Overview: Old Havana, Santeria, Che's House, Street Celebrations
Cuba has an undebatable allure, especially for travelers like me that come from the U.S. It has a pulse calling out to us, drawing us in like magnet with the beautiful photos of palm trees, old classic cars with their tops off, and smiling people with faces full of sun. But the protocol around how to travel to Cuba legally is a hot button issue with our foreign policies and media outlets.
So you want to travel to Cuba? I'll tell you how we did it.
We went to Cuba over a 4-day weekend for my birthday. My boyfriend and I have made it a tradition to have travel birthdays, and this might be our best one yet.
It was the last weekend in October and we watched the Cuban weather on our phones daily so we could pack appropriately. We learned from a month in Europe that it's actually better to underpack instead of overpack. You don't really need all those socks and chonies. I promise. We allotted ourselves 1 bag each, partly out of minimalism but also out of frugality to avoid checked bag fees.
We caught two flights, the last one departing out of Fort Lauderdale, which is where we purchased our required tourist visa. It was $50/person at the JetBlue terminal. In addition, OFAC requires you select a reason you're visiting Cuba from the following list:
- Family visits
- Official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations
- Journalistic activity
- Professional research and professional meetings
- Educational activities
- Religious activities
- Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions
- Support for the Cuban people
- Humanitarian projects
- Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes
- Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or informational materials
- Certain authorized export transactions
We did a crazy amount of research prior to this and discovered that #8 - support for the Cuban people was the most recommended category to choose. Since there are so many ways to support the Cuban people, we booked a Religion Tour and had our paper work handy, should an airline agent want to confirm our level of support. However, no one checked those forms.
We embarked on our Cuban Religion Tour on our first full day. We met at Callejon De Hamel - the little alleyway - and were accepted into what felt like a secret art society. The entire alleyway bristled with murals and industrial sculptures of various Gods The people in that alleyway were some of the friendliest we've ever met.
A renowned artist who lives in the building painted this entire mural.
A music festival is held here every Sunday. Locals and visitors alike can dance together to the cool drums and island rhythms under a canopy of lush plants.
Old Havana, the historic city center, was walkable from our room and board. We loved seeing people of all ages out with their family, enjoying themselves. Each night we'd sit in the city park and wind down. There'd be children everywhere playing. We need more of that here in America.
Many locations are banned by OFAC. Meaning you as an American are not allowed to visit or spend money at these facilities.
This is one of my favorite shots. On the opposite end of the block, you can find the bar Flordita, which has made many appearances in historical fiction.
Walking the main thoroughfare of Old Havana at night.
The following day we walked Old Havana again and purchased Cuban cigars from a street vendor who was part of the Cooperativa. A group allowed by the government to sell any excess supplies from the factories, but only at the end of the month.
Then we ventured off to Faro Castillo Del Morro, an island jetty connected by a bridge to Old Havana. We found Christ the Redeemer, aka Christ in Havana, as well as Che Geuvara's house (under construction), and a beautiful playground that reminded me of Amy Fusselman's Savage Park.
I remember thinking, how do Cuban families teach their children how to interact with space? Getting to see it, to live it, even just a piece of the Cuban world, was enough for me to broaden my perspective of what it means to live happily.
We loved our adventure in Cuba. We felt extremely safe walking around day or night, and the people were hospitable. We will definitely be back!
Published by Amanda Maregente