Traveling to Cuba
Many people have seen pictures or heard of Cuba’s beautifully bright architecture, vibrant music, delicious cuisine or their pristine collection of 1950’s cars. Pictures often suggest that Cuba is a perfectly preserved display of the 20th century. While many of us have been able to marvel at Cuban culture from afar. It wasn’t until recently that Americans have been allowed to travel to the stunning country. Prior to traveling, I make it a habit of researching the country and culture of the place I am traveling to. However, I was even more curious to learn how my family and I could make the journey to Cuba with the strict traveling rules for Americans.
How do Americans Travel to Cuba?
There are 12 reasons permitted for Americans to enter Cuba.
Traveling to Cuba under the category of tourism is still prohibited. However, the categories that are permitted include:
- Humanitarian projects
- Education activities
- Journalistic activities
- Official business for Government
- Activities of private foundations
- Support of Cuban people
- Professional Research
- Religious activity
- Family visits
- Sports and public events
Many Cuban visas are offered by airlines to be filled out before departure. Some of the airlines that offer Cuban visas include: American Airlines, Southwest, Delta and Spirit Air.
Be sure to check with the airline you choose to fly on to verify if they offer Cuban visas. If your airline does not offer Cuban visas, you can purchase them online. I contacted our potential airline and confirmed that we could purchase the visas through them. Once that was arranged, we booked the flight and marked our calendars for Havana, Cuba!
Where to stay in Cuba
During our trip, we decided to stay in what many call casa particular. A casa particular is a homestay much like any AirBNB. We chose this form of lodging because we felt that it would allow us to be more enveloped in the culture and the Cuban people. Through much research, we found that many other visitors recommended this route as well and I am so glad that we chose to spend our time in a casa particular. Our hosts (that we found through AirBnB) were so caring and gracious. The house manager, Juan Carlos, picked us up from the airport in a 1950’s Chevy and took us to our temporary home. You can only imagine how my car obsessed 7 year old felt!
The home was beautifully updated and was only a three minute walk from a breathtaking beach.
Once settled, the house manager then took us out to the famous Malecón strip in Centro Habana. The Malecón is a seawell and busy road that was created by the US government but completed by Cuba in the 1920s. Some may recognize this speedway from the block buster hit ,Fate and Furious, that had a racing scene along the Malecón roadway.
The first day that we arrived, Juan Carlos took us to a restaurant across from the Malecón seawall that was visually stunning. Unfortunately, the menu had little to no authentic Cuban dishes. The food was okay, though we didn’t necessarily travel to Cuba to have Alfredo fettuccini. From then on out, we made it a point to tell Juan that we wanted more authentic Cuban food and thank goodness we did. After the restaurant, we retired from a long day of travel.
In Cuba, no American card can be used for transactions. Your best bet is to take out money before you leave and get that money converted at the airport or nearest bank in Cuba. When we arrived, we had our money changed into Cuban convertible pesos or “Cuc” by our host. It is imperative to make sure that your money is being changed into “Cuc” and not Cuban pesos “Cup”. 1 Cuc equals 25 Cups.
Getting to know the culture of Cuba
Day 2 started off with a delicious breakfast which consisted of fresh fruits picked from the Homes backyard, Cuban bread, homemade salsa and fresh eggs from the roaming chicken. Soon after eating our delectable meal, we headed to old Havana.
Once we arrived to our destination. We couldn’t help but gawk at the beautiful and diverse architecture. There were so many beautiful buildings that had clear Spanish influence, but there was also Art Deco and baroque inspired buildings that added to the overall vibrancy of Cuba.
After walking for some time, we decided to take a drawn bicycle tour around Havana. Our tour guide was very kind and gave us an informative guided tour. Traveling with a little one can be hard at times because of the long distances. So it may be helpful to bring a travel stroller or to go on a seated guided tour that allows your child a chance to rest their legs.
The picture above was taken in Callejon de Hamel, which pays homage to Afro-Cuban culture. If your kids enjoy live music and dancing then Callejon de Hamel is the place to go. Every Sunday they have live music and dance Rumba.
My childs’ experience
Before we made our trip to Cuba I made sure to pack extra snacks for my picky 7 year old. I highly recommend packing some of your little one’s favorite snacks or foods especially if they are a picky eater. Surprisingly, my son enjoyed the Cuban delicacies and pastries very much.
Later on that day, we went on a hunt for one of Havana’s most famous paladars, La Guarida. La Guarida is a well known restaurant in Cuba for it’s famous guests such as Barrack Obama, Beyonce`, Jay-Z, Naomi Campbell, Madonna and the list goes on.
The food was delicious and there were two wonderful entertainers that created a lively atmosphere.
Overall, my son’s favorite part of this trip was interacting with the locals. There are not many areas in Cuba that have Wi-Fi. So, this trip allowed him to step away from the iPad and video games and really enjoy the people around him. He even made a few friends! It was awesome to see that he could connect with children his own age regardless of where he was.
Once we were done sightseeing and walking around Havana, we decided to head back to our casa particular. But not before taking some cool pictures of the scenery.
Sadly, day 3 was our last day and we decided to spend it at the beach as we had to leave for our flight early. We tried to squeeze in as many things as we could in a 3 day vacation. But, to fully soak in Havana’s rich history will require a bit longer and I am certainly looking forward to going back.