Updated: Dec 23, 2019
Last Christmas was the most fulfilling, epic and fun Christmas that I have I've ever had! Literally ever! It all started last summer when I told my older brother (who lives in Ga) that I would come down that year for the Christmas holiday. His reply: what do you think if the family spent Christmas in Cuba this year? My reply: Hell yeah! Where do I sign up??!!??
At that point I knew nothing about Cuba except the fact that it was recently opened for visitors from the U.S. and according to my social media travel pages it was a new and hot destination for black travelers. I won't lie, I was a bit nervous about traveling there. There were reports in the news that U.S. government officials that were stationed in Cuba where being attacked via some advanced sonar technology. I figured if that's happening to them what will happen to me?
I eventually got over and began my research. My plan was to travel from DC to ATL spend two days in ATL and fly out to Cuba with my family on Christmas Day. That didn't go as smoothly as I thought it would because I procrastinated on buying my ticket. Yep, it happens sometimes...I'd figured that I would get around to it when I had time. That thinking cost me big time. My roundtrip ticket to ATL was perfectly affordable and fine but my ticket from ATL to Cuba set me back about $500. Why? Because there were only business class seats left...and this ticket was just one-way. I did however get to enjoy the perks of that pricey ticket. I was the first to board the plane to choose my seat (did I mention that I flew Southwest to Cuba), of course my luggage was free, and I had two drink vouchers. There was a layover in Fort Lauderdale so that passengers could pick up their Cuban visas. My Southwest ticket also included Cuban health insurance in the cost and Southwest recommend an agency that I could use to get my visa, it only cost $50. You want to know the funny part of this expensive ticket with perks? The flight was literally about 30 minutes long from Fort Lauderdale! Yep, $500, one-way for 30 minutes...I have definitely learned my lesson.
Fast forward to when we landed...my brother had booked us an AirBnb that slept 16 people, it has about 7 rooms, a bathroom in each room, and 24 hour staff on duty to help us with anything we needed. It was a hostel and he completely rented the entire thing. Check it out for yourself, Hostal Calis Habana.
My room was located toward the back of the house and it was the coldest room in the house (I love sleeping in the cold) and I found the room to be pretty. It included many of the things you would find in a modern hotel a mini fridge, bathroom, air conditioning, TV, armoire with a safe, end tables, information about local restaurants, and a cute little key. Each room had its own name and theme...If I remember correctly my room was Azucar or Azul.
My room wasn't even the best part of our stay...it was the owners and staff. They made sure we had everything we needed, arranged tours for us, and made the most amazingly tasting meals..breakfast was my favorite. We gathered in the morning at a long table set up family style...we were brought fresh fruits, freshly squeezed juices, pastries, fresh spreads/preserves, and home cooked food. The staff weren't just friendly they were very much like family. We talked to them day and night about life and things that they or their community may need. My brother and his wife donated school supplies to a local school, things that were upend/unused from my suitcase I left for the women. We also made sure to each leave a generous tip everyday.
There was a small bar inside the hostel and our first drinks were free. The first night we just chatted it up with the night manager about life in Cuba. We found out that there are no guns in Cuba and essentially no crime! We felt so safe there, even at night just walking around.
The staff at the hostel weren't the only nice people we met, everywhere we went everyone was just so kind! If you ever speak with someone who has been lucky enough to visit Cuba, I can guarantee that they will say that it is the Cuban people that make Cuba so amazing! We bumped into Andy, owner of a classic car tour. He arranged many of the things we experienced for the rest of our trip. Andy wasn't just the owner of his classic care tour he was a University graduate and spoke over 7 languages! He answered all of our questions, founds us items that we wanted, made sure we visited places with the best food and Mojitos and that we were safe the entire time we were there.
The Cuban people will tell you all about the African culture within their community. You will see it everywhere you go in crafts, arts, dance, and food. If you ever get the chance to visit Cuba you will see that part of the country is still being rebuilt and updated. Don't be discouraged by its looks because many of the buildings have amazing decor inside. We ventured out one night for dinner and found this beautiful restaurant named El Jardin. The food was just as good as the decor.
Also, Cuba is very cheap! I made it 5 days with $400 converted to Cuban Convertible Pesos and did just fine.
My most favorite part of this trip was everything but if I had to choose one it would be the day I decided to take a 2 hour taxi ride to Veradero beach. We got to see the countryside, the ocean and the extreme beauty of the island.
All components of our trip came together in perfect harmony. I've never been a person to visit a place once, so I definitely have my plans to visit again someday soon. I hope you enjoyed this blog just as much as I enjoyed writing it...Cuba is definitely a place worth visiting, I assure you that you will also fall in love.