Why Cuba is my favorite travel destination

Cuba is one of my favorite destinations ever. Here’s my reasons why you must explore Cuba. Have you ever been somewhere and for some reason, you don’t understand why, but it just feels right? That place for me was Havana, Cuba. 

the streets of havana, travel to cuba
The streets of Havana

Havana has an indescribable magic

I’ve been a tad obsessed with Havana since I watched Dirty Dancing 2: Havana Nights about 15 years ago. And since then, I promised myself I’d celebrate a milestone event in Havana. So, in February I visited Havana for the first time to celebrate my 30th birthday. I struggled to get time off work, I was working in a hotel in Whistler and February is smack-bang in the middle of their busy season.

But, I was beyond determined. Before I knew it me and Paul were jetting off for two weeks to explore Cuba – my dream destination!

gritty streets of havana
A neighborhood outside Havana

Why I love Havana

Anyway, back to Havana’s magic. Havana’s not perfect, in fact its kind of dirty and gritty. The buildings are grand but crumbling and the light here is epic it’s honestly like walking through a very pretty Instagram feed. The Cubans leave their doors wide open. They sit on their front step chatting to their neighbours. Their kids run barefoot on the street.

The Malecon at dusk is the best place in the world. There’s a passion, a resilience about the city kind of like an eff you to the non-believers. Yes our buildings are crumbling our streets are dusty but we’re here and we’re dancing in the streets. I’ve thought about Havana every day since I’ve returned. I guess you’re beginning to understand better why you must explore Cuba. Especially before it changes forever!

Why not READ NEXT | 17 of our favourite places in the whole world

havana at night, havana street art
Havana at dusk

Cuba is a difficult country to travel around

In Cuba, nothing is easy. We were silly and landed in Varadero airport at 5am in the morning with no accomodation booked. We thought there would be touts selling hotels, or a public bus waiting to take us to the city. Or at least a taxi rank. There was none of that, so, we stood there like silly fools. Until, we found a taxi in the carpark with a sleeping driver and convinced him to take us to an all-inclusive resort which I had thankfully screen-shotted a photo of on my phone.

We arrived at the resort and the receptionist looked at us like we we had two heads when we told her we didn’t have a reservation. But thankfully they had one room left! We paid in cash and I honestly don’t think anyone other than her and the night porter knew we were staying there. See, nothing is easy here, but it works.

Public transport in Cuba – what to expect

We had a horrible bus experience from Vinales to Trinidad, which took 2 hours longer than we were told. It was basically an old prison truck with plastic deck chairs as seats. There were lots of older couples on the journey who clearly paid a lot more than we did. In these situations (like many others) during our time in Cuba you have to just laugh and get through it.

local cubans in havana
The streets of Havana

You will never fully understand Cuba

I think as tourists it’s easy ignore the struggles of being a Cuban, especially if you stay at an all-inclusive resort. On our last day of vacation, we spoke at length with a Cuban girl at a street stall in Varadero. She told us she can’t leave Cuba. Well not easily anyway, she has family in Miami and in order for her to visit them she has to apply for permission from the Cuban government. Her family then must support her application – through sending a letter to the government saying they will host her and ensure she returns to Cuba. She told us that Cubans are the most educated in the Caribbean and she is fluent in 7 languages. She is also studying a Masters in Marine Biology.

She told us that she works at the stall solely to send money home to her parents in rural Cuba who are looking after her children for her. She visits them once every 3 months because she works 7 days a week. She told us that she’s met an older Canadian man while working at the stall and is tempted to marry him as a way out.

In her hand was an old iPhone and when she saw me looking, she told us her family in Miami gifted it to her and it is the most important thing she owns. She told us in every election as long as she’s been alive there’s just been one candidate – Fidel Castro or more recently his brother Raul. 

cuban boxing club havana
Local Cuban boxers in Havana

There’s limited or no internet in Cuba

Cuba is probably one of the last remaining destinations you can trully ‘switch off’. To access the internet you queue at an Etecsa store (each town has at least one store). Show them your passport, pay the fee and they will issue you with an internet card. These cards can last from 30 minutes up to a few hours. 

FYI – in some large hotels they sell these cards at reception.

Next the fun begins, because you must find a WiFi spot. Which are nearly always NOT outside the Etecsa store in which you just bought the internet card. See, I told you nothing is easy in Cuba. I think we used the internet a whole two hours on our two week vacation. Which was honestly so refreshing.

artist painting on havana cuba street
A street artist in Trinidad

Okay okay enough about my deep love for Cuba and moving onto the cool things you can do here. Havana has in my opinion the best nightclub in the world, and the beaches in Cuba are honestly like something from a fancy travel brochure.

Below are my favorite activities to do in Cuba. PIN the below image for later if you don’t have time to read it now.

Visit Fabrica de Arte – the best night-club in the world

Its called Fabrica de Arte Cubano and it’s so much more than a night club. Contained within an old cooking oil factory. ‘Fabrica’ as it’s known to locals is an art gallery, a live music venue, a restaurant and a street food stall. It has a variety of music rooms playing different genres. The best thing is that you get a stamp card upon entry and when you buy a drink or even food your server simply stamps the card and you pay for what you consumed when you exit. Brilliant. No unnecessary queues at the bar.

When, we visited the Havana Orchestra played and I cried, it was magic. I can’t describe how amazing this place is, it is definitely my top recommendation for Havana. And another huge reason why you must explore Cuba!

colourful houses in havana

The beaches in Varadero are the prettiest I’ve ever seen

Just a photo here is enough explanation I think. The whitest sand, the bluest water and the beach in the town of Varadero itself is never busy. This is because most tourists tend to use the beaches at their all-inclusive resorts.

varadero beach cuba
Varadero Playa

Cuba is the home of Mojitos and Cuban cigars

If those two things aren’t enough to convince you I don’t know what else to say. If on your vacation you have time to visit a tobacco farm plantation in the town of Vinales, then I highly recommend you do so. We did a guided horse-backing tour to the plantations, organised by our Casa Particular.

cigar farm vinales cuba
Tobacco farm tour in Vinales

Don’t make your mind up on first impressions

I know a lot of the things I’ve written here may turn some people off. Yes, it’s a complicated country with a sad past that has obviously greatly affected the Cuban people. Sure, it’s a difficult country to get around with public transport options not being very reliable. Everything about Cuba is not easy. But that’s what makes it so fascinating!

There is nowhere in the world like Cuba

But there’s no place in the world like it, it’s like stepping back in time. There are no McDonald’s or Starbucks. Damn you’d be hard-pressed to find a grocery store in the capital Havana. As I mentioned there’s either no or very slow internet. The transport system sucks. It’s a country of vast contrasts from the white sand and palm trees of Varadero to the steamy dusty colourful streets of Havana. Music is very important here, people dance in the streets in broad daylight. 

Here are 10 more persuasive reasons why you need to visit Cuba pronto!

The bars in Havana are not really bars at all. It’s like sitting in someones living room. Cuba is a confusing jigsaw puzzle but somehow all the pieces fit together perfectly. And that’s why for me Cuba is the most fascinating and memorable destination I’ve visited yet. And all the above reasons and more are why you need to explore Cuba!

*Tell Me? Have I convinced you to explore Cuba? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.

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Cuba is one of my favourite destinations ever. I haven't stopped thing about Cuba since I've returned. Here's my reasons why you must travel to Cuba.
Cuba is one of my favourite destinations ever. I haven't stopped thing about Cuba since I've returned. Here's my reasons why you must travel to Cuba.

Strolling through Havana, Cuba

For my 30th birthday last month, I fulfilled a lifelong dream to visit Havana, Cuba. I’ve been fascinated (some may say obsessed) with this city ever since I watched ‘Dirty Dancing 2: Havana Nights’ 15 years ago. Without ever visiting the country, Cuba seemed to me to have an energy incomparable to anywhere else in the world. It seemed exotic, unexplored, complicated and frozen in time. Spending two weeks here did not disappoint, in fact, it left me wanting more.

   An Instagrammer’s dream: The famous Prado Street, Havana

“Lives lived out in the open” That’s what Cuba is. Walking down the street in Havana, you’ll notice everyone leaves their front door open. Peer inside and you’ll see anything from an old lady cooking over an open stove to teenagers sitting in the living room listening to latina rap. Neighbours sit on their front step chatting animatedly. Nobody seems to spend any time indoors, no TV’s really, definitely no internet. It’s a great way to live don’t you think? So unashamed and open and without modern day distractions.

A typical street scene in Havana Central

 

An old car and even older buildings. This is Havana.

Below is possibly my favourite photo of the trip. This is exactly what it looks like to walk down every street in Havana, Cuba – kind of a chaotic, colourful, beautiful mess. And I cannot stress how important it is to visit Cuba now before THIS changes forever.

Havana, Cuba

“Timeworn but magnificent, dilapidated but dignified, fun yet maddeningly frustrating – Cuba is a country of indefinable magic.” 

 

The simple life amidst the chaos of Havana

“For me, Cuba has always had the allure a forbidden fruit. I love it for its uniqueness, creativity and survivalist spirit; but, above all, I love it because, despite 60 years of setbacks, it remains an upbeat and open place.”

El Gimnasio Rafael Trejo                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

The guy on the left boxed for Cuba n the Beijing Olympics

I’ve been back from Cuba over three weeks now and I’m starting to think that it may be one of my favourite countries in the world. The things that frustrated me while I was there, are now I realize, what makes it unique and unforgettable. There’s no place like it, it’s got an energy like no other. It’s like stepping into a time machine and being transported back to the 1950s. But change is simmering below the surface, Cuba will change, it may not be tomorrow, it may not even be next year, but it will happen. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again  – visit Cuba NOW before it’s too late.

Sunset hour in Parque Central                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

Exploring the streets of Havana at night                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

Have you ever visited Havana, Cuba? What did you think? Drop me a comment below.                                                                                                                                                                                            Psst: you can also read more about our trip to Cuba here