Have you been dreaming of a getaway filled with sun soaked days, rich history, and unfiltered views of the sea? If you answered yes to all of these, then allow me to direct your attention to the lovely Havana, Cuba.
Only a 4 to 8 hour flight, Havana, Cuba is a dream for the culture enthusiast, photographer, and historian alike. From skateboarding to learning about Cuba’s diverse racial history, there is something to do for everyone.
For one month, I traveled throughout Cuba on a Pulitzer Center reporting fellowship. During this time, I was challenged both professionally and personally while reporting on race and culture in Havana. My time in Cuba gave me a better understanding of global perceptions of blackness, and, how to cultivate a daily spiritual and mindfulness practice. Moreover, this trip encouraged me to challenge my constant struggle with imposter syndrome, and overall insecurities regarding success.
But, that’s enough about my time there, let’s discuss how you’re going to get to Cuba!
For people with United States citizenship, traveling to Cuba for purely tourist purposes is still illegal. Therefore, your trip needs to fit into one of the twelve categories listed by the Office of Foreign Assets Control. Some of the most common categories that people travel to Cuba under are: [professional or personal] research, education – Cuba is a great place to travel to if you are looking to brush up on your language skills, whether that be Spanish, Russian, or French – and humanitarian purposes.
If you’re interested in learning a new language, the University of Havana offers affordable classes for all levels; you can enroll in these courses either by telephone or email. However, the best way to inquire about language courses is in person. Communicating via internet on the island is still a little tricky. So when you arrive, ask your host if they know of anyone hosting private lessons. Private classes are usually cheaper, and, will give you another way of immersing yourself into the community.
Conversely, staying at a Casa Particular, or “private house”, is another great way of immersing yourself into Havana’s communities. Casa Particulars are like Airbnbs that have been around since the late 1990s. They came into existence when the Cuban government approved the use of private homes as accommodations for tourists. Casa Particulars are great because they allow you to experience Havana’s many different neighborhoods, while also experiencing everyday life.
While I was in Havana, I stayed in Cayo Hueso, a vibrant and safe neighborhood in Central Havana. This location is perfect because it’s located right in between Old Havana and Vedado, two other areas in Havana. Aside from its amazing location, there is always something to see and do in Cayo Hueso. Walk around to see murals by artists ttttteoe and Mr.Myl, or, visit Callejón de Hamel to learn about Afro-Cuban culture.
If you are looking for a place to stay, I recommend Jessica’s house. Not only is Jessica an amazing cook, but both her family and neighbors are extremely welcoming! An added bonus to staying with her, is that there’s wifi in the house!
Continuing on with the nitty-gritty of Havana travel: wi-fi, communication, and money. There are some articles that list wifi cards as 2 CUC for an hour. I’m not sure if that’s true for other parts of Cuba, but in Havana, wifi is 1 CUC an hour. Always purchase cards from reputable telecommunication providers (ETECSA) to insure that you are paying the 1 CUC price. I recommend connecting early in the morning, or during random hours in the afternoon while most people are at work. The connection is usually the strongest during these times of day.
In regards to money, most places in Cuba do not accept credit cards. Additionally, U.S. credit cards don’t work on the island. Therefore, make sure you take enough cash to last your entire trip, plus a little more to be safe. A little tip, Cuba is not cheap, Havana especially. If you’re going to do any TripAdvisor type activities, prepare to bring around $2000 for a one month trip. However, if you plan on walking and just soaking in the daily life, you can bring a little less.
I recommend converting American currency when you arrive. But, keep in mind that there is a 10% tax plus the regular exchange fee for converting USD. You can sometimes avoid this fee by exchanging with other travelers at the airport, or with your Casa Particular host.
Cuba is currently operating on a two currency system. But, this might be changing soon to help alleviate some of the economic issues that the country is currently facing. The two currencies are the CUC and CUP. 1 CUC is “equal” to 1 USD, and 24 CUP is equivalent to 1 CUC.
When shopping, dining in restaurants that are not paladars (privately owned restaurants, usually in people’s homes), or taking taxis, you would pay in CUC. Other transactions, such as buying street food or dining in paladars, can be done in CUP. Most places will accept both CUC and CUP, and, in some cases you can recieve change in either denomination. Just make sure to always count your change as it is very easy to get cheated when using both currencies.
Now for the fun stuff: things to do! If you want to take a trip that is more service-based, I recommend participating in a cultural exchange. Programs such as: Cuba Skate, Casa Tomada MirArte/ Mirarte DiaDía, Alianza Afro-Cubana, Afro-Latino Travel, and The African Diaspora Alliance provide a unique and informative view of life in Cuba.
Cuba Skate is a program based in Washington D.C., founded in 2010 by two University of Michigan grads, Lauren Bradley and Miles Jackson. One of their missions is to promote cultural exchanges amongst Cubans and the international skateboarding community. Through donations, building and restoring local skate parks in Havana, and workshops that teach you how to build your own skateboard, Cuba Skate is working to create a sustainable skateboarding community for Cuban youth.
If you want to help Cuba Skate with their mission, their Instagram and website provides more information on upcoming workshops and pop-ups held in Havana and the U.S. Additionally, Cuba Skate also provides experiences that you can book via Airbnb.
Casa Tomada MirArte and Alianza Afro-Cubana are two Havana based collectives that offer a great way of getting involved with Cuba’s artistic community. Both groups discuss Cuba’s Afro-Cuban and LGBTQIA+ communities, as well as gender dynamics on the island. Through workshops and artistic partnerships, Casa Tomada MirArte and Alianza Afro-Cubana also teach participants about Afro-Cuban religion, and sustainable living. One of their key goals is to provide open-spaces for dialogue and artistic collaboration.
Finally, Afro-Latino Travel and The African Diaspora Alliance are two organizations helping bridge the gap within the African Diaspora. Both programs serve as a resource and facilitator for building a sense of community in the diaspora through their programs.
Afro-Latino Travel is a group consisting of five individuals from the United States, Martinique, and Central and South America. Their programs provide cultural exchanges that highlight the history of afro-descendants in the Americas. Through workshops dedicated to the Afro-Diaspora, Afro-Latino Travel provides you with an opportunity to give back to Cuba’s Afro-Cuban community.
CUBA TRIP ALERT 🇨🇺: Sign-up for our Labor Day Weekend trip, August 30th-September 4th for all the farming, medicinal plant, and AfroCuban history and contemporary life goodness! • • By and large food insecurity is a reality of daily life in much of Cuba. This trip invites participants to several Black-owned farms, in and around Havana, a change of pace from the vast white-owned farms of Viñales; descendants of Canary Islanders invited to Cuba to whiten the population in the 1800s. • • Tour activities include: AfroCuban Yoruba workshop and drum presentation, lunches at paladares, crystal workshop, medicinal plant workshop, and reiki workshop and much more! All workshops are led by AfroCubans and conducted in English and Spanish. Hola@Afrolatinotravel.com • • • #eatclean oldhavana #cuba #wegotoo #soulsociety #travelisthenewclub #afrolatinotravel #havana #blacktravelmovement #caribbean #melaninmajority #blacktraveljourney #weworktotravel #blackvegans #vegan #passportheavy #mytravelcrush #blacktravelfeed #soultravelers #igtravel #worldtraveler #blackandabroad #blacktravelista #blacktravel #travelnoire #worldstraveller #cocoatravelersintl #blacktravelexcellence #theblacktourist #blackmentravel #blackwomentravel
By participating in their book and doll drive excursion, you can help increase positive representations of Blacks on the island. Their upcoming trips to Cuba highlight Afro-Cuban veganism, organic farming, and partaking in their doll drive.
The African Diaspora Alliance (ADA) was founded by Moriah Ray and Jasmine Hall, two Baltimore activists, in collaboration with Dr. Yaritza Azcuy, an Afro-Cuban physician from Havana. Their initiatives encourage travel to both Cuba and Colombia, highlighting the rich racial history of the two areas. They also provide accessible and affordable study abroad opportunities for Black youth in Baltimore, MD through their Youth of Diaspora program. By participating in one of their excursions, a portion of the travel costs goes towards funding their youth initiative.
The Youth of Diaspora program is one of ADAs main initiatives! For the past two years ADA has led an after school program at Frederick Douglass High School. During these sessions we teach youth about the history and diversity of the black diaspora and the importance of activism. Then during the summer qualified students traveled to Cuba to study and connect with the black diaspora 🇨🇺 Here is 2nd year student Shawnaya! Each day while abroad students were responsible for writing reflections about their experiences. In one of many reflections Shawnaya wrote: “We are really all over the world! This makes me want to travel more and learn more about my ancestors.” This project would not be possible without community support! We are truly grateful for those who continue to donate and contribute to make it possible for us to provide an African-centered curriculum for the minds of Black youth in Baltimore ✊🏾