Cuba: Day 1

October 24, 2010

Editors Note:  This trip was taken in July 2007.  Yes, I was a brunette for a while and yes, I had my nose pierced.  What can I say, other than I am a big believer in changing up your look from time to time!  I hope you enjoy the memories of my unforgettable trip to Cuba. . .

First stop: Cancun

Second stop: Forbidden Land

I am an adrenalin junkie like no other!  This trait was developed several years ago and must now be satiated constantly.  So, if you add my fascination with Cuban history and politics + my crush on Che Guevara + my love for mojitos and salsa music with being told that I am not allowed to legally enter Cuba; I could not have designed a better place to get my adrenaline fix in, nor to celebrate my 25th Birthday.

Several months prior to the trip I asked my friend, Kristin, if she would like to travel to Cuba with me.  Although she is as equally obsessed with traveling to exotic places, I still thought she would laugh at my crazy proposition.  However, without hesitation she said, “Siiiii!”  And within days our trip was planned.

We bought our flights to Cancun through Jetblue and then our flights to La Habana through Cubana.  As the trip approached we decided to take a side trip to Isla de la Juventud.  That flight was also booked through Cubana.

The flight to Cancun was uneventful.  At the airport we had to buy a Cuban visa for $25 at the Cubana desk.  Because we are Americans, instead of pasting it into our passports they simply pasted it on to a little sheet of paper that they then tucked inside of our passports.  We did not have to ask for this courtesy, it was simply done without any mentioning.

We were starving and had a while before our flight took off, so we went to get some lunch.  For some reason the both of us had in our heads that we were to board at the actual time our flight departed.  Wow, did we panic when we checked our tickets and saw that we were in fact incorrect!  We grabbed our lunch and dashed to the gate.  Fortunately, the flight was delayed (a concept we were going to become intimately familiar with during our time in Cuba).  Otherwise, we would have missed our flight due to our carelessness.

The flight from Cancun to La Habana via Cubana was interesting to say the least.  The plane was ex-Soviet with limited legroom and AC, the flight attendants walked around in life preservers, and instead of peanuts they passed out candy.

Since I was afraid of my luggage being lost forever in Cuba, I chose to solely bring carry-on.  I was quite proud of myself for fitting a week’s worth of stuff into a small bag (with a little room to spare for my Lonely Planet Cuba guide and the cigars I wanted to smuggle back).  Kristin and I each brought approximately $1000 cash (Euros for Kristin and Mexican Pesos for me), which we exchanged into Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC$) at the airport once we landed.  You can exchange American Dollars in Cuba, but you are then subject to a 20% extra tax for doing so.  Avoid it by bringing any other type of currency.  Credit and debit cards for Americans are not accepted anywhere in the country due to the economic embargo and I strongly suggest to bring more money than you expect to need, as Cuba is surprisingly expensive for tourists.

The best accommodations are the casa particulares, or government regulated rooms that Cubans rent to foreigners.  We found ours here.  Strangely, we did not end up staying at some of the ones we booked online, because as you will eventually read our plans changed a lot.  However, we found other casas to stay in at the last minute and they ended up being perfect.

On our first night in La Habana we were going to stay with someone we had met through Couchsurfing, except when we arrived at the casa the gentleman that we had been in communication with informed us that the room we had requested was no longer available.  Thankfully, he suggested that we stay at his friend’s casa instead.  From that point on the motto of our trip became the commonly used Cuban phrase: “Es Cuba (that’s Cuba)!”  Whenever we encountered a frustration, which was often, we would say it and in doing so we would start to smile again.

The casa we then went to was owned by a lovely couple named Sergio and Miriam.  They were incredibly hospitable and had an adorable daughter who fell in love with my iPod.  Our room had two double beds with AC.  I highly recommend staying with them if you are in La Habana.  The area that the casa was located in is called Habana Vieja, or Old Habana.  After getting settled into our room we went for a stroll around the neighborhood and over to Plaza Vieja, which is a beautiful aging plaza with a fountain in the center of it.

We ate at Café Taberna and before our meals arrived we toasted our first of many mojitos of the trip.  We made it and we could not wait to further explore this forbidden land!

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Andi Perullo de Ledesma

I am Andi Perullo de Ledesma, a Chinese Medicine Doctor and Travel Photojournalist in Charlotte, NC. I am also wife to Lucas and mother to Joaquín. Follow us as we explore life and the world one beautiful adventure at a time.

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54 thoughts on “Cuba: Day 1

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  2. Laura

    Andi, I’ve been dying to go to Cuba. I drool over images of the architecture and old cars there. It’s one of my top 3 on my travel list at the moment!

  3. Camels & Chocolate

    You should also add the part where Cubana Air STOLE some about $300 of my $1000 FROM MY BAG when they made me check my carry-on and I stupidly didn’t wrap it in that plastic wrap provided at the Cancun airport. Just the first of the money issues we’d run into… 😉

  4. Ekua

    There’s lots of good info in here… if I get the chance to go to Cuba soon, I’ll definitely refer back to this. Looking forward to reading the rest of it!

  5. Rick Viera

    Glad you enjoyed your trip to Cuba and met with the warmth of the Cuban people. With that said I hope look a bit deeper into the man who you hold an idol for he was in fact a cold-blooded murderer and enjoyed his killings as well as commanding the firing squads that executed thousands, learn the difference between propaganda and the realities of the repression and human rights abuses by the Castro regime.

  6. gatica_cubana

    Que bueno que la pasaste super en mi pais,es bien lindo lo que esta muy malo,tenias que haber ido a VARADERO,es espertacular!,para la proxima!!jajja,saludos.

  7. Kelly

    Thank you for doing this blog. I will defintitely refer to it in the future…not that I plan to do anything illegal like going there or anything!

  8. Lorena

    YOur blog is sooo helpful, Im goingto Cuba in August, and am clueless as to how to plan for Cuba, this is helping me soo much! Any other tips would be greatly appreciated…were are you from?

  9. Mary

    I just posted my photos of Cuba from 2003 and seems not much has changed from looking at your great pics and informative blog. Can’t wait to go back!

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  11. Sarah

    Interetsing, was the Custom nice to deal with? Was it alot paper work? Me and my fiancee just had a great Cuban food in Queens yesterday and we love them. We started talking about how hard I heard it was to go travel there.. is it true?

  12. Heather

    Looking forward to seeing brunette Andi! And Cuba hasn’t been on my list but I am fairly confident that after reading about your trip it will be…

  13. Ali

    I agree with you that just being told we can’t legally go to Cuba as Americans makes it that much more inticing. Looking forward to reading the rest!

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  15. kay* at from india. with love.

    so excited to be finally sitting down to read your cuba posts.

    i’m canadian and can enter cuba legally but i plan on going really soon as it’s high on my lists of countries to visit – especially (no offense) the embargo is lifted and, like you said, trump builds a huge hotel! i’d like to go now while it is still, largely, unchanged from the 50s & 60s and has its charm.

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  17. Pingback: My Beautiful Adventures » Blog Archive » Cuba: Day 7 (Part 2)

  18. Leo

    I really enjoyed this post. It is nice when you find something that is not only informative but entertaining. Excellent!

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