Cuba. It would have to be one of the most unique countries in the world. When you arrive here you feel like you’ve gone back in time. When America imposed the economic embargo in 1960 they effectively froze Cuba in time. Some of the world has seeped through, but not a lot. It’s the one place in the world where you get a real feel for what life was like in times long past. They still drive the iconic old cars from the 60’s, cars that just don’t exist anymore. People still talk to each other. They don’t sit on their phones all day on the internet because internet is rare here, and if you do find it, it’s expensive. If you want to speak to somone you call them and chat on the phone for hours. Something people just don’t do anymore. Things are simple here. There are no chain stores; you won’t find a McDonald’s here, or a Walmart, or anthing else that has taken over the rest of the world. Even coca cola is hard to find. Something that every single other country in the world takes for granted. What little coca cola they have here has been imported from Mexico. Each time you walk into a supermart never know what you will find. They sell what they can get their hands on and it’s not always the same. When I was in Cuba I met a girl who had been living there for five months and she said to me, if you need deodorant or shampoo or something considered a luxury, and you see it in a supermarket you buy it, because it may not be in the next one and you don’t know when you will find it again.
Cuba has so much to offer, that you really need to spend at least a few weeks here to get to see and experience it all. The people are extremely friendly, and are happy to chat for hours about their country, or to take you to the nearest salsa bar to where all the locals hang out. (Provided of course that you are happy to pay for their entrance and their drinks) But life in Cuba is cheap and it’s definitely worth it to get to live like a local. Cuba also has a town to suit everyone. It has cities like Havana and Trinidad, and also small country towns like Viñales and even resort towns.
Havana and Trinidad
Havana is the capital, and a good place to start, as it is relatively easy to get to the rest of the island from here. It also has a lot to offer. From the previously mentioned salsa bars (my favourite being Mil Ocho Ciento Trenta, which means 1830) to the touristy Museo de Ron (Rum Museum). There are also beaches within an hours drive that will fulfil all your Caribbean dreams. Head to the main square in town and you will be able to get a car to take you there for around $5. Or if your Spanish is good you can wait for one of the collective cars going that way. You will need to find one going where you want to go and then wait for it to fill up before it will leave. But if your on a budget this is the way to go as it will only set you back $1. Coming back you can either find another car or get on the bus for 10 Peso Cubano (around 40 cents)
Founded in 1514,Trinidad is a city with a difference. Make sure you get your hands on a map when you first get here or you will get lost. All the buildings are painted the same pastel colours, which makes for a beautiful sight, but also means that all the streets look almost the same. As with everywhere in Cuba, the beach here is amazing, and at night head to Disco Ayala which is a bar located in a cave this makes for a truly memorable experience.
Located just 2 hours drive from Havana, this small town has a lot to offer. Check out the Prehistoric Wall and the Indian Caves, and of course the local salsa bar where the locals will be more than happy to teach you some moves. One of my most memorably experiences here was visiting the local organic farm. You get a tour through the property and then have the option to eat dinner with the family, something I highly recommend. All the food you will be eating is from the farm, and it was one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten in my life.
Things To Note
Before you head to Cuba make sure you have plenty of Euros or English Pounds. US Dollars are accepted but you will be charged a 10% fee, so best not to use them unless you have no other option. Also if you have only MasterCard make sure you have plenty of cash for your whole journey as it will not work here. Once you’re in Cuba head to the local “Cadeca” to change your cash, and be sure to get both CUC (the tourist currency) and Peso Cubana (the local currency), but don’t get too much of the local currency as once you have it, it can’t be changed back to CUC. Also be careful with your valuables. Cuba is a poor country and if they see an opportunity they will take it, so hide your money and don’t flash any fancy jewellery or cameras and you won’t have any problems.
Why not Study Spanish while you’re there?