Travel blog

Getting to Know Cuban Culture

For a small country, Cuba has a lot of soul. Cuba's location at the crossroads of the Caribbean and the United States made it a key trade hub for centuries, blending together Spanish, African, French, Amerindian Taino, and English walks of life to create a distinct culture. If you want to learn more about modern Cuban life, Cuban cuisine, local art, music and dance, the most popular sport in Cuba, politics and economics, the culture of Cuba, or just what makes an authentic cup of Cuban coffee so special, read on!

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Topics: Cuba, Planning a Vacation, Caribbean, Food and Dining

Best Places To Visit In 2019

Whether you’re chasing the sun, searching for fall foliage, or looking for your own winter wonderland, seasonal travel opens up a world of vacation possibilities… literally! Not only can you enjoy the best climate for your desired activities, you can also avoid crowds and make the most of your budget. Here’s a guide to the best places to visit in 2019 by season:

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Topics: Americas, Cuba, Europe, Hawaii, US National Parks

Cuban Customs: 15 Do's And Don'ts For Visiting Cuba

Time stands still on the Caribbean’s largest island. Classic Ford Thunderbirds rumble along the seawall beside the crumbling Spanish-Colonial palaces peering out over the ocean. Cuba’s beauty disguises a complicated history that Americans are just now glimpsing for the first time in more than half a century. To see it for yourself, you’ll need to know the dos and don’ts of visiting this forgotten slice of paradise:

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Topics: Cuba, Travel Tips

The Ballad of the Buicks: Why So Many American Classic Cars are in Cuba

Chevy Bel Airs and Ford Thunderbirds still rumble down the Malecón in Havana, Cuba; 1950s American classics with polished chrome bumpers and candy-apple red paint jobs. Like something from an old movie set, the relics motor along the city streets and seaside boulevards and, for a cost, you can take a ride or pose for a photo with a piece of automotive history. But just where did all these Studebakers and Nash Ramblers come from? Why are there so many? And what do they have to say about the Cuban Revolution?

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Topics: Cuba, Caribbean

Top Travel Destinations for Fall

As summer is wrapping up, many of us are turning our attention to the fall travel season. Often over-looked, autumn offers many enticing reasons for an off-peak getaway. To begin with, the start of school, or as the Parisians call it, la rentrée, means many cities see little-to-no tourists in these months. In addition, even though the crowds have thinned, the weather remains pleasant and mild. Gone are the hot and humid days of summer and winter is still months away, making the climate delightful just about any place you get your passport stamped. From art festivals to harvest season, Oktoberfest to music festivals, now is the perfect time to hit the road and experience life as a local -- all for some of the lowest prices of the year.

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Topics: Cuba, Planning a Vacation, Europe, Travel Tips

Home Cooking: 5 Tips for Eating in Cuban Paladars

In Jose Fuster’s painting, The Last Supper, the 12 disciples crowd elbow-to-elbow around a plate of fish, hinting at an odd Cuban rule that allowed only a dozen guests to eat at one time in privately-owned home restaurants. Known as paladars, these family-run businesses are synonymous with Cuba and their popularity is on the rise in the Soviet-system where the state controls everything that ends up on the plate. However, recently the interpretation of a “living room” has broadened, making the definition of the paladars a bit more favorable and accessible. Here’s what you need to know about savoring Cuba’s authentic home dining scene:

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Topics: Americas, Cuba, Food and Dining

Bottoms Up! Sipping a Papa Doble in Havana

“This frozen daiquiri, so well beaten as it is, looks like the sea where the wave falls away from the bow of a ship when she is doing thirty knots.” - Ernest Hemingway, Islands in the Stream

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Topics: Cuba

Cuba’s Isle of Youth: The Story, The History, The Treasure

If Cuba is the forbidden fruit of travel, then the Isle of Youth is its most tempting indulgence.

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Topics: Cuba

Revisiting Papa’s Past: What to do in Hemingway’s Cuba

The letters, books, and records scattered throughout Finca Vigia are a snapshot in time, a picture of Lookout Farm as it was during the years Ernest Hemingway made his home here from 1939-1960. This was where he penned seven of his most famous novels, including The Old Man and the Sea and A Moveable Feast, and where he would pass his evenings listening to Gershwin tunes while sipping scotch.

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Topics: Cuba

Top Tips for Cuba: What Travelers Need To Know

Politics and Religion: Nowhere is the need to avoid controversial topics more important than on the small island 90 miles to the south of Florida. While many citizens will engage readily in a conversation about Fidel Castro, the eyes and ears of the Party still consider it unpatriotic to be critical toward the regime. That being said, be sensitive if your tour guide is reticent to discuss sensitive issues.

Visit a Paladars: Havana's paladars are a great way to explore the culinary history of Cuba. Until the 1990s, restaurants not owned by the government were illegal and so these small dining rooms began operating out of homes. As the definition of a “restaurant” expands, you can now find paladars in old mansions and penthouses as well as family residences. Make sure to sample the staples, like Cuban Creole, but also be open to the many other flavors peppering the culinary landscape.

Don’t Expect to Connect: It’s no secret Cuba has some of the planet’s worst Internet service. With severe state restrictions and awful connection speeds, just plan to leave your phone, your laptop, and your digital devices at home.

Money Matters: In Cuba, the dual currency system makes foreigners ripe for scams. Here’s what you need to know. National pesos are banknotes printed with head-and-shoulder images of Cuban leaders and used to pay local citizens. On the other hand, convertible pesos depict national monuments and are worth twenty-four times what national pesos are worth. They are used to pay for goods and services. Make sure that when you pay in convertibles you are given change in kind and not in national pesos.

Being American Still Has its Drawbacks: Even after President Obama’s recent visit, there are difficulties in visiting Cuba if you’re a U.S. citizen. For one thing, you can only travel to Cuba under specific circumstances, like a People-to-People trip like the ones offered by YMT Vacations. There’s also a 10 percent fee for changing US dollars into Cuban currency and your U.S. debit or credit card is not accepted on the island.

Carry Cash: In many places in Cuba, cash is the only form of payment for goods and services. Since cash machines are sparse, make sure to get money whenever you can, and make note of the operating hours for banks.

Beware Before Lighting Up -- Cigars sold by jineteros, or street hustlers, are rarely the real deal. Instead, purchase cigars from official stores known as Casa del Habano, or directly from the factory. You should also expect to pay for a premium product.

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Topics: Cuba