by - Sunday, September 30, 2018

On the 17th of September, my mother and I left for a 10-day holiday to Cuba. As we wanted to experience both the city and the beach, we split our trip into 2 parts. We spent 4 days in the capital, Havana and the remaining days at the beach resort of Varadero. 

Cuba is somewhere that I’ve always wanted to visit. About 10 or so years ago, my grandparents took a short trip there and came back in love. My grandfather basically worshipped Che Guevara from that point onwards (there’s still a very old Che calendar in his room). Cuba was somewhere that I really wanted to love – I was already in love with the idea of the place. And, as much as I hate writing negative things about destinations, Cuba is unfortunately not somewhere I’d revisit in a hurry.

Let me start off with the negatives, so I can end on a more positive note.


Outside the famous La Bodeguita del Medio bar
One of the cooler buildings in the Art Area
My mother and I love staying in residential areas when we go abroad. We prefer B&Bs owned by local people, as it allows us to get a real feel for the culture. So, instead of staying at a hotel in the Old Town (where most tourists stay), we chose a small B&B located halfway between Old Havana and Vedado, another district of Havana.

The first thing you’ll notice after arriving in Havana are the old buildings – that’s slightly obvious as this is what the capital is known for. However, I must say that I was slightly shocked by just how old they are. Don’t expect to see brightly coloured buildings lining the streets, even in Old Town. Most are extremely weathered, which has caused their colour to fade. While in most cases, this hasn’t affected the interior (our B&B was very well maintained) it’s something to bear in mind. The capital is not as picturesque as you may have been led to believe by most popular guidebooks.

Another thing to note is that all buildings are built in a similar style. This means that identifying shops which should be obvious (like a supermarket for example) isn’t the easiest thing to do, unless you have it marked down on a map. We managed to find one that was pretty well stocked (no easy feat, as the first one we visited didn’t even sell water) and continued to use that one for the rest of our trip. Luckily for most, there are many small shops in Old Town where you can buy basic necessities.


As a Londoner, dirty streets are something I've become accustomed to. I'm an expert at dodging litter or dog excrement. So, believe me when I say that Havana's streets are surprisingly unclean. Even in the touristy areas, it’s common to find commercial wheelie bins overflowing with rubbish bags. In some cases, waste is just thrown into the gutter or other open spaces (we saw an area where a building once stood completely covered in rubbish). Needless to say, this causes a pungent smell to fill the air in those areas – it’s not pleasant. 


Besides spiders, the one insect I cannot STAND are cockroaches. They're the only insects I associate purely with dirty environments. Unfortunately, they are everywhere in Cuba. While we (thankfully) only found one at our B&B in Havana, we had three plague our hotel room in Varadero. THREE. The first one that appeared was so large I almost had a panic attack. We think this one had laid a nest of baby cockroaches behind our toilet, as the ones that followed were comparatively smaller. Thankfully, a maintenance man came into our room (after we complained) and ridded us of any others that may have been lingering. However, I still wasn't completely happy as I had seen some scuttering around the hotel in other areas too. Gross. 

looking at this still makes me uncomfortable

Now… on a slightly more positive note.


Most of Cuba’s staple foods (like black beans, plantain, pork etc) are some of my favourite things ever. I could eat them until I pop. It’s also similar to food you’ll find in Tobago, the Caribbean island that my family is from. However, I found there wasn’t much variety. In a way, it makes sense. They know what they do best, and have stuck to it. In all honesty, the times I didn’t have chicken/pork with rice, beans and plantain I was disappointed. But it was a shock to not have as many options as I would in Tobago, for example. I think I was comparing the whole holiday with my experience of other Caribbean countries.

The restaurants I would recommend are Mas Havana (the food is bomb af and the cocktails are especially tasty) in Old Town and Havana’s 21 in Vedado (they gave us a mountain of fried plantain). Whichever restaurant you chose to visit, be sure to try the country’s signature Mojito cocktail. They’re one thing I can say I didn’t get sick of!


It's unlikely that you'll run out of things to do in Havana. We managed to cram quite a lot into the few days we had there. Besides eating loads and drinking Mojitos, we spent most of our time exploring Old Town and the surrounding areas. No trip to Havana would be complete without riding around in an old Chevrolet. Luckily, there are plenty of willing drivers waiting for your custom. Be sure to barter with them though, so you get the best price. Our driver took us all around Old Havana, some areas in Vedado, to the Havana Forest, the Christ statue (called Cristo de la Habana) and the Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña – a large fort on the coast. They also have a small exhibition there showing the world’s longest rolled cigar.

There are also plenty of museums to choose from in the capital. One I would recommend in particular is the Museum of Revolution. Based in what once was the Presidential Palace, the exhibition is dedicated to the events leading up to the revolution of the 50s and the aftermath. Many of the rooms have been preserved, so you can see what the original interiors looked like.

In Old Havana, you’ll find a few bars that feature live singers. I think it’s well worth taking a seat inside and soaking up the atmosphere. If you’re lucky, one may serenade you like the friendly old man that sang to me. With a cold drink to wet your whistle, what more could you ask for?

On one of our last nights in Havana, we visited the Hotel Nacional to watch a cabaret show. Expect singing, extravagant dancing and lots of costume changes. While I think the show we saw lasted slightly too long, I was happy that I’d experienced it. I’ve always been partial to a cheesy performance (I used to be a High School Musical super fan after all).


Cuban people are extremely friendly! We got lost a countless number of times, and people were always willing to point us in the right direction. Not once did I feel unsafe, even when walking through dimly lit backstreets at night. Though, you should use your common sense and avoid flashing valuables in public - as you would anywhere else. 

However, if you look and dress like a tourist, be prepared to have a lot of people stare at you. I took it as a compliment. It made me feel like a famous person. At one point, a random man pointed at me and my mother and yelled "You like my country?!" It was a shock at first, but he meant well. 


Like I said earlier, the whole time I was in Cuba I was comparing the experience to Tobago / other Caribbean islands I've visited. As much as it pains me to say this, Varadero might just have Tobago beat. I have never seen water so clear and calm! It was also pretty warm, which was an added bonus. In Tobago, I usually spend most of my time at the beach on the sand but in Cuba, you just couldn’t get me out of the water! I returned to England the most tanned I have ever been – no joke.  

All in all, I don't regret visiting Cuba, even though there were many things about it that I didn't like. Let's just say it was an experience unlike any other (clichéd, I know). The last thing I'd want to do is to put off anyone from visiting. If Cuba is somewhere you've always wanted to go, I'd say that you still should - just don't expect to be transported to a tropical paradise. 

Nat x

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