There is no way to describe that distinct smell of a new country; it is something everyone must experience for themselves. It is all at once the same as the others, and yet unique. From the moment you step off the plane and onto the tarmac, blasted with heat and humidity, you can smell the difference and you know you are far from home, about the have the adventure of your life. I first experienced this in Cambodia, almost four years ago, and was happy to experience it again just a few weeks ago in Cuba.
Cuba is one of those countries that you have to see with your own eyes. No matter how many colorful pictures of crumbling buildings, vintage cars, and leathery hands holding cigars you see, they are nothing compared to being there in person. I was in complete awe the entire time I was there, marveling at every last detail, the good and the seemingly less good.
I knew I need to go to Cuba now for two reasons. The first, Cuba was finally semi-open and fairly easy to get to. With the current political climate, who knows just how long that may last? And if it does last, the second reason comes to play: change. I wanted to see Cuba, the real Cuba, for what it was before it changes. My host told me he could already see change, and that more change was coming. I am glad I got to see it as it was and is now.
I spent the first few days in Havana, staying in a casa in Habana Vieja, or Old Havana. Nothing can truly prepare you for just how beautiful it is. The colors, the architecture, the old cars, the smell of street food, lit cigars, the fast chatter of city noises, and of course, the people.
To make the most out of my first day in the city, I hopped on (and then off) the Hop On/Hop Off HabanaBus Tour, for the price of 10CUC. You can catch this bus stop (Route 1) in Parque Central. It was pretty fun. I got to see many of the great sites of Havana and also got to see various neighborhoods – Old Havana, Central Havana, Vedado, Miramar. I recommend doing this because it is cheap (some of the private tours can cost up to 50CUC per hour, where this ticket is good all day). It was a lot of fun, and I highly recommend it.
My time staying in Old Havana was short, but it sure was sweet. My next stop was further east, in Trinidad, a city that would certainly not disappoint.
You can see more photos from my trip to Cuba here.