Havana, Cuba

Last fall a dream I’d has as long as I can remember came true — I went to Havana, Cuba. I’m not quite sure why this place had always captured my heart… maybe the way it felt lost in time, the mystery of it, the color, the life, the charm. A few years ago, the Obama administration made it easier for Americans to visit one of our closest neighbors, and when cheap tickets popped up, my mom and sisters enthusiastically agreed to join me. Not long after booking tickets, He Who Shall Not Be Named announced visa restrictions for Americans visiting Cuba. We panicked, but were still able to get proper visas and plan a compliant trip (props to ViaHero for all of their help with this).

Wandering aimlessly is one of my favorite parts of traveling. However, due to visa constraints and a lack of internet access there, we had to do a lot of planning in advance and follow an itinerary closely. Happy to say this didn’t prevent us from constantly being surprised and delighted by what we found.

Traveling to Cuba was everything and nothing I expected. It felt familiar and totally unknown at the same time. Crumbling buildings accompany certain infrastructures us Americans only dream of (every person has health insurance… every person is well educated… can you even imagine?). All that to say, there is still a lot of suffering there, and truth be told I felt conflicted about a lot of what we saw.

We encountered incredible art, amazing style, the best music on earth, delicious food, a billion street cats, and the brightest colors you’ve ever seen. Truth is, I can’t quite put it all into words… so hopefully these photos help.

Some of my highlights:
— The people. So warm, so beautiful, so welcoming, so kind.
— Live music everywhere! Yes, sometimes it’s tourist trap-y, but color me charmed.
Our Airbnb. It was gorgeous and I’ve never had more wonderful hosts.
La Guarida. Best meal of the trip, most stunning interiors, and I mean… Beyoncé ate there, so.
— How alive the streets felt every hour of the day. It also feels really safe there, and I loved that.
— Cooking class and organic farm visit at Ajiaco in nearby Cojimar (the village where Hemingway wrote The Old Man and the Sea)
— Vintage car tour! Also touristy, but it was so delightful and informative. Havana is actually a huge city and this allowed us to see so many hidden parts of it. Our guide was wonderful (and I’m so grateful to my sister/translator Emma, who has Spanish skills that far surpass my own).
— La Zorra y el Cuervo — amazing underground jazz club. Long lines to get in but so worth it.
— Callejon de Hamel — the epicenter of Afro-Cuban music. Every Sunday at noon, people pack into this colorful alleyway to sing, dance, and socialize. It was electric. Check out a video (not my own) here.
— Internet access being practically non-existent. You have to go to specific public spots, pay, and get super slow internet if you want it… not worth it during these precious few days IMO. It was actually really nice to be present, to not post on social media, and to rely on the travel skills we all had ~before~ smart phones.
— The architecture. Fascinating blend of Spanish colonial and 20th century brutalism with random splashes of art deco and midcentury modern thrown in.
— La Bodeguita del Medio (said to be the birthplace of the mojito)

I wanted to travel light, and decided to rent the Fuji X100F. It was compact and absolutely perfect. Took a few days to really get used to but I loved it so much.

There are many more ups and towns, tips and tricks, that I was so happy to know about in advance of our trip. I don’t really feel like sharing a complete guide here on my blog, but if you ever decide to travel to Cuba (and you SHOULD!), feel free to reach out. I’d be happy to help in any way I can <3