Havana, Cuba, is quickly becoming the next emerging hot spot. The intriguing and beautiful country frozen in time offers vibrant art scenes, unbelievable architecture, a plethora of authentic Cuban restaurants, and a wide range of boutique hotels.
BlackEnterprise.com caught up with travel enthusiast Mario Nicholas for the inside city scoop on what to see, do, and eat in Cuba: the once Forbidden City.
BlackEnterprise.com: Tell us the one thing you were pleasantly surprised to learn from your recent visit to Cuba.
Nicholas: In the words of Alice Walker, ‘I’m so grateful to see a place on the planet where there are people whose hearts haven’t been shriveled by hatred or greed.’ It was remarkable to feel the warmth of Cubans in both words and gestures. They were amiable and eager to make suggestions for things to see and do. I’m not completely sure what I expected of the people prior to arriving, but I left feeling glad to have visited the island gem.
Should travelers bring cash or credit?
I learned very early in the process that most of the major U.S. credit cards would not be accepted on the island, so cash was the way to go. The major legal currency for tourists is the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC). 1 USD = 1 CUC with a 10% penalty so you’ll end up with approximately .87 centavos CUC. It is worth mentioning that the Euro offers a stronger conversion rate 1 EUR = 1.086 CUC, so this is a great way to get rid of those Euros that have been laying around since your last trip to Paris. The CUC is a closed currency, which means it is not traded internationally. You can only purchase it upon arrival.
How did you qualify to travel to Cuba?
I actually traveled to Cuba with a small group via the People-To-People initiative. The experience was coordinated by Lorna Williams of Ajala Tours in conjunction with House of Travel, so there was very little planning on my part. For an enjoyable experience, limit the time you spend in popular tourist areas. Havana is quite safe, so spend some time exploring the marvels of Old Havana, New Havana, and Central Havana. The city is a photographer’s dream. Don’t be afraid to try the street food, and keep your eyes open for places that are popular with the locals. It is usually the most authentic and affordable way to savor the destination.
1. Havana Walking Tour: This is an excellent way to immediately immerse yourself in the unique history of the city and capture the true essence of the country’s capital.
2. Buena Vista Social Club: Some of the best live Jazz and Salsa performances I’ve heard in a long time. The mojitos aren’t bad either.
3. Museum of the Revolution: Housed in the former Presidential Palace, this is the perfect way to spend a few hours if you’re interested learning more about Cuba’s history.
4. Day-Trip to Varadero: For a scenic drive with views of the countryside culminating in a relaxing day at the beach, head to Varadero. It might also be worth it to stop in Matanzas along the way.
5. La Moneda Cubana Restaurant: Here you can enjoy great food in the company of locals. If the weather allows, opt for a table on the rooftop.