2 Days in Viñales: Stories from the Cuban Countryside

2 Days in Viñales: Stories from the Cuban Countryside

Cuba is the largest island in the Caribbean, stunningly diverse in both its geography and lifestyles. To have a more complete picture of the country, you have to travel outside of Havana. One of the best places to go, because of its proximity and beauty, is Viñales. Less than a three-hour drive outside the city, Viñales is a gorgeous farming community that envelopes you with its lush greenery, unexpected mountainscapes, and warm Cuban hospitality. Keep reading for the perfect two-day Viñales itinerary. 

Transportation

There are two convenient options for getting to Viñales from Havana. One is with the bus company called Viazul. They run daily bus trips to and from Viñales for $12 one-way. We originally planned to use Viazul for our trip; however, the routes were suspended due to the recent cyclone that had passed through the western part of the island. 

Plan B turned out to be a more convenient alternative but at double the price ($25/person one-way) We took a taxi colectivo which picked us up at our Airbnb and dropped us off at our accommodation in Viñales. A taxi colectivo means that you are sharing the car with at least one other person, with four passengers maximum in the car. You have to reserve a day in advance. Most likely the host of your room share or Airbnb can do this for you. If you’d like to reserve on your own, you can email me and I’ll share with you the contact information of our taxi driver. 🙂

DAY 1

Road Trip

Our taxi picked us up at 8:30 am and we rode to Viñales with two interesting Italian girls. I thought there might be some cute stops along the way, but there was none of that. Just a few random pan con lechón stands and smatterings of horse carriages and roadside breakdowns. If you need to use the bathroom, your driver will pull over on the side of the road and you can find yourself a nice bush. I chose to hold it.

Arriving in Viñales

Pulling into Viñales was like traveling back in time. Even though it seemed like we were in the middle of nowhere, there were people and animals everywhere. Ox-pulled carriages crowded the dilapidated country roads. Dogs happily trotted down the center lanes, nimbly dodging the passing cars without a care in the world. Dads were taking their daughters to school on horseback. Moms were outside hanging the laundry on the clotheslines. Beat-up classic cars swerved around potholes, leaving a trail of exhaust and dust clouds in their wake. All of this was taking place against the backdrop of verdant mountains, towering jungle-like palms, and rolling farmscapes. It was fascinating.

Villa Las Palmitas

The driver dropped the Italian girls off in town at their room-share, but we continued on, rumbling past the tiny city center and deeper into the countryside. Our driver was not in the best of moods, and it certainly did not help that our Airbnb was on the outskirts of town, past a flooded road, and up a bumpy grass driveway. But eventually, we arrived at Villa Las Palmitas and were greeted by our lovely host, Alexander. 

Alexander’s place sits on an idyllic hillside oasis, surrounded by mountains, palm trees, and chatty farm animals. We loved that the doors and windows to the villa were flung open. It invited a feeling of purity and clean energy that we happily embraced, along with a particularly friendly chicken who kept wandering inside. 

After the property tour, Alexander set us up with our excursion for the day, a farm tour complete with tobacco rolling, horseback riding, and homemade country cocktails. No more than twenty minutes after arriving our taxi driver was there to pick us up. 

Viñales Taxi Driver

The Viñales taxi experience was like something out of a movie. Our driver, Eddy, came lurching up the hill in his classic almendrón car and pulled up outside the villa. Not sure if it was just that they had the same name, but he reminded me so much of Cousin Eddie from Christmas Vacation. He just had that vibe about him. He apparently knew everyone in town, constantly yelling and waving out the window to people. Later when we asked him what we owed him, he responded, “Eh, whatever ya got.” 

Farm Tour

Price: Farm Tour & Horseback Riding – $5/hour per person 

Eddy dropped us off on the side of the road and we were promptly met by a farmer from Finca Pipo Perez. We quickly realized we’d made a grave mistake by wearing white shoes to a farm tour. It had been raining all day and the pathway to the farm was full of mud (fango). Things got interesting as we had to shuffle across a 2×4 over a river of muddy water and scramble up a steep hill, but we made it. 

Jerry was waiting for us on top. He looked like he could have been Bryan’s brother. I kid you not, I think they’re legit third cousins. Anyway, Jerry works there on the farm and he explained to us the tobacco growing and harvesting process in detail, demonstrating how to roll the leaves and giving us a cigar to try. He had us dip the end of the cigar in honey. Apparently, Che Guevara swore by this — he was asthmatic and claimed honey helped soothe his throat. Cada loco con su tema. I do think it makes for a nice flavor though.

While sitting there with Jerry, we also talked about their coffee bean harvest. Unfortunately, a cyclone had just passed through Viñales and had taken a great deal of their tobacco and coffee bean plants. But, we enjoyed the explanation and ended up buying a few cigars and a container of coffee beans. (I just prepared the coffee beans at home, and can confirm: el café está riquísimo). A woman also prepared for us their specialty farm cocktail with rum, honey, and coconut water. 

Horseback Riding

Showtime. A guy named Flaco came to set up with our horses. Mine was named Coco Loco, apparently, after the signature coconut cocktail at the bar we would be stopping at later. I remember thinking: 1. This is definitely my kind of horse. And 2. A bar in the middle of the boondocks? Is this Wisconsin? 

The first part of the journey was a bit rough. The path was full of “fango” — bright orange mud about a foot deep. The horses didn’t want to go in there any more than I did, and were frantically trying to climb up the sides of the path. My horse and I narrowly escaped a barbed wire entrapment while Bryan’s horse tried to jump over the fango, causing Bryan to almost fall off. Think ‘bucking bronco.’ Five minutes in and we were covered in fango, our shoes dyed an unfortunate orange. Flaco was stoic and professional, but I knew he had to be laughing at us on the inside.

An hour later we arrived at the bar and I let out a sigh of relief. I was alive and ready to order the highly anticipated Coco Loco. There at the bar, there were some practice horse races going on. Boys as young as eleven were riding bareback, their horses pounding wildly down the makeshift race track. The bartender prepared us our Coco Locos, (rum, coconut water, honey, and lemon), served inside the whole coconut with a straw. While we were drinking them, a farm dog named Grut came over to keep us company. When we finished the cocktail, they sliced up the coconut for eating. We devoured it. We were so hungry. We also gave quite a few pieces to Grut — he was apparently as hungry as we were. 

On the way back to Finca Pipo Perez, we stopped at a farm house paladar for a late lunch with Flaco. There were baby pigs and chickens everywhere. We sat at the back of the house facing the fields and placed our order. They brought us huge homestyle dishes of rice and beans, yuca, and cucumber. Bryan ordered ropa vieja and I had to go with a vegetarian option — fried egg. I was thrilled to be eating anything. Feeling satisfied and with renewed spirits, we got back on our mighty steeds and returned to the Finca. 

Buenas Noches

Eddy collected us at the Finca and took us to pick up some dinner in town. (Two cheese sandwiches with chips). Outside Viñales center, there was no electricity. Alexander had a generator which granted us electricity for a few hours out of the day, but otherwise, the countryside was pitch black. We showered in icy cold water and promptly passed out. I don’t know how many hours later I awoke to complete darkness. I felt like it had swallowed me up. I blinked wildly, trying to make out the shape of anything at all—nada. The feeling was one of claustrophobia. I flung my arm to the side various times, reassuring myself that Bryan was next to me. He was. Thank God. I thought, I am not cut out for this country life.


RECOMMENDED READ: THE TRAVELER’S GUIDEBOOK TO HAVANA, CUBA (2023)


DAY 2

Breakfast

I was never so happy to see the light of morning as waking up after that first night in Viñales. I threw open the windows and doors, giddy with relief. I even gladly welcomed back Juana, the persistent hen who seemed to think she had been upgraded to an indoor pet status. 

The day prior we reserved breakfast with Alexander for $5 per person. He served the meal on the back terrace, bathed in morning light and a gentle breeze. In Grand Cayman $5 at breakfast time gets me two croissants if I’m lucky. In Viñales it got us a thermos of coffee, freshly cut pineapple, eggs, ham and cheese sandwiches, a breakfast pastry, and enough bananas to feed a soccer team. 

Out on the Town

We called our old friend Eddy for a lift into the village center. We were on a mission to buy a Cuban SIM card from the Etesca office. They weren’t open yet, so naturally, we killed the time at a nearby bar with a couple mojitos. 

Viñales, despite being a country town, has a commendable offering of bars and restaurants on the main road, all with open-air terraced seating facing the street. We posted up at Bar Razones, y razones no nos faltaban 😉 Mojitos were 200 pesos and the activity from the street kept us more than entertained — ox-drawn carriages, idle military men, truckloads of intertown travelers, and a relentless parade of street dogs.  

After securing our SIM card, we went to a pizza stand and each ordered neapolitans and one jugo de guayaba. This is a quintessential Cuban “culinary” experience that cannot be passed up. The Neapolitan pizzas are 90 pesos, less than 1 US dollar, and taste like a cross between grilled cheese and Domino’s breadsticks. Muy cubano. 

We also visited a street market where we forfeited any sense of locality that had been earned at the pizza stand. We fell straight into the tourist trap, but left armed with a key chain, earrings, and Cuban figurines. If there’s one thing Bryan and I know how to do, it’s shop.

After shopping, we had a drink and appetizer at Bar Los Robertos. I ordered a banana-flavored daiquiri which was a horrible, horrible choice. Bryan ordered a mojito and we shared mariquitas. Thinking ahead to our evening sans electricity, a kitchen, and groceries, we ordered a pizza and some pasta to go. We would figure out how to heat them up later. 

Eddy, proving to be a very reliable taxista indeed, picked us up from Bar Los Robertos and took us back to our humble abode. 

Puppies

Remember how I said we had enough bananas to feed a soccer team? Well, I found out how we were going to ration them. Every time we rumbled up the driveway to the villa, a litter of four puppies would run out of a bush in reaction to the noise. At that point in the Cuba trip, I had already caressed a startling amount of stray animals, so there was nothing stopping me from loving on these bush puppies. We hand fed them banana chunks, which they seemed to love. Clearly, bananas are not dog food, but it’s the best we could do. The poor things didn’t even have their eyes open all the way and Mom was no where in sight. 🙁

Cuba

R&R

I had to tear myself from the puppies, even though I was ready to pack them in my suitcase… Back at the villa, we enjoyed our cigars from Finca Pipo Perez, read our books, and fed the neighbor donkey some grass. There were no distractions, minus Juana, our pet chicken, and the oinks of a pig whose owner was late for supper time. It was a setting that allowed us to be completely in the present. We felt gratitude for our trip to Viñales and the people we had met along the way.

The Darkness Returns

Night felt swift and heavy on the Villa, but luckily, Alexander came around 7:30 to turn on the generator, so we could have electricity for a couple hours before bed. He was also generous enough to heat up our pasta and pizza from the restaurant earlier. (There was a kitchen next door to our villa). We skipped the shower, still scarred from the icy water from the night prior. Once we’d eaten, we turned in for an early bedtime. There are plenty of bars in town that lend themselves to a nightlife crowd, but we were several miles out of the way. We couldn’t bother cousin Eddy to pick us up and we didn’t want to end up stranded at midnight. 

Adiós Viñales

I slept much better the second night, leaving a window open to let in a tiny bit of illumination from the moon and stars. I at least didn’t feel like I was inside a coffin anymore. The next morning, we arose early. Alexander was coming to prepare us breakfast again before our taxi driver picked us up. We enjoyed another incredible spread, complete with coffee, eggs, sandwiches, and fruit. I saved all of the ham in a crumpled napkin for the bush puppies.

We packed our bags, said goodbye to Alexander, and hopped in the taxi. On the way to the main road, we asked the driver to pull over so I could give the bush puppies their ham. Big improvement from the banana dinner the night before. We picked up a Norwegian couple on the way out of town, rolling past the ox-pulled carriages and guajiros of Viñales, the mountains disappearing in the rearview mirror. 

I was so thankful we had visited, and satisfied with the amount of time we had spent. It granted us a distinct perspective of Cuba and the diverse lifestyles within such a large country. The pace of living is much slower, which comes with its own kind of beauty and unique values. We loved getting to know Flaco and the people at Finca Pipo Perez. We also loved our stay with Alexander at the Villa, and being so close to nature. 

I recommend Viñales to anyone who is visiting Cuba and has a day or two to spare. You will leaving with a renewed sense of peace, and maybe even a puppy.

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The Traveler’s Guidebook to Havana, Cuba (2023)

The Traveler’s Guidebook to Havana, Cuba (2023)

My first trip to Havana was a long time in the making. I have wanted to visit ever since meeting my husband, Bryan in 2015; it’s where he was born and spent the better part of his childhood. If you’ve ever met Bryan, you know his contagious energy, brimming with vibrance and with a healthy dose of ‘guapería’– a Cuban word meaning confidence. He’s the kind of guy that seems to know everyone. A guy that can break into a salsa dance at the drop of the hat. I learned over time that many of these traits were greatly influenced by his Cuban roots and formative upbringing in La Habana. For this reason, I had to see for myself the place that he called home for so many years; the land of music, mojitos, and ‘asere qué bola.’ 

Everyone will experience Cuba differently. My experience was unique given that I had my own Cuban ‘insider’ with me at all times. Also, being fluent in Spanish was definitely a bonus. At any rate, you can have a great time in Cuba no matter where you are from or your level of Spanish.

In this Guidebook to Havana, I share recommendations for where to stay, restaurants, bars, and things to do. I will also give details on transportation, what to pack, as well as how to exchange money, and get a Cuban SIM card. I hope you find it insightful!


Entering the Country

There has been quite a bit of confusion given the recent news of US labeling Cuba a “state sponsor of terrorism.” The warning is that anyone who has been to Cuba and obtains Esta clearance for the US could in theory be turned away upon arrival. I myself am not an Esta holder, but I can speak about my customs experience with my US passport (traveling from Cayman). I purchased a visa at the Cayman Airways counter for around $40. When I arrived in Cuba, I presented to the customs agent my passport and visa and asked them to please not stamp my passport. They said not to worry and instead stamped my visa. Everyone I’ve spoken to has said the same–they asked for the passport not to be stamped and the agent obliged without any question. 


Where to Stay

While in Cuba, we stayed at three different Airbnbs. One near El Capitolio, one in Viñales, and the last in La Habana Vieja, right next to La Bodeguita del Medio. I highly recommend Airbnb over a hotel because it will provide a much more immersive vibe. In the hotels, you will be surrounded by tourists and given a more cookie-cutter experience. The Airbnbs, on the other hand, will have you smack in the middle of an authentic neighborhood, living life a lo cubano. 

My favorite Airbnb was Lizandra’s rental unit on Calle Cuba, by La Bodeguita. It’s a spacious one-bedroom that emanates a vintage traveler aesthetic. The French doors open up onto the balcony, overlooking the bustling Calle Cuba. The sounds of salsa from La Bodeguita blend together with neighborhood chatter to set a perfect backdrop for espresso-sipping and people-watching. 


Money Exchange

Most Cuban businesses are currently accepting US dollars, euros, and la moneda nacional (AKA pesos or CUP). We took out all the money we needed for our trip in USD at a Cayman ATM. There are ATMs in Cuba that accept major bank cards like MasterCard and Visa, but we didn’t want to risk it. The current exchange rate (which fluctuates a lot) is 160 pesos to 1 US dollar on average. At Cadeca, the exchange rate is 110 to 1 US dollar.

You can pay with US dollars anywhere (except the airport), and they will give you your change in pesos. People will also approach you to exchange in the street for up to 200 pesos, but these situations call for a bit more skepticism. There is some risk your change could be counterfeit. You should always ask what the exchange rate is before handing over money so you can check that you have the correct change. You will use your calculator a lot. Good thing I had my accountant with me! 

*In certain restaurants and bars, it is better to pay in pesos. For example, in La Bodeguita del Medio, a mojito was 200 pesos (roughly USD $1.50), but if you pay in USD, it’s $5.00. 


How Much Money to Bring

It depends on your budget. We ate in restaurants two to three times a day, drank our weight in mojitos, took a trip to Viñales, went horse-back riding, did a classic car excursion, and bought gifts and cigar boxes to take home. All of this considered, we spent roughly USD $80 per day per person. Basically, we went all in. You could definitely get by on much less, but it depends on what you want out of the experience. The most expensive meal we had was $90 total at La Guarida and the cheapest was $1.50 at a street pizza stand. So, yeah—lots of room for budgeting.


Phone Usage / Data

It is possible your Airbnb will provide a Cuban SIM card—message before and ask. Our first Airbnb loaned us two SIM cards, included with our stay, our second offered nothing, and our last Airbnb was renting them for twenty euros a day (don’t fall for that). What I recommend is finding an Etesca office. There are quite a few in central Habana and La Habana Vieja, open from 9-5 pm, some until 7 pm. There, you buy a SIM for USD $10 which comes with 3.5G. You will also be able to call and text. This should last you quite a few days, but you can add more data at the offices for $2 for 2 gigs. Don’t forget to bring your passport, as they won’t let you buy a SIM without it.


Transportation

The best way to maneuver around La Habana is by taxi or on foot. There are many different kinds of taxis which I will explain below. There is no Uber, but apparently, there is an app that is similar, called La Nave. We did not use it, but it’s worth checking out. 

From Airport

When you leave the airport, you can expect a taxi driver to approach you in a matter of ten seconds. They are quick. The average rate is $30 to Havana, so if someone tries to charge you more than that, you have some wiggle room to negotiate. 

Coco Taxi

These are the adorable yellow three-wheelers that are shaped like, you guessed it–coconuts! This was my absolute favorite way to get around Havana because I had a front-row seat to the city. You notice things that are simply unobservable from inside a car. If you’re lucky, your coco taxi engine will die and the driver will recruit you and a random bystander to help push it back into life. No, I’m serious. “Oye, hermano–échame un cabo!” Havana at its finest. Average fare: USD $5-10. A lot of negotiating can be done here. 

If you want to sound like you know what you’re talking about, you can ask in Spanish: “¿Te cuadran cinco dólares para ir hasta Hotel Nacional?” It means, does five bucks sound good to you to go to…[insert your destination]. If you really want to come off local, you can throw in an “oye mi hermano” at the beginning.

Bicycle Taxi

We never took one, but it wasn’t for a lack of offers. They are similar to Coco taxis in that there is one “driver” and space for two people in the back. Great for short distances at a low price. The bikes all have names and the drivers like to blast reggaeton, so you definitely won’t be bored with this taxi ride. 

Yellow Taxi & Almendrón

There are plenty of your standard yellow taxis as well as the classic almendrón car. The almendrón taxis are harder to spot, as there are hundreds driving around at all times. Look out for the taxi sticker on the windshield, or just hold out your hand on the sign of the road, and eventually, someone will stop for you. 

Taxi Colectivo

This could be in a yellow taxi, almendrón, or even a sidecar motorbike. Colectivo just means ride-sharing AKA “fill the vehicle up.” Our taxi to Viñales was a Colectivo. We shared it with two Italian girls on the way there, and a Norwegian couple on the way back. You never know who you may meet in the back of a taxi! 


Things to Do

Havana has something for everyone. I will tell you upfront that Bryan and I are not museum people, and we have an acute aversion to cut-out experiences. For that reason, we did very few organized activities on our trip and we didn’t go into a single museum. We like to wander and go with the flow, preferably with a drink in hand. In my opinion, this is the best way to travel. Now that you know this about us, let’s see what there is to do in Havana!

Classic Car Tour

This is the one organized tour we did in Havana and would highly recommend it to visitors. Alain and Daimir took us on a two-hour tour around Havana in their pink, 1952 Ford Mercury convertible. They of course gave us a lot of historical info on Havana, but what was cooler than anything was getting to know them personally and seeing Havana through their eyes. Tours prices are between $20-$30 per person per hour. The cars are all parked in front of Hotel Inglaterra by El Capitolio. If you want to guarantee great guides in a cool car, email me for Alain’s contact info. 

Live Music

Live bands are everywhere in La Habana! Walking around, you will hear salsa rhythms echoing throughout the streets. There’s no need to plan in advance, just let the son cubano guide you. The spots that guarantee live music almost all day are La Bodeguita del Medio, La Floridita, and La Vitrola–but live music can be found everywhere in La Habana Vieja.

Ride in a Coco Taxi

It’s more than just transportation! It’s the best way to see and feel the city. You can ride the entire length of El Malecón, wind in your hair, sea spray on your face–¡que rico! 

Buy / Smoke Cigars

From day one in La Habana, people will constantly be asking you if you want to buy cigars. They make wonderful gifts and it is legal to travel internationally with two boxes per person. Walking through the streets of Havana with a cigar balanced between your lips is a total vibe. This was Bryan basically the whole trip; I just enjoyed the occasional, sophisticated puff á la Sex in the City. 

Our purchasing experience was interesting, to say the least. A guy approached us, and asked if we wanted to check out “La Feria de los Puros.” The Cigar Festival… “Happening this week only.” I don’t know what I was envisioning, but where we ended up was far from a festival. The man took us on a ten-minute walk to a ramshackle building, down a dark hallway, and into a tiny room that featured a collection of cigar boxes and a haphazard shrine for the Orishas. From there, I silently watched as Bryan negotiated the boxes to nearly half the original price they were offering. I also petted a dog. We walked away unscathed and with lots of puros. 

Drink Rum

Never in my life had I ingested so much rum as I did in Havana. Cuba has a kind of transformational power that turns White Claw-drinking girls like me into rum and cigar aficionados. WHO HAVE I BECOME? You have to, of course, go to La Bodeguita for their famous mojitos and La Floridita for their daiquiris. You can also vary your rum drinks with the Ron Collins, which I really enjoyed, or the classic Cuba Libre. 

Walking Tour / People Watch

Turn on your anthropological lens and take to the streets. Everywhere you go, you’re enveloped by the movement and vibrance of the city; it’s enrapturing. Havana is like the Manhattan of the Caribbean, cloaked in color, music, and 1950s car fumes. On one single street, you’ll see a dog riding a scooter, a Yoruban Santo head-to-toe in white, and a vendor yelling about his ice cream bars. You’ll hear salsa rhythms, reggaeton, crying babies, “Oye, mi hermano’s,” and the rumbling of beat-up almendrones. It’s equal parts exhausting and addicting.

El Bosque

El Bosque de La Habana is an unexpected oasis of greenery in the middle of the city. There you can take a peaceful time-out alongside the Río Almendares. Alain told us that it considered a holy place, where Cubans of the Yoruban faith come to worship Oshun, the river deity and Orisha of divinity, femininity, fertility, beauty and love. Women especially will come to the Bosque and make a small offering ot the river.

There is also a small bar at the entrance where they give you full reign of the rum bottles. Order a mojito and treat yourself to a holiday pour.

El Malecón

Since hearing the song Hasta Que Se Seque El Malecón by Jacob Forever, I have been dying to see the emblematic five-mile sea wall that serves as a common hangout for Cubans of all ages. I knew it was popular, but I didn’t expect a New Years’ Eve-level turnout on an average Saturday night. All along the sea-sprayed stretch, you’ll find couples, friends groups, and families chilling and enjoying music, food, and unas cervecitas. There are pop-up vendors selling canned beer and street food like pizzas and pan con lechón. This is the place to be if you’re looking for full Cuban immersion and nightlife al aire libre. 


RECOMMENDED READ: NIGHT LIFE: WHERE TO GO OUT IN GRAND CAYMAN (A WORKING LIST)


Restaurants and Bars

We ate and drank our way through the city. Here are our favorite bars and restaurants–places worth repeating! I am going to start with the most famous and obvious spots: La Bodeguita and La Floridita.  

La Bodeguita del Medio

My favorite of the two Hemingway spots—open-air, hole-in-the-wall drinkery famous for their mojitos, live music, and writing on the walls. Though a well-known tourist attraction, it maintained an authentic Cuban character that kept us coming back for more. Mojitos were 200 pesos, or roughly USD $1.50. 

La Floridita

The more elegant of the famous bar duo, La Floridita is known for their daiquiris and similar to La Bodeguita, their live music. We preferred the al fresco ambiance of la Bodeguita, but it’s definitely worth a visit!

La Guarida

Havana meets Soho rooftop, an Insta influencers bread and butter. The panoramic vistas from la Guarida are unparalleled, allowing you to drink in all of the city as you sip on expertly crafted rum cocktails. We started with a drink and then went downstairs for our dinner reservation. Although pricey, it’s an elevated dining experience where the prestige and service is palpable from start to finish. It’s also where they filmed Fresa y Chocolate. You don’t need a dinner reservation to check out the building. It’s worth going up even for just a sunset cocktail. 

El Mirador de Doña Ana

We hadn’t planned on eating here, but the restaurant promoter nos metió muela, (he talked our ear off), and eventually, he had us sold. It’s a good thing we gave in, because it was an amazing meal! We sat on the balcony overlooking the street where we were treated to live music and a fresh, Cuban meal. The band even took requests and after finding out I was American, insisted on singing me songs in English. (Much to my chagrin).

Mirador de Doña Ana, Havana

Café Solás

Another restaurant that we stumbled on by accident. We were searching for a different restaurant, but heard the music from the rooftop of Café Solás and had to see what was happening. As it turns out, Tony Ávila was giving a concert (I had no idea who he was but now I do). He was well worth the entrance fee of USD $4, playing original songs against the backdrop of twinkling lights and a local clientele.

La Vitrola

A bustling café in Plaza Vieja with terrace seating and live music. We designated this spot as our coffee shop and came three separate times for americanos and cortados. The service was excellent and the location ideal for people-watching in one of the buzziest areas of La Habana Vieja. 

La Vitrola, Havana

El Café

This was our go-to breakfast spot where I indulged in fresh guava juice and the most delicious seasonal fruit pancakes. Here you will also meet “La Amarilla” (The Yellow One), a precious café cat with her very own Instagram page. 

El Dandy

A second breakfast favorite was El Dandy, a corner café in Plaza del Cristo that grants a perfect vantage point of the street activity. The interior is old-school Havana featuring iconic Cuban photography, handwritten chalkboard menus, and a cool vintage refrigerator. In addition to desayunos, they also have a full menu and extensive cocktail list. Try their huevos rancheros — ¡delicioso!

El Dandy, Havana

Sia-kara

Tucked away behind El Capitolio is Sia-kara, a cozy cocktail bar and restaurant with a Havana hipster vibe. We loved it for its plush seating and spacious feel, ideal for recharging after walking the city streets. 

Hotel Nacional de Cuba

Located on the seafront of the Vedado neighborhood, this hotel dates back to the 1930s and is famous for once hosting guests like Frank Sinatra, Fred Astaire, and of course, the American mafia. The place gave me instant American Horror Story vibes, but we enjoyed sitting outside on the sofas and taking in the peaceful nature of the palm-tree-lined grounds. Daiquiris are dirt cheap, but a request for Dos Gardenias is going to cost you. 

Street Pizza (Various Locations)

This is a quintessential Cuban “culinary” experience that cannot be passed up. The Neapolitan pizzas are 80 pesos, less than 1 US dollar, and taste like a cross between grilled cheese and Domino’s breadsticks. They hand it over wrapped in scratch paper, you fold it in half, and away you walk down Calle Cuba with your greasy street pizza. Muy cubano.

Pizza, Havana

Sangri-la

 A trendy nightclub (centro nocturno) in Miramar that attracts a mix of locals and international travelers. We arrived around 11:00 pm, but it didn’t get busy until midnight. The music was great, a mix of reggaeton and hip-hop, and the drinks were expensive but cargados. AKA strong 😉 It was, however, astonishingly cold inside, so plan ahead. We would definitely go back to party at Sangri-la. Another club we wanted to try, but ran out of time and energy, is called LM Bar. It stays open until 6:00 am and is apparently the place to be on Friday and Monday nights.

Fábrica de Arte Cubano

Everyone we spoke to pre-Cuba raved about La Fábrica. I’ve never been anywhere like it. It’s essentially a contemporary, urban art gallery with various rooms or salas featuring distinct music genres (DJs and live bands). If you want to hear or dance to authentic Cuban music, this is not the place to go. We figured that out pretty quickly. But it’s definitely worth checking out, and hopefully, you find a sala that has the music you like! You have to pay entry, and for the life of me I can’t remember the price, but it wasn’t anything crazy.


What to Pack

Clothes: The streets of Havana are well-weathered and riddled with mud puddles and potholes. For that reason, I’d say leave your heels at home. You should bring comfortable shoes that you’re okay with scuffing up. The more elegant you dress, the more attention you’re going to attract, so I think it’s best to play it casual. 

Food: Cuba is not like other countries where you can go to a supermarket for snacks and groceries. The locals stand in line for hours at the bodegas to collect their monthly rations of beans, rice, and other Cuban staples. You can buy fresh fruit and some vegetables from street vendors around Havana Vieja. (The guava is amazing) However, it may be worth bringing some snacks from your home, like granola bars, nuts, and chips. 

Tissues/TP: Toilet paper was widely available but rough and recycled. If you’re picky with your paper, you could bring a roll to use where you’re staying. I would also recommend bringing a small packet of kleenex to carry in your purse as many public restrooms do not have paper. Toilet seats are also not guaranteed, so ladies, you’re going to have to engage the quads and squat down low. You should also bring your own feminine products. 

Medicine: You don’t need to go overboard, but you should bring all of your go-to over the counter meds.


Colorín, colorado… that’s a wrap! There is so much left to explore in Havana but I believe this blog is a good jumping-off point for first-time visitors. If you’re traveling to Cuba in the near future, I hope you have a wonderful trip! And if you’re reading just for fun, I hope you’ve learned a bit about this amazing country. There is truly no place like it. 

¡Buen viaje! Thanks for reading 🙂

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Where to Shop in Cayman: Spacie Store | Trendiest Island Looks

Where to Shop in Cayman: Spacie Store | Trendiest Island Looks

So you have an upcoming event…maybe it’s a brunch, a boat party, or even a long weekend getaway. You’re so excited until you remember…you have nothing to wear! We’ve all been there. In Cayman, this wardrobe crisis is multiplied by ten, given the shortage of cool and affordable clothing stores. We’re living in the land of endless summer–we need options! Find out where to shop in Cayman below.

Luckily for Cayman residents, the tides are changing with the opening of a new, trendy clothing store called Spacie. My first impression of their website was ‘chic essentials at a reasonable price.’  The kind of styles that make basic girls like me magically transform into Hailey Biebers without breaking the bank. Genius.

With a trip to Cuba on the horizon, and feeling bored with my wardrobe, I couldn’t waste any time taking Spacie for a spin. I describe my first-time shopping experience with them below! (Spoiler alert: it was an excellent one).

The Website

Spacie’s website is clean-cut and user-friendly, pointing you in the right direction with easy-to-find categories. Their main offering is women’s clothes but they also stock swimwear, shoes, and a bunch of super cute accessories like sunglasses. Additionally, there is a modest collection of men’s wear, but they just opened and the inventory is growing!

Once you’re on the website, create an account so you can save items and/or add them to your cart. When you’re happy with your order, the checkout process is quick and smooth, prompting you with options for pick-up or delivery, along with your payment details. You will receive a confirmation email once your order has gone through with a summary of your purchased items. It’s a professional system that allows you to feel safe and confident throughout each stage of the online shopping process.

Sizing

Spacie sizes include Small, Medium, and Large, with some XS and XL for certain items. Typically a size 4, I ordered everything in size S and found it to be a perfect fit! These are designs that compliment a wide range of body types; however, in the event that your items don’t work, Spacie allows hassle-free returns to their headquarters in George Town, crediting your Spacie store account within 48 hours. Additional sizing guidance is also available upon request via Spacie’s contact page. 

Customer Service / Pick-Up

Next-day pick-up is a saving grace in the ever-fluctuating social calendars of Cayman. Possibly the best part of this process is visiting the illustrious White House in Georgetown just behind the new Starbucks. It’s a striking building that emanates regal energy, subsequently infusing your retail therapy with the dose of confidence you deserve. Now this is where to shop in Cayman.

My service was excellent. Within ten seconds of entering the lobby, the receptionist greeted me and proffered up my bag of fabulous wardrobe additions. I didn’t really want to leave if I’m being honest. Afterward, you and your shopping bags can head to Starbucks to revel in your fresh ‘fit energy over an oat milk latte. 

*Spacie customers also have the option of delivery for a fee of $10. Click here to read about the delivery hours and additional pick-up information.

White House, Cayman

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The Clothing

Like any sensible person, I came home, turned on some music, poured myself a glass of wine, and tried on my clothes. So much better than a cramped dressing room, right? The results were so satisfying I had no choice but to strut myself up and down the Holiday Inn beachfront like a Spacie runway model. Kendall Jenner could never. I will let the photos speak for themselves!


BRUNCH DRESS

The vibe: as the name suggests, this dress is perfect for a brunch…tropical glam meets beach casual. The dress works just as well with heels as it does with sandy bare feet.

The feel: fits like a glove, outrageously comfortable. As you can see, I situated the top straps slightly different than the model, but I’m super happy with both looks!

My favorite part: The colors, and the flattering silhouette it creates


KNIT PARTY SET IN OFF WHITE

The vibe: Free-spirited meets party elegance, this set can be worn in a variety of settings. I bought mine just in time to wear to the White Party at the Cayman Latin Dance Festival, and I can confirm it’s more than suitable for salsa dancing!

The feel: The top is adjustable, allowing you to tailor a perfect fit. After taking some time to get it just how I wanted, I felt super comfortable and well-covered at the front. The fabric is soft and the open back helps you stay cool in the Caribbean heat.

My favorite part: The neckline and open back


ADJUSTABLE OPEN BACK CROP TOP

The vibe: chic wardrobe essential with a sexy twist

The feel: similar to the knit party set, this piece is adjustable and can be tailored for your exact size. The fabric is soft and cool on the skin, a godsend on a hot day in Cayman.

My favorite part: the wrap-around strings and zig-zag of the open back


CALIFORNIA SET IN WHITE

The vibe: Santa Monica beach walk, but make it Caribbean. Ideal with an iced matcha latte in hand.

The feel: Simple white cotton ensemble with easy, breezy comfort. In regards to support, this is not an outfit I would run in; it’s better for gentle movements and/or lounging.

My favorite part: who doesn’t love a matching set? It’s classic, breathable, and oh-so-chic.


STONE AND SUN PENDANT

The vibe: bohemian elegance

The feel: a stainless steel, waterproof necklace, the stone and sun pendant is high quality and light on the neck

My favorite part: it goes with everything, the perfect island accessory


My Overall Impression

Spacie, in my opinion, is the place to go when you want an outfit that’s chic and on-trend, without unloading all of your money on overseas shipping. I don’t know any other store on Island that has its finger on the pulse quite like Spacie. And the process for purchasing is so slick, how can you not? Anyway, you’ve heard enough from me. Now that you know where to shop in Cayman, try it out for yourself and prepare to be amazed by how good you look wearing Spacie!

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Discover Cayman Brac: Where to Stay & What to See

Discover Cayman Brac: Where to Stay & What to See

There is nowhere quite like Cayman Brac. It has a beautiful kind of quirkiness that manifests itself in the radical kindness of the locals and the peculiarity of the island’s “attractions.” These traits are juxtaposed against a gorgeous Caribbean backdrop, leaving you wondering if Brac is even a real place. Maybe I dreamt it all? Find out where to stay and what to see below in Discovering Cayman Brac.

Where to Stay in Cayman Brac

Featherstone

Featherstone, Cayman Brac
View from the Owner’s Apartment

The Location

Featherstone is located in the eastern part of the island off Tibbet’s Turn. Winding down Surfer’s Lane, you will happen on Beach Drive, a rustic gravel lane flanked by beach bungalows and sea grape trees. The property is tucked away at the end of the access, its own tropical oasis. Quiet calm, and zen energy permeate the space, leaving guests feeling ‘off-the-beaten-path.’ Upon arrival, you’ll be greeted by a delightful breeze and the everpresent lull of lapping ocean waves.

Sunset from Featherstone’s private beach

The Cottages

Featherstone features three seperate rental units: the Cottage, Owner’s Apartment, and Guest Apartment. These Caribbean-style cottages open up into a private beach spanning 1.5 acres, complete with a dock and several hammock-adorned beach cabanas. The beachfront building contains the Owner’s Apartment on top and the Guest Apartment on the bottom, both sea-facing. Behind the main building is the two-story Cottage. Though set back, you can still catch a glimpse of the sea from the balcony. It is possible to rent all three properties (The Estate) for a larger group or private event.

We stayed in the Owner’s Apartment which sleeps 7 and features a full kitchen, dining table, and master suite. The suite’s bathroom boasts a double vanity, stone walk-in shower, and corner bath. The bedroom is equally plush, starring a Japanese-style bed with bamboo sheets, offering tantalizing views of the Caribbean Sea. Japanese accents are visible throughout the whole of the unit, contributing to the unique feng shui of Featherstone.

Outside the master suite, sleeping arrangments include a pull-out couch in the living room as well as a a bunk-bed and a futon in the detached unit off the porch. This area also features a half bath, making the Owner’s Apartment a 2 bedroom, 1.5 bathroom unit. Cooking supplies, bedding, beach/bath towels, and wifi are all included.

The best part of this unit is the wrap-around porch, the perfect space for morning coffee, afternoon lunches, sunset bubbles, or even a dip in the private jacuzzi.

One of the many hammocks at Featherstone

The Amenities

The units are lovely, but the private beach and amenities are the bread and butter of Featherstone. The list of possible activities is long, ranging from lazy to active. Starting from the beach-bum end of things, guests can enjoy the hammocks, cabanas and lounge chairs spread throughout the sandy beachfront. Once the Caribbean heat kicks in, guests can put on their watershoes and head for the waves, enjoying a quick dip or a snorkel session. The owner has water accessories available upon request, as well as a game room full of books, board games, and sport gear.

For the more active islanders, there is a kayak ready to go on the beach, as well as a ping-pong table, and volleyball net upon request. With so many amenities, you may find it difficult to leave the property. But if you do, there are two bikes available for guests and a mini market just a few minutes down the road. And from there, the real adventure begins.

Private dock at Featherstone

What to See in Cayman Brac

What is there to see in Cayman Brac? Some would argue, “nothing” but I for one, say everything. Brac (population 1,800) is not hung up on island aesthetic, and it does not promote a Caribbean resort-style energy. What it deliberately lacks in tropical “glam,” it more than makes up for in ‘Cayman Kind’ and eccentric character. The best thing to do is rent a car and drive. Marvel at anything and everything. The island is known for its iconic bluff as well as its caves, which are obvious musts, but don’t stop there.

Cruising down the quiet roads of Brac, you will find conch-lined pathways, painted palm trees, and Caribbean houses in hues of paradisiacal pink and sea foam green. You’ll pass seaside churches, skull caves, stairs to nowhere, and mini Caymanian homes (think doll houses). Whilst out and about, you are guaranteed to encounter the notoriously friendly locals, always happy to chat and point you in the right direction. While exploring a roadside cave, a woman and her two children pulled over in their car just to say ‘Good Afternoon’ and ask how our trip was going. It’s a warmth that is felt from the moment you step foot on the island.

Keep reading to discover some must-see places on your aimless excursion through Brac:

Bubble House Cayman Brac
The Bubble House (on the way to the Great Cave)

Star Island

Star Island is one of Brac’s most popular restaurants, serving fresh local fish and Caribbean sides like plantain and cassava. We went for dinner and found an empty restaurant, though locals stopped in periodically for pick-up orders. I ordered grilled snapper with rice and beans and fried plantain. The delicious, fresh flavors made up for the lack of ambience in the restaurant. Star Island was no exception to the quirky character of Brac. With fluorescent green and yellow curtains and a menu that includes dolphin, it’s sure to be a memorable visit.

Star Island, Cayman Brac

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La Esperanza

If you’re looking for a “party,” this is inevitably where you will find it. At least, that is what the cashier at Blackbeard’s told us. La Esperanza is a seaside drinking hole where the waves can almost be heard over the blaring soca beats. There is also a small grocer and jerk stand open during the day. On Friday and Saturday nights it’s the liveliest bar on island–loud music, friendly locals, and domino games. The challenge is to keep up with the amount of drinks being bought for you.

La Esperanza
La Esperanza during the light of day

Brac Reef Resort

A very different vibe from La Esperanza, Brac Reef Resort is closer to what you may find on Seven Mile Beach–pricey drinks, pristine poolside views (only for hotel guests), and a menu that is far from local. I only recommend it for its delicious margaritas and gorgeous views. We went during the day for a quick pick-me-up and dip in the ocean.

Foot’s Museum (Casa del Diablo)

You read that right. On your way to the Great Cave, you will pass a driveway lined with statues, some demonic in nature, and one with flippered legs sticking out of a toilet. There’s no way you can see something like that and not stop. So we did. I have heard rumors about this house but do not know the full story. Basically, it’s an artist’s house, (Ron “Foots” Kynes) directly on the water, that serves as an art gallery for the odd Brac tourist. The kind of art you will find there ranges from a fishing boat full or Red Stripe bottles to fake missiles, all the way to Led Zeppelin tributes. We did not see the artist, but the property is open sans no-trespassing signs. Enter if you dare!

Foots Museum
Foots Museum, Cayman Brac
Foots Museum
Foots Museum (exterior)

The Bluff

The bluff does not require a lot of explanation. It’s a stunning, dangerous view. Don’t get too close to the edge, obviously. You will also hear people talk about the lighthouse at the top of the bluff. There is indeed some kind of light structure, but if you’re picturing a picturesque, Cape Code kind of lighthouse, then prepare to be disappointed. The terrain is odd and apocolyptic, further contributing to Brac’s “am I dreaming” sensation.

The Bluff, Cayman Brac
The Bluff

The Great Cave

There is nothing super “great” about this cave, but it’s fun to climb the makeshift ladders to the top, and explore the rocky shore at the bottom. From this coastal vantage point, you can see the bluff from the bottom and check out other small caves along the water.

Climbing up to the Great Cave

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5 Amazing Spots to Grab a Drink in Madrid

5 Amazing Spots to Grab a Drink in Madrid

Visitors of Madrid are like kids in candy stores. The city is teeming with terraces and tapas bar, each one offering a unique kind of allure that only the madrileños can pull off. With so many options, it can be hard to know where to start. Read on and narrow your search, discovering 5 amazing places to grab a drink in Madrid. Whether you’re after an elegant rooftop terrace or a buzzing local market vibe, this small but mighty list will get you off to a solid start.

#1 Ático 11 (Iberostar Hotel Las Letras)

The first azotea on our list, Ático 11 is perched atop the sprawling expanse of la Gran Vía, the most emblematic street in Madrid. It belongs to Iberostar Hotel Las Letras. Enter through the hotel lobby and take the elevator to the top floor, free of charge. Emerging onto to the rooftop is like stepping into an urban oasis. Flowers and greenery, sleek wood finishes and striped canopies, all give way to a cool, garden-like feel. Nestle into a cozy, verdant corner, or opt for a table with a view. of la Gran Vía The menu is unsurprisingly more expensive than your run of the mill tapas bar, but that comes with the elevated territory. Rest assured, you can still order a glass of wine for 4 euros, which, considering the stunning surroundings and free entry, is a hell of a deal.


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#2 El Viajero

Step out of the hustle and bustle of Gran Vía and into the narrow and winding streets of La Latina, one of Madrid’s most quintessential neighborhoods. There you will find El Viajero, a three-story corner building draped in cascading flora. The third floor hosts a small rooftop garden that will make you feel as though you’re a main character in a Spanish film. Many scenes for shows and movies have been filmed there, including the Netflix series Valeria.

If you’re looking to eat, El Viajero offers a simple, healthy menu with many delicious options. But, given the title of this post, you’re most likely in the market for liquid reinforcements. We settled for a simple tinto de verano, which was served alongside a complimentary side of potato chips for 4 euros each. The Spanish just do it better.

#3 Ginkgo Sky Bar

One last posh locale to explore before we head to some more simple, local favorites. Ginkgo Sky Bar is one of the most upscale, elegant terrazas of the city, offering 360 degree views of Plaza España and El Palacio Real. Unlike Ático 11, entry is unfortunately not complimentary. The fee to climb the elevator to the urban peak is 8 euros per person, but the vibe does not disappoint. The floor in the center of the terrace is glass, suspended above the swimming pool with transparent floor.

The menu at Ginkgo is, of course, on the pricey side. Specialty cocktails start at 14 euros a glass. To save a couple bucks and stay on the vino theme, we went for a white wine at 7 euros a glass. So in total, the entire rooftop experience costed us 15 euros a person. If you’re into amazing views and cool vibes, I would say it is worth the extra expense!

#4 Mercado San Miguel

All those rooftops have had us in our chairs for too long. It’s time to get up and move with the rhythms of a madrileño market. Mercado San Miguel is a tapas spot, more than anything; however, it’s also a great spot for a glass of sangria or vermut. Plus, ya gotta eat to be able to keep drinking. Located in barrio La Latina, the covered market boasts its original iron framework with glass windows throughout. The stalls are always buzzing, attracting adventurous and hungry travelers from all around the world. Once you have a drink in hand, you can work your way through fresh marisco, jamón ibérico, croquetas, and allllll the queso. ¡Buen provecho!

#5 Calle Cava Baja

To round out the list of where to grab a drink in Madrid, we have another tapas destination that makes for an equally fun drinking route. Calle Cava Baja is one of the most lively streets in Madrid, boasting 50 bars in only 300 meters. That’s less than the length of a track, imagine. Here you can bounce around from bar to bar, enjoying complimentary tapas with your cañas or vino, and rubbing elbows with travelers and locals alike. Many of the bars can get loud and become standing room only, but that’s all part of the experience. I won’t prescribe one single bar in particular. I recommend you flit in and out of various spots, allowing the buzz of voices and smell of patatas bravas to guide you. Y ahora, ¡a gozar!