My real experiences:
A must-visit place!
After letting the dust settle a bit after Havana, my conclusion:
Every person (especially American) should visit Havana at least once in their life– to experience a mode of living TOTALLY DIFFERENT than what we consider the “norm”.
You might love Havana or hate it; but it will certainly change you (for the better).
Getting there is far easier than I expected.
I flew to Havana, Cuba via Southwest! And before going, you can apply for an online passport through Cuba Travel Services, and simply check “Support for the Cuban People” as reason for visiting Cuba. The visa was only $75 USD per person, and came in the mail to me a few days.
I was actually surprised; I didn’t know whether Americans were allowed to travel there (or not).
Contact Ricardo for his AirBnb
Furthermore, I booked a super baller Havana, Cuba one-bedroom apartment on AirBnb, and really got along with my host Ricardo (he is an artist-entrepreneur in Havana), and has much of his artwork inside our apartment.
To contact him regarding traveling to Cuba (or to stay at his apartment/airbnb, email him at Ricardotejerapartido@gmail.com). I actually might plan a week-long travel street photography workshop with him in Havana in the near future, so make sure to signup on my newsletter to stay updated.
Street photography paradise
Simply put, Havana is probably the ultimate street photography paradise. It is one of the friendliest places on earth, and actually one of the most safest. Visually it is fascinating; it is like Havana got stuck in the 1950’s America (you see tons of old-school Chrysler cars from the 1950’s still on the road), and the Spanish-colonial buildings are visually beautiful as well. Furthermore, the colors are insanely vibrant (I decided to shoot mostly monochrome; I’ll explain that a bit later).
Color vs Black and White
Cuba is insanely colorful, and the obvious thing to do is to shoot color. But for me, I wanted the creative constraint and challenge of shooting monochrome. Furthermore, I find it more interesting/challenging/fun to render a colorful world (Havana) into beautiful monochrome images.
Making do with less/Scrappy by necessity
The cuban people are “scrappy” meaning, they are extremely frugal, ration well, and are able to make do with what they have well. My thought:
When you have limits, you MUST innovate with the few things you have!
Necessity is the mother of all innovation, and clever re-using of things.
A blast to the past
Since the embargo, Cuba has very limited access to American and foreign goods. It seems like the country is 50 years in the past. Visually it is fascinating.
Even though I am a seasoned traveler (been traveling 10+ years), I was still a bit concerned, worried, and a bit ‘scared’ before traveling to Cuba. Why? Uncertainty.
Not easily being able to withdraw money at ATM’s. Not having access to wifi.
But ultimately, it was worth it. Moving forward, I hope to do more of these travel ‘adventures’.
My best friend Nietzsche said something like:
The secret to extracting the maximal joy from existence is to live dangerously!
To live adventurously! To push yourself (far) outside of your comfort zone. When we push ourselves out of our comfort zone, this is when we truly grow.
Travel as a means of personal growth and transformation
I am also starting to learn more and more:
Travel isn’t a means to learn about foreign cultures; it is an opportunity to learn more about yourself.
When you travel, disconnect more. Think more. Reflect more. Have more turbo thoughts!
Read more of my Cuba thoughts here.
Some notes compiled by Cindy — our favorite restaurants and food in the city:
El Cocinero (favorite for ambiance, interesting international taste)
Calle 26, La Habana, Cuba
+53 7 8322355
Fábrica de Arte Cubano (art gallery and space).
Calle 26, La Habana, Cuba
+53 7 8382260
Good walking streets:
Paseo, President, malacon for walking
Belview Artcafe: Photobooks, art Cafe, large seating and nice patio, next to John Lenon Park
Calle 6, La Habana, #412, Esq. 19, Vedado, 10400, La Habana, Cuba
+53 7 8325429
Decamaron: Nice Cuban food, Vaca frita and beans, a bit fancier for Cuban food.
+53 7 8322444
El Idilio: Meat, grill, mixed tierra grill, large portions (favorite for taste, value, meat, grill)
351 Calle 15, La Habana, Cuba
+53 7 8307921
Habana vieja (Old Havana)
- O’Reilly, San Juan de dios
- Allende street mall
- Night life and music, young local people hangout in the streets
- Linea and near Nacional hotel de Cuba
- Vaca frita
- Cafe bonbom
- Green plantain with tuna (fried)
- Good arroz y negros
- Ropa vieja
- Spanish sausage grilled
- Mojitos for $3.50
How to pay:
Local places in pay in “CUP” (Cuban Convertible Peso for foreigners), very cheap for a meal 2-3 dollars, 20 cent espresso. Roughly 1 EUR=1 CUC. Best to exchange USD to EUR before going to Cuba.
Nicer places and restaurants cost roughly 10 to 13 USD dollars for entree
Important useful tips
- Water is OK to drink (boiled, make tea or coffee)
- WiFi: Most of Havana doesn’t have wifi, but if you visit any big hotel lobby, they usually sell wifi cards for around 2 CUC an hour ($2 USD an hour).
- Bring euros, nice restaurants accept euros. At fancier restaurants, ask if they accept USD or EUR instead of CUC.
- When you change money from EUR to CUC, best to change it inside the city. Also when you’re exchanging your money in the city at a bank, make sure to have the address of apartment/hotel and passport.
- 30 cuc (~$30 USD) for airport transfer (one way).
- “Que bo la?” : Cuban slang for “What’s up?” Saying this to locals will make them love you.