Someone wise once said, “Work hard, play hard.” There’s no doubt working hard is in our veins at Hollywood. But in February, I had the opportunity to unplug (literally – I only had one hour of internet access for seven days) and explore the beautiful country of Cuba. Though it was more of a personal vacation, the new rules for Americans visiting Cuba are still a little hazy. To that end, “journalistic purposes” is the perfect excuse for a much-needed adventure, so I’m here to report on my first experience in the Latin American country.
Of my seven days in Cuba, I spent four in Havana, two in Varadero and one in Vinales. Havana is just like you imagine it from movies and TV shows. Run-down buildings, brightly colored cars from the 50s and 60s, and rich culture everywhere. I was amazed at how many families line the Malecon, the main road through Havana, at night to socialize. Cuban dancing is also a staple of the culture, and men, women and children can be found dancing in the streets at any hour (kind of like the agency team here at our new standing desks).
For a more relaxing Cuban experience, I headed to Varadero, a beach town about two hours west of Havana. Two days in Varadero, on one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen, was just enough relaxation in between busy touring days. There isn’t much to do besides sit in the sand, but the view made it more than worthwhile.
On one of my final days there, I took a day trip to Vinales, a valley two hours east of Havana. Recently named one of the most beautiful places in the Caribbean, Vinales was by far my favorite spot in Cuba. I would highly recommend horseback riding through the valley. My guide even brought us to a private tobacco hut, where the owners rolled cigars and fixed coffee from their own beans. The scenery was spectacular, but so was simply being immersed in the local lifestyle.
For those considering a trip to Cuba (because we can do that now!), here are a few of my tips and recommendations:
- Where to eat: Santy – this small shack-like restaurant sits right on the water in Havana. They don’t have a menu, because they won’t know what they’re serving until they catch it, basically in front of you.
- What to see: Vinales – I can’t say it enough; this place was incredible!
- What to do: Tour Havana in an old American car – Cuban families have kept these cars in great shape over the years. They’re on just about every corner, and for around $60 an hour, an English-speaking guide will show you all the sights of Havana.
- Where to stay: Rent an Airbnb. Why not live among the locals? The apartment we stayed in wasn’t anything to write home about – no hot water, hard beds and loud neighbors – but the owner’s grandmother made us breakfast every morning, and sitting on the balcony on Saturday night made us feel just like Havana residents.
- And a warning: Toilet paper is a rarity, and toilet seats are basically a luxury. Plan accordingly.
Everyone needs to get away once in a while. If you’re looking for a trip that promises uniqueness and vintage charm, I’d recommend Cuba. But, hurry! Rumor has it that Old Havana has already started to Americanize, and those old-fashioned cars aren’t going to last forever.
– Beth Gibbons