Whilst in Cuba I visited La Habana (Havana) and Trinidad. Being only a four hour car ride between them, it was easy enough to organise a driver and provided yet another chance to use my newly developed bartering skills. An essential skill to have when traveling through South and Central America.
I feel privileged that I had the opportunity to visit Cuba before it opens to the world and changes too much. There is minimal contact with the outside world when in this country. For Australian’s there isn’t even phone reception (bring your tin can and string phone). Internet is rare and only available (at a very expensive rate) in wifi hot spots. These are easy to find, as there are usually a large gathering of locals with heads down and faces glowing. There isn’t really Facebook…Facebook in Cuba is going outside and looking at peoples faces. Local communication is mostly done by landline or yelling towards your neighbours balcony or down the street. There is constant yelling on the streets, which is pretty amusing.
If you forget to withdraw money at the airport cash machine you might be washing dishes to pay for your dinner. As I found out my Australian bank cards didn’t work anywhere outside the airport. Some currencies can be exchanged at the local banks. Just look for the long slow moving lines with cranky security guards and that indicates you have found the bank.
La Habana (Havana), Old Havana
Even though majority of the city is rundown, the crumbling and decrepit state of the buildings is where the beauty is. The charm is the messiness and perfect imperfections. It felt like a real life book illustrating all the years Cubans have lived in isolation from the rest of the world. Often having no access to materials for home repairs or parts to repair cars. Walking through Old Havana, many of the doors of the old buildings are left open and offer a glimpse into local families and their lives. Homes are very basic and it’s not uncommon to see that where a window needed repairs a sheet of metal or cardboard has had to do. However, the Cuban people seem to be very happy and content with their lives.
With no consumerism it’s actually quite relaxing as a traveller to just enjoy what is available. Like music. Street corners sound alive with music from live performers on the street, in bars, restaurants and homes. It seems like every Cuban is born knowing how to move their hips. If only I was this lucky.
Ingredients for food are scarce all over Cuba and supermarkets are restricted to only stock the very bare essentials (important note – BYO snacks to this country). Restaurants do what they can with limited options, with a slightly different version of the same thing everywhere…over boiled vegetables anyone? Then a miracle happened, I discovered some really great new non-government run restaurants in Havana’s old town. Paving the way for economic growth by capitalizing on changes happening in Cuba with outside influences of creative menus, funky interiors and pumping RnB and acoustic chilled tunes.
Some must-try restaurants and bars for dinner/drinks in Havana Vieja:
- 304 O’Reilly, O’Reilly St – A funky menu for lunch, dinner or just a drink with an amazing cocktail list paired with a great atmosphere.
- El Del Frente, O’Reilly St – The younger brother of 304 O’Reilly and conveniently located directly across the road. It had one additional unexpected draw card, a great rooftop perfect for sunset drinks.
- Lamparilla Tapas y Cervezas (Tapas and Beer), 361 Lamparilla St – Tasty tapas, amazing burritos and great cocktails. Great atmosphere day or night.
If Cuba is like stepping back in time, Trinidad is like jumping back in the time machine and going back an extra few decades. Locals on horses with cowboy hats and lasso’s are all over the streets. The main modes of transport are by horse or peddle powered tuk tuks. Unlike Havana, majority of the houses in Trinidad have been restored. The town is very picturesque as the small colourful homes and casas with beautiful architecture in this heritage-listed town are maintained.
Some of my favourite things, about one of my favourite towns Trinidad:
- Climbing the Cathedral in Plaza Mayor – Forget visiting the Museo de Romance in Trinidad, the cathedral just before sunset is where it’s at. For a tiny entry price the Cathedral provides a perfect birds eye view of Trinidad.
- Horse riding to the Gran Parque natural Ropes de Collantes waterfalls – Local horseman all over town can take you on a private ride to the waterfalls where you swim in crystal clear waters. I was also taken to a lookout with a stunning view of the rolling green mountains and Caribbean sea.
- Playa Ancon beach – A relaxing paradise with palm trees and tempered Carribean Sea waters, only a 15 minute taxi ride from the small towns centre. I was able to arrange a taxi which came back after few hours for $8 CUC (Cuban convertible currency) each way.
- Casa Jose y Fatima Trinidad– The hostal I stayed at had a really helpful live-in family and a great rooftop for their amazing breakfast. I also hung out under a rooftop clothes line at sunset some nights with a cold Cristal (Cuban beer) in hand. This accommodation has four rooms and can be pre-booked online via various sites including hostaljoseyfatima.jimdo.com.
Stay tuned for my upcoming posts on Cartagena, Colombia and Mexico City, Mexico. Check out my Instagram account ‘Belindness’ for other places I visit.