About a year ago, my husband and I started to think of places we wanted to go for our honeymoon, and of course my husband being the adventurous kind didn’t hesitate for a second before yelling out “CUBA”! “HA! You’re kidding, right? I’m not spending our honeymoon in a dangerous place where they hate Americans,” my ignorant self argued and shut that down really quick.
My husband is Danish and just laughed as a lot of us as Americans (definitely including me) are somewhat ignorant when it comes to Cuba because it’s a place that was forbidden for so long.
Then Fidel Castro passed away and I made a comment on Facebook saying “Honeymoon in Cuba,” which was actually just my way of saying R.I.P., which no one seemed to understand because I kept getting comments about how cool that’s going to be or how jealous they were, so then I got to thinking, this COULD actually be really fun, different and exciting. That’s when the planning began and it snowballed from there.
We did all the research and read a plethora of books, blogs and whatever else we could find out about Cuba. Then we booked a direct flight from New York to Cuba for 9 days round trip for just $200 each on United Airways! It was an amazing price and it included the “Cuban health insurance” that is required for Americans to get into Cuba. Americans also still have to fit in 1 of 12 categories to get in, so we decided to go with the “Educational person-to-person exchange” which is $50 per person and all done at the airport for you. Though you’re not supposed to do any “touristy” things while under any of the Visas, we both knew this trip was going to be way more than just tourism anyway!
All set, here we come CUBA! We decided, after all our reading we wanted to travel to several of the cities because of the history, the culture and the excitement each one brings. We decided to start in Havana, then head to Viñales where the famous Cuban cigars are made, then to Varadero for some R & R at a resort, then Trinidad, and finally back to Havana.
We decided to book Casa Particulars (aka Airbnbs) for all of the cities so we could really experience the culture (which also helped to fulfill the Visa requirements), except Varadero where we stayed at Roc Arenas Doradas, an all-inclusive resort.
I was stoked when we arrived in Havana and couldn’t wait to hit the ground running. That we did! To start though, here’s one thing no blog or book told me… English is almost non-existent and there are very few people that we found that could speak English and we only know the very basics of Spanish, so that was definitely a setback but also made the experience that much more fascinating. We rented a car online before we left but found that it was incredibly sketchy so we cancelled and hoped for the best when we arrived.
In the end, we took a taxi from city to city (it’s unbelievable that these taxi drivers will drop everything they’re doing and will drive hours and hours to different cities for tourists), but it actually worked out best that way. Tip: the roads are hard to figure out because there aren’t a lot of signs long distance so the blessing in disguise was that the rental car didn’t work out so we had to take taxis.
First stop, Havana, Day 1! We checked into our Casa right in the heart of Old Havana, which is the most beautiful and historic area of Havana. We had a little balcony overlooking the cute narrow cobblestone streets mixed in with the most colorful casas I’ve ever seen and one right after another, stacked together. Our jaws were dropped for the whole day walking around Old Havana.
After seeing these beautiful post-war buildings falling apart but still so full of life at the same time, all I could think about was how it must have looked in its “heyday”. We walked around until we couldn’t stand, and not because of the Mojitos and Cuban beer, but from walking what seemed like all of Havana. It felt like every corner was filled with a band playing outside and inside the restaurants and people would just stop in the street and start to dance and salsa. That was going on all around us at all hours of the night, it was such an amusing experience to see so much life and vibrance.
Day two was another full day of walking, walking to see the Capital, Central Park, Chinatown, and over to the Revolution museum. Everything was so fascinating and so unreal, I still couldn’t believe we were actually in Cuba; so lively, exciting and so exotic to me. It seemed as though we stepped back into the 1950’s with all of the old classic American cars that lit up the streets with the hot pinks, apple reds, lime greens, bright blues.
We met so many of the locals and even though none of us really understood one another most of the time, we were able to manage and understand the jist of what they were trying to tell us about the city. It was surreal how nice and helpful everyone was.. and they definitely don’t hate Americans.
Tip: Learn some Spanish if you don’t already know it.
Day 3-4, we packed up our things and found a taxi (which we happened to get one of the Classico taxis) to take us to our next adventure, Viñales, the cigar capital… at least that’s what we were calling it because we were only going for the cigars.
We decided to start our adventure there by taking a horseback riding excursion with a local cowboy. That’s definitely the way to see Viñales! We stopped at one of the many tobacco “organic farms” where they made their own cigars. They showed us their land which seemed like a never-ending sea of tobacco leaves, then showed us the whole process of growing and making the cigars, including rolling a cigar with us there and allowing each of us to smoke one. The key, apparently, is to dip it in honey like Castro did when he smoked cigars.
Next, we stopped at a coffee plantation where they make Cuban coffee. We had a gentleman explain the procedure of making the coffee, including their “coffee” dance, which is basically salsa with a large grinder they use to crush the beans (most likely never done by the locals, they just want the tourists to make a fool of themselves). The day was packed with interesting restaurants, swimming, horseback riding, coffee salsa dancing and smoking cigars. We walked through the little town and just as we were about to eat dinner, all of the power for the entire city went out, it was a complete black-out. It was the most beautiful sky I’ve ever seen, the stars almost lit the streets by itself! We enjoyed the bizarre night in the darkness and loved our candle lit, now romantic, dinner.
Day 5-6, we headed out to Varadero for some fun and relaxation! Unfortunately, when we got there we had quite a few speed bumps! Our hotel room didn’t have any water so they had to put us up in the sister hotel next door, which was nowhere near as nice as the hotel we were supposed to stay in. We made the best of it and decided we’ll complain later, but in the meantime, we hit the swim-up pool bar and drank while taking in the sun. Later we watched the hotel’s nightly entertainment show and went out to the club at the hotel before passing out for the night.
When we finally got checked into our room at the original hotel, we decided to head back to the swim-up pool bar and continue our fun in the sun. We went back and forth from the pool to the gorgeous beach’s crystal clear water and soft white sand, meeting several interesting people, surprisingly mostly from Canada. Before we left we complained about our mishap and they were able to give us bottles of Havana Club rum and some other appreciated perks. Next stop, Trinidad!
Day 7-8, we got to our casa, Casa Colonial Torrado 1830, in Trinidad and we were floored and astonished how absolutely beautiful this casa was! It was more of a bed and breakfast rather than living with just one family as we’d been doing in the other cities. The decor was right out of the Victorian Ages. This casa is a must for any tourist and is also very cheap with amazing staff!
We heard all about the beautiful waterfalls and the national park in Trinidad, along with the beautiful small town of Trinidad, so we made those a priority for our short stay there. We set off once again on a horseback riding excursion to see the national park, Parque el Cubano, and it is unquestionably a sight to see and we certainly recommend going to see the park. Once we made it to our destination it was beyond our expectations and unbelievably beautiful with these ancient caves and the waterfalls all around us; it was so whimsical.
Back in the town, we explored every which way to see what it had to offer. The locals were all out playing or relaxing on their steps. Something we found interesting – the kids asking for gum, which we’d actually heard about before we left so we packed a lot of gum not realizing how true it was and how much the Cubans seem to love gum. We snapped a million pictures of the charming city and couldn’t get enough of the Victorian one-of-a-kind gem. This fascinating city is in our top favorites of Cuba and should definitely be on the checklist.
Once the sun went down, it became a party once again as it had the night before. There was dancing and playing on the cobblestone streets with healthy stray dogs all around. We went into the salsa “club” which was outdoors, right in the square in a little amphitheater for 1 CUC (aka $1.00). The music was loud for all the square to hear and dance to, people drinking in the streets having a grand ole time; it was another unique experience we shared together.
The following day we went snorkeling in what was a utopian dream located in the middle of nowhere in La Boca. We literally drove to a place with nothing else around except the road and the ocean, and if you didn’t know better you’d miss the area where a few straw umbrellas stood.
When we arrived, there was just one guy who provided snorkeling gear for 5 CUC. They pointed us toward the best snorkeling spots, which was a challenge because it was right off the jagged rocks and the waves were crashing against them like a madman. I finally made it in alive and uncut. It was a gorgeous scenery all around us; we had the beautiful clear blue ocean, the mountains in the background and the palm trees and beach surrounding us.
Under the water was no different, it was stunning to see all the different schools of fish and other creatures swimming all around us. I’ve snorkeled for most of my life, but there was something exceptional about this location, maybe because we were able to go out on our own, or the remarkable landscaping, I’m not sure, but I do know I’ll never forget that snorkeling adventure. I have to say, I think the snorkeling was my favorite activity we did, with the horseback riding in a very close second.
Our honeymoon came to an end and though it was bittersweet for me (I would’ve liked it to be just a LITTLE more Americanized, mainly because of the plumbing and water situation at most places), but it was an experience of a lifetime that I’ll never forget, and we had absolutely no problem with fulfilling the requirements for the Visa. Cuba has so much to offer that there’s no way a traveler wouldn’t have a life-changing experience in Cuba if they travel throughout the country! There aren’t enough words to express how compelling Cuba is and everything the culture has to offer.
Tip: Don’t be scared to travel to Cuba at all! They love Americans, the Visa is easy to fulfill and we were never even asked about it coming back into the U.S, and we, as Americans, can bring in as many Cuban cigars back as we’d like unlike other countries (thanks Obama)! Only thing to be mindful of is that Cuba doesn’t take American dollars or American credit cards; you’re able to exchange dollars at the airport and most hotels, but for a hefty exchange rate. Bring Euros instead, it has a much better exchange rate and is taken just about anywhere.
In total for our honeymoon, including airfare for two, the Casas and hotels in all four cities, food for 9 days, all excursions including tips, taxis from city to city including tips, cigars and rum and gifts for family and friends, we spent about $2,800 for all of it. We didn’t bargain much because the prices they asked for were fair to us, but we know we could’ve bargained so much more and probably could’ve saved a lot more money, but $2,800 was still ridiculously cheap compared to other countries and honeymoon packages we were looking at.
All thanks to Traveler’s Joy we didn’t spend a dime out of our own pocket. Hands down we made the best decision to “Skip the Blender” and register at Traveler’s Joy! It was the easiest site to use and our guests loved the idea that they were a part of making our honeymoon an unforgettable time. We would, without a doubt, recommend getting to Cuba as soon as possible if you want an extraordinary experience of a lifetime!