When I was just three years old, my family had the opportunity to leave Cuba during the 1980 Mariel boat lift. Being so young I didn’t have many memories, if any, of the family history and country I left behind. Thanks to the changes happening within the last couple of years, I’ve had the opportunity to go back and fall in love with a part of my life I didn’t know much about.
Below I’ll take you for a tour along with how to pair your wardrobe for the weather and lots of walking 🙂 Enjoy.
Are we in the 1950’s or 2016, I feel like I’ve just stepped back in time. Either way I’m already in love with Cuba. There’s no shortage of art here and walking around Old Havana it’s pretty evident. You can see local artists working on their craft along the street while little shops catered to tourists. But Old Havana is more than art, close by you can see the beautiful Plaza de la Catedral, Plaza Vieja and El Cristo de la Habana among others.
Cuba’s weather is as hot as you would expect of any Caribbean island as such you want your wardrobe to be comfortable, light and simple (you don’t want to draw a lot of attention given that most people don’t have the luxuries we do, more on this later in the post). For that reason I opted for the charcoal Camila slim fit dress. It is the perfect dress for walking around and exploring Havana. Wear it with espadrilles or flats to complete the look.
With all the walking I was doing, the sight of a cooling Mojito with lots of ice was a welcomed one. You definitely want to stay hydrated and there are a few great spots though maybe a bit touristy (but for good reason). First stop was at La Bodeguita del Medio. This was the birthplace of the Mojitos and one of Ernest Hemingway’s favorite bars.
Drinks at La Floridita was next on our list. Daiquiri, why yes please! This is another one of Hemingway’s favorite bars. As he put it: My mojito in La Bodeguita, My daiquiri in El Floridita. I do have to say, the daiquiris were some of the best I’ve ever had!
A visit to the historic and luxurious Hotel Nacional de Cuba is worth a trip. Located across from the Malecon, drinks in the courtyard overlooking the bay is a great way to relax and take in the days cultural experience.
Classic Car Ride
Exploring Havana wouldn’t be complete without a classic car ride. You should know that getting replacement parts for these cars is nearly impossible so Cubans have learned to be creative with their repairs and we’re happy they have been. The streets of Havana are lined with these beauties in a rainbow of colors.
The red Cassia romper was not only comfy and beautiful but it was a great compliment to the pink classic car. Not to mention a killer Instagram picture 😉
If you have a couple of hours to spare, take a 45 minute drive to Fusterlandia. This neighborhood has been taken over by Cuban artist Jose Fuster who has decorated not only his house but his neighbors in colorful mosaic tiles. Here’s a glimpse of his masterpiece…
The Alexis denim shirt dress is another great option for exploring the city. It’s light with a loose fit yet very chic with minimal effort. Paired with sandals, flats or wedges it’s perfect to wear from day to night!
The Capitolio now serving as the Cuban Academy of Science is undergoing some repairs. It’s next to the Gran Teatro de la Habana which is home to the Cuban National Ballet.
The yellow dream linen shorts paired with the off-the-shoulder white Arnette top was very comfy. Not to mention that the off-the-shoulder tops is not just a trend but a staple that will be here to stay.
For a variety of Cuban arts and crafts visit the Centro Cultural Antiguos Almacenes de Deposito San José.
Walk the Malecon, the seawall that stretches 8km along the entrance to the Havana port down to Vedado. Enjoy views of the ocean and the architecture especially during sunset. The Malecon is a favorite hangout spot for Cuban youth.
Dinner at Paladar San Cristobal
If this place is good enough for the president, it’s good enough for me. Plus, you can’t beat 3 lobster tails for $20 and $5 drinks! Not only was this food amazing, but the staff was extremely friendly. Highly recommend this paladar (paladares are family run restaurants typically in someone’s home or what used to be their home). Paladares are recommended over state run restaurants. They give you an opportunity to interact with locals and you get a more diverse culinary experience. Take note, they are closed on Sundays.
Dinner at La Guarida
You can really take the saying “don’t judge a book by its cover” to heart in Cuba. This is another paladar that may not look like much from the outside but is so impressive once you’re inside and have made your way past the 2-3 flights of spiral stairs (depending on which floor you’re having dinner). Don’t mind the lines of hanging clothes from the other residents (remember that papadares are usually set up in private homes or in this case an old mansion that seems more like apartments). Conan O’Brien filmed his show in Cuba and ate at this same restaurant. Make reservations early and request the rooftop seating. The food is spectacular.
What to wear… you may ask, this simple and light stripe shift dress is super fun and chic.
Dinner at Paladar Cafe Laurent
Make reservations in advance and request outside rooftop seating. This place has great views of the city. The food is as delicious as the other two paladares!
Cuban Rum and Cigars
As of October 14, 2016 the restrictions on Cuban rum and cigars has been listed. There is no longer a limit and you can bring as much as you’d like as long as it’s for personal consumption. As such, make a stop at the Havana Club shop.
Internet access is still very spotty, few locations have wifi and when it is available you have to either buy an access card for use at the park or pay by the hour at hotels like the Nacional. If you are headed to Cuba make plans to be off the grid for the majority of the time. Take it as an opportunity to disconnect and enjoy the food and culture while in the moment. You’ll be glad you did!
Currency and Tipping
The country currently uses two currencies, the local Cuban Peso (CUP) and the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) pegged at 1:1 to the US dollar. The Cuban people however are paid in Cuban pesos, 1 USD or CUC is equivalent to about 25/26 Cuban Pesos. The average monthly salary is about $20-$30. That said tipping is encouraged and happily accepted. Anything extra that you leave is greatly appreciated and hugely helpful. So with that I say, tip on.
May your trip to Cuba be as rewarding as it was for me.
Until my next travel…