This Year’s Birthday Trip — to Cuba

If you’re contemplating a visit, here’s a short synopsis, and more importantly visuals that’ll make you feel like you’re already there.

First and foremost, it was a great experience; experience being the operative word. From the beautiful views and lukewarm Atlantic Ocean water, as clear and turquoise as I’ve ever seen it ever, to La Habana or Havana, the capital city for a reason. I made this this year’s birthday destination for a variety of reasons (one glaring being the uncertainty around the U.S./Cuba relations under this current U.S. Presidency and administration).

I decided I wanted the best of both worlds, relaxation, and the city, but definitely relaxation.

Day 1: We first landed in Havana, at Jose Marti International Airport. In hindsight, because I decided to stay in Varadero Beach at the beginning of the trip, I might have chosen to fly into Varadero to avoid the extra taxi costs. Once we got there, the obvious and immediate language barrier finally hit me dead square in the mouth. I think that might have been the most challenging thing as an entry-level Spanish speaker and first-time visitor of the island. That being said, it definitely wasn’t a deterrent for me.

I strongly suggest going with at least one other person, especially if you are inept at the Spanish language and ignorant of the culture in Cuba.

Taxi ride from the Jose Marti International Airport to Havana.

We took a taxi from the airport to Viazul bus station, which was the intended destination and transportation to get from Havana to Varadero, but upon arrival multiple taxi drivers were lined up ready to give a “more efficient” deal on the 2-hour drive; it was a good deal, so I took it. We were greeted immediately with champagne at the Blau Varadero resort. Check-in was a breeze. If you’re going to stay at a resort, get the all-inclusive package. The beach destinations are in pretty desolate areas of Cuba, unlike Havana. The stay in Varadero was amazing and much needed, but after a short 2 1/2 days, we headed back to La Habana/Havana via taxi.

Sipping on fresh coconut juice trying to figure out how to freeze this moment in time, in real life.

Day 3: I did plenty of research and got some good feedback from folks who’ve made the trip before and stayed in/around the city. Although an AirBnB was tempting, as cautious as I am, I couldn’t risk it. I booked a fairly decent hotel (Telegrafo) in the prime location of the city center. Literally, the perfect location. We spent the day and night in Havana and got a chance to walk around for ourselves, interacting with locals (although there were also a ton of tourists around), then taking a tour of the city in a classic convertible drop-top. We had a great driver and tour guide who gave some interesting insight into the history and future of Cuba, from a Cuban-resident’s vantage point. A grain of salt was taken.

After a long day, I managed to catch most of Game 3 of the NBA Finals on ESPN Deportes in my hotel room, until I fell asleep, midway through the 4th, with the Cavs having a relatively solid handle on that game. Of course, that means nothing playing against the Warriors. The next morning I found out the Cavs lost (down 0–3).


Light-bending night photography outside my hotel window.

Tangent pivot.

Time felt very limited in Havana. I’d say if you’re contemplating a trip, spend more than one day.

Met this nice dude on the street of Havana promoting an event later that night (I think).

A couple of things I managed to stick to while in Cuba:

  • Staying away from political conversations (lose-lose), also,
  • being willing to assimilate “as best as possible” to the language, food, and culture. Were there some awkward moments, yes, but what exactly did I have to lose?

Overall, a great experience. I’d go back.

© 2017 Marc Gomes. All Rights Reserved. All Images and Footage.