OokayKaren takes Cuba


Havana, Cuba is definitely one of the most popular travel destinations of 2017. I spent 5 days in this beautiful island and was enamored by its people, culture and history. Cuba was absolutely an experience rather than a typical vacation. 


My Experience 

My Airbnb host arranged airport pick-up which was very convenient. Once I landed in Cuba it took two hours for the luggage to arrive. Things in this country move very slow – this was a culture shock as people in New York move with urgency. I was able to change my money from euro to cuban pesos before exiting the airport. My Airbnb host emphasized how important it was to bring CASH as its nearly impossible to find an ATM that take “American cards.” To my surprise the taxi was still waiting outside after a 2 hour wait. The ride from the airport to Vedado was 20 minutes. I decided to stay in this neighborhood because it was right outside of Old Havana. Vedado is a calm suburb with mostly locals and bed and breakfast.

Overall, I absolutely loved my trip to Cuba. I would recommend it to those looking to learn about the culture. Its a place where you can literally disconnect (NO internet) from the world. Every street is filled with so much history. This experience made me see life from a different perspective. I returned to New York with so much gratitude. Before booking Cuba I suggest to talk to those who have visited before. Its important to get tips and recommendations. 


Where I stayed: My Proud Havana Bed and Breakfast Network. 


As I mentioned earlier, I booked an Airbnb room in Vedado, Cuba. I thought it was best to stay in quiet neighborhood outside of busy Havana. Upon my arrival my host showed us the ropes. He gave us a map of the city and pointed out the best restaurants in the area. Luckily this Airbnb provided breakfast each morning for an additional 6 cuc per day. The attendant was super nice and even offered to do our laundry. 



The room felt homey with a flat screen tv, king size bed and most importantly AC! It can get very hot in Cuba. I recommend staying somewhere with AC to sleep comfortably. 



The People…

Wandering in the streets of Havana I couldn’t help but notice that locals rarely made eye contact with tourist. However, they are very helpful when stopped for directions or suggestions. To my surprise there was a law that prohibited Cuban people from socializing with tourist. My Airbnb host explained that locals can get arrested if they “disturb”a tourist in anyway.

Where I ate…

Do not visit Cuba with high expectations on food. In my opinion the food was a hit or miss. Luckily, I had a list of recommendations from friends and stuck to it for most of the trip. The best food is found in “paladares” which are basically restaurants located inside a home. Nevertheless, there are a couple of good restaurants in Vedado which I absolutely recommend.

Paladares los Amigos: Located in Vedado – very affordable homey restaurant with amazing food. Not a fancy place but gets the job done.

Decameron: Located in Vedado – great for a night out. But its more on the pricey side. The customer service is great and you will leave with a full tummy.

Atelier: Located in Vedado – this was my favorite restaurant! The food was absolutely delicious. The customer service was good as well. Although a bit pricey the large portions make up for it.  

Places to see…


Get lost in the streets of old havana. It can literally take a whole day to explore and capture everything. 


 Viñales is the ultimate  “campo” experience. The views are spectacular! Its long drive from havana (about two hours and  change) but worth every penny. Be cautious of where you eat! I suggest bringing your own snacks. 


Fabrica de Arte Cubano very dope art gallery/ bar / club. This place is filled with modern art. They charge a fee to get in but the drinks are cheap. You should never pay more than 3.00 cuc for a drink!

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Montreal, Quebec


Montreal is truly the gem of Quebec, the largest providence of Canada. This city is very similar to Paris, France. Its the perfect destination if you’re on a budget and can’t afford Paris (yet). Its a six hour drive from New York City and 45 min flight from LGA. French is the main language, but most people speak English as well. Montreal is filled with cafes, restaurants, art galleries and historic landmarks. The architecture is AMAZING and the neighborhood ranges from cobblestone to french colonial style. In addition the city is very clean. Its the perfect place to escape New York City for the weekend.

Where I stayed:(Les Etoiles ) I gave Airbnb a shot for this trip. As usual, I was bit nervous but to my surprise everything was perfect. The apartment was located in the center of the old city minutes from the Notre Dame Basilique. Hotels in Montreal are expensive so your best bet is Airbnb.

Perks: luxury apartment building, cable tv, kitchen, laundry room and free indoor parking.

Where I ate: So many places to eat but so little time! I was able to try a couple of restaurants and cafes, but I found two AMAZING places which I absolutely recommend.

Breakfast:

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Olive & Gourmando located on the corner of Rue Saint – Pierre and Rue Saint – Paul is a small cafe with cool vibes well known for paninis, baked goods and coffee. A bit on the pricey side but its a great destination for brunch or lunch.

Dinner:

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Agrikol a small haitian bar & restaurant in the “Gay Village” area of Montreal. I loved this place as soon as I walked in! The interior design is jaw dropping and instantly transports you to the Caribbean. This spot serves authentic Haitian food and drinks. The menu is only in French so the waiter had to translate. I had a good experience given it was my first time trying Haitian cuisine. Definitely recommend this place if you’re looking for good vibes at decent price.

(left) griot, plantains and rice & beans (right) oxtails & white rice

Places to see:

City view from park Mount Royal
The front doors of Notre Dame


Guanacaste, Costa Rica

Earlier this year I visited Costa Rica for the first time. My boyfriend and I took a risk and decided to go during rainy season which is from May to December. Despite the rain in the morning and cloudy afternoons this country was absolutely amazing. We stayed at the RIU Palace in Guanacaste, Costa Rica.  Not a fancy hotel at ALL, but they serve great food, drinks and have good entertainment every night. Plus you get to feed monkeys at the monkey bar (pretty cool).

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If you are staying in Guanacaste, I recommend booking an excursion with Buena Vista tours. This day trip was amazing! I booked this tour via Viator which makes booking activities super easy and most importantly SAFE. Our personal tour guide picked us up early in the morning. It took about 1 hour to get to Rincon de la Vieja National Park (an active volcano!). Once we arrived our tour director gave us an overview and reviewed safety guidelines. This tour included horse back riding, mud bath, zip lining tour, water slide and lunch. I overcame my fear of heights on this tour. I never would have imagined I’d be flying over the rainforest in Costa Rica. Yeah, this was pretty much breath taking.

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Tamarindo beach  is a must! This beautiful beach is praised by surfers and tourist. It’s known for its white sand and big waves. I enjoyed my visit because it was not very crowded with local vendors. The town is filled with cute little shops where you can find custom-made stuff and souvenirs. We couldn’t leave Costa Rica without going to Tamarindo.

Cartagena, Colombia

 

imageI went to Cartagena, Colombia about a week ago. And I must say, I’m completely in LOVE with the city of Cartagena. I stayed within the “old walled city” which is filled with historic sites. The architecture of the old city is breathe taking, from the colorful houses, religious buildings and the narrow colonial streets. I highly recommend visiting Cartagena. Its hard not to fall in love with the culture, people and of course the amazing food.

Where I stayed: Hotel boutique Casa del Coliseo in the walled city. This small cozy hotel offers great hospitality and impeccable design. The complimentary Colombian breakfast was amazing.

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Rosario Islands day trip: Gente del Mar Resort

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If you are looking to relax and enjoy a private beach Gente del Mar is the place to be. It’s a small secluded resort with excellent customer service. The staff is very attentive and friendly. This island has absolutely no vendors unlike the very popular public beach “playa blanca.” The resort provides snorkeling, paddle boarding and other water sports for an additional cost. There is an option to pay cash or credit for all services. Before I forget, how can I not mention the lunch!? They provide guest with coconut rice, fried fish, avocado salad and natural fresh juice.

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