A Taste of Cuba - URBANETTE: Lifestyle Magazine & Blog

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A Taste of Cuba

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Landing in Matanzas, Cuba, I could tell I wasn’t in Kansas (or Toronto) anymore. The lush green scenery sprinkled with multi-colored low-rise buildings was in direct contrast to the modern steel and glass North American landscape I was used to. The airport itself was clean and inviting, with vibrant tropical images but there were no brightly lit duty-free shops or Starbucks. A wave of anxiety came over me.

A Taste of Cuba

Sure, the presence of communism was everywhere and the country’s revolutionary leader, Fidel Castro, had just passed away, but my fears were more superficial. I would be spending five days away from my everyday comforts (no salted caramel mocha!) and that was a bit scary.

A Taste of CubaArriving at my 5-star Varadero resort, a mimosa eased my nerves. Smiling staff greeted me with a friendly “hola”. I was told the best part of Cuba was the warm people and that’s something I can testify to. In the sunny and hot days to come, my apprehensions about this controversial island would melt away.

Cuba is raw, but genuine.

Instead of hitting me like a tidal wave, as I was fearing, culture shock lapped at my feet. There are no ads on the roadside, where instead people queue to hitchhike with complete confidence. Music and art are a part of everyday life (along with baseball, I’m told). It’s this culture that offers a unique experience you won’t find anywhere else. It’s this authenticity that will make you want to come for the first time and many times after that.

A Taste of Cuba

Varadero, Cuba

Here’s a snapshot of my Cuban experience and a few must-dos on my return list:

 

Indulge in Authentic Cuban Food 

I was told by several sources that the food in Cuba leaves much to be desired. On my first morning, I took a chance at the resort café where I was expecting water-downed coffee with extra sugar. Instead, a barista named Carlos made me a classic cappuccino. No flavor shot, no cream, no salt topping. It was the best cappuccino I’ve had outside of Rome (sorry Starbucks). The taste was subtle but the coffee was strong. A hand-painted coffee mug painting hung inside to remind visitors that this was no chain café. It was the perfect way to prepare my palate for Cuban cuisine.

A Taste of Cuba

Varadero is not short on dining options, and every visitor staying in a luxury resort has to venture out to try at least one. My recommendation is a true Cuban experience that goes beyond your plate at Rancho Gaviota. On a guided Jeep safari tour (or on your own via taxi) you can visit the farm where the restaurant serves a local Cuban lunch featuring excellent vegetarian options like rice and black beans, local citrus fruits, and something I couldn’t get enough of throughout my stay – red guava jelly – a candy-like thick jelly that tastes like dried strawberry jam (my mouth is literally watering thinking about it!)

At night, try Calle 62, a local open-air salsa club, for some tantalizing Cuban cocktails. You can get everything from a pina colada to a lemon daquiri, but the flavors are more intense, with fresh lime, coconut and the stable Cuban rum. My fave was the Coco Loco – a coconut cream and rum mixture that was sweet and refreshing.

A Taste of Cuba

Try a Coco Loco at Calle 62

A Taste of Cuba

Live entertainment at Calle 62

Swim With the Tide

The main attraction in Cuba, especially Varadero, is the beach. I’ve been to many beaches worldwide (Bahamas, Italy, Greece) and stand by the claim that Varadero Beach is one of the very best. The clear aqua water and white sand are stunning but what you especially get here are pristine, untouched, waters. There are only a few water sports offered, no souvenir shack, no beach volleyball, nothing to take away from the simple beauty. I got one day of completely calm waters but thoroughly enjoyed the wavy days with no undertow.

A Taste of Cuba

The water at Varadero Beach is crystal clear

There are equally stunning beaches coast to coast from Cayo Coco in the east to Holguin in the south, each with their own landscape. You can arrange snorkeling and boat tours through your resort but there’s nothing that can beat a lazy day on the beach.

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After obtaining her Honors B.A. and postgraduate journalism degree, Pegah has written and researched for a variety of magazines and newspapers, with celebrities, fashion and travel being her topics of choice. Now settled in Toronto, she has lived in many corners of the world, including the U.S., Switzerland, and Japan. In her spare time, she divides her love unevenly between her poodle, chocolates and shopping.

52 Comments

  1. Kathryn Gibson

    I wonder if traveling to Cuba with my 8-year old daughter is safe or advisable!

    • Pegah

      I traveled with my 5 year-old and it was perfectly fine! Cuba is actually really safe, even theft is rare.

  2. Monique Malick

    Do immigration officers questioned you about your itinerary?!

    • Pegah

      I went through Canada but when you arrive, you do get questioned by their immigration and as long as you are clearly a visitor (not a resident), you are fine. You get a copy of an entry card and you have to present that copy to leave. It’s a different system but all in all tourist-friendly.

  3. Blanche Martina

    Hi, thank you so much for sharing your trip to Cuba, it helped me understand and give me an overview of what to expect if I pursue with my trip.

  4. Jodi Thil

    I’ve been reading from travel blogs “not to expect delicious meals in Cuba, it’s not the norm and the country lacks in its culinary delights.” I think it would be challenging for me to find a great restaurant.

  5. A few years ago, I attempted to visit Cuba but was hesitant because of other blogs I’ve read. After reading your detailed article, I feel more comfortable booking a trip. Thank you so much!

  6. Candis Melton

    Thanks for the personal insights!

  7. Wonderful! I’ve been drawn to this country for many years and feel badly wanted to go, perhaps to step back in time. I found your article very helpful and encouraging.

  8. Carol Joyner

    I do not speak much Spanish but have traveled solo to almost all central America without too much trouble, do many people speak English? I am a nature lover and like to stay in small guesthouses.

  9. Olive Williams

    I wonder about Cuban transportation system…

  10. Carrie Bleau

    Will you recommend Havana for a spontaneous getaway?

  11. Sherry Manust

    What should I know before I go to Cuba?

  12. Wilma Moore

    Indeed, Cuba is evolving!

  13. Kelly Gonzales

    Show girls in colorful costumes look interesting! I hoped you posted more photos!

  14. Evelyn Harris

    I’d like to stay and relax at Cayo Coco!

  15. Dawn Katz

    A spirit of revolution is in the air for Cuba!

  16. Luisa Rodriguez

    Snorkeling would be fun!

  17. Kimberly Holder

    I’m interested with Calle 62…

  18. Ani Hoker

    Is traveling to Cuba safe for a solo female traveler?!

    • Pegah

      Yes! There were several nights that I was alone around the resort (hubby and son went to bed early!) and I felt completely safe. Of course you have to use common sense but safety is a huge selling point for Cuba.

  19. Eloisa Clay

    There’s no Starbuck in Cuba? Hell no! How can I live without their coffees? But the drinks makes me want to visit the place. Hahaha

    • Pegah

      I am a Starbucks addict but I’m telling you, you’ll come around!

  20. Katherine Donnelly

    OMG! I love beaches! I’m going to ask my friends if they want to go there this summer. BTW, when is the summer in Cuba? Lol

  21. George Sumanta

    I love your snaps! Your articles never fail to surprise me. More power to Urabenette!

  22. Britni Baynes

    I googled Cuba. It’s a great place to go if you’re going for a vacation. Imported items are rarely seen because they focus on their local items.

  23. Jeweli Prater

    How do people live there? Is there even Mcdonalds there? I won’t visit that place if there aren’t any fast food chains there.

    • Pegah

      There are no American chains, goes against their polititical system. Most of the resorts try to recreate conventional North American food but I highly recommend going outside your comfort zone for the best food!

  24. Lancy Stanford

    I’ll ask my girlfriends to have a vacation in Cuba. We always wanted to go to a place like this one. A place where we can unwind, far from the noisy area of NYC.

  25. Your articles are helpful to me. You’re giving me some ideas on where to travel and what to do when traveling.

  26. Marina Josef

    Whoa! Seriously? They only offer few water sports?! Hmm… that’s why the island is still a virgin.

  27. Luthi Sanders

    If you want to buy local items as a souvenir, the Almacenes is a good place to shop. A local item from the country you’ve been is the best souvenir.

  28. Marina Bozek

    I want to try the local food at Cuba. A friend of mine told me that they serve the best dishes there.

  29. Nataliya Smith

    I’m curious about the Cuban’s music. I’ll research about that one. Lol

  30. The article is right on time. I’m having a business trip to Cuba this may, and I’m a little bit scared because this is my first time traveling alone in a different country.

  31. Angelo Henderso

    I like the way you expose the beauty of Cuba. Because of your articles about traveling, I have now a long list of places to visit.

  32. Rosetta Armendariz

    If you’re a smoker, you must try their local cigars too! They made the best cigars, dude!

  33. Selli Coaze

    Before you travel to other countries, you must be familiarized with their culture first. Even if you’re staying there for just a couple of days, you should be familiar with their culture.

  34. Kseniya Tomlin

    It’s nice to travel to a place like this if you’re with your partner. I would love to go there if I’m with my husband. Lol.

  35. Jesse Wyss

    I went to Almacenes de San Jose before. When my husband, and I were on our honeymoon. This place is for a shopaholic.

  36. Robert Patel

    I will tell my wife about this. She’d been wanting to visit Cuba ever since, and now, I’m convinced how beautiful Cuba is.

  37. Jessie Fernande

    Oh, I would love to try snorkeling! Is there a lot of beaches at Cuba? I like to go there some other time!

  38. Whoa, in a 5-star resort? Isn’t that expensive? Wish I have money to travel to Cuba too.

  39. Lana Wiliam

    Are you traveling alone? If you are, it’s just normal to be afraid. Traveling to an unfamiliar place is scary, but it’s fun. Knowing that you are on your own, and you need to survive.

  40. Juli Woods

    Oh, you must visit Cuba. There local food and items are fantastic. It’s cheap as well. Cuban’s barely patronize imported goods, and for cigarette lovers, Cuba made the best cigar ever.

  41. Hena Taylor

    I feel you when I visited Cuba, it breaks my heart knowing that there’s no Starbucks in there.

  42. Lusi Martin

    Loving your snapshots! After reading your article, it makes me want to visit Cuba. I’ll ask my husband if he wants to go there too!

  43. I’ve been to Cuba before, and the place is indeed peaceful. As an American, I’m quite surprised on how Cuban’s live. I will visit Cuba just to have a vacation.

  44. Paul Daiz

    Coffee lover here! I want to try what Carlos’ gave to you. I love cappuccino man!

  45. Honey Smith

    Omg! I want to go there too. I’ve heard so much about Cuba. I’ll put that on my travel list. Lol

  46. Bela Christo

    Whoa, I want to visit that place. I heard they also sell good tobaccos there.

  47. Frederica Pellman

    I was in Havanna 3 years ago – from the U.S. you have to go with a religious or cultural group in order to bypass travel restrictions – and absolutely loved it. The people, as you say, were warm and friendly and there was little sign that this was a communist country with a history of antagonism toward its American neighbor. The only caveat is that the drug stores and supermarket shelves were often empty and the people have trouble getting medicine outside a hospital visit. Still, education – including college – is free, and the people seemed genuinely content. We “did” the Tropicana and saw the Nacional Hotel where Sinatra and other famous stars used to hang in the pre-Castro days. It’s a fascinating, unique experience – go before travel restrictions are lifted and it turns into another St. Thomas

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