Cuba had been on my bucket list for a very long time so when I got the chance to visit this past Memorial weekend, I was beyond ecstatic! After months of doing countless hours of research and planning, my trip began on May 27th. I flew Copa airlines from Chicago to Panama then proceeded to Havana. I arrived at the Jose Marti International Airport at around 7.00 PM where I would be meeting my friend and we would then head over to our Airbnb. The airport was pretty small and there were areas to exchange money right as we exited. I had exchanged my US dollars to Euros while in Chicago and this way, I was able to get a good exchange rate.
We stayed in Centro Habana where we were within walking distance to most of the restaurants, hotels, cafes and shopping centers. We decided to explore the nightlife on our first night there since we didn’t have much time in Cuba. At around 11.00 pm on our first night, we walked over to the Casa de la Musica de Centro Habana. We paid a cover charge of 10 CUC and got ourselves a table to enjoy the wonderful band playing live salsa music. The energy was good and the place was not too packed on that particular night. There were lots of tables where people could sit, drink and watch the live show as well as 2 bars, and a dance-floor. The party really kicks in at around 1 am but we left shortly before then. Overall, the vibe was pretty good and the music was amazing.
On our second day, we got up bright and early since we would be going on a tour to Vedado and along the way we would stop in Matanzas. This was the highlight of my trip since I had always wanted to learn more about the history of the religion especially of the Afro Cubans. We were able to find a wonderful tour group; AfroLatino Travels, whose mission was strongly aligned with what we were looking for. We got picked up from our Airbnb and got to meet other travelers who would be spending the day with us. On arrival to Matanzas, we visited the Abakua house to learn about the Afro Cuban all male secret fraternity that descended from the Cabarali people. We got to see some Cajon demonstrations as well as discuss the similarities and differences between the Yoruba, Abakua and the Palo religions. This was very mind opening and absolutely informational since I had no idea how important religion is to the Cubans. We then headed to Vedado for a day on the beach where we spent the rest of the day hanging out and relaxing. The beach there was absolutely pristine and I would not mind going back.
For nightlife on Saturday night, we decided to check out Fabrica de arte Cubano which is a former factory converted into a gallery, theater and nightclub all in one. It is the brainchild of famous Cuban musician X Alfonso who was inspired to create a space where the old and young could be exposed to the variety of the cultural world under one roof. Fabrica de arte was very busy on that night and the ambience was Art Basel Miami meets SoHo vibe. The drinks were flowing, everyone looked great and the night was hopping to say the least. The fact that 3 of my favorite things; art, music, and people were all under one roof made for a great night. Just a word of caution though; get there early if you don’t want to wait in line until 3 AM! We left at around 3 am and there were still people waiting in line to get in.
On our last day, we decided to explore the city of Havana as well as Habana Vieja (Old Havana). We made our way around different places like; Plaza de Armas, Plaza Vieja, Plaza de San Francisco, Plaza del Cristo and Plaza de la Catedral. Around these plazas were many outstanding buildings, including the Iglesia Catedral de La Habana, Antiguo Convento de San Francisco de Asís, Palacio Del Segundo Cabo and Palacio de los Capitanes Generales. We also got to visit the Ambos Mundos hotel which was Ernest Hemmingway’s former stomping grounds. After walking around and taking in the sights, we then proceeded to the Plaza de la Revolucion, checked out Hotel de Nacional de Cuba which made for some awesome photo ops then headed to El Malecon (a long sea wall and promenade surrounding the city) where we spent the rest of our evening hanging out before walking back to our casa.
All in all, Cuba was a wonderful time; the rich culture, history and charm of the people was unlike any other place I’ve been too. The fact that there is a huge population of Afro Cubans made us blend in very well which was refreshing to experience. Also, I loved how friendly the people were; people you meet for the first time and friends alike are always greeted with a kiss, and it’s totally normal for a stranger to engage you in conversation on the street. People delight in the opportunity to chat about music or current events and that was awesome to experience. I would recommend getting there as soon as you can since Cuba is beyond magical! It was everything I expected it to be and then some!