Traveling to Trinidad & Havana, Cuba: January 2017
A recap of my trip to Trinidad and Havana, Cuba in January 2017! Where we went, what we saw, and what we ate…
In the first week of January 2017, my best friend Paige and I travelled to Cuba! I’ve been dying to share a bit about my trip and the photos I took there, so here we go :) brace yourselves – this is going to be a LONG and VERY photo-heavy post. No judgment if you’re only here for the recipes – you can skip this one, because it’s solely a travel post.
On the night of New Years Day, we headed down to the Tijuana Airport, caught a flight to Mexico City, bought our Cuban Visas, and hopped on another flight to Havana. When we arrived…it felt like we were in a different land. The airport was bustling, and as soon as we arrived, we were off to change our money and find our driver. In Cuba, they have two types of currency, the CUC and the CUP. The CUP is reserved mostly for Cuban citizens, and we didn’t even encounter any during our time there. Tourists mostly deal in CUC, which is equivalent in worth to the US dollar – this makes things SO much easier when you’re shopping, because no need to convert the amounts in your head to figure out how much you’re spending.
We had both gotten enough Euros to last us the whole trip prior to flying over, because the US dollar is subject to a 10% tax. I’d recommend doing the same if you’re an American planning to go. We had also booked a driver online prior to our trip, because straight from the airport we were headed to Trinidad, a small beach town four hours away from Havana. Having been travelling for about 16 hours at that point thanks to a few delays, we were SO happy to not have to deal with negotiating a ride in Spanish right when we got there. The car service we used was called YotellevoCuba, and our driver was a sweet man named Manuel in a vintage blue Chevrolet.
We arrived at our Airbnb in Trinidad around 8:15 PM, and found our hosts waiting for us and our adorable turquoise room ready. Exhausted, we passed out.
Now for the photo onslaught! On our first day, we headed to Playa Ancon, a beach about 15 minutes from the city. We strolled, went snorkeling over a coral reef, and ate a delicious beach side lunch of fresh shrimp, fish, and rice.
Paige is SCUBA-certified and has dived all over the world…clearly, she knows how to take a cute underwater pic, unlike me flailing to stay underwater 😂
This is the boat that took us out on the water – it was $10 each to go snorkeling for the hour. SO worth it, and so beautiful.
My lunch! Not the best food photography I’ve ever done, but it was delicious. Super fresh flaky white fish.
It was a perfect, relaxing first day. Later that night, we wandered around Trinidad a bit and ate at El Dorado, which has been recommended to us by a few different people. We indulged in Ropa Vieja, Chicken with Garlic Sauce, and Paige’s favorite, boletas de queso…AKA cheesy balls :) unfortunately, we were seated on the rooftop terrace which was beautiful but way too dark to take photos, so no pics of that meal.
The next two days were spent wandering and exploring the streets of Trinidad! I have a ton of photos from our explorations of the town, so here we go…
Intermixed with the vintage cars were horse and buggies – we’d see these all over the streets and even on the main highways.
The photos above are from one of our favorite rooftop bars, Restaurante Rintintin! We didn’t eat here, just had a few drinks (Paige is drinking a Trinidad Colonial…which turned a way uglier color after it was mixed up) and watched the live band. So fun, and we ended up chatting with the people sitting next to us who happened to be from the same small part of San Diego we were from – small world!
I’m a sucker for pottery, so naturally this store we stumbled upon was one of my favorite finds of the whole trip. The first time we went, I only bought a few small bowls to photograph with…but I couldn’t stop talking about the store, so Paige insisted we find it again so I could get some vases too. I ended up with a whole collection of cute things, and now I have three white vases next to my TV, filled with dried flowers. I unfortunately have NO idea what the name of this place is, but if you wander Trinidad enough, you’ll find it. We did, twice :) oh, and the lady working there was the SWEETEST!
Stopped for an iced coffee and afternoon snack at La Reduccion, which was such a cute restaurant! The iced coffee tasted like a delicious milkshake – I was in heaven. I wish I had taken a picture of the bathroom here – sounds weird, but it was a HUGE room and so vintage and pretty. Scroll through their pics on TripAdvisor if you’re curious.
I love all the colorful houses and SO much greenery – like this cactus artfully weaving itself through the door.
The above photos are the view from the Bell Tower in Trinidad! Such a nice view from the top :)
This little fruit and vegetable stand was a few doors down from where we stayed – it was adorable, but I never got a photo of it when open. You’ll see more about the fruit and vegetable markets in Havana…
The two photos above shows the juxtaposition of Cuba well – the vintage car, motorbike cart, the horse and buggie, and newer government taxi…in front of a restored building, next to a crumbling one.
This adorable restaurant, Los Conspiradores, was another favorite – we can here twice within a few hours! It’s located right next to the main steps in Trinidad, and has a gorgeous bouganvillia covering. I was so starving I didn’t take a photo of the amazing lobster pasta I devoured, but I did get a shot of the delicious free starter they gave us – tomate y pan, or bread with tomatoes!
They had a super fun band playing, and our second stop was a round of drinks – a daquiri for a Paige, and a fresh pineapple juice for me :)
Cuban students wear uniforms through high school – I loved seeing all the school children in their uniforms! So adorable.
This is the main square of Trinidad, so gorgeously colorful, especially as the sun sets.
This was the Casa de la Musica – everyone would congregate on the steps all day for the WiFi (we never managed to track down internet cards in Havana though), and at night, there was dancing and music!
On our final day in Trinidad, we escaped the city to go hiking. I had read a lot about Topes de Collantes, a beautiful park pretty close to Trinidad. We decided on El Cubano hike, mostly because it ended with a waterfall that we could swim in. It was surreal – both the hike and the waterfall, and that hike was definitely one of my favorite parts of the trip. HIGHLY recommend you go there if you’re headed to Trinidad!
Just look at that water!! How could you not want to swim in there?! We didn’t want to leave.
The next day, we hopped in a cab with two other tourists for the long ride back to Havana! We got dropped at our Airbnb and walked down the Malecon for a bit, but unfortunately…Paige got a bit of food poisoning. We stopped for a quick dinner for me since Paige couldn’t eat and then just hung out in our Airbnb for the night.
Now, about that Airbnb – we LOVED it! It was an amazing 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom apartment on the top floor of a Havana apartment building. We had the whole apartment to ourselves, but for a small extra charge ($5) we got breakfast made for us every morning by the nicest man named Ephrahim. He made us fruit plates, eggs, bread, fresh juice (!!!), Cuban coffee, and even a few Cuban breakfast specialities on some of the mornings. He spoke English, and was so helpful in answering any of our questions about Cuba or what to do and see.
The photo above was on the Cuban breakfasts he made us – I have no recollection of what it was called, but it was essentially a big fruit salad in a delicious frothy juice. I was obsessed with this. So good! Also, the bananas in Cuba are way better than the one’s here – SO sweet and delicious.
Our second day in Havana was still pretty low-key since Paige wasn’t feeling good still :( we hopped on one of those hop on-hop off buses to take us around the city, and we surprisingly got to see most of it that way. We passed by the Plaza de Revoluccion, where Fidel would give speeches to all the Cuban people, and you could imagine the thousands of people packed into the square. Some photos from the tour are below…
After the tour, we headed to a craft market called Almacenes San Jose on the Harbor that had been recommended to us by someone we met while hanging out on the stairs at Casa de la Musica in Trindad. I somehow didn’t take any pictures here, probably because I was so caught up in buying little knick knacks and souvenirs. I left with a whole bag of goodies though :)
That night was another low key one – we headed back to the Airbnb early and ate snacks for dinner, since Paige was still not doing so hot. It also started pouring that day while we were in the market, so we were happy to be back inside and DRY!
The next day, Paige was finally feeling better again – thank goodness, because we had lunch reservations at La Guarida! This was a must-do recommendation from everyone we spoke to, and it was amazing. It’s a restaurant famous for hosting pretty much every famous person who visits Havana, and the food was pretty spectacular.
When you walk into the building, it doesn’t exactly seem like you’re going to a fancy restaurant. The lower levels of the building are crumbling, but it’s obvious this was at one point a grand, beautiful mansion.
We found the restaurant on the top floor and happily settled in for lunch, taking in the ornately and uniquely decorated surroundings. Photos of the famous celebrities and politicians who had been there before graced the walls, along with stained glass windows and unique artwork.
And our meal was SO delicious! We started off sharing the duck salad, which came with a crispy piece of duck on the side that was pretty outrageously good. The yellow sauce was tangy and scrumptious too – cut through the fattiness of the duck perfectly.
For my main, I wanted the oxtail risotto SO bad…and I was devastated when I ordered it and was informed they had sold out for the day. At lunch! So instead, I ordered the Lobster with Rice dish, and while it wasn’t oxtail risotto, it certainly did not disappoint.
I think Paige’s Honey-Glazed Chicken was even better though! The chicken was perfectly cooked with crispy skin and an outrageously flavorful sauce that was slightly sweet, a little tangy, and thoroughly delicious.
We topped it off with a deconstructed lemon almond pie that we had been eyeing the table next to us eating throughout the meal. It was as delicious as it is beautiful, and has me dreaming up some lemon meringue desserts to create at home :)
The bathroom, below, was also beautiful and unique.
We were STUFFED after our meal, so we took a looooong walk and ended up wandering the streets of Havana until it got dark. On our way, were stopped by the famous La Floridita.
Translating to “Little Florida,” La Floriditia is famous for their daiquiris and for being a favorite haunt of Ernest Hemingway. We wandered in, found it packed with other tourists, and decided to bail for a bar down the street. We couldn’t stand to wait around for a cocktail, and it seemed a little overrated. Luckily, we found daiquiris that I’m sure were just as delicious a few doors down. Still stuffed from our lunch, we skipped dinner that night and headed home for a good night of sleep :)
The next day was our last full day in Havana! :( We got up and at ’em early, and headed for the Plaza Vieja in Old Havana because I was DYING to go the Museo de Chocolat – the chocolate museum! It was less of a museum and more of a cafe, but it was so worth the trip and the line to get in.
The hot chocolate was so thick it was like drinking straight up chocolate ganache (because it probably was) and I loved watching the chocolatiers making their chocolates in the glass kitchen.
When our bellies were full of warm chocolate, we headed through Plaza Vieja (below) and wandered around the Old City a little bit.
Then we headed to the Museo de la Revolccion, located in the old Presidential Palace. It was amazing to learn about the Cuban Revolution history, especially in a building that held so much history. The building itself had been decorated by Tiffany’s of New York way back in the day, and the Hall of Mirrors was particularly beautiful, despite having been under construction while we visited.
After the Museo, we headed back to Old Havana to visit the Havana Club Rum Factory. The actual museum was closing right as we arrived, so we headed to the bar for a glass of 20 year old rum. Or should I say…Paige had a glass. I took a sip of hers, took a picture, and handed it right back. Straight rum is not for me, aged or not. My face was NOT smiling like that right after I took a sip 😂
Next, we headed to the Hotel Nacional for a drink on the terrace, and ended up exploring the bunkers where the nuclear weapons were being held during the Cuban Missile Crisis. It was more than a little trippy being down there, and you could feel the sense of history. The Hotel Nacional was a grand, beautiful building on the water, so it was bizarre that it had such an ominous history in connection to the U.S.
Also at the hotel, we got coffee and bought a cigar that we never ended up smoking because it fell apart in Paige’s purse. Oops.
After the hotel, we headed for Burner Brothers Bakery, which Paige had seen featured on The Profit. I couldn’t visit Cuba without visiting at least one bakery, obviously. This stop was a verrrry good choice.
I didn’t get great photos, but we made wonderful choices. I needed something with guava, so we got the Guava Cheesecake. It was luxuriously smooth with a tart guava jam topping – this cheesecake is begging for me to recreate it as soon as I can figure out where to get some guavas. We also got a dulce de leche filled profiterole – HOLY COW, this was amazing. But really – can dulce de leche ever do any wrong? Just look at how filled and delicious it was ^^^
Third, but not really pictured, we got a small lemon tart. This tart was perfect. I usually don’t love lemon-y desserts because they tend to be too sweet with not enough tart, but the curd in this tart was super tart, and provided the perfect flavor foil to the sweet meringue on top. We left stuffed and so happy. I feel like you definitely can’t go wrong no matter what you order though – everything was tried was pastry perfection!
The bakery turned out to be pretty close to our Airbnb – thankfully we didn’t know that for the whole trip or we would’ve been there every day. We wandered back home to get ready for our dinner reservations at El Cocinero.
El Cocinero came highly recommended, especially because it’s on top of Fabrica de Arte – a warehouse space that has been converted into a Berlin-like maze of art galleries, bars, music rooms, movie theatres, dance rooms, and restaurants. We were dying to go, but unfortunately, it was closed for renovations the whole time we were there :( another trip to Havana is definitely in order so I can go there…
Anyways, El Cocinero, despite not being able to go to Fabrica de Arte after, was still amazing, and my favorite meal of the trip. I was too focused on devouring everything to take a photo of our food, but OMG. We got a Duck Belini, which was essentially a crepe with pulled duck in the middle served with a creamy, yogurt-y sauce. I was in HEAVEN eating it. We also got a salad on the side that was full of goodies. Of course, we were enjoying our final mojitos too :)
We both got filet mignon for dinner, and that definitely didn’t disappoint either. For dessert, we demolished a slice of Frozen Chocolate Pie – I’m already recreating it in my head for the site, don’t you worry.
That last night we slept well, and the next morning, we packed and got ready to go! Before breakfast, we took a final walk around Vedado, the neighborhood we were staying in. On our walk, we saw the Cuban version of a farmer’s market:
Since Cuban’s still receive government food rations, not including any fruits or veggies, the fruits and vegetables are all technically black market goods. They’re sold by the people who grow them on the sides of the road…or as you can see in the photo above, from the back of a car. You can’t really tell in my photo, but the backseat of that blue car was FULL of lettuce.
We headed back and had our final breakfast – Cuban pancakes, which were made with corn. They were not sweet, but so delicious – with a drizzle of honey, they were perfection. I can’t thank Ephrahim enough for all the delicious Cuban food he made for us and introduced to us. I wish I knew how to make it all…or at least what it was called.
As we wove back through the streets of Havana to the airport, it was surreal. Our trip was full of culture, delicious food, and some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met. Everyone in Cuba was so warm and welcoming, I couldn’t have asked for anything more. Never once did we feel unsafe, or scared, or threatened. A gorgeous country, with amazing people and an incredibly interesting history. If you’re considering the trip, I can’t recommend it enough. I’ve already insisted my family go visit, and if they do…I’m going back with them.
Feel free to ask any questions you have in the comments! Phew – mad respect if you got through this whole post, I know it was a long one. Back to our regularly scheduled recipes on Monday!
What a great review of our trip!! SO much fun and miss you already! Time to plan our next adventure….
Yesss we need to plan our next adventure! You’re the best Paigey
That is insane about the fruits & veggies! Everything looks so incredibly Hollywood there. I love it!
Right?! Our host in Havana told us he went out to source our fruits for breakfast every morning by going to his friends that sold each of the fruit types. Such a different life. I can’t imagine not being able to walk into a grocery store to get everything I need! Thanks Megan!
Oh, Rachel! You and Paige are two lucky beautiful young ladies. You should be Cuba’s tourist spokespeople! I don’t know how you pack so much into your life and you get so much out of it. How did you get to travel to Cuba? What was the process for what I am guessing was an “educational” trip? Was it like booking any other flight and trip? Thank you for sharing.
Hi Amanda – you’re so sweet, thank you so much! I should’ve gone into that on the post. We went via the “people to people” reason, which was qualified just by interacting with the Cuban people, so staying in Airbnb’s or “casas particulares” as they’re called there qualified it. But the only time we were even asked about that was boarding our flight to Havana. They gave us a sheet of paper, we listed our name and checked the right box, and that was the last we heard about it. I think they’re a lot more lenient about it these days! Let me know if you have any other questions about it :)
Oh Rachel — what an amazing trip! Your photos are stunning and you two are so adorable. You must’ve had such a great time! I’ve never been to Cuba but would love to go…and I love Cuban food! The food, coffee, and sights all looked wonderful — thank you for sharing so many beautiful photos!
Thank you so much Marcie! The food was seriously amazing – I barely got photos of it because we were too busy stuffing our faces, haha! You’ve got to make the trip someday if you can :)
“Stuffing [your] faces?” Yeah, right! You two look like supermodels. I wonder if you are really eating your delicious treats, Rachel! You two are what we all strive to be. How do you do it?
You’re TOO sweet Amanda – though at 4’11” and 5’0, we’re definitely not tall enough to be supermodels, haha! And I certainly eat all my sweets – just working out and activity to go along with it :)
Wow, what a magical trip!!! I loved seeing all of your beautiful photos — such a cool place to visit. I know that you had the best time! Thanks for sharing. :)
Thanks a bunch Blair! It really was a magical trip.
This is such a wonderful post, Rachel :) Makes me want to pack my bags and head to Cuba right now! I love all of the pictures and all of the descriptions, so many vacation feels!
It’s such an incredible country, you’ve got to go someday! Thanks so much Gayatri :)
Well…… I am a little upset that you didn’t bring me with you… but maybe next time! ;) SO jealous! Makes me want some tropical sunshine in my life! I can’t wait to see how you use those gorgeous bowls :)
Wish you could’ve come along, Ashley – you’ve got to make the trip someday! I’ve already been using my cute bowls in lots of photos :)
I wolf down your words faster than a tasty goody … they bring so much of your senses directly to your reader … from your eyes, your tastes, and your heart. Thank you for sharing all of this with us – your blog, your site, your instagram. You are an amazing soul.
You’re too kind, Barbara – thank you so much! I so appreciate your kind and heartfelt words. I hope all is well with you and Irv!
Two beautiful young women on an amazing trip. So sweet. Made me nostalgic for the very long ago days :) I enjoyed this narrative and your photos very much. Please make us a recipe for the dulce stuffed profiteroles. Why didn’t I think of that?
Thank you so much, Jillian! I’ll definitely put it on my list of recipes to recreate – though I’ll definitely need lots of taste testers, or I’ll eat them all myself! They were so scrumptious.
Wow! So amazing. Thanks for sharing your great adventure. I have been wanting to go to Havana for some time. I am Canadian so I really haven’t had a great excuse…
I love your food features…obviously…that’s why I follow you! I really got a sense of your trip and your post did not seem long at all…I got swept up and almost felt like I was there with you and Paige! So if we all stop following you for your recipes you could be a travel blogger lol! I am looking forward to spotting some of your Cuban trinkets in you recipe pics!!
Keep up the great blogging….
P.S It was great reading something other Trump stuff today!!
I’m so glad you enjoyed reading the post, Kelly! I definitely want to start documenting more of my trips with blog posts, especially if you like reading about them. It’s always fun for me to have the posts to go back to and remember the trip as well. Glad I could provide a little reprieve from the Trump news, too :)
Rachel: Oh my God! You don’t know how many memories you have brought me back to me. I was born in Habana, Cuba. I left my beautiful Cuba when I was 12 years old. But I will definitely will go to see my Cuba again. Thank you so much for bringing me back so many good memories. For sure I’m going to look into that Airbnb. I love your recipes and look forward for them.
Oh it makes me SO happy to hear that Yolanda! I hope you get to go back one day soon – you’re from such a beautiful country. Definitely look into that Airbnb in Habana, it was a wonderful place to stay. Feel free to reach out if you have any other questions about the trip too!
What a beautiful trip and awesome post!! Also…omg $10 for snorkeling is SO WORTH IT
Right?! Everything there was so affordable – it was amazing!!
Thank you girls so much for all the pictures and all the posts and wonderful information about Cuba! My 5 friends and i are going in April we are all in are 70’s and want to see everything! We were going to do the airb&b and then saw an email about a tour guide that was charging $799.00, but you know how that goes it wound up to be 999. I think after seeing your blog we could do this a lot cheaper on our own. Thank you again!
Hi Joan – how fun to have a big girls trip!! It’s definitely pretty inexpensive there, but we found that anything that we organized prior to going cost more, because it’s hard to get Internet for them and they realize we’ll pay for the conveniences of already having it planned when we get there. You are going to have such a blast! Let me know if you have any more specific questions about anything – I’d be happy to share more in-depth logistical info with you. Have a great trip!!
Dear Rachel the trip looks amazing and the photos beautiful.
Loved reading about your adventure. Trips and sharing in posts like this are fantastic. Glad you guys had a great experience. Cuba is on our radar for sure. Thanks so much (finally got around to reading this one!) for the writing and the photos Rachel.
Thanks so much for your kind words, Kevin! We had a blast :) I’d definitely recommend visiting Cuba soon – it’s a place that’s hard to capture in photos and words.
Hello! Amazing post. I loved all your pictures! I’m planning on going to Cuba in February on my own. I’m curious, did you struggle trying to get WiFi to message friends/family back home? Thanks, Mal x
Hi Mal, you’re going to have such a blast! My friend and I definitely just accepted for the most part that communication would be an issue. I had AT&T and didn’t have service, but my friend with Verizon was able to send texts (it was just expensive) and we did go to a Wifi hotspot one day to check on the Internet. Wifi hotspots are around in most cities, and if you buy a wifi access card, you can sign in using your phone. Hope this helps!
Great experience, great photos! Our family trip to Cuba in 2018 ended with the kids crying in taxi on the way back to the HAV airport. We went to similar places like you and what we liked the most was Old Havana, El Nicho, Trinidad and Varadero sandy beaches. unforgettable experience and would recommend it to anyone!