Our Christmas was very low key. We had gotten all of our celebrating out of the way the week before so the day of, we were basically just chilling wanting it to hurry up and be over so we could jet off to Cuba to explore and ring in the New Years with our buddies Blake and Sara– fellow photography lovers and travel enthusiasts. We’ve known them for a few years now but hadn’t traveled together until connecting on the urge to visit Cuba and booking back in June. Political turmoil and suspected threats on our diplomats had us on the edge of our seats whether we’d be able to go or not, but, we can say we’ve been to Cuba and back and lived to tell about it! Kidding, mostly. There were a few dodgy moments, but we had a blast and the colorful island is truly one-of-a-kind and luckily it turns out, Blake and Sara are a traveling dream team.
Follow the classic car while I take you through our travels around Varadero, a resort town in the province of Matanzas, Cuba.
So, how did we get from landing in Havana to Varadero? Well, that’s a fun story to start with!
Pre-trip we read about all the different ways to travel within Cuba. Blog after blog discouraged against renting a car due to limited signage, lack of gas stations, zero internet connection for mapping and high prices but urged taking the one legit bus system – Viazul – for longer trips or getting a taxi for shorter distances – so, we listened. From the airport to our first Airbnb we had taxi arrangements through the host which was seamless then to get from Havana to Varadero I had bought 4 tickets from Viazul online for $10.00 each which was very good considering the excursion would be around 2.5 hours, but truthfully I was nervous because they were so cheap and it seemed too easy to be true after having issues with other tickets we had purchased due to policies regarding USA credit cards. Reference Sara’s FAQ for more details on subjects like this here.
Nearly screwed up the unexpected ease though by not showing up to the station early like the site suggested, I forgot to bring the printed tickets with me for proof, in addition there was zero internet connection to pull up the email and literally no one spoke English, oh and everything was sold out for the next two days. We were almost shit of out luck! We saw handfuls of people not getting onto a bus that day. Thankfully Sara noticed that the Gmail server through her iPhone mail app pulled up all emails whereas the Gmail app only pulled up some, so I switched over and luckily found the receipt which in normal standards would be fine, but they wanted a hard copy and weren’t offering to print themselves but after sweating bullets and thinking our day is going to be a flop, we got it sorted and waited to board. To imagine the bus station, think of the smallest Greyhound stop you’ve been to- never used, just me? -packed with a bunch of worried, maybe pissed off, people waiting around with overstuffed bags and the smell of mold and sweat. Seemed to be 70% outsiders traveling and 30% local hoppers. Pretty eyeopening start but overall the bus system was fine, definitely the most comfortable compared to our other modes of transportation but we learned a quick lesson on listening to every literal word regarding instructions. Included with the ticket were two pitstops for snacks and bathroom breaks, both spots required purchasing toilet paper from a bathroom attendant, another lesson learned, BYOTP.
Upon landing at the last stop in Varadero we were told by a cab driver we should walk to our Airbnb because it wasn’t worth hiring him for that short of a distance. That was a first. But we obliged (it wasn’t that close tbh) and drug all our crap to our apartment for two days. A sweet grandma who ran the place showed us around our one bedroom one bath accommodations, which was news to us. We thought it was two bed/one bath. Time to get cozy with each other! Sara’s face was priceless. She was probably thinking “O-K, I sorta know these people and now I have to bunk up with them. omg omg omg” but it was fine. We weren’t there to sleep and it had AC so we shook off our room accommodations and hit the beach!
The apartment had one appeal: the proximity to the beach. A short walk and you were right on this trail leading to the gorgeous waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Along the way you could grab a beer from stands or street bars, like a Presidente, Cristal or Bucanero. In each city we went to it was basically these three beers and occasionally you’d spot a Heineken. We imagined it was due to the government and importing etc. But there were zero rules when it came to booze there as far as open container, drinking age.. just saying if you were curious.
Day one was spent lounging on the beach, playing in waves, searching for shells and watching the sun set.
It was pretty dang sunny and since I carried on, not bringing a travel sized bottle, I was trying to track down SPF which proved to be as difficult as the non-printed out ticket fiasco. Hit up the nearby market, where a lady at the check out told me to ask the perfume counter, which wasn’t actually perfume but more of a toiletries counter. Didn’t matter either way because she was on lunch for 30 minutes and no one could help me. So wild that a beach town doesn’t have these sort of things readily available in many locations but this was the first of many times we realized with rations and restrictions, they are very limited to goods. Took two more times going back to acquire SPF 30. Second time she told me they didn’t have and recommended somewhere I didn’t understand and the third time, because I went just for shits and giggles, she pulled out three bottles for me to choose from. I went with something that said 30. These moments made me feel so spoiled to have access to this sort of thing so easily. They couldn’t even imagine a Target. It’d blow their mind.
Speaking of drinking. Haven’t mentioned on the blog yet, but on Insta I declared that I was “going sober” but really should have said “I’m pausing drinking” because what really happened was that I acted a fool and Dustin and I both looked in the mirror and realized we were drinking way too much. So, he challenged us to not drink for 40 days, the time it scientifically takes to break a habit. We made it 15 days until we were in route to Cuba and I started with the “lets make a deal” and we came to an agreement with pausing on the trip but adding days when we return. Life is balance people and legit Cuban mojitos are fire! So are the pina coladas. Real coconut milk is a game changer!
Did you know that rum translates in Spanish to ron?
There wasn’t a lot of options for food around where we were. The first day we were so desperate and hungry we settled on the most basic of pizza I’ve ever had. The square cafeteria pizza they served in school was better than this za. But again, desperation. Another day we went to this spot that was really quirky La Bodeguita Del Medio and got some real good grub. The fried plantains were my favorite. But the best meal we had was at an Italian spot we stumbled upon, Pladar Nonna Tina. Italian ended up being our saving grace when it came to food. Legit Cuban food just doesn’t do it for me, and really most visitors if you read around the web. The words bland and boring appear a lot and sadly it’s true. But we went into the trip knowing this and I mostly survived on a box of Cliff bars though I somehow managed to still get the bug a couple different times and brought something nasty back with me. Poor Dustin though. He had it the worst out of all of us. More below.
Things we did enjoy on menus included the fresh juices and coffee!
Day two we tried to arrange a snorkeling trip but because the water was so choppy the one company we found wasn’t taking anyone out so we opted to visit a cave then come back for more beach time. We flagged down a taxi and headed to Saturno Cave. But not just any ol cab, we got a pink convertible!
The cave was huge and super cool, both cool and cold cool. Pretty much exactly like cenotes we’ve been to in Mexico. Cheap entrance fee and you could stay as long as you wanted. They also had a bar for when you were done and wanted to warm up after the frosty water. Thinking about it, all the caves had bars..
Post cave it was back to town, letting our hair dry in the convertible.
Sometime between the cave and getting back, Dustin started feeling gross and laid down. It was all she wrote for him. He had a fever and was out for the rest of the day into evening. He had already gotten sick the first night but it didn’t seem to linger the following day so we thought he was safe. Nope. Sucked but he just wanted to be left alone to sleep it off which ended up being a good idea because it worked and he was better the following day. The whole trip his gut was never right, something disagreed with him the whole time but he was a freaking trooper and made the most of everything.
To let Dustin sleep and recover, we went out to the beach to goof off and catch another gorgeous sunset before the Italian meal.
Departure was the following day bright and early. See ya later bunk bed!
Varadero, you’re a beautiful babe of a town! Our visit was quick but great. Next up: the countryside!