The Good, The Bad & The Extraordinary
Traveling to Cuba is an incredible experience. To be able to travel to another country, just a three-hour flight from New York City, and feel like you’ve traveled back in time, there’s really nothing like it. With that being said, I had three substantial issues with Cuba.
I was warned about the catcalling before I left, but I thought that living in New York City for the past 15 years would have softened the effects. It didn’t. It can be so vulgar and in-your-face that it almost makes me not want to travel there again unless I am accompanied by another traveler, whom I trust.
Lack of Drinking Water
They say it’s not safe for visitors to drink the water out of the faucet in Cuba, so you have to go out and buy bottles of drinking water. One of our first nights there, we walked for thirty minutes, looking for large, 1.5 liter, bottles of water. We ended up buying several small bottles, just to get us through the night. The next day, we visited several shops, stocking up as we went. This experience made me purchase a filtering water bottle, for whenever I find myself in another situation like this. I would highly recommend something like that if you plan on traveling to Cuba.
Trash & Littering
I knew Cuba would be dirty. Hell, New York City smells like a pile of rotting bodies in the summertime, but I was not prepared for the piles of garbage on almost every street corner in some Havana neighborhoods. I was in a shared taxi, on our way back to Havana, where I had spent a large portion of my afternoon cleaning up the beach garbage that surrounded us. The local man sitting in the passenger seat of the taxi was eating some fried chicken and chatting with us in the back. When he finished his meal, he chugged a bottle of water, then rolled down the window, and tossed it out the window like it was no big deal. My jaw dropped, I couldn’t believe he just did that!
After coming back to the states and talking to some friends about the littering, they explained that it likely wasn’t for a lack of care and that it’s more likely caused by a lack of education. It still boggles my mind, but a majority of the population is still pretty closed off from the rest of the world. Internet, for the most part, is purchased by the hour and can only be accessed in public places for some people, but still, this really bothered me. Maybe the next time I travel down to Cuba, I will bring some reading material, in spnish, about the effects of littering in a place such as Cuba.
Get a tour of Havana in an old convertible. It will run you $50 an hour. Do this at the beginning of your trip so that you have a better idea of the city and you can cross so much off your list in just an hour or two. We had our guide book ours to pick us up from our Airbnb, but you can find several cars lined up in the center of town. Make sure you stop at Revolution Square during your tour, it’s a staple.
If you’re into nightlife, definitely check out Fabrica de Arte Cubano. It’s music, meets art, meets food. I will visit Fabrica every time I am in Havana.
Down for more art? Check out Havana’s Fine Arts Museum. It’s split in two. We did the Cuban Art side. We spent two hours there and definitely could have stayed longer if our stomachs weren’t rumbling, so take snacks.
Take the bus or a shared taxi out to Playas del Este, and spend a day at the beach. Bring a trash bag if you want to do a beach clean-up, like I did.
Viñales was one of the highlights of my trip. Our tour guide and driver picked us up from our Airbnb for the two and a half-hour drive. We stopped at a lookout point on our way there to take in the views, in all of their glory. We opted for the horseback tour, which was phenomenal! On horseback we were able to see a lot of the countryside, stopping off at a tobacco farm and a honey and rum farm. Since Viñales is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the farms are not allowed to use any pesticides or anything unnatural that could affect the ecosystem. This makes for the best Cuban cigar I have ever smoked, and the best honey I have ever tasted in my entire life. I could eat it by the spoonful it was so tasty!
Scuba diving with the Varadiving Club at The Bay of Pigs was the other highlight of my trip. En-route, we picked up two other divers, Americans from the west coast. The three of us chatted like we were old friends, for the two and a half-hour drive. One of the unique aspects of this location is that between dives, there is a cenote across the street that we could float around in, while we waited for it to be time for our second dive. The cenote is a half salt water, half fresh water, sinkhole, that reaches a depth of 230 feet (70 m) at its deepest.
If you’re American, like me, you will not have access to our money while in Cuba. The only way for Americans to get money is through Western Union. From one American I met on my travels, she was told to arrive at the Western Union before they opened, and as she arrived, there was already a hostile line forming, and once they run out of money, that’s it. I believe she was the fifth person in line, and one of the last ones who was helped. So I tell everyone to bring twice as much cash as they think they’ll need or else you may have to suffer, what I like to call, The Cuban/American diet. It’s when you’re nearing the end of your trip to Cuba, but your money isn’t going to make it. There were a lot of thirsty and hungry Americans at the airport on my way home. It’s a good thing I always travel with protein bars, or I could have fared much worse myself.
I would definitely go back to Cuba again and explore outside of Havana more. Maybe do an overnight in Viñales and definitely explore some of the other diving spots our scuba instructor was telling us about. Since Cuba is still pretty closed off from the rest of the world, the diving is very unique!