Cuba is much more than just beautiful beaches, good music, and delicious food. I knew when I booked my flight to Cuba that this trip was not going to be the typical Caribbean vacation. My purpose for this trip was different.
Besides getting away from the routine for a few days, I was mostly looking forward to learning and comparing the different perspectives between older and newer generations with respect to their government. I was also really looking forward to supporting Cuban entrepreneurs, and lastly, I was dying to explore Havana streets.
You will probably think I am crazy but since it was such a short visit; I didn’t have time to stop by the beach! Yup! I went to Cuba and did not go to the beach!!!…can you believe that? (I blame that on my job and adult responsibilities back home!! )
If you are from the United States, you are probably aware that the only way for us to visit this beautiful country is if our reason for travel falls within the 12 categories of authorized travel. In case you don’t know, the most common one is the support for the Cuban people category. Now, a lot of people travel with this license, but once they get to Cuba, they do the complete opposite. You are free to do whatever you want once you arrive, Cubans will still welcome you with open arms. I didn’t want to support a government that had its people suppressed for so many years, so I tried my best to do things to help Cuba’s citizens instead. You are free to do whatever you want with your time, in this post though; I will talk about things you can do to support Cubans while learning new things and having fun at the same time. If this sounds like something you would want to do, keep on reading! 🙂
Before I begin, let me tell you a few facts:
- Pretty much, the government owns everything in Cuba. Differentiating what is government owned and what isn’t, can be somewhat tricky; I suggest you do some thorough research before visiting.
- Believe it or not, it wasn’t until five years ago that people were allowed to own a business in Cuba. Thanks to this, people with creativity and an entrepreneur mind were giving an opportunity to fly!
- the average monthly salary in Cuba is around $30 a month. You might be thinking that since their pay is so low then maybe the cost of living in Cuba is cheap. This assumption is entirely wrong. For Cubans, the trivial things we get to enjoy in our home country, like going to restaurants or fun events on the weekends are things they most likely can’t afford.
Here are some of the things you can do to support Cubans:
Stay at a local’s home instead of a hotel. in Cuba, these are called “Casas particulares.” Airbnb has plenty to choose from; this is a great way not only to support Cubans but also for you to immerse in the culture. I highly suggest you do this, waking up each morning to a warm, humble but yet delicious and filling breakfast is something that I will never forget. It was touching to see how my Host family went out of their way to make me and my friend feel comfortable and at home.
You are probably thinking ” well, you are paying them so isn’t that what they are supposed to do?”.. no, it has nothing to do with that.
The fact that they haven’t been able to have any control over their lives for the past 60 years or so. The fact that most people despite their struggle, worries, and doubts figured out a way to have some say in their future, well being and success, is what I found so eye-opening and heartwarming.
Think about this for a second.
If People like you and me who are living in a country with more opportunity and freedom; We often find ourselves filled with negative thoughts and insecurity, stopping us from following our dreams or setting our goals a little higher.
Can you imagine how much courage and hard work; it took for them to consider owning their own business?…(in case you forgot already, their avg income is 30$ a month!!)
These were just some of the thoughts that crossed my mind while eating my breakfast each morning. If you want your entire life put into perspective, I highly recommend staying with a family.
Eat at “Paladares” instead of regular restaurants. Paladares are restaurants owned by locals, often located within their house. Though Some Paladares are very humble looking, there are some that are very modern which will make you think they could be government owned. To avoid this confusion, you should research Paladares before you visit Cuba.
Paladares recommended by me:
Hostal del Morro: located in the town el Morro. If you find yourself visiting Casablanca, make sure to check it out!
Isla de la pasta: located in Vedado ( if you go, make sure to try their cheese empanadas and their pizza !! )
El Chanchullero Bar and restaurant: located in old Havana. Very hip and artsy looking bar/restaurant, Highly recommended by locals as well.
Take local taxis instead of yellow taxis- A lot of people in Cuba have decided to transform their car into a public transportation method. If you are skeptical about taking random taxis, ask your Airbnb host to recommend you a driver. The taxi driver, our host, suggested us was incredibly kind.
Do a vintage car tour around the city – There aren’t enough words to describe how excellent this tour was. Come on, who hasn’t dreamed of cruising around a vintage (pink) convertible before?? …I am sure someone agrees with me!!
You can hop into one of these at Plaza de la Revolucion or the Parque Central. It costs around 30-40$ an hour, and they take you anywhere you want to go!
My friend and I got lucky because our driver ended up taking us to places we wouldn’t have time to visit otherwise. The tour turned into a 3-hour trip instead of one and what’s crazy is that he refused to charge us for the extra time. Of course, we tipped him at the end of the tour to thank him for his time and Kindness; we will never forget this!!
Cubans work hard to keep these cars looking like brand new. Our driver showed us pictures of how the car looked when they bought it, and it was utterly destroyed. It took them one year and a half to renovate it and to make it look this good !!
Book Airbnb Experiences !! – This is another must do!
Airbnb is doing awesome things in Cuba. They are allowing people especially young adults to explore their creativity while giving them an opportunity to become independent.
Not only were we able to explore inside locals homes, visit unique art galleries, walk around beautiful hidden streets, learn how to dance Cuban salsa; Most importantly, we were able to make new friends and to see a completely different side of Cuba.
After Spending the afternoon with these talented individuals, I realized that young adults are the ones that are slowly but surely changing Cuba. They are all so full of dreams, creativity and hungry for success.
They are making the impossible, possible. I am looking forward to seeing what they will achieve in a few years from now; I have faith that Cuba will slowly start to change for the better!
lastly, if you are into art and you also want to explore Havanas party scene, make sure to do the following:
Visit Fabrica de Arte Cubano– an oil factory transformed into a three-floor Art gallery/ Bar/ Club. I can guarantee you will love this place. You will walk out of here tipsy, tired from all the dancing and full of inspiration!!
They are open Thursday-Sunday from 8:00 pm to 2am! (Your welcome !!)
Visit el Callejon de Hamel on a Sunday !!- Every Sunday from 11:00 am they have live Afro-Cuban and salsa performances. Make sure to check it out, t’s really interesting and a lot of fun!
Thank you for reading !! Sorry for the lengthy post, (I promise I tried my best summarizing haha)