The Curated Guide to Cuba

Imagine a place stuck in the past, but yet striving to for a progressive future.  A place so vibrant in music, art, food, culture, color, and architecture that has inspired people all over the world.  People who have gone through so much, mostly living in poverty, yet are the happiest people in the world and want to give you everything.  This place is Cuba, and it stole my heart.

  My husband wanted to get away and enjoy some culture and we always gravitate towards Latin countries.  Let’s face it, they have some of the best food and know how to have a great time.  With tickets on JetBlue for only $275 RT and an hour flight from Ft. Lauderdale it was a no brainer.  I had to put together a guide to Cuba because I want to share my experience and encourage people to go there and visit.  Out of all of the places I’ve been to in in the world including Asia, Europe, and South America, this is on my top 5 places I’ve ever visited.

I am encouraging everyone to go visit Cuba before the looming travel ban goes into effect.  It’s too close not to go, and when you get there you’ll feel like your a world’s away.  Perfect for a romantic getaway, family trip, or a girls weekend away, your guaranteed to have a great time.  I’m looking forward to going back with my kids so they can experience it and come back with a new perspective on life.

View more to read about my detailed guide & outfits in beautiful Havana.

Leaf print top and shorts set from Mulberry & King // Luxury Wig Flatscreen sunglasses by Raen $150 // Goldbug Short Station necklace $130 and Goldbug bangles $85 each from Croghan’s Jewel Box // Gold tote bag $22 from Tres Carmen // Spa sandals by Corso Como $55.99 from Bluefly

Day 1: The first day we got in we explored our neighborhood, which was conveniently located in the heart of old Havana.  We stayed in an apartment in the center of everything so it was easy to walk everywhere.  The colors and textures of the buildings were so beautiful, and the vintage cars everywhere made it hard not to stop and take a picture every second.

I loved seeing all the cute pups everywhere.  I’m so use to visiting third world countries where mangey stray dogs roam the streets on their own, but here in Havana people really love their dogs and cats and treat them like they’re a part of the family. We noticed a lot of dachshunds everywhere which made us extra happy.  They call them Salchichas, which mean little sausages.

Our short day wrapped up perfectly with a walk on the Malecon watching the sunset.  The Malecon is the sea wall that stretches for miles in Havana. People of all ages hang out here all day and night and you can always catch a different salsa band playing music every few feet.

Day 2:  We wanted to take in some art so ventured to Fusterlandia, 20 minutes outside of Havana.  Located in a residential neighborhood, it’s a mini city covered in mosaic tile.   Artist Jose Fuster dedicated decades of his life bringing vibrant beauty to his neighborhood. Inspired by Gaudi, Jose Fuster created a psychedelic wonderland that had us in awe.  Mr. Fuster opens up his private compound for free for people to enjoy and take pictures.  You can’t go inside of his house, but there’s plenty to see outside.  Afterwards our driver took us to El Laurel, a restaurant on the water overlooking Hemingway Marina. It was a very local spot, we were the only non-Cubans there.

Beck overalls in Bahama Momma $180 and Lola Top in Joshua Tree $75 by The Royal Native // Potrero sunglasses by Raen $185 // Rings by Ash Hoffman // Earrings and bracelet by Goldbug Sullivan’s Island  // Birkenstock Arizona Metallic Copper Leather Flat Sandals from Asos $119

That night we took a short walk to Parque Central which seems like the epicenter of old and new in Havana.  Historical hotels mix with new posh accommodations with all of the vintage cars you could ever dream up line up ready to take you on a tour of the city.  First we had to grab a daiquiri at Floridita, the legendary bar that Hemingway use to hang out in. A live salsa band played as we sipped on our yummy frozen concoctions. 

I was dying to take a picture with a car that matched my dress and found the perfect 1950’s Buick.  The drivers usually charge $50 an hour for a tour but we haggled him down to $30.  Nothing beats a ride in a vintage convertible in the beautiful city of Havana.  That night we went to the legendary Cabaret Parisien show at Hotel Nacional.  This is the historical hotel is where all the notorious gangsters hung out in the 40’s.  The cabaret show was filled with showgirls in elaborate costumes dancing to live music and singing, and also included a magic show and a cirque de soleil-esque performance.

Strapless fit and flare midi dress by Rachel Roy $179 // Earrings by Goldbug Sullivan’s Island  // Rings and cuff by Ash Hoffman // Bailey sunglasses $50 by Blue Planet Eyewear // Harah sandals by Pelle Moda $159.95 from Nordstrom

Day 3: The heat of the city was starting to get to us so we made a plan to make this a beach day.  We heard that Veradado was the beach to go to, but 2 hours hours away and a $150 cab ride was a big deterrent.  We decided to take the $5 bus 30 minutes away to the locals beach – Santa Maria.  We took the last stop on the bus which dropped us off in front of a hut that served fresh pina coladas out of a pineapple.  As we walked over the sandy hill to the beach we took in the view of the bluest water.  After living in the Lowcountry with greenish brown ocean water, this was paradise. We had lunch at Ranchon Don Pepe where a live salsa band played and I had to get up and dance.  It’s hard to sit still when the best music is going off right next to your table. 

Dress by Storia $46 and sunglasses by Quay from Tres Carmen // Necklace, earrings and anklet by Ash Hoffman // Turkish towel worn as a turban by Charleston Weekender from Cannonborough Collective // Buckled detail sliders by Birkenstock $29 from Far Fetch

Hibiscus one piece in Azalea print by Citrine Swim

Beach caftan coverup in Little Palms $70 and silk scarf in Little Palms $122 by The Blush Label

That night we went to La Guarida, the trendy restaurant and rooftop bar that everyone including Food & Wine Mag told me not to miss.  Located in the Vedado neighborhood 15 minutes from old Havana, the deteriorating palace turned hotspot was pretty incredible. Don’t count on grabbing dinner unless you made reservations in advance.  Instead we had drinks on the rooftop bar that overlooks the beautiful decay of Havana with a great view of the sun setting on the water. It’s so easy to meet people in Cuba and made fast friends with the people sitting next to us. We met an art dealer from Pasadena, her Paraguayan art broker, and a lovely couple from Bath, England. The beautiful thing about Havana is that the coolest spots are always tucked away.  We all had dinner and more drinks at El del Frente, a trendy restaurant serving amazing food and the most creative cocktails I’ve ever seen.  We barely made it to the next spot called Roma which is a terrace bar filled with all the young hot things.  I loved seeing the locals getting down to 90’s hip hop.  But it was so unbearably hot we had to dip and call it a night.

Dress from Dress Up $38.99 // April Fringe Sandal by Pelle Moda from Nordstrom $164.95 // Goldbug large drop earrings $115 and Goldbug love train cuff $165 from  Croghan’s Jewel Box //  Opal and Diamond Ring 18k yellow gold $1,350 from Gold Creations // Sunglasses by Quay from Maris DeHart

Day 4: We wanted to take in some art at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de La Habana which was 2 blocks away from our apartment.  This museum of fine arts is filled with Cuban art collections from the Colonial times to modern contemporary art that is taking the city by storm.  We took a cab to the Cristo de La Habana statue where we had a beautiful panoramic view of the city.

We wanted to explore more of Havana so we went straight to Plaza Vieja. A popular tourist destination, but a must to visit, this 16th century plaza is filled with great restaurants and live music.  We ate at the retro inspired La Vitrola and opted for their Cuban sandwiches.  Gus got their famous drink which is an overturned bottle of beer in a goblet of frozen mojito.

One of the many things that I love about Havana is the hidden art that you’ll find if your willing to explore.  We could see this overgrown courtyard from the street and decided to peek our heads in.  We found beautiful murals in a space that I could only imagine having the best parties.

Romper from House of Sage $66 // Sunglasses by Quay from Style Dwell // Necklace, rings, and cuff by Ash Hoffman // Earrings by Goldbug Sullivan’s Island

That night we had dinner at Cha Cha Cha, a new restaurant located just a block from our apartment.  I had to order my usual, a frozen mango drink.  I probably ate the best risotto I’ve heard had in my life there. 

Bodysuit by Mink Pink $52 and skirt by Gracia $76 from Tres Carmen // Rings by Ash Hoffman // Bangles and rice bead rings from from Gold Creations // Bailey sunglasses $50 by Blue Planet Eyewear // Harah sandals by Pelle Moda $159.95 from Nordstrom

Afterwards we took a walk on the Paseo Del Prado, a long walkway where Chanel had their famous cruise runway show last year.  On our way back home we stumbled upon a photo gallery where a young photographer Adrian Garcia Garrido was showing his look into Havana life through his lens.  His intimate, in the moment black and white photos were only $20 so I had to scoop up an original print that’s one of a kind.

Day 5: We loved the beach so much and needed to get in that clear blue water again before left so we went back again.  This time we were joined with Maria, our host and her family and our new friends from Japan. 

Dress by Umgee $46 and Sunglasses by Quay from Style Dwell // Buckled detail sliders by Birkenstock $29 from Far Fetch

That night we went to Fabrica De Arte Cubano, a multiplex of coolness. The former cooking oil factory and adjacent converted shipping containers are now filled with music venues, 7 bars, a restaurant, and art galleries including an Adidas sponsored exhibition featuring re-imagined sneakers.  This place blew our minds!  I’ve never seen anything like this and never expected it in a country like Cuba.  It just proves that the youth here is exploding with ideas and innovation.

Dress from House of Sage // Earrings by Goldbug Sullivan’s Island

Day 6:  We only had 3 hours left to do some exploring so our host Maria took us on a whirlwind tour of historical sites. We toured the former church and convent of San Francisco De Asis which is now a concert hall where you can watch live music on Saturday and Sunday nights.  When we went there a young pianist and trumpet player were practicing together.  We climbed to the very top and caught breathtaking views of the city.  Next we went to Camara Oscura, an early version of a video camera invented by Leonardo da Vinci.  Striking real-time images of the city are projected into the dark room that is located at the top of this building. On the way back to our apartment we stopped into the exotic Casa de los Arabes, the Arabic Museum where peacocks roam free. We wrapped up our tour but not without picking up a couple of bottles of Havana Club rum that cost us only $4.

Linen blends woven tie strap dress from Lilla P $178 // Potrero sunglasses by Raen $185 // Necklace by Ash Hoffman // Birkenstock Arizona Metallic Copper Leather Flat Sandals from Asos $119

Tips – if you don’t speak Spanish, definitely hire a guide.  If you want to go rogue then print a map of Havana before you leave home.  Wifi is close to non-existent so you have to plan as much as possible.  Pack like your camping, because there is no corner Walgreens where you can pick up medicine or feminine products. Exchange American dollars to Euros or Canadian dollars before you leave the states for a better exchange rate.  They don’t take credit cards and finding an atm is almost non-existent so you have to know how much money you want to bring ahead of time.  We spent $1,400 for the two of us for 6 days and that included our accommodations which was only $50 per night. I highly recommend staying at a paladar which is an apartment or someone’s home instead of a hotel which are run by the government so the locals don’t benefit much from it.  I’m happy to share my host Maria’s info if you email me or you can find plenty of places on Air bnb.  If you’ve been wanting to play professional photographer, this is your opportunity.  There are too many sites and moments to capture and I’m so glad we had the Fuji X-T20 which takes fantastic pictures and videos.

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