We're home, settled and near enough over the jet lag (partly thanks to the salesman who rang the doorbell at 7.30am yesterday! Prat) I'm more red than golden skinned so appear perpetually embarrassed but that's OK since I don't get out much anyway.
We had the most wonderful time wondering around havana and then lazing on the beach. The wifi was terrible so it was a brilliant excuse to totally turn off (although I do apologise to everyone who had to wait weeks for me to reply ...especially as I have no idea how to turn my out of office on and left in such a rush I didn't even remember to update my website to say I was away!) But if i'm honest, it really was bloody lush to just be 2 humans enjoying an adventure together for 10 days. I didn't realise how much I needed it until one evening we popped back to the hotel at 4pm to get changed before dinner and I had a 'little rest' that accidentally turned into a 14 hour sleep, we slept through dinner and straight into breakfast! I think i'm caught up now!
So many people have asked us about Cuba as a holiday destination so I thought I'd do a bit of a summary of our lovely experience there and a little list of the 'must do's' (i'm sure there's many more we'd have found if I wasn't hibernating!)
We did 2 full days in Havana, 1 day in Vinales Vally and 5 days in Varadero (then 1 either side that was mainly travelling) for us it was the perfect combination of exploring, site seeing and then hardcore beach time. I'm sure you don't want a play by play of our holiday (ain't no-body got time for that) so below I've bullet pointed things to do for each of the places we visited...because I know we all love a list...
Havana was totally crazy and a real shock to the system when we first touched down, it's absolutely full of life and music and a real blast, especially if you're partial to a bit of rum (I'm not so much but still came back with 4 bottles #tourist)
- Enjoy the ride - the classic American cars are everywhere, it's like going back in time in a magnificent fashion. Be a tourist and take a ride (I highly recommend a convertible, obvs)
- Look up - The architecture is just stunning, each building has so much beauty hidden under the dirt and the colours are so much bloody fun.
- Go on a few tours - We went all out tourist on our first day and did a tour of the city followed by the Havana Club Rum tour, it helps you find your feet and then you can be as adventurous as you fancy after that and feel more confident about where you're going
- Have a chat - as ever, the thing I try to remember is to talk to people. You learn so much more when you open your mouth and ask questions. I also find that you generally have the best time when you meet people, chat and share the experience. There's plenty of tourists from all around the world so all it takes is a little 'where are you from?' and you're away, enjoying a mojito with new friends and hearing their recommendations for things to do.
- Drink All the Rum - There's no avoiding it. There's a few spots in particular where Hemingway used to visit that are wonderfully atmospheric (If you do a tour they'll probably point them out.) There's a wonderful terrace bar at the top of the 'Hemmingway Hotel' - Hotel Ambos Mundos where you can ride the old school elevator up and enjoy a mojito with a view.
- Explore! - Walk and drink and walk and drink, Cuba is one of the safest countries in the world and it really does feel it, it's lovely to be enclosed by the buzz and music of the old town with all the holidaymakers wondering around but I think whenever possible it's important to explore the 'real place' walking a little off the beaten track, shopping in the supermarket and just experiencing for a short while what another country's like. Why not just pop one foot in front of the other and see where it takes you?
- Soak it in - The music and atmosphere is simply incredible, don't forget to soak it all in and really don't be afraid to dance like a fool - you'll never see any of these people again in your life so be whoever you want to be!
- Remember it's not about the food - maybe we were unlucky but we didn't find many placing with amazing food, we got the impression that there were good restaurants particularly around the various plazas but generally for us, it was more about the drink and atmosphere that the eateries.
- Drink all the Daiquiri's - You MUST go to the Floridita bar, about a block away from central park, bursting with people and music, it was my absolute fave, and the daiquiri's were to die for.
- Head to a show - We went to a bit of a naff show to be honest but it was good to soak it up and enjoy the music with some questionable food. If I have 1 regret about Havana it was that we didn't go to Tropicana. I've heard brilliant things about this Cabaret show and although a little pricey, I think it would have been a really great experience.
- Squeeze in for a Mojito - obviously there's hundreds of places to get 'the best Mojito in Cuba!' but we highly recommend La Bodeguita of an evening, everyone squeezes into the bar and then floods out onto the street, the band are piled on top of each other in a corner being totally amazing and the place just exudes happy vibes. We ended our Havana stay there, spending a few hours talking to people on the last night, it was wonderful.
We booked our day trip through the hotel in Havana with the concierge who can organise either a coach trip or a private tour in a taxi with an English speaking driver. We opted for the private tour and were really please. Possibly bias because we had a wonderful driver/tour guide but it was one of the highlights of our trip. It's a 2 hour trip one way so you want to get stuck in, I Imagine all the trips are pretty much the same but just incase here's the bits we recommend.
- Stop to check the View - we stopped at Horizontes Los Jazmines, a glorious pink hotel (that I want to stay in next time, purely for the fact that it's pink and has a pool with a view) great for a few photos.
- Grab a bite - While you're at the pink hotel, walk down the hill a tiny bit and grab a bite at the little cafe/restaurant next door, here you can still enjoy the wonderful view and even better ...this was the best meal we had all holiday, it was delicious!
- Walk and Boat through the Indian caves - These are quite magnificent, a few tight spots that might trouble someone with Claustrophobia but they're really something. Try to get there early to avoid the queue for the boat ride as I hear it can last up to 2 hours whereas we headed there straight away and only waited bout 20 mins ( you queue through the cave so it's not all bad!)
- Hit up the Tobacco Farm - This was the highlight of Vinales, we went to a private tobacco farm and were shown how they make cigars, they make it look so easy too! They kindly gave us a cigar each and we were then invited in for Coffee. I accepted so as not to be rude despite the fact I dislike coffee and it of course turned out to be the worlds strongest espresso, It was then vastly improved when a lovely man looked me in the eye and said 'Rum?' before dolloping a large swig of rum into my cup. I was practically vibrating when we walked out. Rum-Coffee and a cigar, who I am (cough tourist cough) We wondered out with out cigars and our gorgeous tour guide shouted to Alex 'You look like a real business man!' which is maybe the best thing I've heard all year.
- Visit the Vinales Mural de la Prehistoria - Worth a little detour this mural is quite something, there's also a nearby camping area that sounds like a hoot -music, camp fires and Cuba's version of a caravan. yes please!
Once all the adventuring was over it was so perfect to step into a little bit of luxury (it was our honeymoon after all!) We stayed at the Royalton Hicacos Resort and Spa and my god was it lovely. We're not huge fans of a beach holiday normally as we like to get out and see what a country has to offer, but this time we knew we'd need some downtime after a crazy 6 months and it was just wonderful. Sadly there's not that much I can offer other than the hotel was a delight, The beach was immaculate, the sea was almost warm, the food and restaurants were good and the people lovely.
- Stop at the Bridge - If you're travelling there from Havana then be sure to ask the taxi driver to stop at Bacunayagua Bridge. It's basically a service station with one hell of a view and a cracking Pina Colada. (The day we went the wind was exceptional and we ended up in tears laughing at my hair being blown around, it was like being on a rollercoaster!)
- Head out on a catamaran - There's loads of tours you can do (the hotel will no doubt give you the downlow) but the one I wish we'd done - I was too burnt to do anything - was a day on a catamaran off to a private beach for lunch then 'interaction' with dolphins (whatever that it, I was told I could kiss one but I'm a married woman)
- Update your kindle - a specific one I know but I didn't realise until I was out there that you can't buy books on your kindle when you're in another country. So here's a reminder to do that before you leave.
- Read 'How To Be a Woman' - again, not Cuba related but this was one of the books on my kindle that I hadn't read before and it was Magnificent! As a 'strident feminist' myself I've always loved Caitlin Moran's articles and social media but never got round to reading any of her books and now I can't put them down.
- Don't go on your etsy store - not just because you're on holiday but it turns out that it's illegal and you can have your store suspended ...ooopst!
- Keep Hydrated - obvious but necessary
- Apply lotion, Sit in the shade, Apply more lotion, repeat - I had factor 30 and 40 on on the first day, applied constantly and burnt to a total crisp. We were there in Winter and the sun was sill so strong. I know we all want to look tanned and gorgeous but honestly the better and safer way to get there is to have constant breaks from the sun.
- Don't wear a high waisted bikini on the first day no matter how much you love it - you'll regret it when you burn from your belly button up and have a harsh red line across your midriff.
I'm sure there's loads more I've forgotten but for now that's probably enough information to fill a guidebook!
I hope it's useful for anyone considering a trip to Cuba (although I imagine my autocorrect has changed most of the names to something more 'British' that it recognises so it may be a bit of a puzzle!)
Feel free to pop your own recommendations in the comments below, I'm sure I've missed many!
Speak soon my friends!