cuba. yeesh. where do i even begin. for now i'll share some iphone snaps with you until i get back the film scans from all the incredible talent involved in the THREEDUDESWORKSHOP.
i know there’s many of you traveling to cuba in this new year since the sanctions have been lifted, and it’s going to be such an exciting time for tourists and cubans alike :)
i’m going to break down my experience//travel tips by categories below, in hopes that the info will help ease your travel! cuba is truthfully SUCH a magical place and has such a romance to it. if you’re headed there, you’re going to love it-if you don’t yet have plans to go, i would definitely jump cuba to the top of your “wanderlust list.”
cuban people are wonderful, be warm to them and they'll be like twice as warm to you. NATALIE and i spent almost every morning wandering the neighborhood and looking for foliage//flowers to forage. many times we asked people to come into their gate (in our broken spanglish) to be able to reach something to cut. not once did they turn us away or ask for money to cut product. they are so unbelievably willing to share what little they have. many of them were so proud to give what they were growing to us- another man actually took the clippers and helped us cut from his yard. in the countryside we met a man who had this giant rose bush growing wildly in front of his tiny house. he told us to cut as much as we wanted and then brought us out water//cut bottles to take them home in. they were truly so giving, and it inspired me so much//challenged my character.
we have SO much in america. in excess. and oftentimes, we therefore focus our energy on protecting what we have//keeping it for ourselves. which is fine and understandable. there are levels. however, i think we could all learn a few things from the cubans. they were so open to giving to us, as strangers in their country, with little to no knowledge of why we needed it. they didn’t need an explanation, and although they are such a poor country, they were happy to give/share what little they had. we could all take a cue from them, i think.
now, to be fair, there’s still corruption within cuba, just like there is here in the US. there are a few scams in cuba going around that many other articles will warn you about. so just be aware: one is where women ask for money for their baby and take you to an ATM and try to get you to take out way more than is needed. and the other involves cigars-just say “no, gracias” and don’t follow anyone you don’t know to buy anything or take any money out of an ATM. and i don’t recommend buying “cuban cigars” off of the street. they probably aren’t legit ;) it would be like someone coming up to you in NYC streets and opening their coat to sell you “rolexs'”. the same rules apply there as here, just use your head. you’ll feel the vibes- listen to your gut.
although there is some corruption in cuba, it is NOT a dangerous place. many people have asked me if i felt safe. there was not a single time i felt unsafe. natalie and i were two tiny girls wandering around by ourselves cutting flowers, and we basically just made friends everywhere we went. again, i want to emphasize that the majority of the people in cuba were WONDERFUL. also, a tip-a little spanish goes a long way!
so i had a walkthru in tampa, fl first- from tampa we went to miami and from miami we took a charter to cuba with a company called CUBA TRAVEL SERVICES. we found the flight on cheap-o-air. honestly, we weren't sure it was real for a minute, because you can ONLY check in AT the airport, you don't get an email check in or anything like that. BUT it was so much easier than taking a whole buncha connections and going through mexico.
once you get to miami, CUBA TRAVEL SERVICES is at the very end of the check in counters. ask someone to direct you. i would also allow plenty of time to check in there, it's a bit time consuming//a process.
you may just have to research a bit regarding the days you choose to go, because the charter flights are limited, but honestly so worth it. it's only a 40 minute flight from miami. so quick. i'd suggest a direct flight, if you can, to miami and then the charter to cuba.
getting an airbnb is not a real thing yet in cuba. so i wouldn't even try to go through that. we've had some interesting experiences//other friends have as well with trying to book something from afar. sometimes, although you may think you've booked something, cubans might give away your homestay or accommodations to someone who came earlier, is staying longer, or paid more. or all of the above. don’t fault them for this, they’re just trying to make extra money wherever they can because they’re wages are so low.
SO you either need to wing it and find something when you go there, OR book at one of the nicer hotels. that being said, winging it is not hard. there are CASAS (homestays) all over cuba-all you need to do is look for this symbol-seen on our casa in VEDADO. and ask about rates//rooms available.
CASAS are basically something like an airbnb situation which truthfully, is the most genuine and wonderful cuba experience. you can also pay extra per day for breakfast//coffee, dinners, etc. here’s the info for ours-i loved our sweet sweet ladies so much and they made fresh juice every morning!
address: calle 25 No. 813 e/B y C, Vedado, LA HABANA, CUBA
the town we stayed in, VEDADO, was outside of old havana and it was almost like the suburbia of havana. still a bunch of old cars, beautiful buildings, etc. but it was a bit more mellow than being right in it.
again, if you're not up for trying to find one when you arrive, definitely stick to the hotels.
i highly recommend taking someone who knows spanish or at least can get by//understand it and communicate the basics. english speakers are few and far between. also, even if you know a little bit, just make an effort to speak it to them-they’ll love you for it.
we were lucky enough to have the guys arrange for a fleet of taxis to come to the house everyday at the same time and they hung out all day to take us all everywhere and they paid them a day rate. however, hailing one is not hard at all, just be sure to have cash on you and take note that taxis are shared in cuba. so if your car isn't full they may pick up someone else along the way.
this is the downtown area that's super touristy but has all the magic. street vendors, the bars where ernest hemingway went, lots of history and raw cuban culture. definitely plan some time to explore here. there’s SO MUCH to see, and i’d say this is where all the romance is. cobble stone streets, mixed with old cards everywhere, and european style buildings all bright with colorful decay.
make sure to walk the boardwalk, EL MALECON as well.
its the most impoverished part of havana, but its also the most photogenic. less touristy, more gritty. but still rad to explore. (note-i wouldn’t necessarily recommend finding a casa here)
this is also where LA GUARIDA is-its one of the nicest restaurant in havana. you have to go there to make reservations, so i'd swing by there when you first get in to make any kinda reservation for whichever day you're able to go while you're there. there's also a rooftop bar that's got amazing views of central havana. definitely worth a visit.
about an hour//45 minutes from havana is a place called LAS TERRAZAS. there's a resort there too and it's a beautiful village near a river. definitely worth a day trip! and you could visit our sweet man with the roses.
the CUC is the only currency in havana along with pesos. but only some street vendors will take pesos. so plan on exchanging your money at the havana airport. the exchange rate is NUTS so my mama suggested exchanging into euros first in US and then CUCS which helped to lessen the pain of the exchange rate.
my friend caroline went to cuba recently, and estimated about 150$ a day per person on her blogpost which you may also want to read over (teamwoodnote.com/blog). i'd say that's about right for stay, food (which is dirt cheap) and drink, taxi, etc. keep in mind there is NO such thing as credit cards in cuba, it's all cash. so have plenty to spend, you can always exchange them back at the airport. running out would be tough, as there’s only 1 or 2 banks where you can take money out in cuba, and the line is always bananas.
almost non-existent, the only wifi is at the big hotels and its pricey per hour//kinda shitty.
so i'd just say enjoy being off the grid if you can. i turned all my data off from saturday to the day we left, and it was the most freeing experience and one of the best parts of the whole thing. i came back so refreshed and was able to just be present while i was there and really soak it all in.
bring salt and pepper with you!
i recommend sticking to seafood, you can get a 12$ lobster there that's been caught by the locals.
don't expect extravagance. its pretty basic, but it's less processed than the stuff we eat, so although it's kinda bland//all the same somewhat, it wasn't the worst. and i had a harder time digesting the burger i ate at the miami airport when i got back into the US.
DO NOT drink the tap water. just like in any latin american country. fine to brush your teeth//shower with, just stick to that and bottled water
DO drink the mojitos, daiquiris, and rum//cokes!
i brought a first aid kit with me after reading an article that suggested to- bandaids, medicine, etc. are generally hard to come by, so definitely bring something like that with you! i was the only one who had that with me for the workshop, and i ended up being the team nurse//mama because of it.
also TAMPONS//PADS-if any of you are even close to getting your period bring tampons. they are non-existent there. (sorry for the TMI to any dudes reading this)
bring snacks just to get you by in between meals that are easy.
know that cuban men have no problem telling you you're beautiful or cat-calling you, we even had like 10 year old boys do it to us ladies-just ignore them. or smile and say gracias. they won't do anything other than talk.
just be present. it’s like stepping onto a movie set, and i have a feeling it won’t be the same for much longer.
i want to say a HUGE thank you to everyone involved in the THREEDUDESWORKSHOP for bringing me along and allowing SIREN FLORAL CO to be a part of this special experience. i’m seriously so honored to have had a hand in it and i cannot wait to see the results. thank you dudes for ALLLLLL of your planning, hardwork and care. you’re wonderful!!