Endless rum cocktails, timba, reggaeton, salsa, and son blaring from every car, window and restaurant you pass and a vintage vibe you have to see to believe. Havana, Cuba may be just a dream to most American travelers but as we’ve reported before, that hasn’t stopped the rest of the world from experiencing the wonder of this complicated, magical little city. And now that dream is becoming a reality to the rest of us. As a veteran Cuban traveler, I’ve seen this city transform over a period of 8 years and frankly it was a little jarring to see more mobile phones than ever, new foreign cars and actually use wi-fi in a country where a large percentage of the population still doesn’t have dial-up internet access. Construction is everywhere and the hospitality industry is getting a bit of a makeover. Why? Because Cuba knows that all eyes are on her and that you want to come. So whether its a long weekend or a proper week’s stay in Havana, here are all the deets on where to stay, where to go, how to get there and how to enjoy all the many faces of Havana, and then come back for more.
How To Get There
Currently for U.S. travelers, there are two ways to travel to Cuba: with a OFAC approved general license (legal) or by traveling through another country (not legal). There are currently twelve categories that one can qualify for to obtain a general license and any creative Parlourista can qualify if she works it. Having traveled both with an without a license, definitely get one. Why? Outside of risking the chance of being fined serious money by the government, becoming permanently “flagged” and losing your Trusted Traveler/Global Entry status if caught, you also will have an easier time with the U.S. Interests Section office in Havana in the event that things go all the way left like an arrest, serious injury or worse. The application process varies from one to three weeks currently and is very straightforward whether completed by you or through a travel agent.
On the flip side, travel “jumping” through an adjacent country like Jamaica, The Bahamas, or Mexico has been the long-time choice for many travelers, especially during the Bush (both of them) presidential years when obtaining a license was impossible sans certain news publications and diplomatic outfits. In addition to the risk of being detected once trying to clear U.S. customs, going through a third country will also add on the cost of an extra flight and hotel stay. The upside of to this is that you’re able to get a “two for one” vacation as a long weekend in Havana may not involve any lazy beach time with swim-up bars and personal towel concierges.
The Parlour way? Mix it up. While I obtained a general license for my recent trip, I still traveled through Grand Cayman to allow myself to enjoy a little cheap and chic beach travel time both before and after experiencing the realness that is Cuba.**
Where To Stay
If you’re #teamluxe and love consistent air conditioning and can’t live without your wifi, The Hotel Nacional is your place, located on a hill overlooking El Malecon in the Vedado district of Havana. In addition to being full of history and a registered World Heritage Site, the hotel has played host to a number of historical figures since opening in 1930 and was the site of the infamous mob summit with Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky, dramatized in ‘The Godfather Part II.’ (scroll down to continue on page 2!)
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