An Airbnb’er Visits Cuba

by April Dean Hunter


Last month in February, I visited Havana, Cuba for a five-day stay. I’ve been wanting to go there for so long and finally jumped when I found some airline tickets too affordable to pass up (less than $200 RT)!

Accommodations

I stayed in an Airbnb in the Nuevo Vedado residential area; not too far from the Cemetario de Colon (Christopher Columbus Cemetary). An Airbnb is a home or another type of space – maybe even a tree house–offered by individuals around the world for the budget-minded traveler (and frankly, who isn’t nowadays?). For myself, I’ve have been an Airbnb host in the metro-Atlanta area for the last two years and I absolutely love it! The people, the experiences…nothing tops it.

Other reasonably-priced places to stay are called Casa Particulars. They are homestays, like Airbnbs; but from what I hear, the process for renting one is not so clear cut. Keep in mind that Cuba is a very poor country and this has become a great way for the people to earn an extra income.

Arts Mecca

The home of my host Elsa was very simple, yet so warm, inviting, and very comfortable. It had a great arts vibe; she had all sorts of activities going on. When I first arrived, she was teaching a yoga class in the front room of the house (which she led several times a week). As well, she would run a weekly kids art class there too.

My houseguest attended the ballet and was awestruck at the both the super-talented young dancers as well as the orchestra. Keep your eye on Cuban artists – they are a force that the West has seen little of, but will be end up showing everyone else in the world how-its-done!

In the evenings, I could sometimes hear beautiful piano and violin melodies drifting through my door. The house was put to excellent use with all the activities going on. I’m a huge believer in people being about to make an income from and with their homes and Elsa was a great example of this.

Transportation


I walked a lot around the city; it was both good and bad. I will tell you two things about myself: 1) I am very frugal, and 2) I have absolutely no sense of direction. So being a frugal person, I always find ways to save a few dollars, same was true on this trip. I would just start walking the neighborhood and then towards the city instead of taking a taxi. Nothing wrong with that. The street logic is very easy to understand: odd number streets run one direction and even number streets ran crosswise. Super simple. Knowing this did not prevent me from getting turned around several times a day. The theme for much of my time was “Wandering around Havana”.


Okay, now I didn’t walk absolutely everywhere. One of my last days on the island, I did take a tour bus all around the city. Beautiful architecture and the cool-looking water off of the Malecon. Wish I had hopped off there, because I love the beach. But I think by that point, I was just tired of walking. It was nice to kick my feet up and take in the sites.



Internet

In order to get to the Internet, you either have to be staying at one of the large hotels or go to what is called the Wifi Park. There are select areas around the city that allow both citizens and visitors to access the Internet. The cost is about 4 CUC (Cuban Convertible Peso) or about $4 USD for one hour of time. The connection is a bit shaky and you can’t get onto Facebook. At all.

Well, after a couple of days of this, I wasn’t much interested in going online anymore. Everything around me became much more important. The real reason I love to travel in the first place. The people. The place. The culture.

 

Important things to note

Cuba is a very poor country and they could use as much help as possible. Think about bringing items with you to donate, like paper, pens, markers, toiletries, etc. Take to a church to ensure they get distributed properly, since it’s best not to randomly distribute items to individuals on the streets. It’s safer that way.

Also, for those not used to drinking water high in sodium, remember to pack water (and snacks) in your checked baggage so you are not caught dehydrated and without sustenance before you can get to a market.

Bring good walking shoes, for some of the sidewalks – especially in the residential areas – are in very much in disrepair. Being prepared will keep you safe on your feet.

Be open, learn some Spanish, and you’ll have a good time.
If you’d like to learn more about using Airbnb or are a mom who would like to become a host, you can follow April on Instagram @ahomeontheroad_. And if you plan on visiting the Metro-Atlanta area in the near future, consider staying at her Airbnb by clicking here: http://bit.ly/aprilsplace

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