about Cuba, because in a way a lot of the things I feel so drawn to are unfortunately a side effect of so much oppression.

Visiting Cuba is a good practice in living more simply and taking things slower. The food is basic, the accommodations are basic; when you want to meet up with friends you have to set a time and stick to it (how foreign!). Being in Cuba definitely feels like going back in time — and not just because of the vintage 1950s automobiles — although those definitely set a specific tone. It’s the music playing on every street corner, the way Cubans know how to dance and entertain like our grandparents’ generation once did. It’s the way everyone grows up with salsa in their blood — literally everyone in Cuba is a “salsa instructor” — and they’ll pull you into a rhythm on the street just to prove it. I loved it all.

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I will be the first to admit though that I have a lot to learn about Cuba and its history and I’m more curious than ever to know more.

Cubans are without a doubt disconnected from the world in ways that we couldn’t fathom (although wi-fi access is much more easily accessible than I imagined before visiting). It’s the only place I wasn’t inundated with questions about the U.S. election — thankfully so — and many people didn’t seem to know who this Trump person was (also thankfully so).

While I wholeheartedly believe that Cuban citizens deserve access to the same information we have, the fact is that because they don’t deal with the same technology overwhelm that we experience, Cubans are some of the most friendly and talkative locals I’ve met out of all the places I’ve visited. Instead of looking down at their phones all day, they’re milling outside of their homes spending time with neighbors and friends, yelling at newcomers asking where they’re from and itching to share their story.

And there were many stories we heard over the course of ten days. From the teenage bellhop with braces at Hotel Ambos Munos who desperately wanted to move to Miami to make more money so he could afford expensive tech products (which are often only available to purchase in CUC the tourist currency that is out of reach to most locals), to Luis — a friend I made on the last day who wanted nothing more than an orange soda worth $1 for his 60th birthday (which I happily bought for him). He then proceeded to run down the street introducing me as Michelle the American to everyone he could find. Then there was the fellow I met in Havana who ran home to grab his rations card so he could show it to me and explain how it worked. Everyone in Cuba was so open with their story and wanting to share their experiences with the world. All these moments enlightened me and simultaneously broke my heart.

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Another thing that surprised me? The island is drop dead gorgeous — which might be obvious to some, but exceeded my expectations. It is in the Caribbean after all (although the culture feels much more Latin American). I just wasn’t expecting the natural landscape to be so stunning. This island is so much more than the colorful and crumbling streets of Havana — it has white sand beaches and turquoise water that could rival any resort destination, and lush rolling mountains in Viñales that make you feel like you’ve been plopped inside a painting. It’s breathtaking.

I hope these photos paint a picture of Cuba that makes you eager to book your next flight there and learn more about the beautiful people of this country.

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RELATED: My Complete 7-Day Cuba Itinerary 

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  • Sandy October 25, 2016 at 1:16 pm

    Hi Michelle,

    Cuba sounds an amazing rare gem through your words. ? It’s at the top of my list of places to travel to but have been apprehensive due the strict visa requirements. Which category did you apply for to be able to visit?

    Thanks,

    Sandy

    • Michelle Halpern October 26, 2016 at 6:32 pm

      Hi Sandy! Thanks for the comment 🙂 I’m assuming you are traveling from the States since you are concerned about the visa requirements? To be honest, we flew through Mexico and didn’t apply for any visas or go under one of the “12 categories” to permit travel there. If you fly through Mexico or Canada they will issue you a tourist visa at the airport (about $13 US) and just ask them to not stamp your passport although they usually know not to do this anyway! I know people can be concerned about traveling there by the book, but honestly we had no issues and people from the States do this every day without problems. They want tourists to come so they are very used to this process in Cuba! Definitely plan a trip there soon, it’s amazing 🙂 Let me know if you have any other questions!

      • Sandy November 29, 2016 at 12:36 am

        AAaah, I just saw your reply! Thank you so much, Michelle! You’ve convinced to visit Cuba next year! Can’t wait! 😀

  • Jane November 6, 2016 at 5:14 pm

    Hi Michelle,
    I stumbled upon your Instagram this morning, amazed by the photos and travel! I bought tickets to Cuba on a whim, without any idea of what I’ll actually do there. I’d love to read more about the places you visited, where to stay, and must-do’s! I’ll have 5 days, flying in and out of Havana.
    Thanks,
    Jane

    • Michelle Halpern November 6, 2016 at 11:31 pm

      Hi Jane, when do you leave for Cuba? I’m working on a post with my ideal itinerary so stay tuned!

    • Michelle Halpern November 30, 2016 at 3:44 am

      Whoohoo! Let me know your thoughts when you get back. I think you’ll love it!

  • Jane November 12, 2016 at 11:54 pm

    I go in late March. Great, looking forward to more Cuba posts!!

    • Michelle Halpern March 13, 2017 at 2:13 pm

      Hi Jane! Not sure if you saw but I posted another article with my entire 7-day Cuba itinerary. Hopefully that will help!

  • Gentrix November 22, 2016 at 6:07 pm

    I stumbled upon your blog on my research of how to travel to Cuba. Your experience there looks amazing and I’m longing to visit before it catches up to the 21st century. I know Americans can’t visit Cuba on strictly tourist reasons and that there are 12 categories that allow for one to travel, but how have you been able to travel there?

    Also, what are some tips for saving money on airplane tickets, hotels, and just plain getting to see the beautiful country?

    • Michelle Halpern November 27, 2016 at 8:37 pm

      Hi Gentrix! You should definitely try to go see Cuba soon, it’s an amazing country! I didn’t travel to Cuba the “legal” way — instead I traveled round trip through Mexico City (you can also do this through Canada). All you have to do is ask them to not stamp your passport and they will gladly oblige. Had absolutely no issues!

      As far as tips for saving money, I am quite big into travel hacking, which means I use credit card bonuses to my advantage to accrue many points to use towards airlines and hotels (and I pretty much never pay for baggage)! Look into the Chase Sapphire and SPG cards which are both great. I will consider doing more in depth posts on this in the future! I also use discount sites like Hotels.com to book many hotels, especially when they send out discount offers. Also, every 10th night you get one night free with Hotels.com. Secret Flying is also a great site that posts cheap flights. I have their Facebook page pinned to the top of my timeline so that their flight deals are the first thing I see when I log in every day 🙂

      Hope these tips help!

      • Gentrix January 30, 2017 at 9:50 pm

        This helps alot! Gotta try the no-stamp method lol Thank you so much! 🙂

  • Tom December 6, 2016 at 9:06 pm

    Hi i’m going to Havana over christmas and we’re staying at the same hotel the whole week. I’d like to go on a day trip to see the other parts of the island. Ideally beaches and perhaps an old fishing town. Can you recommend anywhere in particular?

    • Michelle Halpern December 20, 2016 at 11:37 pm

      Hi Tom, I didn’t do any day trips from Havana while I was there. We went a bit farther to Vinales and Trinidad. But I’ve heard that Varadero is a good beach spot not too far from Havana – quite touristy but good!

  • Caitlin March 12, 2017 at 9:38 pm

    Hi Michelle,
    Love your post! We are heading to Cuba in April. Curious where your picture with the textiles, fedora hats and bags were taken. Would love to visit this shop! Thanks a bunch!

    • Michelle Halpern March 13, 2017 at 2:14 pm

      Hi Caitlin! You’re going to have the best time 🙂 that photo was taken in a random shop in Trinidad! It was pretty central to the main area of town but unfortunately I don’t have the exact shop name. Hope you find it!