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!

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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.

22 thoughts on “Why Cuba is my favorite travel destination

  1. sarafaraway Reply

    I agree with you 100%! I spent three weeks traveling around Cuba a few years ago and things are definitely not always easy. But Cuba was also one of my favorite countries I have ever visited and I would go back anytime. I think all you need to do in Cuba is accept that things work a little (or sometimes quite a bit) differently than what we’re used to and just relax and enjoy 😀

    1. snaphappytravel Reply

      Exactly, you have worded it perfectly! x

  2. nadinearab Reply

    Cuba has been on my bucket list since forever and this makes me wanna go even more now!!

  3. Emma Reply

    I’ve wanted to visit Cuba for a long time, and this post just sealed the deal. You speak so passionately and descriptively about it that I feel like I’m there. It sounds like such an interesting place that needs to be explored. I’m not all about easy places to visit, this feels like a challenge I’m ready to take on

  4. Mark Wyld Reply

    Cuba seems to have taken over as everyone’s hot destination from Iceland lately. It looks to have a lovely mix of old warm charm meeting the future. The nightlife sounds great 1 mojito with that for me, please.

  5. Pilar Reply

    OMG I want to visit Cuba, your pictures are sooo cool!! I’m super happy your resolution this year is to learn Spanish! Es mi Idioma y me encanta que la gente quiera aprenderlo… it’s my native language and I love that people want to learn it (I’m from Mexico) 😀

  6. Cat Lin Reply

    Yes, you’ve convinced me to visit Cuba! I didn’t know that it has such pretty beaches. Now, I want to see them in person!

  7. Bob Bales Reply

    Would love to visit Cuba. Especially the cigar factories. They have deteriorated in quality some since being taken over by the government but it would be fun to visit and tour a few.

  8. Ana Reply

    I don’t know much about Cuba, but I thought it might be difficult to travel there. Nonetheless, I’d love to visit Havana. I’m sure it’s quite magical. Knowing Spanish in countries like this is a big plus. You can understand the culture so much better.

  9. Lara Dunning Reply

    I love your descriptions of Cuba, the culture, its resiliency and how things might not go as planned, but in that, lies the beauty of the people and experience. From the way you write about it, I can tell it made a lasting impression. I haven’t been yet, but would love to go!

  10. chloe Reply

    Cuba is so exotic, your photos captured the mood and the culture very beautifully. I didn’t expect the beaches to be so gorgeous too. The water is freaking crystal clear. I would love to see more of them!

  11. Kate Reply

    Cuba is definetly underrated, thanks for sharing this – I want to visit Havana someday and experience it for myself.

  12. Viola Reply

    Cuba has intrigued me too ever since I studied Spanish in high school and I had to do a presentation on Havana. It’s such a colorful place and it seems to have so much soul. I would love to go there next year. Thanks for sharing all this interesting information. I guess not having internet is a good thing so you can fully live in the moment 🙂

  13. Denise Reply

    I love your photos, especially the boxers (my favorite sport). I can’t wait to visit Cuba. It’s on my bucket list.

  14. Mark Wyld Reply

    Cuba much like Iceland seems to be the hottest travel destinations at present. Havana looks like such an amazing city with old world charm just waiting to be explored. Its hard to believe that the airport was not full of touts waiting for arriving tourists.

  15. Laura Reply

    Cuba is on my must visit list for this year! I love that it is still authentic with little internet and being challenging to get around just makes it the more fun. How picture perfect are those coloured buildings!

  16. budget jan Reply

    I loved this post – it is the most informative I’ve read on Cuba. I understand Cuba has problems and I’ve read a lot of unpromising posts about it, but what I saw from your photos immediately and confirmed in your words is the amazing light. I love once grand buildings that have seen better days and the old cars go hand in hand with them making it a photographer’s dream. I’d love to go there. I can’t believe there were no tout’s meeting your flight. I wouldn’t have thought that possible. Thank goodness you had screen-shotted a resort!

  17. Mags Reply

    I’m so jealous. I’m absolutely itching to get to Cuba! Unfortunately 2017 wasn’t the year for me, but I have a good feeling about 2018. Thanks for sharing.

  18. knycx.journeying Reply

    I visited Cuba a few years back and I agree it is one of my favorite travel destination. Simply because many of its qualities are nowhere to be found in other places on earth. So maybe we would never “fully understand” it as you mentioned 🙂 I had the same feeling from the second I boarded the flight to Havana from Mexico https://knycxjourneying.com/2015/05/04/back-to-1953/ @ knycx.journeying

  19. Sandy N Vyjay Reply

    Cuba has always been a source of great fascination for us. It is quite an enigmatic and intriguing country and probably there lies its charm. The classic cars and the Cigars are part of the fascinating motif that makes up Cuba.

  20. Anthony Braybrooke Reply

    YESSS. I’m so glad you’ve written this post. Cuba is so high on my list for places to visit and SOON that I’m happy to hear you had such an amazing time.

  21. Katie Reply

    Great article! It’s nice to read the intricacies of a place and the difficulties, instead of only positive things. I haven’t been to Cuba but would love to visit, will book a hotel in advance if I go though! 🙂

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