Old cars, mojitos, great weather. Cuba sounded like the perfect place for a vacation! There was one slight problem; at the time Cuba was on the US list of State Sponsors of Terrorism, which meant that it would have been illegal for US citizens to travel there. So, if we were to have gone, it would have looked something like this.
First stop, Canadia! Cuba can be accessed from nearly every country in the world except ours. One of the most challenging parts of the entire trip was purchasing flights and booking hotels, which is not possible with US credit cards, so some round about methods were required. But we made it all work, and spent several days in America's Hat before we headed south.
Cube is a popular tourist location for Canadians, and flights on Air Canada leave several times a day from Toronto. The customs process took place in what looked like an interrogation room out of a Soviet era James Bond movie. It would have made for cool pictures, but it was pretty clear that we were being shadowed by some plain clothes, one of whom even asked to see our cameras and passports, so we held off on sneaking any shots. We took a taxi into Havana to start our adventure!
Cuba has two separate economies, one which utilizes a tourist currency that is pegged to the USD, and another which utilizes the actual currency, and that all Cuban citizens use. There is a very clear distinction between the stores and restaurants, and even though they might exist next door to each other, they are actually drastically different.
Havana is home to the Museum of the Revolution, an amazing place of history and propaganda. Some of the highlights were caricatures of US presidents, remains of several American war planes shot down by Cuba over the years, the tank that Fidel himself drove in the Bay of Pigs invasion, and the vehicles driven by the students who attacked the presidential palace to kill the president and were all killed in the process.
We spent several days touring around the city, seeing what life was like away from the hotels and museums. Cuba has a very low crime rate, and walking around at any hour of the day was safe, aside from people trying to scam you into buying fake cigars.
A trip to Cuba would not be complete without visiting a beach! We decided to hire a cab to take us on a half hour drive to Guanabo, one of the lesser visited beaches near Havana due to the lack of resorts. In true Cuban fashion, our car broke down on the way, but we still arrived and had an awesome time. The day included drinking rum our of a cardboard "juice box" type container on the beach, collecting sea glass, and me learning that my food ordering skills in Spanish are not what I thought they were.
We rounded out our Cuban adventures with visits to local art shops, tasting food at some of the best restaurants in town ($25 meals for two! wahoo!) and enjoying the sights. Can't wait to return!