In 2017, I spent 5 days in Cuba on a whirlwind vacation with my older brother. The trip was the perfect mix of adventure and culture as I left the United States and ventured to a country far less traveled than popular, warm European destinations.

Arriving in Cuba was part of the adventurous vibe I love in my travel experiences. My flight departed at sunrise from Washington, D.C. with a short layover in Atlanta before moving on to Havana. In Atlanta, I purchased a visa, or “tourist card,” under the “Education: People to People” category at the departure gate and excitedly sat on the airplane waiting for the short flight that I had been told would practically take me back in time. I was ready for the place I had read about—one that is “frozen in time” with the 1950s cars, no internet access, no ATMs or credit cards, and a commercial-free atmosphere.

The first day consisted of a series of trials that I encountered primarily because I have never traveled in an age without cell phones or the internet. After going through customs in the Havana airport, I had the pleasure of my first bartering experience with an airport cab driver. He spoke only enough English to cover for my poor Spanish, but I managed to negotiate a ride to the area of my “casa.” Locals open up their homes and sell bedrooms to tourists looking for an inexpensive place to stay. I found a suitable “casa” on AirBnB but soon found it was nearly impossible to locate with the address provided and the internet connection in Cuba was too poor to message the host.

For the next 7 hours, while waiting for AirBnB’s assistance, I spent time in Habana Vieja, or Old Havana, exploring the sites. Plaza de San Francisco, El Capitolio, and Plaza Vieja were some of my favorites to check out. They were perfect places to see Cuban architecture, as well as people watch, to get a vibe for the city. During dinner, AirBnB managed to connect me with my host, and I was able to make my way to my casa for the evening. The cool air-conditioned room in the back of Maykel’s home was incredible after the warm July weather I had experienced all day.

The next day was an early wake-up call to catch a shared taxi to Trinidad. I spent just a day in the beautiful town located in central Cuba. There’s a ton to do with easy access to the beach, or “la playa,” incredible foliage, and beautiful natural waterfalls. In addition to a cute town with live jazz music, I spent time with a local guide horseback riding to and from the natural waterfall and grabbing beers, or cervezas, on rooftops.

When I headed back to Havana for my last few days, I had a few things still left on my list: take a ride in a 1950s car, drink mojitos at La Floridita, listen to jazz at a local spot, and eat traditional Cuban food. I managed to check everything off the list before hopping back on the plane to D.C.

Cuba isn’t a traditional destination, but if you’re looking for something unique, consider it for your next adventure! The experiential nature of this vacation was unparalleled. I learned more about flexibility in travel during my time in Cuba than I ever have before. Being disconnected from the internet and technology provides real opportunity to seek out a connection with locals and the culture and lives they have built.

 

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