After a few weeks in London attempting to sort my life out, I flew to Cuba to spend ten days with one of my best friends, Jackie, who is a master planner. This turned out to be a huge advantage whilst travelling around Cuba, as Wi-Fi is hard to come by, making it difficult to plan as you go along.
We spent our first few days in Havana. Arriving in Havana was like being transported back in time. I was expecting the iconic vintage cars and the colourful buildings to be few and far between, but they make up the whole of the city. In fact, it’s more unusual to see a modern car than a vintage car. We did a tour of the city in a pink car, which I absolutely loved. However, the black clouds of exhaust fumes that the vintage cars emit linger in the streets and pollute the city. We mostly walked around Havana by foot; Jackie had downloaded an offline map on her phone, which saved us an enormous amount of time and taxi journeys.
A number of people had mentioned that they were not impressed by the food in Cuba. We found it to be fine, but I imagine that Jackie’s rigorous hunting down of quality restaurants helped hugely. My favourites were La Guarida (a stunning building with a great rooftop bar), El del Frente (great food all round) and Café el Dandy (fabulous vegetarian tacos). We stayed in casas particulares, which are Cuba’s bed and breakfast equivalents, and each morning they offered us eggs, bread, fresh fruit, a smoothie and sometimes pancakes too.
Cuba seemed to have very few, if any, supermarkets. Instead, we mostly came across small shops, which were not well advertised, and I have never found it so difficult to find bottled water. I had one day in Havana alone before Jackie joined me and I spent nearly two hours trying to find some. I asked 15 people if they knew where to buy water and, in total desperation, ended up asking a shop that sold kitchens and bathrooms if they stocked water (unsurprisingly, they didn’t).
After our few days in Havana, we travelled to Vinales via a collectivo taxi, which are shared taxis that casas and hotels can help you book. We both loved Vinales. We stayed at an amazing casa called Villa Las Flores, where the owners taught us salsa dancing every evening and plied us with rum-based cocktails.
Vinales is adjacent to a national park. The best way to see the park is by a horseback tour; most of which include a stop at a tobacco plantation. At one point we were all given a freshly-made cigar to smoke. I don’t think there was any doubt amongst the group that Jackie and I were amateur cigar smokers, judging by the all the coughing and spluttering that was coming from our direction.
As well as a beautiful national park, there are two beautiful beaches close to Vinales: Cayo Jutias and Cayo Levisa. We did a day trip to Cayo Jutias. It was billed as being 45 minutes away from Vinales, but it took more like one and a half hours. Fortunately, we happened to share a collectivo taxi with a fun group of fellow tourists and proceeded to spend the entire day at the beach with them. We returned just in time for dinner at our casa, before exploring the centre of Vinales and ending up in a club just off the main square. I found myself another unofficial local salsa dancing teacher, who threw me around the dance floor and firmly but fairly stopped me in my tracks the second I put a foot wrong.
The following day we travelled to Playa Larga. We stayed at a casa that was directly on the beach, swam in the sea every day and ate at restaurants that were just a few doors down from our casa. It was all very relaxing and easy, but our time in Playa Larga was slightly tainted by the huge number of mosquitoes. I managed to comes away largely unscathed, but for poor Jackie it was another story. One afternoon, we tried counting the number of mosquito bites on her body, but stopped when we got to the 400 mark. And that was with using mosquito repellent.
We spent our final night back in Havana with a family friend who had looked after us very well over the ten days. We met him and a group of his friends at a bar near a famous club called Fabrica de Arte Cubano. A number of people had mentioned Fabrica to us, so we were looking forward to visiting it on our last night in Cuba, but when we arrived we came across a queue that was a mile long. Fortunately, my family friend had a VIP card for two people that he very kindly gave to Jackie and I so we could skip the hours of queuing. Fabrica was definitely unique; I would describe it as half art gallery, half nightclub.
After what felt like hundreds of philosophical conversations and $2 mojitos, Jackie and I said our goodbyes and I jumped on a plane headed for Mexico.