14 Jan Havana ,Cuba with Lubumba Gaxela
In September 2017, I was blessed enough to get the chance to travel to Havana Cuba (1 of 4 destinations on my travel bucketlist). Sadly, because I was sick as dog with bronchitis, plus going through a gruelling family ordeal, whilst dealing with an impending hurricane kept us on edge, the trip was not amazing. I left Havana feeling cheated of what I had imagined in my head and convinced that I had maybe played into the tropes too much.
This was until I saw Lubumba Gaxela’s Instagram stories…
With 7 full days in Havana, the lovely Lubumba (@msgaxela on Instagram) and her friend Andi aka @riri_roundy, showcased the Havana I thought I would experience when I was in Cuba. In fact, I am pretty sure that I was in Lubumba’s Instagram DM’s everyday of her trip commenting on all her Instagram stories, asking questions and just expressing intense feelings of envy.
Their activity filled trip is one that convinced me a hundred percent that a do-over of Havana is due soon and when I do, I will have Lubumba’s itinerary and recommendations to guide me.
Where did you stay?
We stayed in an Airbnb in an area called Vedado. Vedado is an urban neighborhood and a business district in the city of Havana. We chose Vedado over Old Havana/Central Havana because:
1- That’s where all the locals hang out so you get a feel of the Cuban culture. Vedado is more authentic than Old Havana.
2- We wanted to be close to Fabrica de Arte (FAC) – Cuban art gallery and a night club; a MUST visit.
3- Vedado has one of the best night lives in Havana. It’s packed with bars, restaurants and music venues. Old/Central Havana shuts down after 9/10pm; there is literally nothing to do at night.
Where did you shop?
We didn’t do much shopping to be honest, we ate and did excursions instead. We bought some Cigars when we visited the Tabaco farm in Vinales. We bought our souvenirs in the markets around Old and Central Havana.
Where did you eat? Favourite meal you had there?
Man, we ate food from EVERYWHERE lol. Everything that we ate was great. You MUST try their Cuban breakfast burger that’s sold in any local cafés, as well as their milk flan (dessert). A few special mentions of restaurants: La Guarida (every American celebrity that has visited Havana has visited this restaurant) , EL Cocinero (by the FAC), El Canon de 41. Café; El Campesino (this is by the countryside town of Vinales), Café Artes de Aguiar
Favorite meal? I’d say any meal that has pork or goat.
Interactions with local people? (How locals treated you / Did you experience any racial discrimination)?
The locals were very friendly, warm, welcoming and kind-hearted. They were always willing to help, and they’d do so with a smile. We did not experience any racial discrimination all, which was a first. Honestly, we fell in love with Havana because of the people, they are an incredible bunch.
Was it safe for you and Andi? Was it safe walking at night?
Yes, it was very safe. I don’t think there was a time where we felt unsafe, and we walked around and explored everywhere. Cuba is one of the safest countries out there.
One thing one absolutely has to see or visit in Havana?
Vinales – Tabaco farm. One has to take a day trip to Vinales.
I know the question states ONE thing only haha.
Highlight? Lowlight of the trip?
The old American car tours around the city, Vinales, Salsa class and printmaking class.
The fact that you cannot use you debit/credit card in Cuba, they don’t work in the ATMs and the all places (restaurants, bars, attraction sites) only accept cash. The only way to get money is for someone that is outside of the country to send it to you via Western Union, should you run out. They also cannot send it to you directly, they need to send it to a resident of Cuba. The solution is to bring a lot of cash (no need to exchange all of your currency as they have currency exchange offices in the hotels in Old Havana).
My friend and I ran out of money on our second last day there because we were living “large”. I had to call my work husband, while he was having thanksgiving dinner with his family, to create a western union account send us money which we only got the next day. Our Airbnb host had to feed us for the night lol. Such a humbling experience.