Our Take on Cuba; Best things to do, places to see, and ways to tour Cuba.
Sailing to Cuba has been a difficult feat for American sailors for quite a while. A country so close has been practically inaccessible for over forty years. Recently, the possibility of sailing to Cuba has become a buzzing topic amongst American sailors and, we couldn’t help but latch onto the idea. The little we knew about Cuba was centered on their banded cigars and our old school American cars. So, we couldn’t resist the opportunity to get to know the country through our own eyes.
The morning after one of my best friend’s wedding, Joel and I loaded up our 1993 Nissan Hard Body and drove the seven-hour trek to Charleston, South Carolina. We stopped just long enough to join Asheton and Nina, two of the four friends we would join for the journey, in their suburban. Together we kept rolling through the night to Marathon, Florida.
By daybreak we were loading up the boat, Asheton’s 44’ Reliance, and were prepping to leave the next morning. Our weather window was closing and the crossing would have to be made within the next 24 hours. Otherwise, we would risk being caught in heavy thunderstorms and winds that could cause the waves of the Gulf Stream to stand up to potentially treacherous heights.
The night before our departure, our captain, Asheton, took the dinghy into shore to grab Pat and Kristen after their flight landed. The crew was all aboard. We each crawled into our designated berth and fell asleep knowing that, the next night, sleep would be scares out at sea.
We had a beautiful sail. With a few currents and some wind working in our favor, we managed to average 7knts through the night. By sunrise the following morning, the haze of Cuba stretched across the horizon.
Asheton hailed the Cuban Coast Guard as we rigged lines to tie off to the Customs dock. After a quick boat search by a tiny energetic cocker spaniel puppy, they deemed us worth of entry and let us into Cuba.
Cuba, the land and its people, are more incredible than we imagined. For young travelers, like ourselves, Cuba is an affordable country to gallivant through. Though the food is all relatively similar from restaurant to restaurant, you can eat well for only a few dollars a day. Taxies can be inexpensive, as well, if you bargain for the right one and lodging is just the same. Cuba has a network of “bed and breakfast” styled homes called casa particulars. They average around $25 dollars a night and are safe and easy to find. If you find a good one, your host might even cook you up a tasty home style Cuban meal. During our time in Cuba, the home cooked meals were by far the most delicious.
Getting to know the locals is my advice for traveling anywhere, but especially if visiting Cuba. And, I’m not just saying this for the sake of good food. The people in Cuba will captured your heart. They are kind, intelligent and resourceful. Through the friendships we formed, we learned what to do and see in Cuba and we heard their side of the story.
In the mountains of Vinales, we rode horses up a dirt path to a coffee farm. One of the workers spoke better English than any of us could speak Spanish. So, we got to know him as we walked around the small farm. Like many others before him, our new friend was intrigued to learn we had come from America. His reaction, though, stood out to me. He said to us, “There have never been hard feelings for Americans. It’s only politics. We, the people, are happy you are here.” This sweet coffee farmer had spoken words that reflected the many open arms we would receive during our time Cuba. This heartfelt human moment reminded us that our greatest power is the ability to spread peace and give love.
The culture of Cuba
Cuba has been described as a culture frozen in time. But, what we experienced is much more complex. Yes, Cuba has our old 50’s classic American cars kept in pristine condition. But people walk around with IPhones, drive new cars imported from other countries, and partake in other 21st century antics. At the same time, you can drive down a highway surrounded by 50’s model cars as a horse and buggy crosses the street. Cuba is more of a time-warped land than a country frozen in time.
The land; rich in culture, history and beauty; will continuously surprise you.
The Best Way to Experience Cuba.
Cuba is a relatively large country. You could travel around for a month and still have more to see. If you are planning a trip with limited days (ours was 10) my advice would be to avoid booking the same lodging. There are several particularly beautiful parts of Cuba that are both unique and spread rather far apart. Having to return each day to a home base hotel could eat up a lot of your time. Some of the best regions of cube include the culturally extravagant city of Havana, the incredible mountains of Vinales, the many different tropical beaches, the gorgeous streets of Trinidad, and the coffee region of the Sierra Maestra Mountains; just to list a few.
Research and decide which regions interest you the most. Then, plan to stay a few days in each spot.
From the Hemingway Marina, the six of us jumped in a taxi and headed to the famous Havana, the city Jimmy Buffet speaks so highly about. Pulling off to the side, our driver let us out downtown. We handed him a few Cucs (one form of Cuban currency) and turned to greet the vibrant city streets. A mixture of tourists, street vendors and neighborhood locals crowded the cobblestone streets. For the most part, we could safely roam any part of Cuba. Of course, it helped being a group of six with three men.
Every inch of Havana was photogenic. You can’t help but look upward as you walk through rows of crumbling Spanish architecture, bright with Caribbean colors. Clothes were strung out on rooftops to blow in the breeze as we stood, staring and soaking in the culture.
We had been told that you shouldn’t leave Cuba without a visit to Vinales. So we searched around for the cheapest taxi that would carry all six of us and our luggage up the mountain. Asheton found one to fit the bill and the next morning, at 9:30, we loaded up and headed for the hills. An hour later, a gnarly pothole had us on the side of the road fixing a dangling exhaust. A few hammock straps were sacrificed and ever so carefully we made it to Vinales.
We were welcomed by breath taking mountains. The formations came as a complete surprise. Rather then rolling together, they jetted up out of the earth with a combination of jagged rock faces and lush greenery.
Our next weather window, which would allow for a comfortable sail home, was still several days away. So, with a few days to kill, we decided to explore all that Vinales had to offer. A taxi driver took us into the National Forest and dropped us off to go caving. He waited at the bottom of the mountain for us to return, eager to show us all of Vinales. He drove us to a local organic farm that served dinner and joined us for dinner. At ten cucs a person, we had more food then we could eat. Paired with the most magnificent view. I would say it’s worth going to Vinales if not only for this organic farm-sourced restaurant.
Xiomara, our Vinales host, hooked us up with some horses. We rode through the mountains and toured around several local farms. The people were wonderful and the views spectacular. Vinales, along with the rest of Cuba, captured our hearts.
Sadly, with in a few years, the culture of Cuba could be drastically different. Locals already talk of Walmarts, Publix and other American corporations who have purchased land in Cuba. Now is the time to go to Cuba and experience its unique culture before anything changes.
Here are my quick tips for touring Cuba: