Cuba has always been one of the Top 5 locations on my travel bucket list. I think I was super excited perhaps because we Americans have been forbidden to travel there for so long. Last August, I finally made the journey with my daughters and my cousin. I have so much to share with you but this may take several posts just to really break it down… or to better help you with one day setting up your own trip to Cuba. 🙂
We used AirBnB. I know there’s been some negative talk recently with the African-American AirBnB experience, but I have not had one bad experience yet with Airbnb rentals. Our stay at Villa El Eden in Santa Maria hosted by Glenda may top the list. I would highly recommend her place if you plan to visit.
Her home included an above-ground pool and a quaint patio sitting area adjacent to our private entrance and bedrooms. Her yard was filled with beautiful flowers, palm trees and fruit trees. This sitting area also had a perfect view of the ocean which was less than a mile away. The housekeeper prepared breakfast each morning (included in our Airbnb fee) and for an additional cost, she would prepare lunch or dinner each day as well (we’ll discuss food later). She was also good about keeping our refrigerator/kitchen stocked with water, beer, coffee and soda. The home had plenty of hammocks and comfortable outdoor seating. The only downside to sitting outside were the mosquitoes and, in August, there were LOTS of them. Just remember to bring your repellent.
We toured with a group called Habana Free Walks. The group is run by Mirella Hernandez, a native of Havana. Prior to arriving, Mirella and I had many conversations to set up our tours. Mirella is pretty much able to set up a tour for any location that you request. The tour guides that she employs are very nice and extremely knowledgable about their country. On our first day of touring, of course, we took a walking tour of downtown Habana.
On another day, we did a tour to Vinales to visit Cueva del Indio, the Indian Caves, and we visited a local tobacco farm. We learned the process of harvesting tobacco leaves and creating a world-renowned Cuban cigar. We also enjoyed a little horseback riding around the farm.
After touring the caves, our driver took us to a paladar. More or less, it’s a family-run restaurant. In Cuba, these restaurants were often in the home or in the yard or on the patio of the family’s home. For a fixed rate equivalent to about $15, you choose your meat (beef, fish or chicken) and then they gave you every side dish you could imagine, simply because they want you to try everything. Of course, a meal in Cuba would not be complete without a live band playing all of the classic Cuban tunes.
Of course, a trip to Cuba would not be complete without spending some time at the beach. Our AirBnB was about 3/4 of a mile from Santa Maria beach, which was perfect. To the delight of my children, we also found a Go Kart Track on the walk down to the beach. I’ll just tell you more about our beach days with pictures. 🙂
I hope you are excited by all that you’ve seen. Cuba really is a lovely island despite what news propaganda wants you to believe. I think the most pleasant part of our visit was interacting with the people. Despite our language barrier, which by the way is not a tremendous detriment with Google Translate downloaded to your phone, the Cuban people found so many ways to express their friendliness, their generosity, their curiosity about Americans and their love for Barack Obama. I would highly recommend Havana for a family vacation. By the way, I didn’t forget to tell you about Cuban food. I am just saving that for another post. The food of Cuba definitely deserves a post of its own. 🙂