A Perfect Vacation Spot In Cuba

I’ve been to beaches in different countries around many parts of the world – from Santa Monica to islands of Fiji, from Ghana to South Africa, and from Israel to Sweden – just to name a few. I couldn’t begin to count the number of beaches I’ve been to throughout the world, and some are definitely famous for being the best in the world. But walking through the sandy beaches of Cuba was really spectacular.

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After Havana, we spent the rest of our trip in Varadero on the northern coast. We arrived to a resort that couldn’t have been more beautiful.

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And besides the obvious beauty of the hotel itself, the beaches nearby were incredible. With white sand, crystal clear turquoise water, and endless miles of open space.

 

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While vacationing in Cuba, we were able to do a variety of activities, including horseback riding along the coast, taking a boat ride into sea, and snorkeling off coast in beautiful coral reefs.

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And in case the beaches and pool weren’t enough to keep you occupied, the resort was sure to offer a crazy amount of entertaining activities from foam parties, to dance lessons, to exciting evening shows.

 

We could even ride around in style with our old 1950’s car

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And there was always plenty to eat everywhere we went

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It was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, and I’ve really been to many beautiful places. It’s a wonderful place to visit because there is plenty to do to keep you busy, so much lovely scenery to enjoy and experience, and natural wildlife close by. It’s exactly the kind of place people dream of  with real serenity and relaxation all around.

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I hope one day I’m able to go back!!

 

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History and Sites in Havana, Cuba

We started our second full day in Cuba with breakfast on the hotel balcony and enjoyed the beautiful view again.

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We left to see the Revolution Museum, which was interesting, but majority of the exhibits were in Spanish so it was harder to follow and understand. There were tons of photos, newspaper articles, clothing, and personal belongings from the revolution.

Let me give you a very brief summary of some of Cuba’s interesting history.

Cuba was inhabited by Mesoamerican cultures before Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the land in 1942.

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Cuba then became a Spanish colony. In 1762, the colony was occupied by Great Britain before being traded back to Spain for Florida. The Spanish-American War caused Spain to withdraw from Cuba in 1898 and the United States gave Cuba its independence in 1902 with the requirements of the Platt Agreement. This agreement gave the US the right to intervene militarily in Cuba and have access to Guantanamo Bay. In order to prevent fighting within Cuba and protect American economic interests, the US occupied Cuba for several years in the early 20th century after President Palma’s regime collapsed. During this period, the Cuban Communist Party was developed. American troops withdrew in 1909. Several presidents took over in Cuba over the next three decades. In World War I, Cuba declared war on Imperial Germany on April 7, 1917, just one day after the United States entered the war. Cuba could not send troops to fight in Europe, but played a major role in protecting the West Indies from German U-boat attacks. Cuba suffered an economic collapse due to a significant drop in sugar prices. In 1925, President Machado took over and did not step down after his term ended. The revolution of 1933 undermined the oligarchic state. In 1940, Fulgencio Batista, who was endorsed by Communists, won the election. Ramon Grau was elected in 1944, and with the end of World War II came economic boom. The increased prosperity brought corruption and nepotism within the country and as Cuba gained a reputation as a base for organized crime, Mafia mobsters came to Havana. Batista was re-elecred in 1953. The country did well economically and continued to grow for while, but the middle class became dissatisfied with the administration. In the 1950s, the economy started to collapse as unemployment rates soared and domestic product growth diminished.

In 1953, Fidel Castro and his supporters led an attack near Santiago de Cuba, which failed. Castro was sentenced to prison and after being released he went into exile in Mexico. This is where he met Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara and began organizing how to overthrow Batista. After many failed attempts to overthrow Batista and after the United States imposed trade restrictions on the Batista administration, the military situation became untenable and Batista fled.

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Castro took over in 1959. The revolution became increasingly radical and many opponents were executed or imprisoned.

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Hundreds of thousands of Cubans fled the island and many went to the United States. Castro opposed the United States’ influence in Cuba and even threatened a war on the US. The relations between Cuba and the US continued to deteriorate rapidly and the dispute escalated. The two countries severed all diplomatic relations on January 3, 1961. The Kennedy administration forbid American citizens from traveling to Cuba or conducting any financial or commercial transactions with the country. The Bay of Pigs Invasion occurred in hope of overthrowing the Communist regime, but the invasion failed. In 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis occurred.

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Throughout the 1970s, tens of thousands of dissidents were held and tortured under inhumane prison conditions and many were executed. Between 1959 and 1993, around 1.2 million Cubans fled for the United States by small boats or rafts, it’s estimated that between 30,000 and 80,000 died trying. Fidel Castro fell ill in 2006 and withdrew from public life and officially resigned in 2008. As of 2015, Cuba was one of the few official socialist states in the world. The United States and Cuba have worked on their relationship and now it is legal again for Americans to visit Cuba.

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After our visit to the museum, we took a trip to a Jewish synagogue. If you’ve read my blog before, you know I’m Jewish and often visit Jewish museums or synagogues during my travels around the world. There are only 3 synagogues left in Havana and only 5 total in Cuba. We looked around the sanctuary and talked to people who work there about it. They told us how the Jewish population went from about 20,000 to 1,300 because of the revolution and events I described above. The Jews fled and emigrated to America, Europe, and Israel.

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After our visit to the synagogue, we walked to a main street and waited for a taxi to drive by to flag down and headed back to the hotel to shop a little and clean up. We packed and got ready because the next day we would leave Havana. We had seen and experienced so much during our short visit in the beautiful city, so it was hard to think about leaving already.

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For dinner, we drove to a nearby restaurant where we had to walk up a long staircase to a beautiful dining room. The service and food were exceptional and we enjoyed a wonderfully delicious meal. I had lobster and chocolate cake. We stayed for a long time relaxing and talking.

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We walked through a big square and looked around.

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We walked to another main road to find a taxi and had to argue about the price because they wanted to charge us $20 for a less than 5 minute drive, just because it was a touristy area. I would never accept that kind of price and if they say they won’t lower the price, just walk away. We walked away and kept walking until they chased after us and brought the offer down to a quarter of the original offer. Once we arrived back at the hotel, we went back upstairs to the balcony to listen to Cuban music before going to sleep.

 

 

 

 

 

Exploring Havana, Cuba

I woke up feeling pretty refreshed, but definitely not ready to get up. It was 3am after a very long day by the time we made it to sleep the night before, so I could’ve easily slept in late. We went upstairs for the hotel breakfast and it was a mediocre buffet. I wasn’t totally sure how the food would be in Cuba. The view from the breakfast table was great.

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After breakfast, we decided to take a walk around and see what there was nearby, but as soon as we got outside, a man offered to take us around and give us a tour in a car. He explained all the places we could go and was very excited to hear that we are Americans because he had lived in the states for a few years. We decided to take him up on his offer. The car was a 1951 Chevrolet convertible and it was awesome.

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We drove around the city and saw many military areas, monuments, beaches, markets, and general city life. It was a great way to get a sense of the city and see so much.

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We stopped in a famous cigar shop that has the world record’s longest cigar displayed on the ceiling.

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We stopped for lunch in a local place for lunch and had amazing lobster like nothing I’d ever had before.

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He drove us to places where there were no other tourists so we could really see how people actually live in Havana. I think it’s always important to break out of the tourist bubble on some level and see different parts of a country.

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We drove out to Ernest Hemingway’s old home and were able to tour the beautiful and very spacious property

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And the views from his home were incredible!

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The drive back was a little long and I had a hard time keeping my eyes open after the five hour tour of the city. Once we made it back, I was happy to clean up and climb into bed for a short nap. Once we got up, we decided to head upstairs for dinner because there was music playing all evening on the balcony. We had a delicious meal and relaxed for a few hours just enjoying the music and watching people dance.

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It was a day filled with excitement. By 11, we headed to the room to relax and get some rest so we were ready for another day of adventure.

Flying To Cuba!

I have been interested in going to Cuba for so many years, so I was thrilled to have the opportunity to make the trip. Since the flight from Toronto to Cuba is only three and a half hours, I didn’t think the trip would be too intense, which was dumb on my part – considering how much I travel, I should’ve known better. We started off the day in the morning with a three hour delay, causing us to stall on making the drive up to Toronto. The drive wasn’t too long, so after getting across the border we stopped in Niagara Falls for a quick lunch in one of our favorite Japanese restaurants. Then we had another hour and a half drive to the airport and arrived a few hours before our flight. After checking in and going through security, we found our gate and sat around for a long time. I have a lot of experience in airports, but it gets boring none the less. We explored meal options and decided on Indian food real quick, got some snacks and water for the trip. When we got back to the gate, it was ridiculously crowded and chaotic and after we made our way through the crowd and found a seat, they informed us that our gate had actually been changed. So we made our way back through that chaos and headed to the other end of the terminal. We waited another 45 minutes until we finally started boarding, several hours after our scheduled departure. We were all a little nervous and unsure about transportation and hotel checkin once we eventually would arrive because it was getting later and later at night. Because Cuba is different from many other countries in a lot of ways, we weren’t entirely sure what to expect.

If you’ve read my posts before, you know that my flights often tend to be very delayed with my luck. After boarding, we sat at the gate an extra half hour then had to get the plane de-iced and sit there for another half hour so we were another hour delayed than the expected delay. I sat next to Canadian two siblings , a boy who was about thirteen and a girl who was probably sixteen. The sister was trying to be the responsible one of the two and make sure the brother knew how things worked, but she didn’t seem to actually know what she was talking about so I tried to help them as best I could with questions and concerns about flying and planes. They were really adorable. The flight went by pretty quickly once we finally got going. The Sunwing flight had wonderful service and was quite an upgrade from many airlines. They started with complimentary sparkling wine for every passenger, had hot towels, chocolates, and a meal – most airlines don’t do such things anymore for shorter flights.

 

Once we arrived in Varadero, we had to go through customs, which was relatively easy and then get our luggage. When I travel to other countries, I’m never completely sure what to expect with customs and because of the political issues between America and Cuba, I was definitely curious. It was pretty standard though. They had cute dogs running on the baggage claim machines like it was a treadmill as they sniffed everyone’s bags.

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Once we got outside the airport, we exchanged money. Because Cuba doesn’t have systems that accept credit cards, cash is how people pay for everything, so there has to be some planning involved. We found our bus and got on. With the delayed flight it was after midnight by the time we started our two hour drive to Havana. I had a hard time staying awake on the drive and found myself drifting in and out of sleep. I was happy when the scenery changed and we made it to the city because we arrived at the hotel shortly after. We weren’t sure what the hotel would be like because the hotel we originally booked had been oversold and they moved us to this one instead. By the time we got there, we were so happy just to have a bed to lie down in that it really didn’t matter at that point. I slept so well through the night. It felt amazing to know I’d be waking up in Havana the next morning!