Monthly Archives: December 2015

all you need is chocolate and love

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It really is true, all you need is love and chocolate

all you need is chocolate and love(just click the pic to download, print and frame)

 


 

 

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cuba's cars

The Cars of Cuba

One of the most fascinating sights in Cuba, was when my husband stepped outside of the airport to the bustling streets filled with antique cars.  The cars of Cuba are certainly a sight to see and I just had to create an entire post on these beauties.

cuba's cars

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Heading to Cuba?

Read this:

37 Things You Need to Know Before You Visit Cuba

 

antique cars in cuba cuba's cars

 

If you really love cars, check out this book, my father in law actually gifted this to us for Christmas this year

cars of cuba

 

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Chocoholics, read about my excursion on the Hershey Train

Taking the Hershey Train through Cuba

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You might be interested in checking out:

where to eat in cuba photos of cubaWhat to Pack for Cuba  wifi in cubatravel to cuba as an americancuban cars

 

 

 

P.S.  If you know someone heading to Cuba, send them to this post on What You Need to Know Before Arriving in Havana

where to eat in cuba

Where to Eat in Cuba

Where to Eat in Cuba

Everywhere you look there is a place to grab a bite.  But we weren;t on the lookout for just any eater but rather paladares.

And, there are many uniques paladares in Cuba to choose from.

Paladares are in Cuban homes.

Its just like the Sharing Economy that is making its way across North America.

By definition, this is what it is:

Paladar (plural: paladares) is a term used in Cuba to refer to restaurants run by self-employers. Mostly family-run businesses, paladares are fundamentally directed to serve as a counterpart to state-run restaurants for tourists seeking a more vivid interaction with Cuban reality, and looking for homemade Cuban food.

 

1. Salsa Suarez

We happened upon this swanky cafe when I was feeling really sick and needed to sit down for a glass of water and if possible, air conditioning.  I was sooooo sick and needed relief.  This paladar was exactly what the doctor ordered.  OMG. It was very South Beach, very Ocean Drive in Varadero.

The food is interesting, service is pretty decent but very European (read: slow).  But they had a bar to sit at, a patio and a room in the back with AC.  And, to top it off, a super clean restroom with toilet paper.  In Cuba, this place was 5 stars all around. (they even have a FB page here)

 

salsa suarez varadero

2.  Cafe Malmane (Havana)

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3. Don Alex (Varadero)

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4.  Pequena Suarez (Varadero)

 

 

5. Donde Lis (Havana)

Impeccable service at this diamond in the rough.

We found this by accident when we were wandering through Havana.  Again, you can tell when the family has influence from Miami and connections . . . they have to have those in decorating with this amount of style.  It was so pretty AND they had a clean bathroom with toilet paper.  Yay!!!

Prices were much more reasonable than some of the restaurants we were seeing.

Here’s where to go:

Tejadillo No. 163 entre

Habana y Compostela

La Habana Vieja, Cuba

(53) 7 860-0922

dondelis@dondelis.com

www.DondeLis.com

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6.  Havana Particular

(best breakfast offered at our Casa Particular)

Its also the home we stayed at, here is the contact info:

Casa Virtudes 216

(53) 7 861 0656

mercedes_goodrich@yahoo.es

This is on Calle Virtudes between Aguila y Amistad (about a 2 minute walk to Parque Central) towards Centro Habana

 

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7.  El Galleon (Varadero)

 

8. Casa Belisa (Varadero)

This was an amazing family who went out of their way to make us comfortable and well fed.

We stayed at this Home in Caradero and ate breakfast (beyond American sized) every morning and one night they cooked us a special dinner.  We had an entire Casita with dining roon, air conditioning, private bathroom, private patio and even a kitchenette with fridge all to ourselves.  Its one block from the best beach in the world.

Here is their contact info:

Casa Belisa

(53) 5417.5400

2da Ave No. 2003 e/ 20 y 21

Varadero, Cuba  (across the street from Hotel Tropicoco)

lvillalonga@nauta.cu

 

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On one night, they offered to make us a lobster dinner.  OMG.  We started with a salad with the most enormous avocado that I have ever seen! Homemade tostones, minestrone soup, rice, quince pie, beet and a huge lobster tail.  It was 15 CUC total.  Honestly, the best meal and the best price in town.  Best kept secret!!!  No other lobster was the size we had at Casa Belisa.

 

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My husband and I are still talking about this amazing meal!!!  This Casa is between 35 – 40 CUC per night and we are so glad we found it.  They took great care of us, always cleaning our room, we never ever had to worry about anything missing (which traveling internationally always makes one nervous) and when we left we gave the owner a generous tip . . . and she wept!!  Their appreciation was amazing!  Win- win!

 

 

More Posts like this:

travel to cuba as an americanWhat to Pack for Cubawifi in cuba  where to eat in cuba photos of cuba

electric train in cuba

Taking the Hershey Train through Cuba

 

Taking the Hershey Train through Cuba

 Since I’m fascinated with CHOCOLATE, I was super excited to discover the Hershey Train that would not only serve as a unique way to see the country and the old Hershey Sugar Refinery but to also get us to Matanzas.
However, it can be difficult to find, especially if you just ask around in Havana for the Hershey Train.

Thankfully, we were well prepared and researched as mentioned in this article.

electric train in cuba

How do you find the Hershey Train Station

The Hershey train is an electric rail-car which departs 3 times per day from the Casablanca station, on the eastern shore of the Havana harbor, and travels all the way to the city of Matanzas.  3 major stops: Havana, Hershey, Matanzas.  In between there are lots of little stops, but I seriously doubt you will find yourself at one of these.  Our train was having a number of problems that day, so I would guess we made at least 50 stops . . . yup!  50!

 electric train in cuba

How do you get to the Casablanca Train Station in Havana?

The Casablanca station is located outside of the city of Havana, on the other side of the Bay of Havana. You can get to the station by taxi, but the cheapest and shortest option is to take the Casablanca ferry.  This is also adds more color to your journey. Because we only had backpacks, we took a BiciTaxi to the Regla Terminal.

bicycle taxi cuba

 

The Regla ferry terminal located at the corner of San Pedro and Santa Clara in Old Havana. When you arrive at the ferry station, make sure to inquire if the next ferry is traveling to Regla or Casablanca. You want to get on the one going to Casablanca. The ferry ride only costs about 1 CUC per person.  As you can see in the picture above, I wore my trustworthy flyfishing shirt where I had already set aside the coins and small bills I would need in a pocket.  I didn’t want to be rummaging through an envelope of lots of cash.

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At the Regla terminal, we had arrived just in time, which he had planned on getting there early so we had a buffer between connections.  Since we arrived about 1 minute before departure, they were really rushing us through and they will also search your bags.  Our host at the Casa mentioned that the ferry had been hijacked 8 separate times by a Cuban resident.  The Cuban resident held a gun to the captains head forcing him to drive to Miami.

Once the news got back to Fidel Castro . . . . well, Fidel had him shot.

So now, they search everyone.  Frankly, they didn’t seem too concerned with us considering my husband is 6’4” blonde blue  . . . clearly American dude.

Once you are at the Casablanca landing, you will see the Casablanca train terminal just to the west. It’s a very small terminal, looking more like a tram stop. The overhead electric wires will indicate exactly where it is.

 

 

(heading to Cuba, you’ll want to read this)

before you visit cuba

Price To Take The Hershey Train

The price to use the Hershey train depends on how far you want to go. The main stop between Havana and Matanzas is located in the miniscule town of Hershey (renamed to Camilo Cienfuegos). It is at the halfway point between the two cities. Travel up to this stop costs 1.40 CUC for foreigners. Travel all the way to Matanzas costs a total of 2.80 CUC.

Due to our train having problems, they would only let us pay for a trip to Hershey.  Once they discovered the train would make it to Matanzas, then we coughed up the rest and we received a ticket.  Very similar to NJ transit, IMO.

About 1 km north of the town of Hershey, there is the larger, coastal town of Santa Cruz del Norte. It’s easy to walk to and interesting to explore, and you are almost sure to be the only foreigner there.

 

iReallyLoveChocolate.com(30)(this is me in Casablanca as we await to board the train)

 

In order to get back to Havana, simply go back to the station, pay the fare, and take the next train.

It was a beautiful trip – especially when we were moving since we were able to get a nice breeze – and everyone was super friendly.  In fact, I took my GoPro to the train conductor area and the 2 conductors will let you hang out with them while taking pics.  I stayed up front for almost an hour chatting and taking lovely photos.  **Be warned, it is a very bumpy ride and they leave both side doors open – HOLD ON to something if you want to stay inside the train.

 
 
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Just past the Hershey train station, we passed the old sugar refinery built by Milton Hershey.

electric train in cuba

Here is the Hershey Electric Train Schedule:


The train schedule is listed below, but note that it can change without notice, mostly due to equipment failures. On some days, when there are electrical problems, the train doesn’t operate at all.  You are on Cuba time!

 

Hershey_train_schedule 

 

   

 

And for the record, I did pick up some CHOCOLATE in Cuba.  Mostly milk chocolate but still satisfying

cacao in Cuba cacao in Cuba

 

P.S.  I highly recommend as much research before you venture into Cuba, check out this interesting book 

 

More Posts like this:

travel to cuba as an americanWhat to Pack for Cubawifi in cuba  where to eat in cuba photos of cuba

photos of cuba

51 Photos of Cuba that Will Make You Want to Pack your Bags

 

I believe it was Anthony Bourdain who said Cuba is a mix of Socialism and Sensuality.

It was a lot of things to me . . . a place I needed to uncover to understand my tenure in Miami and the enormous Cuban population there and our relations between Americans and Cuban Americans in Miami.

It was a place with extraordinary people, passion, soul . . . and coffee.  OMG. The coffee.

It was also where my great, great grandfather lived many years ago by way of the Canary Islands.

I had to visit and I had to go quickly before the Embargo was lifted.  And carefully travel to this island nation (you have to read this tip sheet here)

Here are some of the snapshots from our visit in November and December.

 

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Yes . . . . I think this is the world’s finest beach!

Varadero, Cuba!

 

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If you are perusing these photos now, I’m guessing you have either been to Cuba or making plans to go.

Tell me more . . . .

 

What to Pack for Cuba

What to Pack for Cuba

What to pack for Cuba

Cuba is a country of many things—a tropical paradise full of passion, soul, warmth, music, good coffee, great cigar and fantastic rum; however, it only has what it has . . . . this can change daily.

Shopping for clothes or shoes is quite expensive as are the necessities.  Keep in mind that you’ll want to pack with careful thought.

 

General Packing Tips:

Keep it Simple!  Like real simple . . at the end of the day, you need undergarments, something for the top, something for the bottom and shoes. I brought 2 sundresses, 2 shorts, 3 tops (everything was interchangeable), camera (iPhone, DSLR and GoPro with waterproof camera), goggles, snacks, documents/research, a Chocolate book (of course) and a first aid kit/emergency medicine. If you are blue eyed, blonde haired and freckled like my hubby and I, invest in a Rashguard for over your swimsuit.  It will save you in many ways.

 


 

The pic below shows some of the miscellaneous items we brought.

 

  • PB crackers
  • Graze snacks (with the box in case we needed to protect some art on the way back – as a matter of fact, we needed it to protect a small map we purchased).  The more things you bring that have a dual purpose, the better.
  • SPIbelt and money belts (in hindsight I should have just brought the SPIbelt, that thing is perfectly awesome)
  • A nailpolish box that actually had painkillers and muscle relaxant (it was to serve as emergency only).  Keep in mind, my husband was telling me to put it in the Prescription bottle but it just took up too much room.  I only wanted to bring a couple of each along as I had just had a blood transfusion 2 weeks prior to the trip and was experiencing extreme pain during my recovery.  I figured it was best to manage any pain that showed up on my own before heading to a Cuban hospital.
  • GoPro
  • Coin dispenser (my Mom gave me this over 15 years ago for the quarters for my laundry)
  • Pen (I carried it on my flyfishing shirt for my Immigration forms – its impt to have your own pen)
  • Sewing kit
  • small bars of soap
  • hotel shampoo bottles
  • ziploc bags
  • floaty box for watersports (because in most countries, you can’t just leave your stuff on the beach and go play) and . . .

we did NOT bring walkie talkies as we usually do traveling internationally.  Supposedly, Castro says NO to these.

 

 

first aid in cuba

 

Women’s Clothing Tips:

Again, keep it simple.  I know how it is, I can over pack in about 5.6 seconds.  Don’t do it for Cuba.  Its hot, the sidewalks are tough to walk on . . dress for comfort.  Dress minimally.

Shoes: I brought my Havaina flip flops and my Keen waterproof shoes (I have 2 different kind of Keen’s and they are my fave shoes ever!  Like ever!)

I wore a small flyfishing shirt because I could wear it anywhere, over a swimsuit, over shorts, over a sundress if the breeze picked up.  This is the shirt – I wore it on the plane as well because it was long sleeve and with my trek pants it kept me warm.

*Sidenote: having pockets all over your clothing is AMAZING!!  I now know why my hub loves his cargo shorts.  I totally get it now, it was so functionally awesome.  Not very sexy but perfect for Cuba!

 

what to pack for cuba

Men’s Clothing TIps:

My husband and I had many similar outfits.  In fact, when we were in Mexico taking our last flight back to Dallas, 2 separate people called me Sir.  LOL.  Whatever.  I had no mirror, no electricity in the AM and had my hair pulled back with no makeup and a flyfishing shirt.  Again, whatever.  Just so you know, my husband, was never called Mrs.  The flyfishing shirts worked great for him.

He also brought 2 pairs of shoes – 1 pair of Reef flip flops, 1 Keen waterproof shoes.  2 Flyfishing shirts.  1 Cargo shorts.  1 Trek pants.

 

american cars in cuba

Lesson learned – simplicity is best.  Wear clothes you can wash in the sink and hang up to dry (quick dry clothes) and you’ll get to put all of your time into experiencing Cuba and not worrying about what you’ll wear or lugging around a ton of stuff.


We had 2 backpacks (mine was really small) and had our hands free when we were traveling.  Definitely the way to go!

 

Check out more articles on Cuba:

travel to cuba as an american wifi in cuba

37 ThingsYou Need to Know

37 Things You Need to Know Before You Visit Cuba

Cuba has always been a bucket-list country for myself and many other travelers.  Ever since living in Miami, I have been fascinated with getting to know the true Cuba, the true spirit of Cuba, not the Miami version.   Most importantly,  I had to get there especially before the embargo lifted.

We did not go with a tour or an educational group, nope, we went off the radar, completely “illegally” into the land of socialism and sensuality with our fingers crossed that we would make it back.

 

 

how to travel to cuba(fishing boats on the Malecon)

 

 

Recently, ever since the  reestablishment of diplomatic conversations between the U.S. and Cuba, the country rose to the spotlight to become a prime destination for American travelers. In the last year alone, tourism in Cuba is booming. Not only more travelers from around the world are visiting it, but now Americans added themselves to the tourism mix, even when its not quite legal.

(this video is outside the Parque Central)


Traveling to Cuba is completely inconsistent similar to marijuana in the USA.  Kinda wack if you ask me.  Oh, you didn’t ask?

Let me tell ya then, its wack.  Screw it, #PeopleOverPolitics  My hubby and I opted out of tours, educational groups and just hit the road in search of all things Cubano.

 

havana travel(The Malecon)

My husband and I made this trip a priority for 2015.  And, in November/December (2015) I had the opportunity to visit Cuba for the first time.  Here I’ll share all the tips I believe you should know before heading there – especially if you’re American.

(and if you know someone considering Cuba as a destination, pass this on will ya!)

NOTE: These tips are current as of December 2015. Cuba is changing rapidly, so it is possible some things might be outdated soon.

traveling to havana cuba

1. Print out copies of your passport

This is always something smart to do whenever traveling internationally.  I also send digital copies to my Mom as my backup plan’s backup plan.

american travel to cuba

2. It’s easier to fly through another country

If you are not from the US, you can fly directly into the country.  Currently, there are 2 direct flights from the US – NYC and Miami.  These are mostly Special Authority Charters. And, if you book through an educational tour and tour package (I did NOT do this), you might have other options available to you and they will get everything ready for you.  Since tours are not my style and living in Dallas, I am a 2-hour direct flight from Cancun, it seemed easier to book one of the hundreds of flights there.  Then in Cancun, I chose Cubana Airlines to take us into Havana.  There are 3 flights per day from Cancun to Havana via AeroMexico, Interjet and Cubana.  Flight prices range dramatically with different layovers (from $250 RT to $8500)

traveling to havana cuba

3. You need a tourist Visa

We had a 5 hour layover in Cancun.  I purposefully made a long layover because I wanted to have a buffer for any weather delays etc that could come up, which made for a REALLY long lunch at TGI Fridays.  It was the only restaurant outside of the food court in Terminal 3.  Anyway, we purchased our Visa (aka Tourist Card) with Euros at the Cubana ticket counter on the right side of the terminal.  It was a small office that opened up about 3 hours before our departure.  Approx 25 Euros per person.

how to travel to cuba

 

 

 

 

4. You can enter with a US passport

The American passport presents no issue when entering Cuba, even without one of the 12 licenses. With my research of Cuba, I knew I would have no trouble getting into Cuba; however, I knew if there would be any challenges it would be when I entered the US in Dallas.  Especially since I requested for my passport to be stamped.  Yup, I got stamped and my husband did not but I literally had to beg the Cuban Immigration officer to stamp my passport.

 



the capitol of havana cuba

5. Most search engines don’t show flights to Cuba.

Expedia, Kayak, and other search engines don’t show flights to Cuba.  At the time of writing, only skyscanner.com does show flights from the U.S. that can be purchased online. It even shows flights departing from the U.S., but only buy them if you have a visa – otherwise you will be denied boarding.

You can, though, buy you flights from Cancun to Havana (for example) and have no problem boarding it with just the Tourist Card or visa (which is what we did).

havana cuba

6. Best time to go there is during Snowbird season

Mid November to March is the coolest and driest season just like Miami which I know quite well.  Its when every Canadian and New Yorker flocked to Miami and the only folks swimming in the ocean.

July to November is hurricane season, so there’s a chance to stormy weather between these months – especially more towards late August to early October when it’s the peak of the hurricane season.  I would not  go during these months especially if you have the flexibility to go during snowbird season.

markets in havana cuba

 

7. Print out ALL of your documents and details before leaving

I remember, in 1985, having a pink address book for all of my friends phone numbers and addresses.  So yeah, be prepared to tap in to your inner 80′s child like we did.  We printed out all of our research beforehand, including addresses of Casa Particulares, maps, hop on/hop off routes, airline reservations, directions, tips . . .we probably had a stack of 35 papers + a small notebook for other tips we want to walk around with.  Plan on not being able to hop on to a computer at all or your iPhone.  However, I did have screenshots of important docs etc on my iPhone as a backup.  When we were in Varadero and no longer needed most of the paperwork, we passed it on to some lovely Germans staying at the Casa Particular with us and were heading to Havana.  Try to do the same or at least leave with your host so they can pass on to the next tourist – the residents do not have access to computers or printers either.

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Check out the CARS of CUBA here

 

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8. You need travel insurance

It is required to have travel insurance to enter Cuba. They may or may not ask for proof at the airport, and should you not have any, they could deny your entry or ask for you to buy it there.  We did NOT buy any!!  Yes, we were nervous the whole time!  Our research stated that we would be able to buy it at the airport and it would cost about $3 US per day.  We NEVER found the place to buy this, we were also anxious to get on our way, so we just kept moving.  If something would have happened and we needed to go to the hospital we would have needed to cough up the cash at the hospital. This was a BIG HUGE GINORMOUS mistake we made but there was nothing we could do once there.   We F’d up.  We royally f’d it the F up.  You would use that language too if you had no medical insurance in Castro land.

Keep reading below – there is no access to cash for Americans.

Habana Vieja Cuba

9. Americans cannot use debit or credit cards

As of September 2015, the Cuban Sanctions imposed by the U.S. does not allow any American to withdraw money or pay with a debit or credit card while in Cuba whereas  other nationalities can use credit cards, where accepted.  You’ll need cash, not too little and not too much.  We created a spreadsheet with all of our daily potential costs to nail down an accurate budget.  This is really important.

 


the capitol of havana cuba

10. Tell your Credit Card company and Bank you’re going to be traveling internationally

Our credit card company actually knew of our intentions since we booked both airline trips with the card.  Sweet!  Totally connected.  Tell your bank to in case you find yourself attempting to get out cash in Mexico.

11. Cash Money is Needed

We planned on $100 per person per day after doing the budget exercise twice.  It covered some of our major transpo needs to dining to souvenir shopping.  Plus, we planned on giving away as much as we could to those providing services to us or who were in extra need.  We stayed in Cuba for nearly 2 weeks, a lot of cash to have on us the whole time.  Because of this, we did prepay for a few things such as our house dining bill prior to it being due.  (just to not have to worry about potentially losing it).

la bodeguita havana

12. Take Euros to Exchange

If you take the US Dollar, you will pay a 10% fee for your exchange.  Since we brought around $2,400, that would have been a $240 fee!!  No thanks.  Before we left Texas, we made a stop at our local Currency Exchange, used our debit card to take out Euros.  And, it doesn’t have to be Euros, just do NOT take the US dollar.

Once we got into Mexico, we needed Euros to pay for our Visa and airline tax.  Again, it was cash only and we were happy that we had cash on us in the proper form.  Make sure to bring small bills as sometimes you’ll find Cubana Airlines does not have change which means you would have to overpay.  Since you are now on a limited cash budget, its important to hang onto all of it.

Once at the airport, you can exchange to CUC’s – the Cuban Convertible Peso.  The line at the airport is loooooong and as usual, one at a time.  Meaning, one spouse in, and one needs to stay out.  The person with the best Spanish and most alert needs to go in.



Unfortunately, you’ll need cash for the taxi but you may still need to go to the Cadeca for future exchanges or the bank for smaller bills.  Imperative to have smaller bills, the more 1′s and 5′s the better (don’t be the dude who shows up to a Garage Sale with a 50 and needs $49.75 in change, right?)

 

13. Cuba has two currencies

There are two currencies in Cuba: The National Peso (CUP) and the Convertible Peso (CUC).

The money you should exchange for is the CUC, Convertible Peso pronounced (CUUK – with a long U).  Your fair skin and blue eyes will do the talking for you. ;)

 

la bodeguita havana

14. The most common form of accommodation is known as Casa Particular

There are several hotels in Cuba, but the most common form of accommodation are the Casas Particulares. These are rooms or apartments rented by locals for a daily fee. Sometimes, you might rent an apartment for yourself while in other cases you might rent a room in a family’s house and share the common spaces with them. Many families have turned their houses into Casas Particulares with several rooms to make a living in Cuba. If you can, stay in a Casa Particular for the local experience and to help the family’s local business. The base price per night in a Casa Particular is $25+, which is a fraction of what you’ll pay at a hotel.  Staying in homes is my favorite way to travel, it really helps the budget and for Cuba we were able to take care of the expense on a credit card via AirBnB.  Yup!  They are open for business in Cuba.  We booked the majority of our stay via AirBnB but left some days open for flexibility.  We were also able to pay cash directly to the family if we wanted to extend.

 

Plus, you get to meet awesome people from all over the world who want to socialize and meet you as well.

casa particular varaderoStefan and Anna from Berlin (we enjoyed many evenings with our new friends)

 

Cuba Casa Particular

An impromptu lobster dinner party on the rooftop with new friends from Mexico City, Iran, Cuba, Canada and France.

Cuba Casa Particular Cuba Casa Particular Cuba Casa Particular

Gustavo was our host in Havana who made me coffee all day – the really yummy, potent kind!  He and his family were the salt of the earth kind of people. I would recommend his home to anyone staying in Havana all of his details are here

 

Cuba Casa Particular

15. Don’t bring jewelry

Or at least limit the jewelry you wear.  Besides, the less you pack the easier it is to focus on fun and exploration.

I wear my Claddagh ring when I travel internationally. I also recommend wearing a watch and not relying on your iPhone for the time)

(pic taken underwater in Cayo Coco)
varadero beach

16. Food in Cuba is nothing to write home about

Due to its trade restrictions, Cuba lacks in its culinary delights; so don’t expect delicious meals. Yes, you can find good food here and there, but this is not the norm.

You’ll want to look into Paladares as your best option.

Havana – research Dona Eutimia then make a reservation.  This is a small Paladare and you will need to call the night before.

I talk more about where to eat here 

(pictured below is Donde Lis restaurant on Tejadillo)

donde lis havana cuba iReallyLoveChocolate.com(38) iReallyLoveChocolate.com(42) iReallyLoveChocolate.com(60) iReallyLoveChocolate.com(5) iReallyLoveChocolate.com(12) iReallyLoveChocolate.com(44)

 

17. Don’t drink or use the water

Simple and easy. Buy bottled water. Otherwise, your tummy and booty will not be happy about it.  Thankful to our German friends who had a spare box of Immodium.  Yep, add it to your list as the water can sneak into your system in a number of ways.

I prefer my Swell bottle to carry around (purchase the large water jugs and fill your bottle every time you  pop into your room).  This is something I always do anywhere I travel.

havana cuba

18. Try eating only at Paladares Particulares.

Cuba has two types of restaurants, the state-run restaurants and the privately run ones known as paladares particulares. Try eating at the paladares particulares since they cost about the same as the state-run ones, but usually have better quality. As locals say, state-run restaurants don’t care about the food quality since, in the end, they don’t need the profits (because they are supported by the government). The private ones, on the other hand, if they are not good, they go bankrupt.

How to know which is state-run and which is private? Either ask them before ordering or just pay attention to where locals are eating and queuing. Cubans (who can afford to eat outside) don’t like the state-run restaurants, so they prefer to queue at a paladar particular.

Donde Lis

donde lis havana cuba

19. Vaccinations are not mandatory

There are no compulsory vaccinations required for Cuba travel; however, some vaccinations may be required to satisfy your Travel Insurance Policy.  You will need these Vaccinations at least 2 weeks prior to travel but preferably at least 2 months prior.  These are available from your General Practitioner or Clinic and are generally offered free of charge.  I choose to use minimal western medicine; however, you have to decide for yourself and weigh the pros and cons of vaccinations.  Although I use minimal western, there is a time and place for it considering the potential risks of a country.

 

havana cuba capitol

20. Take your favorite snacks with you

Not surprisingly, markets there don’t offer much variety since they focus on selling items of first need to locals – which don’t include sweets and snacks. You may find a few snacks here and there, but those are rare, and there will not be a lot of varieties. And they will cost $$$$.  Part of the reason I am debt free is not buying things on the go that kill the budget, for example, a small bag of MnM’s in Cuba costs about $2.50.  I’d rather bring my own snacks and give that money to someone who could use it more wisely.  $2.50 for MnM’s may not be a lot to you but to me, those little purchases add up and are never worth it.  I subscribe to Graze snacks – interesting, yummy, delivered to my door in perfect travel packs.  This is where I got mine and you can get a FREE box for yourself to test it out.  I also brought peanut butter crackers, you know those cracker packs that come in every flavor including those orange ones!  LOL.  Those make for a great emergency meal or snack and cost about $1 for a pack of 8.  However, my Graze snacks have more variety and more nutrition.

food in cuba

 

21. Cuba has mostly 220v outlets

When I researched, I discovered most are 220v and when I visited, it was confirmed.  Had no problems with plugging in my gadgets.  Each room I stayed in had both American and European outlets.  Easy peasy.

22. Choose State Run Cigar shops

State run shops have the best quality cigars over the private shops.  So although you typically pricier to go private, state run shops will ensure the best quality possible.

We bought our cigars from a shop across from the Hotel Nacional, this was the ONE requirement from the hubby so we had to check this off the list.  =)

 

(P.S. if you see us wearing NY Yankees hats in the pictures its because you can trade your baseball cap for a Cubano beisbol cap – Cubanos love the NY Yankees)

iReallyLoveChocolate.com(58) state run cigar shops

 

23. No Internet

Don’t expect internet at your hotel or casa particular, and even if they have it, it will not be available for you to use it. And even if you find it, don’t expect to have the same experience you have with it at home.  This is your digital detox.  However, the local telecommunications company (ETECSA) started adding WiFi hot spots on major cities, which can be used with the purchase of a WiFi card that allows you to use it for an hour.  More changes on the Internet to come!

Oh, and don’t expect the WiFi to be reliable or fast. Read more here

wifi in cuba

 

24. Bring first aid with you (and medications)

Even if you have the money to pay the outrageous fees for market items, they may not have anything available.  For example, they had a few large jugs of water costing about $9 US, so if they have it, it will cost a lot.  The water cost more than mojitos.

Anyway, when it comes to important first aid or feminine items, plan for needing those and bring them with you.  (ladies – this is ABSOLUTELY the best thing I brought that you will save your life when traveling, yes, totally TMI but I would be remiss not telling you about it).   We downsized a first aid kit to fit into a small box, i brought medical tape, guaze, aspirin, antibiotic cream, medical gloves, advil, painkillers, bandaids etc.  When we were finally ready to depart, we left it behind.

In the pic below (I took on the airplane), you can see what was in my small bag – first aid kit, money belt, SPIbelt, small shampoos, sewing kit, pen (for customs paperwork), snacks, ziploc bags, GoPro with waterproof case, coin dispenser – wrote more about What to Pack for Cuba here

I found a detailed list from Stop Adulting on how to stay safe while abroad, this is a MUST read

first aid in cuba

25. Use offline maps or preload your Google Maps

Galileo Offline Maps allows you to use your phone’s GPS to show your location on regular and pre-uploaded maps from other sites. Download these maps before going to Cuba. Once you leave your house, you are on your own with whatever info you have written down or in your head.

Also, check out my friend Barb’s article from Stop Adulting on 5 Reasons to Use Google Maps for Traveling

 

26. Cuba Junky is a good source of information

The first continuous source of info I found was on Facebook – Cuba Junky.  From there, you’ll find more great resources.  Do LOTS of research.  Because once you get to Cuba your are offline.

before you visit cuba

 

27. Many Cubans will need milk for their children

Other than petty theft, violent crimes are not common there. What many people do, though, is “friend you” and tell you about a restaurant or café, or some other event somewhere else. They will be soooo friendly, you won’t even know its happening.  They begin and end each convo with needing milk for their children and depending on where you are you will be swarmed bu residents begging for milk for their children.  You’ll be thankful you have that flyfishing shirt with your valuables zipped up in the front pocket.
And, if they discover that you are American – they assumed we were German or possibly Canadian – then many see you for the $ signs.  I have never been to a country where so many have begged for money especially in such a slimy way. My attempt in coming to Cuba after living as a minority in Miami was to see Cubans for the good souls that they are and unfortunately . . . . . let’s just say there are good people and not so good people everywhere.  I do not plan on returning to Cuba but if I did, it would be to bring needed items and money to the families I befriended.

(pictured below – the family of Casa Belisa in Varadero.  I would return to Cuba to see them again and support them any way possible)

american travel to cuba

 

The family dog, Toby.  Sweetest pup ever!

american travel to cuba

 

We met Toby shortly after hearing the news that our sweet labrador had passed away in the States.  So all we could do was love on Toby!

american travel to cuba

 

28. You can now bring those Cuban cigars right back to your home

Americans can now import up to $400 worth of goods from Cuba, including up to $100 in tobacco and alcohol products. So, now there’s no need to smuggle those Cuban cigars, as long as they are under the limit.

Since I had a stamped passport, I carried all items through customs in Dallas, including the camera card.  Not only did they not look at my passport, they never looked through my backpack.  I walked through with a lot of cigars and a lot of Christmas presents for our family from Cuba with no problem.  My customs form and customs printout said 2 different things about what was in my bag.  Considering we were somewhat illegally visiting Cuba I had a few anxieties about what a prison sentence in Dallas would like.  I mean, would I have access to Starbucks or a hairdryer?  Would I make friends who would braid my hair?  Would we all sit around and watch Modern Family and giggle?

Thankfully, I’ll never know  =)

As with all things at the airport, I really think it depends on the mood of the officer or TSA person that day.  One never knows.

antique cars cuba

29. Learn Spanish

It will make your life easier there. At least learn a few basic words to communicate. Locals are also way friendlier with tourists who at least make an effort to communicate something in Spanish.

Its the right thing to do.

Use the app Memrise for 10 minutes a day, listen to Telemundo, turn to the Spanish radio stations and dig into spanish newspapers in your hometown before visiting.

antique cars cuba

30. Go off the beaten path

Started walking in a direction away from Parque Central and head into the neighborhoods.  No agenda.  No map.  No plan.  Just let the wanderlust take over you  =)

havana cuba

31. Have a drink at the Floridita

Contrary to my last tip, go kick up your feet and visit a classic Havana joint that everyone goes to.  Afterall, you need to visit one of the Hemingway haunts

la floridita havana la floridita havana

 

32. Always confirm which is the  currency the establishment is requesting

Always ask, “is this in CUC or Moneda Nacional?” Or, if the price seems to be really high, them most probably it is in CUP such as a hamburger street joint asking 25.00 pesos for a hamburger.  If you paid in CUC it would be like paying 25 US Dollars.  I find the Cubans will take whatever you give them and offer no change.  Be warned, lol.

At one point, I was buying a snack on the train and they asked for 5 pesos which ended up being a 25 cent piece (in CUC).  I still don’t get it.

33. Cuba was a very expensive trip for us

Between the 2 roundtrips per person, transport within the country, no access to kitchens even though we were staying in Casas, being overcharged, expensive restaurants, tipping everyone for everything . . . holy crap . .  we were both eager to get back to work and make some money back.

bicycle taxi cuba

34. Take the 100 year old electric train across Cuba

Read about the train that passes through the old Hershey Sugar Refinery -  go here

electric train in cuba

In this video, the conductor let me stand in the front with him – notice how I am hanging onto the open door

35. Backpack if you can (but definitely do backpack)

Be a minimalist when traveling, it makes things so much easier.  We both wore quick dry pants, fly fishing shirts that we could wash every night and minimal shoes.  Flip flops and Keens.  This left us with our hands free to protect our belongings, jump into a car/train and be ready to move and groove.  Dragging luggage thru cobblestone, or even torn up streets is a pain. You don’t need all that shit.  Really, if people can move into a Tiny House, you can leave your rolling luggage at home and wear a backpack.  Purchase travel clothes that can be handwashed and will air dry quickly.

And yes, the day of this picture, I was referred to as Sir numerous times by Cubans, Mexicans and even Americans at the airport.  Oh well . . . . lol.

backpacking in Cuba

35. Leave your heels at home

Good shoes are essential for long days of walking and staying safe on all sorts of sidewalks.

I wore flip flops with sundresses and Keens with my more active outfits (these are the exact shoes I wore and LOVE).  I had considered bringing cute sandals or wedges and I am so glad I did not.  Once you get there, you’ll realize, its so hot, you just want to be comfortable and get as many kilometers underway by foot as possible.  (you know what I’m talking about gals, that moment where you are like, I’m over it, hair up, comfy shoes on . . . over trying to look cute)

36. No more Departure Tax

As of December 2015, thats when we departed, there was no more $25 tax to leave the country.

We budgeted for this tax and it was very important that we knew if it needed to be paid as we were on a strict cash budget.  Because if we didn’t have the money, we were not leaving.

As of right now, that tax is gone (or processed into your flight fee).  Not totally sure yet.  I strongly recommend checking into this before your trip.

antique cars in cuba

37. Do NOT tell companies in the US your are going to Cuba

Things are very inconsistent right now.  Its like marijuana in Colorado.  Its legal in the state but illegal federally.

Before we left Dallas for Cuba, we took out Euros from a Currency Exchange here – we discovered in this process that up until October of 2015 if they found out you were headed to Cuba they could not exchange your money.  Even though they could not give you CUPs or CUCs.

Upon our return we went to Northpark Mall to exchange our leftover Euros to US Dollar and found out that if you mentioned travel to Cuba, you would need to present your license for traveling to make the exchange happen.  So until the Embargo is officially lifted and things are solid, shush your mouth.  =)  And if you live in a conservative part of the country like I do, if you are not going to Cancun or Disney World, people will also have an opinion on your trip to Cuba.  More of a reason to take your children – travel is always the best education

travel is the best education

antique cars in cuba

 

 

Phew . . . . that’s a lot to know.  Cuba was a hassle to travel to and travel within but I guess that’s what makes it an adventure!!

Will we go again?  Well, we have a lot of countries on our to-visit list BUT if we ever return it would be for the people.

the people of havana

 

 

You might be interested in checking out:

where to eat in cuba photos of cubaWhat to Pack for Cuba  wifi in cubatravel to cuba as an americancuban cars

 

Happy trails in Cayo Coco

travel to cuba as an american

How to Travel to Cuba as an American

How to Travel to Cuba as an American

 

1. Its still forbidden unless . . . .

Tourism travel to Cuba is still forbidden under the U.S. embargo, so you have to choose one of 12 exceptions as regulated by the U.S. Treasury Department (check its factsheet). Under the new rules, you don’t need preapproval from Treasury, but you should be prepared to say which one applies to you.

 

american embassy in cuba


 

 

2. Avoid tourist traps

Ask your driver or other locals for the best new spots in town or do some web-research before heading to Cuba.

havana cuba

3. Slow your roll

You’re on Cuban time now.  Many things get delayed from buses to airlines.  Service at restaurants is extremely slow.

 

havana cuba

4. Cubans love seeing Americans in their country

Pro: This confirms that the embargo will be lifted soon and prosperity is in their future.   Con: Growing up in South Florida (a huge population of Cubans) that were extremely harsh to non-Cubans (i.e. my blonde self) and again in Cuba, the Cubans from my perception see as a money source.  My husband and I did everything we could to help (prob half of our budget went to generous gifts and tipping) but after some time, the confrontation for money from us 2 blondes walking thru Cuba was over the top and left us with a bad taste in our mouth.

american embassy in cuba

Here’s the rest of the tips . . .  37 Things You Need to Know Before You Visit Cuba

 

 

havana cuba

 


 

 

P.S.  I strongly recommend reading into the Cuban American relations before arriving, the more you know, the better you will be prepared.

P.P.S. Check out these amazing Cuban Antique Cars!

 

More Posts like this:

travel to cuba as an americanWhat to Pack for Cubawifi in cuba  where to eat in cuba photos of cubabefore you visit cuba

edoughable review

This Sweet Company Just Made a HUGE Facebook Ad Mistake

 

This Sweet Company Just Made a HUGE Facebook Ad Mistake

Facebook ads are a very powerful tool. There are so many options for marketers, its so overwhelming and amazing rolled into one digital marketing package.

The only problem is, I see many companies making the same mistake (especially the small ones where every single dollar counts)

Today, I caught a really yummy company making that mistake.

Edoughable.

They make handmade, gourmet and super delicious (and safe) cookie dough.  Soooo perfect, ya know, since you are not supposed to eat the other kind raw and straight from the package.

The product gets rave reviews and I can’t wait to try some out for myself.  But first . . .

The Mistakes . . . .

(these are written with LOVE for a really spectacular small business and they are not the only ones guilty so is Treatsie.com and many others except on occasion I see Treatsie.com offers an optin like this:)

treatsie

 

#1 The Link to the Homepage

When I clicked on the ad, it took me straight to the home page.  They asked for the sale, in not so many words, on our first date.  How dare they! LOL.

edible cookie dough

I know Christmas is around the corner and their cutoff for normal shipping is Tuesday but I wasn’t ready at that moment to spend $9+ on edible cookie dough.  I walked into the store and then right out.  Potentially lost forever.

Who won?  Facebook.  Mark Zuckerburg has more money to spend on his new baby.

 

#2 Missed opportunity to Capture Data

Its really hard to convert on the first try.

(its sorta like the three date rule, right here)

 

When a company pays for a Facebook ad, which is much cheaper than a print ad, a company has the opportunity to own that potential customer but only if they have a lead capture tool in place.

I recommend using an OptIn such as LeadPages and giving something of value in exchange for an email address.  For example, eDoughable could give away a Printable or a recipe list of the 37 BEST Holiday Cookie Dough Recipes to Keep Your Guests Happy or The UnCookie that will Knock Santa’s Socks Off (or some hybrid) of those)  Edoughable would gather there super fun recipes they are posting on Instagram or Facebook, compile it into one valuable instant download and in exchange they would ask for the customer’s email address.  Win-win. This really maximizes the FB ad spend.


 

 

#3 Email Optin

I love that Edoughable did have an email optin on their site; however, it was only on the bottom right.

edoughable review

Let’s place that sucker on the top of the page where eye balls roam.

(one of the many times I visited the site, I did have a Pop Up for an email address)

On all of my sites, I have side pop ins, header bars and strategically placed (as well as timed) optins coming and going.  Again, if you are going to send potential customers straight to your home page instead of a landing page, make the most of those advertising dollars spent on FB and gain your email list fast.  With this list, you can market in January, Valentine’s Day, 4th of July . . . you now own the customer.  And, there are even tools to make this super easy

And one more thing, AFFILIATE Program pleeeeeez.  One of my most profitable affiliate programs is the Dove Chocolate program so I chat about them a lot (on FB, Twitter, LinkedIn, my Chocolate Blog, Pinterest, Reddit, StumbleUpon).  Affiliate programs are performance based and such a win for the advertiser and the publisher as I wrote about here

10x your sales

 

    As a lover of small business (especially sweet treats), I want nothing but massive success for these peeps.  However, I do worry about these luxury product businesses especially as we sit on a financial bubble ready to burst here in North America, we all have to be super efficient with the bucks we have and get the most out of everything.  Soooo, Edoughable . . . I heart you guys a ton.  Let’s get even more sweet tooth peeps like myself consuming your divine cookie dough  =)  Deal?         P.S.  Check out these sweet treats from Angell and Phelps Chocolate Factory Angell and Phelps Chocolate Factory, LLC                   P.P.S.  If any of you are wanting to improve your website, ping me for a detailed website review at iReallyLoveChoc@gmail.com (Subject: website review)      

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

365 Everyday Value Organic Coconut Dark Chocolate

Whole Foods Organic Dark Chocolate Coconut Bar

 

Whole Foods Organic  Dark Chocolate Coconut Bar Review

 

On my recent trip to Whole Foods, I snagged a few bars including the 365 Everyday Value Chocolate Coconut Bar.

365 Everyday Value Organic Coconut Dark Chocolate

Interesting choice because I can’t stand coconut unless its an oil bottled in a jar.  But, I make an exception for one thing, those yummy perfect little Magic Bars.  Its the only time that coconut has seduced me.

With the price being the only thing fair I found in the chocolate bar section and my intrigue of this bar, I tried it out.

Flavor:  MAJOR COCONUT (almost too much for me) but since I am a texture kinda person, it had a very distinct crunch to it and that was a major plus.

 

 

365 Everyday Value Organic Coconut Dark Chocolate

 Hello my little friend!

365 Everyday Value Organic Coconut Dark Chocolate


365 Everyday Value Organic Coconut Dark Chocolate

 

Chocolate bars are so beautiful.

 

I definitely recommend this bar, especially if you like coconut AND if you would prefer to consume something of a higher quality without breaking the bank.

 

And if you need to know the facts . . .

 

365 Everyday Value Organic Coconut Dark Chocolate

 

 

P.S.  If you are wanting to know even more about fine chocolate bars check out this post chocolate blogs