Since December of 2015, we had been talking about taking a summer trip to either Cuba or Haiti. I really wanted to go to Haiti because I wanted Maik to see my birth place and actually get to experience the island as a tourist. Maik wanted to go to Cuba instead before the island “opened up”. I started doing solid research around the end of may 2016 and beginning of June 2016 on how to go about visiting Cuba as an American passport holder. Many websites I visited made it seem as if it would be really hard to do so. There were tricks and tips to bypass US immigration by either going through Mexico, The Bahamas or Canada. It seemed impossible and it was at first very discouraging. We typically plan our vacations last minute, but this one seemed like it wouldn’t be possible.
One evening I fell upon an American expat’s website on his trip around Cuba (I can’t remember the site). He recommended purchasing our tickets through Cheapair.com for a straight flight to Havana, Cuba from Miami, Florida. I did exactly that. This was a chartered flight through Cuba Travel Services. We purchased our flight the first week of June. I contacted the number that was sent to me in our reservation email and Cuba Travel Services to find out what to do next. The representative explained the simple process to us. She stated that we would need some additional documents which they provide at an additional fee from our flight. In addition to a valid US passport, she told us we needed a Cuban entry visa and non-US health insurance. To obtain these additional documents, all we would need to do is show up at the airport on the day of our flight and purchase them through Cuba Travel Services.
Now that we had our flight booked and confirmed, we needed a place to stay. We wanted to find a local hotel or bed and breakfast to stay in. I learned that many local residents have rooms that they rent out of their homes called “casa particular”. We were very excited to be able to room with the locals. When we go on vacations, we prefer to experience things as the locals would and not stay at a resort hotel catered solely to tourist. You will find resort style hotels in Cuba if that is what you are looking for, especially in the northern parts. At first I was going to book through Airbnb, but it was much less expensive to do so with homestay.com. We planned to stay 11 days in Cuba. We initially only booked two nights in Havana with our wonderful host Yuleidi Santander and her family.
Our room with Yuli was clean, had private bathroom, a queen and twin size bed. It had air conditioning and private entrance. Yuli provided breakfast (included) and we requested dinner as well (additional charge). Her food is absolutely delicious, better than any restaurant we had in Havana. She took such great care of us. She even reserved rooms to all the other cities that we visited by personally calling each and every host. We wanted to see as many cities as we could fit in our 11 days in Cuba. In some cities we stayed one night and in other two.
We wouldn’t have been able to get around without hiring a chauffer. Although there are plenty of taxis in Havana. We wanted a car to travel around the island. We tried renting a car but because it was “in-season” there were no cars available for rent. If you want to drive around yourself, it is very possible, but you will have to make a car reservation way in advance and it is absolutely expensive to rent. It made more sense for us to have a driver (Yasmin) take us to each city we wanted to visit. We agreed on a set price and Yasmin took care of his own food and hotel during his time with us. Hiring him was absolutely one of the best decisions we made while in Cuba. He took us to places that we wouldn’t know existed. He negotiated down prices for things we wanted to do like diving, horseback riding, tours, food, etc. He even watched our 4 month old son while we went diving.
We visited Havana, Playa Larga, Cien Fuegos, Santa Clara, Trinidad, Cayo Santa Maria and Vinales. We enjoyed all of these cities, but the one we fell in love with the most was Vinales. It’s more country and green. The area is like a scene from the Avatar movie. It’s magical. We went through caves, to a coffee and cigar farm, horse back riding through the hills over looking the local farms and traditional Cuban homes. We had strong mojito’s and coco loco’s (fresh cut coconut with rum) in a tree house over looking the valley. We cannot wait to go back to visit this area.
There is so much to do in Cuba. There is night life, beautiful beaches, museum, art (incredible), architecture, delicious food (lobster every day), nature tours, beautiful cars, and so much more. As soon as you land there, it is as if you landed in a movie scene. Cuba currently seems to be stuck in a time warp. We found beauty in this and I am sure you will too.
If you have any questions or would like more details on how we made this trip possible. Shoot me an email and I will do my best to answer your questions or provide contact in Cuba who can make your trip there possible. Maik, Benny, Kais and I say you will not regret it.