For the first time in a rather long time I pushed myself into directly writing a travel diary after experiencing a new place. As the next weeks will be full of adventures, I just loved the idea to share everything as long as my memories are all fresh. 🙂
Whereas most of my recent trips were part of a project or a shooting, I traveled to Cuba to explore a totally new place with KLM. I loved this project as I’m quite picky when it comes to service and KLM has always been one of these airlines which always make me feel fully comfortable (Maybe because they are Dutch – Dutch people are probably the nicest people in the world :)). Even though I’m traveling a lot, I often feel like I’m staying in my comfort zone. When I selected one of the KLM dream deals, I decided to go to a place I have always been curious about. Cuba was clearly different to every place I’ve ever been to and compared to most of my recent destinations, I really felt the explorer spirit. 😉 You can find your own KLM dream deal: here. The sales period is until 14th of September.
As Cuba felt so different, I decided to share some general information and my favorite places and activities with you. Plus: I also have lots of pictures to show you! 🙂
HOW TO PREPARE YOUR TRIP:
TOURIST CARD: The most important thing is to plan early as you need a tourist card! I had a little help from KLM which was super helpful! Cuba is a special place and when planning a trip, it makes sense to plan a bit ahead.
CURRENCY: Cuba has a two currencies system. There is one currency for the locals and one for tourists which is called CUC. There are not many cash points in Cuba and sometimes they are empty. Therefore, we decided to queue up for quite some time at the airport to have some cash from minute one. While you normally won’t carry too much cash and rely on your credit card, in Cuba it’s the other way around. We got enough cash to be covered for the most important things, which ended up to be a good idea.
INTERNET: Well, you’ve probably realized that I had internet access during my stay in Cuba. Still, I have to admit that it has never been that tricky to find an internet connection. There is one provider which is available at some hotels and the airport and you can buy access tickets. We paid 2 CUC for 1 hour and as I wanted to share my experiences with you, I ended up buying loooooads of access cards. 😉 Still, I wasn’t able to use snapchat during my trip to Cuba. Even though I bought internet access cards every day, snapchat is simply not working in Cuba.
FOOD: There are no typical supermarkets in Cuba, You can enter a shop and they will sell alcohol and lemonade, but getting water is not that easy. Also I was craving some healthy food and ended up buying avocados and bananas at a little street trolley. Still, most food was not as fresh as my spoiled tummy is used to and I ended up eating mostly bread and cheese, not risking too much. 😉
LANGUAGE: Shame on me: I can only say a few words in Spanish. You will have way more fun if you speak Spanish or at least carry a translator. Sometimes it was quite frustrating because you will meet only few people who will speak English.
BE PATIENT & FLEXIBLE: Cuba was clearly one of the unorganized places I’ve ever been to. We waited hours for our luggage and in front of the cashier machine. Also because no one was paying attention to waiting properly in line etc. and people were pushing in and out, it was tricky to adjust to that without feeling rude. When going to Cuba, make sure to stay patient and just go with the flow (even if it’s a slow one ;)).
5 THINGS TO DO IN HAVANA:
I) HAVANA OLD TOWN (HABANA VIEJA)
I was staying in Havana central, closely to my favorite part of Havana: Havana old town. I can not really recommend our hotel. I had only limited time to plan the trip and, therefore, I fully relied on hotel ratings without reading traveler websites. During our time in Havana I heard so many good things about privately owned accommodations and when planning your trip, I’d rather check for a cool, friendly private place instead of an governmental owned hotel. I guess you will feel more of the Cuban sprit. Despite that, living near Havana old town was the best idea. Ever since I’ve started the blog, photography became my major fascination. I love wandering through a new place with eyes wide open, sensing every detail. Havana old town was truly a photographers’ paradise. Every house was different, colorful and you could spend days just walking along the side streets of famous Plaza Vieja.
II) VINTAGE CARS
Arriving in Cuba felt like going back in time. When the first old timer passed by our taxi I couldn’t stop smiling. Even though I rather played Playmobile than Barbie doll, it was so much fun taking a (pink) vintage car for a trip around the city. You pay 30 CUC (a little less than 30€) for an hour of driving around the city. As I don’t speak Spanish (shame on me!) we asked at our hotel for a little assistance. I loved exploring in a vintage car and we ended up even taking little trips in an old pink car. One day we did a little road trip to Playa de Este which is a Caribbean beach only 25 minutes away from Havana. When the driver was playing old Cuban music, it was perfection.
III) PLAYA DEL ESTE
My favorite activity was driving to Playa del Este for a half day trip. I read that it’s a white sandy Caribbean beach which somehow is true – But also it was the most packed and local beach I’ve ever been to. 😀 We ended up finding no umbrella or sun chair and as we brought no towels, we went for a little swim and afterwards we were sitting in the sand, watching the ocean. Even though the beach was not at all what I experienced, it was such a fun and unique trip. Afterwards we got some fried thin chips and a local lemonade and we truly felt the Cuban vibes. 😉
IV) LA GUARIDA
This is not an official must, but for me La Guarida was my happy place. The restaurant was close to Neptuno street (one of my favorite spots), based in an old building. The walls had Fidel Castro drawings and writings and everything looked vintage. There were some different floors you can reach while taking cute old spiral staircases. Going to the top you will find a rooftop with a stunning view on imperfectly perfect Havana. Underneath you will find a cool bar with nice views and on the lower floors you will find La Guarida. You have to make a reservation and insist on sitting outside. 😉 For me as a picky vegetarian, La Guarida was heaven on earth. They had the yummiest salad, avocado cream and the best three chocolate desert. We came here several time, to enjoy the views, take pictures of the sunset and enjoy a super tasty dinner.
V) FOOD, FOOD, FOOD:
Food is always one of the most important things for me. There were not too many options, but I found some places I can truly recommend. Still, I have to admit that there might be some really good meat places, but as a vegetarian, I only checked places which offered at least one good vegetarian option. 😉
1) La Guarida: Obviously, I loved La Guarida (see above). Nothing more to add to that one! 🙂
2) Museo del Chocolat: For true chocolate lovers, Museo del Chocolat is a must. It’s a cute place where you can drink a chocolate, eat pralines and buy figures made of chocolate. I bought two chocolate cigars (my kind of cigars 😉 and four pralines and had to pay 2,70 CUC which seemed to be fair. 😉 Also there is a Churros shop in front and you get amazing Churros for only 0,50 CUC.
3) Cafe Bohemia: Right at the famous Plaza Vieja we found Cafe Bohemia in a little backyard and directly felt for it. The place reminded us of Mykonos and the food was fresh and modern. I had veggie sandwiches and a fruit plate and we ended up coming back for this fresh fruit and the lovely location.
4) 304 O’Reilly: Even though I’m normally in charge of food hunting (picky vegetarian here ;)), Alex found 304 O’Reilly when checking for good food near our hotel. The bar and restaurant was described as a hipster place which was kind of true. The place had a cool, friendly and surprisingly modern vibe and I had amazing vegetarian tacos, bruschetta and a fresh salad with yummy dressing! The place was small and lively and we loved sitting here, playing cards and enjoying the atmosphere.
5) Arcangel: After some days of hotel breakfast, I was keen on trying some options. As breakfast is not a common meal in Cuba, I was happy to find Arcangel. The place was trendy, had cute interior and a coffee machine they imported from Italy. 😉
In case you have some extra time, I would definitely recommend seeing more places. I was keen on visiting Trinidad and Vinales Valley but we only had time to explore Havana and the areas around. What surprised me the most was the fact how much you can feel the effects of communism. Growing up, I’m used to having choices and feeling safe. Seeing the living standards in Havana and the lack of choices when it comes to food was something that touched me. There were places for alcohol and bread and you would always find bread with meat on the street corners, but as a vegetarian I sometimes had serious trouble finding anything. Especially because I’ve been a veggie for ages and even though I’m tolerant to different kind of lifestyles and nutrition, seeing bones on the floor which were thrown away after preparing a meat bread was sometimes hard for my stomach. As I love photography and I love beautiful aesthetics I definitely wanted to point out that Cuba is not only this colorful, vibrant place you can see on the pictures but it’s also a place which makes you grateful for growing up in a fully developed country, which offers choices regarding healthy living, housing and education. I’m quite an emotional person and somethings seeing poor people and children growing up with so little leaves a whole in my heart. Therefore, I’m extremely grateful to got the opportunity to travel this unique place with KLM who took care of us so well. Entering the airplane on our way back and feeling the hospitality of the flight attendance on board directly gave me the feeling of almost being home. Thank you KLM for this unforgettable trip! xx Leonie
*In cooperation with KLM (Royal Dutch Airlines) <3