Why did I go to Cuba…
My grandmother Miriam was born in Oriente, Cuba in 1933. Her father was the owner of a local brewery in Cuba called Cristal. Ever since I was little my grandmother would tell me stories of her life in Cuba and how she lived like a princess. She came to the United States at 24 years old in search of a brighter future and more opportunity for her family. At the time Batista was still President of Cuba. The night before she left to the United States she dreamed of an ocean filled with roses. She knew from that moment on that something great was waiting for her in the United States. A few hours after she arrived in the United States her brother invited her to a house party. That night she met my grandfather, Ellery. He made it very clear on the dance floor that he only had eyes for her and that she would only dance with him that night. After realizing that my grandmother could soon be deported he made a decision within the next few months to marry her and they were happily married for over 55 years until her recent passing 2 years ago. My grandmother’s cousin Bernardo became good friends with my grandfather. He said, his nickname for my grandfather was “El Pulpo” which means “Octopus, ” because he had like ten hands protecting my grandmother at all times.
I always dreamed of visiting Cuba my whole life and finally in 2016 the angels in heaven aligned and granted me the opportunity to visit my grandmother’s homeland. I was able to get in contact with my grandmother’s first cousin Bernardo who was more than happy to accommodate me in his home. He had thought about staying in NYC back then with my grandma, but decided to return to Cuba to complete his doctoral studies. Today he’s one of the best plastic surgeons in Cuba. People from all over the world from Europe, Latin America, Africa and the United States travel to Cuba for appointments with him.
How did I travel to Cuba?
Once I was able to obtain Bernardo’s address in Cuba I took it to a travel agent who specializes in travel to Cuba, Maria A. Diaz in Jackson Heights, Queens. You can check out her website at www.worldtravelcuba.com. She assisted me with securing a visa and a flight directly from Miami to Cienfuegos, Cuba in less than 2 weeks. My flight duration was only 1 hour. However, there are also flights directly from NYC to Havana. Maria is a sweetheart. She’s very familiar with Cuban tourism and can pretty much help you with anything: car rentals, accommodations, and even recommendations for travel.
A Tour Group! An educational, religious, culinary, or cultural group works just fine. Cosmo for Latinas recommends checking out cubaeducationaltravel.com and yogaforbadpeople.com for those who are looking for a nice yoga retreat.
The Back Alley! General Tourism is prohibited but that doesn’t stop some American rebels from traveling to Cuba. They usually travel to Mexico, Canada ,the Bahamas, or the Dominican Republic first and from there you can catch a flight direct to Cuba with no problem, BUT you have to make sure that upon your return you don’t get your passport stamped. While I met many rebels along my travels if the customs and immigration officials stamp their passport by accident they risk a $250,000 fine and up to 10 years in jail.
Where to Stay…
My cousin’s wife owns a Hostel and I must say if you ever consider staying in Cienfuegos, Cuba I would 100% recommend Mery’s Hostel. First off don’t expect luxury anywhere you go in Cuba. A 5 star hotel is like a 2 star in Cuba, but the difference between a hotel and Mery’s hostel is the FOOD! Lord have mercy! I recognize that there is a lot of poverty in Cuba, but let me tell you something when they cook they know how to EAT! I was overwhelmed with foodgasms from the rice, beans, soups, avocados, mangos, guavas, oranges, steaks, ribs, pork shoulder, red snapper, homemade plantain chips and potato chips. Regardless of where you decide to stay in Cuba there are many hostels and rooms on AirBnB. Even in Cuba many local homes will open their doors to tourists for Breakfast, Lunch or Dinner. Sometimes these finds are better than the local restaurants.
Yo Quiero! Yo Quiero! Dinero!
I changed my money on the main avenue in the streets of Cienfuegos. You have to be careful not to be taken advantage of but for the most part they will give you a better exchange rate than the airport. No US based credit cards function in Cuba so bring cash!!!
Things to Do!!
Go salsa dancing in Habana!!!! You won’t regret it! Visit the blue crystal waters and white sands of Varadero beach! Enjoy a mojito! Visit el Nicho Waterfalls! Go visit the flamingos in Guanaroca Lagoon! Take a tour of Habana in a vintage car! Participate in Carnaval celebrations! Check out a Cuban Jazz Band performance! Dive into the history of Cuba in Habana! For the best view of Cuba climb Yunque, a famous mountain that offers incredible views of the sea. Eat all the Mangos your heart desires! lol I’m not kidding…by far the best Mangos I’ve ever had!
I hope that my post encourages you to consider traveling to Cuba! While Cuba may not have lots of money or access to wifi or even the most luxurious housing/restaurants what they do have is natural beauty within their land and their people, the lowest crime rate in all of Latin America, soul, beats, rhythm, love, warmth, and an appreciation for human connection that I’ve never seen in all my travels around the world. I can’t wait to go back!