Give Yourself Plenty of Time in Havana
I had barely put down my fork after finishing a Cuban meal prepared in a privately owned restaurant called a paladar when someone grabbed my hand and pulled me to my feet. Live music accompanied our meal, and turning down an impromptu salsa dance just isn't acceptable — so dance I did.
Light-footed from sips of Havana Club rum and ready to try out the moves I learned at a lesson earlier in the week, I couldn't help but smile at my situation. Traveling to Cuba as an American means a lot of things. It means navigating a rather complicated system of rules, restrictions, and politics. It means dealing with the reality of a president who is currently making it harder by the day to experience all this country — just 90 miles off the United States coast — has to offer. It means understanding and respecting the harder realities of what Cubans and Cuban-Americans have gone through and are still going through — something tourists should be aware of.
I was able to travel to Cuba with Backroads, an active travel company that made a biking trip through the country launching in January 2017 — full of logistical complications and red tape — look like a breeze and seem like a complete dream.
The trip began in Havana, a city with crumbling historical homes juxtaposed beside colorful structures and shiny, newly reconstructed buildings. We biked daily through towns along the northern coast, by farmland, over hills, and past parts of lush jungle and forest. Experiencing a trip like this, in the open air rather than closed up in a tour bus or car, was like nothing else I've ever done. After eight days, a thousand answers and even more questions, new friendships with Cubans, and yes, a few cigars and sips of Cuban coffee and rum, I learned a thing or two about a place that is in some ways a bit of a mystery to many Americans, due in large part to the embargo and the nature of US-Cuba relations for the past 50+ years.
These takeaways and tips will help you plan your Cuban trip and will hopefully help make your time on this Caribbean island as wonderful (and enlightening!) as my own experience. I'm already counting down the days until I can return to this beautiful place.