Cuba was a place I’d only dreamed of visiting for a long time. Finally, this year, I turned that dream into reality. Here’s what I found while I was there!
I can still hear the reggaeton beats ringing in my ears after spending a weekend traipsing around the vibrant country of Cuba. The inception of this trip started with finding a super cheap flight back in December – just $116 round trip – and from there started to become more and more of a reality.
For months I’d marveled at photos of this pastel-colored, antiquated country located just south of Florida. Something about the sparkling old cars, the ancient charm of the buildings, and the vibrant colors of the Caribbean caught my eye. Before I knew it, I was boarding a plane to Havana with some cash in my pocket and a wide open mind. Three short days in Cuba brought me to a few varied locations around the western part of the island, from the beautiful crags of Viñales to the sparkling turquoise waters of the playas. (Here’s a 7-day itinerary in Cuba, if you have a bit more time!) There are so many things to do in Cuba, I had a hard time choosing!
Since I’m not a huge city person, I knew I needed to get out of Havana for at least part of my time in Cuba. After doing some research, I opted to take a trip out to the countryside for some variety. I decided to go to Viñales, a striking landscape of craggy mountains with vast valleys of tobacco fields in between. This place seemed to have it all – a cute town, a beautiful national park, and unique nightlife.
We decided to book an Airbnb with a local family to learn more about life in Cuba and to get local recommendations for things to do. After scouring the options, we decided to stay with a couple named Piña and Yamilé in their cute blue cottage, ‘La Cabaña Azul,’ behind their home.
After settling into our Airbnb, my friends and I decided to cruise around in the most ‘Cuban’ fashion possible – by taxi. Our host called a driver she knew and soon enough, we were boarding an old, red car that smelled faintly of exhaust and mildew. Our first stop was the Cueva del Indio, a sizeable cave with a river running through it.
After the cave, we visited a finca de tabaco, one of the tobacco plantations that Viñales is renowned for. Once we arrived, we were escorted into a small farmhouse where thousands of tobacco leaves were hanging to dry. They were all different colors, from verdant green to burnt orange to woody brown.
Afterward, we were taken to another shack where one of the farm’s workers was demonstrating how to roll cigars. He offered one to each of us – I politely declined, opting instead to take photos of the rings of smoke floating around the room. In the setting sun, the smoke from the cigars glowed as it dissipated into the air.
While my friends finished their cigars, I decided to explore the farm a little bit. We climbed up a ladder to a small treehouse overlooking the fields and the mountains. The sunset that evening turned everything a bright shade of orange, casting shadows across the valley.
Our last stop was a mirador located at the Hotel Ermita. The view from there was incredibly beautiful, and we caught the sunset just as the sun slipped below the horizon. While up there, we also enjoyed a classic Cuban mojito, complete with laughs and good company. It was a great start to an eventful night, which ended with us partying in a cave (more on this to come).
The next morning, we wandered around the town looking for postcards for my postcard wall. I hadn’t noticed just how cute the homes were on the side streets bordering the main square. Old cars lined the streets next to brightly colored buildings, people chatting on the streets with neighbors and friends.
After meandering around the streets, my friends and I went for a long hike up to the Parque Nacional Viñales. While hiking, I found my dream house – a cute blue cottage with giant windows situated a few minutes off the main road. A friend of mine offered to take a photo of me so I could remember it forever. So dreamy!
Viñales was probably my favorite place I visited in Cuba. It struck exactly the right balance of nature and civilization that I enjoy. I’ll definitely head back there the next time I’m in the country!
After our blissful retreat in Viñales, the next stop on our itinerary was the lively city of Havana. We arrived just in time for a long walk and a view of the setting sun on the city. After sunset, we attempted to visit the Fábrica de Arte Cubano, but the line was wrapped super far around the building. Here’s a photo of the outside of it instead.
The next morning, I awoke to a glowing set of sun rays coming in through the cracks under the door. I spent the morning enjoying the sunlight on the rooftop terrace of our Airbnb. It was a pretty lazy Monday morning, but it felt good to take it easy for a few hours.
Next, we took a walk through Old Havana, where we stopped for brunch and explored a few art galleries. While there, we found some beautiful historic buildings, colorful alleyways, street art, and some abandoned buildings with their dilapidated charm. One could easily get lost in this part of the city for a whole day, just meandering through the colorful homes, speckled with abandoned edifices and peeling paint.
I’d wanted to buy a Cuban flag before I returned to the United States. I found this woman dressed in all kinds of crazy colors selling them, and she seemed like the perfect person to strike up a conversation with. Cigar hanging from her mouth, she was so excited when I asked to take a photograph of her. She even gave me a discount on my flag!
Playa del Este
To round out our mini-vacation, we decided to go to a nearby beach for some much-needed rest and relaxation. We chose to take a cab out to Playa del Este, which is about 20 minutes outside of Havana. Napping beside the turquoise waters was exactly what I needed to finish off the trip feeling well-rested.
While we were at the beach, this man walked by and serenaded us with Cuban songs on his guitar. We gave him a couple of coins for his efforts. He was so thankful and proceeded to grin and shake our hands. Before he walked off, he left us with an important life message – “salud, amor, y dinero.”
And with that, we packed up our things and returned to Havana to finish off our trip with a delectable dinner.
The morning of my flight home, my friend woke me with a start at 6:30 AM. Confused, I blinked open to find him standing beside me, fully awake.
“The sun outside is really nice right now,” he said. Blurry-eyed, I trudged up to the rooftop terrace to find this AMAZING spectacle awaiting me. It was as if Havana wanted me to leave with a mental souvenir to remember forever. It worked – Cuba isn’t a place I’ll be forgetting any time soon.
Have you been to Cuba? If not, did these pictures make you want to go? Share your impressions in the comments!