Of course, as soon as I started working on this, the Trump administration decided to reverse the travel rules for no reason other than un-doing Obama’s legacy. It’s incredibly frustrating and means I’m not exactly sure how useful this advice now is. I recommend doing thorough research on your own.
I moved to Atlanta right when Barack Obama began normalizing relations with Cuba, allowing cruise ships and flights directly from the United States. Delta immediately began flying directly from Atlanta to Havana so I made it a my goal to visit Cuba while I was in Seminary. I’ve been saving Delta Airmiles for a few years and last fall I saw that Delta had amazing deals for Airmiles flights to Cuba during my spring break. I knew I didn’t want to go alone and I couldn’t convince any seminary friends to go, so I asked my parents if they would want to come with me. My mom had to teach, but it took my dad about half a second to think about it before saying yes. My dad loves to travel and has been all around the world, which made him a great planner and travel companion.
Planning for Cuba was a bit different than most international trips because of two main factors:
You can’t use American credit/debit cards anywhere in Cuba
There is almost no internet to access
Cuba just got mobile internet like 3G and wifi last December and although there are spots where you can pay for internet, it’s unreliable and hard to find. We never connected to the internet while we were there (which was an amazing way to disconnect from all the news a busyness of life!). This meant that we had to do all our planning in advance— hotel and bus reservations, offline maps, plans for activities, ebooks/shows etc. This definitely felt different than regular traveling, but we didn’t find it too prohibitive. We also brought USD and Euros to exchange for the local tourist currency (CUC).
The day we landed in Havana, we went straight to the bus station and took a coach toward Varadero. Varadero is a long spit that is famous for its beaches and all-inclusive resorts. We stayed in a little town called Boca de Camarioca at the base of the spit that mostly is inhabited by people who work in the resorts. It felt much more like “real Cuba” than the resorts, but we still got to take advantage of the amazing beaches. We took the local bus into tourist area, which might have been the most crowded bus I’ve ever been on (which is reeeeeally saying something!). We had amazing days on the beaches, eating local food, and relaxing. Our AirBnb was a very authentic Cuban home. The owners didn’t speak English and we muddled through with our messy Spanish, but it was just perfect.
Most of the places we stayed were about $20-30 per night, which was a great deal for us! It was also a great deal for the Cuban families we stayed with because over 50% of Cubans make less than $100/month. Our vacation money made a big difference in these families lives and it felt like a great way to serve the people of Cuba without just going on a mission trip that they may or may not have asked for.
On Wednesday, we took another bus to the south side of the island to the Bay of Pigs and Playa Giron. We stayed a fun little BnB run by a Belgian expat. It was laid-back, warm, atmosphere and they had the most amazing food. The highlight of our time there was a day of scuba-diving, snorkeling, and relaxing on the beach. I’d never gone scuba-diving before and they had guided trips for people who aren’t certified. We didn’t go dangerously deep so I felt completely comfortable and had a great experience. I would definitely go again!
After we got back to our BnB, my dad stayed back to take a nap and I took Michelle Obama’s memoir Becoming to the beach. The local beach had a little bar where you could rent a palm-frond umbrella and recliner for $2, as well as cocktails. Needless to say, I lived my best life that afternoon with my mojito and book on the beach! It was such a perfect island vacation day that I honestly wondered why I’d ever vacationed anywhere else!
For our last two days, we took a final bus up to Havana where we went to a private cooking class. It was so much fun to learn how to make Cuban food, and of course it all tasted delicious. It was definitely a highlight of our trip and if I go back to Cuba again, I’ll definitely do more AirBnb Experiences. it was a great way to meet locals and have an experience you couldn’t otherwise have.
We spent our last day walking around Havana, but didn’t get to see as much of the city as I would have liked. Of course, that just made me want to go back even more! I’m not particularly interested in cigars, so we didn’t bring any home with us but we did each pick up a bottle of rum as a memento of our trip!
It was an incredible week in an incredible country. 6 days was just enough to give us a taste of Cuba. We didn’t get to go to the western part of the country, which is the mountainous region that is supposed to be spectacular. The weather was perfect while we were there and we were grateful not to be there during the hot and buggy summer. If you have an opportunity to visit, I can’t recommend it enough!