Traveling to Cuba: New Year, New Passport Stamp

At the top of this year I was blessed to travel to Cuba, and I gotta say that my trip was uhh-may-zing! Pictures couldn’t righteously capture the beauty and essence of this country. This trip came together super last minute… 3 days before I had to travel to be exact. Not too many people knew that I was going, so it hit folks by surprise when I just popped up on social media with a Havana geotag.

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After this pic went up, folks slid in my DM’s asking great questions about traveling there, where to stay and the whole visa process. It was easy and quick… And if you have the funds and airline credits, anything is possible. Here’s the breakdown:

12/28/16 9:00a pst : My homegirl talked me into meeting her in Cuba, she found a Southwest flight  for $67 from Fort Lauderdale to Havana. Even tho I avoid Southwest, Spirit and SoulPlane equivalent airlines, it was a no brainer that I hop on that deal. I was all ready gonna be in ATL for New Years so a quick Delta flight from ATL to FLL (used a Delta credit) was easy.

12/28/16 10:00a pst : Upon booking my flight Southwest directed me to a link to apply for a visa. There are only 12 reasons that they allow a US Citizen to visit, and “Tourism or For Pleasure” isn’t one of them. I applied under “Journalistic Activity”… because technically I write, take pics and blog. Plus I had a letter from an actual print magazine stating that I was visiting to write about my travels =) The visa cost $50, and I was approved within 30 minutes. Easy.

12/28/16 12:00p pst : I realized that my passport expires this March… They really take it serious when your passport expires within 6 months of travel, other countries might not let you in or your visa won’t get approved. So make a mental note to renew your passport at least 8 months before it actually expires. I called my travel agent and she was able to squeeze me in with an appointment at the Passport Agency the next morning.

12/29/16 10:00a pst : Got to my appointment at the Agency. Took new and cute Passport pic ($14 at the agency… Better to just go to CVS where they charge $5),  turned in my renewal app,  paid $110 to renew my passport and $60 to expedite it for next day service.

12/30/16 2:00p pst : Picked up my new passport! Went home & packed!

12/31/16 : Travelled to ATL and turned up.

01/02/16 : Travel day to Havana. I landed in FLL 3 hours before my flight departed. At the airport is where you pick up your visa then check into the flight. I didn’t have any trouble, and no one asked me any extra questions. Visa pick up and check in was easy breezy. One of our other travel mates had a hard time at his check in gate flying out of NYC. They were telling him that he couldn’t get on the flight because he’s not “authorized” to go. [Hater shit] They eventually let him on the flight and he made it to Cuba. The flight was about 50 minutes, which was perfect because I couldn’t have stayed in a Southwest plane longer than that, lol.

 

THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE LEAVING THE US

  • Your cell phone carrier isn’t covered there, and you’ll automatically start roaming on their service… It’s expensive, so make sure you keep your phone on airplane mode while you’re there.
  • They sell wifi cards and have wifi hotspots within Havana, so you’ll have some contact with the outside world. It’s spotty tho.
  • Your debit and credit cards won’t work there, so bring enough cash and add on extra to that. Because once you run out of cash there, you’re screwed. I brought $1k with me, and spent no more than $300. A couple folks I travelled with ran out of cash, so I was able to cover them. [PayPal and Venmo transfers are clutch!] NOTE: When you transfer money especially on PayPal… Don’t put “Cuba” in the description. They’ll freeze your account and investigate you, lol. It happened to my homegirl!
  • If you can avoid it, don’t check a bag in. It takes a LOOONG time for bags to come out in baggage claim.

 

Havana is beautiful! According to US standards, Cuba is a poor country. The buildings are old, cars are old, technology isn’t up to date, streets aren’t all paved, and food is scarce. However, they don’t know that they’re “poor”. They were rich in culture, and happy in love. EVERYONE was nice, like ridiculously nice. Never once did I feel in danger in an area that we would call “sketchy” in the US because of how it looked. It felt good, to be surrounded by so much culture and substance that I didn’t even care that my phone had no service. Being cut off from the US bullshit was freeing… No news updates about Trump bullshit, no social media, no distractions. I was 100% focused on life, and the moment I was living in. I was aware as fuck.

We stayed in an AirBnB in the Miramar neighborhood that’s a 10 minute drive from Old Havana and a 30 minute drive from the airport. There were 4 of us in a 3 bedroom apartment, at $85 per person for 2 nights. Our cab rides would range from $5-$10 per trip, split between 4 people. For $50 total, we took a 1 hour tour of the city in one of those old school drop tops. Fly shit! Later on that night we had drinks at the Hotel Saratoga, dinner at Los Nardos, and went to a nightclub called Sarao’s.

Notes: A full dinner entree ranges from $7-$13. The country does have a food scarcity, so the later in the night you go eat, a lot of food won’t be available anymore. Los Nardos ran out of chicken and fish by the time we got there at 9p.

 

01/03/16 : Travel to Varadero, Cuba. For $100 ($25 per person), we hired a driver for the day to drive us from Havana to Varadero roundtrip (2 hours each way). I mean… The car was a bucket, but it got us there and back and it didn’t break down, lol. For the day we stayed at the Barcelo Solymar Resort, and through the resort we got a tour package that included a driver, snorkeling in Coral Beach, a tour and dip in the spring waters of the Saturn Caves, a ride to the beach for photo opp’s, and back to the resort for $36 per person. Again… Pictures don’t do any justice to its beauty!

 

After we got back to Havana later that night, the 4 of us invited our driver to dinner with us. He was cool and funny, like an old uncle that has lived his life and is all about the turn up. We told him to take us to the best Italian restaurant he knew of, and so he did. It wasn’t the best, lol. At least the bill came up $30 total. After dinner, we went to a salsa spot called Casa de la Musica where a Spanish artist who looked like Drake’s father was performing. The vibe was authentic Cuba, and I loved it. People watching in other countries is the shit. Drinks are cheap…. $3-$5 for a cocktail, not bad.

01/04/16 : Morning frolic before my afternoon flight. We got up at 8am to take another walk around Old Havana, since me and one other person was leaving that day. We walked through the streets and made our way to Plaza de la Catedral and went into their Catholic Church. I never pass up an opportunity to send a quick prayer up and THANK the most HIGH. Spanish architecture is so elegant, monumental, and classic to me. I wouldn’t mind walking around and getting lost in the those streets just to enjoy the buildings.

 

My American Airlines flight (used a credit) was at 3:30p so I left Miramar by 12p…. A 20 minute drive took an hour during Wednesday afternoon traffic. The check in lines at the airport are long, so is the passport control line, and the TSA line. Give yourself at least an hour in time to get through all 3 lines. The only cafe at my terminal ran out of food by 2:30p… Shit is real out there. You can buy bottles of rum and Cuban cigars through Duty Free. If your luggage is maxed out or you don’t check in a bag, I suggest getting your liquor from there. Note: Duty Free line was long, too. My flight was delayed an hour, which I was told is normal there. So keep that in mind if you have a connecting flight to your final destination. Luckily for me, I was flying into Miami and staying the night so the delay didn’t affect me.

I would absolutely go back and visit, I need to since I wasn’t there long enough. Travel and housing was pretty inexpensive and their prices are beyond reasonable. I suggest going before they realize how much more money they can make from tourism and before Trump fucks shit up for us.

 

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