You guys. It’s happening. I’ve been hinting and blatantly mentioning to everyone who’ll listen, I’m finally on my way to a place I’ve been hoping to go for the last 16 years – Cuba! Words can’t describe how happy, nervous, anxious and excited I am to finally be taking this trip. As most people know, Cuba hasn’t been an easy place to visit for most Americans for much longer than I’ve been alive. But with the loosening restrictions on travel, I’m finally able make this dream come true.

Good or bad, most people agree that the easing of Cuban-American relations will change the Cuba of today. I’ve heard many people say American tourism will ruin it, but I strongly disagree. Ruin it for who? Us first world tourists, expecting to see an old, crumbling Havana for our own enjoyment? Or the people in desperate need of an influx of tourism dollars? No, I don’t really want to see a Starbucks and McDonald’s on every corner. But those are conveniences I enjoy in my own life at home. They shouldn’t be denied to Cubans just because it ruins my photo/experience. I personally don’t think it’s for anyone but the Cubans to decide if these changes are good or bad. Probably it will be a mixture of both, as changes often are.

I do however, want to see Cuba before it changes. I want to experience firsthand the Cuba of my today, so I can have a more complete picture of the situation, not just the one-sided story I’ve always been told. We’ll mainly be sticking to the well-traveled backpackers route, visiting Havana, Viñales, Trinidad and Cienfuegos. I sincerely hope to go back again someday as I hear the diving is excellent, and there’s more to see further afield. But as we only have 10 full days, I’d rather enjoy the experience than try to cram it all in.

Havana

This is iconic Cuba right here. The malecon, classic cars, the Tropicana – Havana has it all. There’s so much to do and explore in this city, we’ve devoted four and a half days to it. Even that might not be enough. We’ll also be spending New Year’s Eve here, my first time welcoming the new year in a foreign country. I can’t wait to see how the Cuban’s celebrate. Things could get wild.


Photo credit: tobacos via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Viñales

When most Americans think of Cuba, they think of the crumbling buildings and old 50’s cars of Havana. But there is so much more the island has to offer. 3 hours from Havana is the town of Viñales. Famous for it’s cigar plantations, there’s also horseback riding, hiking and cave tours to keep everyone busy. Even with all the fun activities, I’m very much looking forward to drinking a Cuba Libre from the ridge, watching the sunset over the valley below. This might be my favorite stop on the trip.


Photo credit: Romtomtom via Foter.com / CC BY

Trinidad

3 hours in the opposite direction of Havana is the UNESCO World Heritage town of Trinidad. While not heavy on sites, the town itself is charming and well-preserved. It’s also close to Topes de Collantes, a park with beautiful waterfall and pools for swimming, and every night there’s live music and salsa dancing in the main square.  Okay, maybe this will be my favorite stop on the trip!


Photo credit: jodastephen via Foter.com / CC BY

Cienfuegos

The last stop on our backpackers tour and another UNESCO World Heritage town is Cienfuegos. It’s just on the other side of Topes de Collante from Trinidad and has access to more incredible pools and waterfalls. It’s also near Laguna Guanaroca – a lake excellent for bird watching. You can even hire a guide to row you out to get up close and personal with the flamingos. This is definitely on my list of must-do’s.


Photo credit: hoyasmeg via Foter.com / CC BY

I can’t wait to meet the Cuban people, listen to their stories and bring them all back to you. There is so much to learn, and I think the more we, as Americans, are able to travel, the better we understand people around us, and ourselves.

I’ll be writing a post when I get back with all the information I learned about how to travel as an American to Cuba, but I want to put it all into practice first. It’s been quite the challenge tracking everything down that I need to know. Hopefully it will only get easier!

I have a few more posts lined up for while I’m away. Wifi is not supposed to be easy to come by, so I’ll likely be on an internet detox. It sounds lovely. Catch you all on the flip-side!

Best of 2016
Merry Christmas 2016