Trip: January 2014
Below is our Top 5 Things To Do in Cuba, after visiting Havana, Viñales and Trinidad, part of the Just Carrying On – Top 5 Things To Do series. These lists are favorite activities, eats, and drinks from our travels around the world.
*We visited Cuba with our friends Greg and Heidi at a time when we could neither access our bank accounts nor get on the internet to do things like read Trip Advisor, which definitely influenced our experience of the country, we think for the better.
1. Viñales Horseback Riding and Cigar Making
Unlike showing up in Thailand or Costa Rica to discover the tourism office with the best package to take you on an adventure, in Cuba your host will call her friend who calls his friend and then a guy will show up to take you on your tour. It is awesome. We were hungry so before heading into the countryside on horseback to see the tobacco fields of Cuba, this guy took us to his friends house who prepared the best Cuban meal we had on our trip. We toured a tobacco drying station, stopping at a lean-to where we learned how to roll our own cigars and then dip the ends in honey. Before returning, we waited out a rainstorm by drinking thick coffee, then changed our minds and got soaked to the bone in a warm afternoon storm. I can’t think of any paid experience I enjoyed so much.
2. Walking around Old Havana
Havana is thrilling because it is Havana, a step back into a time you’ve only heard of with old cars and no advertisements. When we arrived in 2014, it was biting the forbidden fruit and was nothing shy of fascinating. We stayed a few miles from Old Havana and, as is the case in many big cities, saw the poverty and dilapidation living side by side the wealth and preservation of colonization.
3. Wall pizza
I’m quite confident that ‘wall pizza’ will not be found on anyone else’s highlight lists of Cuba. With the inability to withdraw money from our accounts in Cuba, the budget was fixed, and therefore tight. And since we weren’t sure exactly how tight, we cinched our belts to avoid the overpriced tourist traps. Once we discovered that there was a Cuban currency and a Tourist currency we lined up with the locals at the wall and ordered our steaming hot pizza for 50 cents, often returning for a second. The culinary experience was not a highlight of our time in Cuba, and wall pizza would qualify as a ‘cultural’ experience more than a delicious one
4. Zora y el cuervo jazz club
We spent six days in Cuba and visited this jazz club twice. The first time because it is on the must visit list for any trip to Cuba. The second was the nightcap of our trip, one of those times you throw caution to the wind because you’re only there once and decide that not sleeping before your flight and listening to live jazz in Havana is the right choice. And it was. The cigar smoke-filled room is tight quarters, with few seats that are good or bad. But the music is always good, because you’re listening to jazz in Cuba.
5. Trinidad 500 year celebration
As luck would have it, the day we rolled through Trinidad happened to be the 500 year celebration of the city. So those of us who were not vegetarian stuffed ourselves with pork that was roasted whole on the side of the street, drank local beers poured for free into plastic jugs out the side of a truck, and danced with the locals in the large square as the music blared and people young and old moved their feet to the salsa beats. A lucky travel moment to be sure.
We truly loved everything we did in Cuba. We popped into small unmarked bars, smoked cigars indoors, drank cold brews in the city square, traversed Havana via the Malecón, and lounged at the beach near Trinidad. Reflecting on the trip reminds me how much I loved having no idea what was coming next, where we were going, or what we would find. We also have to give a personal honorable mention to Greg Pollard-Hermann, who gets photo credit for all of the good shots from Cuba.
Top 5 Things To Do in Cuba is part of Just Carrying On – Top 5 Things To Do series, which offers our best travel recommendations from around the world.