After 7 years of spending the winter away from NYC, I decided to spend the holidays home.
Then it hit me, “New York is fucking cold!” I mean I have spent the last 5 years living in the desert with sunny skies and sweater weather on its worst days. A beautiful winter day for me is mid 70’s. So how was I to survive 20 days of winter in NYC?! Unlike Cardi B, I get cold! Clearly I was gonna have to take a side trip and right around the time I booked my ticket home, I saw direct flights to Havana from JFK for as low as $165 and so my melanin was going to get be getting its needed dose of vitamin D after all. My ticket was booked and I convinced my cousin and two friends that life wasn’t worth living until we all went to Cuba now!
¡Vamos a Cuba!
You might be asking yourself: ‘Who did you pay off to get into Cuba?” My cousin and I paid off JetBlue and my friends paid off American Airlines visa were purchased directly from the airport. JetBlue costs $50 & American Airlines-$100. We all checked the Education (People to People box) This box means you plan on doing some educational activities that will allow you to learn about Cubans as well as support them.
Be #TeamCarryOn! I was off the plane and out in about 15 minutes. My friend Santana lucked out and got her checked baggage via American Airlines checked within 30 minutes and was waiting for me by the time I got there via JetBlue. However, from what I saw I would still recommend carry on as it seems only one plane is unloaded at a time. I’ve heard some horror stories of waiting up to two hours to get bag…I have my own horror story with getting my luggage in JFK but that’s another story for another day.
Wifi-5 Hour Cards: We purchase our wifi cards at the airport for the best deal because who
can go a day without posting for the Gram?! Not, I! Besides who believes you’re having an awesome time unless it’s on snapchat? So, ETECSA is where you can get the cards and it’s located to the far right when coming out of the airport. The cost is 7.50 CUC per 5 hour card. I purchased 2 but only used half of one as did everyone I was with. Mainly because Cuba really forced us to get offline and just enjoy the moment. Also be sure to download Google Translate (Spanish) & Cuba Triposo in advance as they can be used offline.
Su Casa Es Su Casa
Hotels in Cuba are for dignitaries and people with more money to spend. So if you’re on a fixed income like myself, the Casa Particulars are the way to go. While there are plenty of online sites, I found our 2 bedroom 1 bath place on Airbnb and it was located right in the center of Old Havana. We had a little balcony and view of a man on the roof feeding his pigeons. What more can one ask for?
Budgeting: Get Euros before leaving US. I would recommend exchanging some
money at airport and then more when needed at local banks in neighborhood as
their exchange rate was much better. I definitely spent a little less than 100
Euros a day as did most of us (outside the last days when cigars and souvenirs
were purchased) and we weren’t being cheap, just local. We drank and ate and
did what we wanted. However, I can see how one can spend more between tipping,
souvenirs, tours or taxis. But on the other hand It’s easy to set prices with
taxis. They will attempt to overcharge and you just gotta be like, “Nah son”
Kianni & Lorraine booked a two day tour for 119 CUC. This included city tour with cigar factory and lunch as well as a trip to Veradero and all inclusive resort. They highly recommended the tour which they booked at the airport: Nexus Tours
Santana and I preferred walking around whenever possible in order to people watch and hang with the locals. So we got lost in the streets and went with the flow. Which lead us to learning how to play some local instruments and dancing!
While roaming we all met Alejandro who appointed himself our guide and showed up with flowers because pretty women deserve flowers! He took us around for two days to get tattoos, food, cigars, introduced us to Mary Jane and helped us hire a taxi to Mantanza where school supplies were donated and Veradero which was absolutely stunning.
Comida: Snacks….bring them for yourself especially if you are a picky eater and don’t eat pork. Also bring for the locals & the kids. Food choices are very limited (if you are immersing yourself in the country that is). However I have only bothered to list the places worth mentioning because easy to find and overall the consensus of the group agreed on these. The first was a fried chicken and banana place on a corner somewhere. So if you see one of these…do try the dish for 2 CUC.
O’Reilly’s Cafe: Cool spot for breakfast but only because it was a 5 min walk on the same street our casa was on. It wasn’t necessarily special in any other way except they made my Bailey’s coffee strong.
La Familia: This place was the most expensive place we ate with the dinner dishes being 16 CUC but well worth it and probably the most fulfilling meal had. Do go!
D’Next Bar & Cafe: Kianni and I stumbled upon this place right before leaving and it was a great breakfast spot. It’s very modern and cheap and the drinks are strong. Yes we drink at breakfast…don’t judge us!
Hasta Luego Cuba…
While well aware that there is more to Cuba than Habana, Mantanza or Veradero, I am actually glad most of our time was spent in the city because I really feel like I learned and saw a lot without rushing around from here to there with limited time. That people to people connection wasn’t a lie at all! The people are so welcoming and loving and helpful. People have mentioned scamming but as a seasoned traveler, I didn’t get that vibe from anyone I came across. It was actually refreshing because if you don’t want something people say ok! If you need help people literally walked us to where we needed to get to just to talk with us.
After my visit I realize that I have more questions than answers about communism. At first glance I felt like, communism isn’t so bad, I mean the people are fed, clothed, housed and healthy (this was just my limited view). However they were eager for perfumes, shampoos, nail polish and other toiletries we take for granted because their government has decided these things aren’t necessities. Again, after talking with locals, I have more questions than answers.
Also I want to head back, possibly during the summer in order to spend more time outside visiting Santiago & Trinidad to get a more in-depth Afro-Cuban Experience.