as you know, last week, we came back from a little trip to cuba. since we live by the beach, we didn’t really want to do the caribbean beach plan around the island, just wanted to get to know the local culture, so we decided to stay in havana for the whole stay.

i read these articles (this on and this one) and found them very useful in planning our trip, we also bought a cuba lonely planet guide – this helped out mapping out a list of things we wanted to do in the city.

we had been trying to go for a while, cuba is so close to us – less than 350km, which is about  217miles – and after looking at several options, we decided on flying to cancun (through miami) and fly to havana from there. this way, we would take a few more days off and explore the yucatan peninsula too.

when i was planning the trip, everybody recommended staying at a casa particular. not long ago the cuban government started allowing cubans to rent out rooms in their houses or apartments to tourists, providing cuban families with new sources of income, these are locally called casas particulares.

we liked the idea, but we didn’t like the idea of staying at someone’s house without being recommended by someone we knew, and since we didn’t find one we decided to book an hotel for the first two nights and look for a casa particular once we arrived.

the hotels are beautiful, normally in old buildings with a lot of charm, but not so cheap. they also lack in maintenance – it is normal for the elevator to be out of order, the air conditioning to make a loud noise and for there to be lack of service. we thought the staff were very helpful and nice, but very slow and lazy. luckily we found a casa particular and were able to move. the casa belonged to a very nice and welcoming cuban couple, very clean and centrally located. and it gave us a chance to get to know a little better how is life for cubans. also it is a much, much cheaper option – a double room per night was about $30, dinner was about $6 each and breakfast was about $3 each.

the prices for tourists are in CUC, a different currency than the one used by locals – the CUP – and a lot more expensive than the actual cost of things for cubans.

we walked and walked and walked, everywhere, and what we most enjoyed was people watching and hearing the music in the houses around and trying to get a glimpse of local life style.

the first moment we waked out the door of our hotel i was surprised to see the main streets and squares in old havana with portuguese tiles – sorry, no pic – but it made me smile!

our favorite things to do were visiting the cathedral, the rum museum, the cigar factory, walking in the city centre, walking on the malecon (the broad esplanade that streches along the coast of the city), and definitely the fine arts museum.

i think what made james most happy – other than going on taxi drives in antique cars – was finding a place where they made sugar cane juice – he is a big fan, has had it since he was a kid in laos! apparently this is a very local drink, we went everyday to the one spot we found and it was always packed with locals – so good and dirt cheap!

the food is nothing special, they do have scarce access to a lot of products, and most restaurants we found are clearly a product made for tourists! another option would be eating at paladares, a similar idea to the casas particulares, where families open their houses to welcome guests for meals. we had a couple of bad experiences, but we did manage to find a restaurant with delicious food and with a lot more options than elsewhere – el template – we went twice!

we loved our stay, the city is as beautiful as they say, the old cars make it extra charming and the people are happy and welcoming.

if you wish to go we totally recommend the casa particular where we stayed, they will also give you recommendations that you can trust – contact rafael on magda@gmch.co.uk

happy kings’ day

it’s our first weekend back, so we are planning to have a quiet one. in the meantime i daydream of my vacation destinations for this year, and i am hoping for two on this list – new york times 45 places to go in 2012 – havana in cuba and samana in dominican republic.

by the way, last week i was featured at sunshine girl, so if you haven’t seen it yet go right HERE.

wishing you a happy king’s day and have a great weekend!

the weather is warm and i am loving the looks of the sky!

hello echo

i’m in new york for a couple of days before flying back to europe… i can’t wait to see all the christmas decorations, do a little shopping and catch up with family and friends. it’s weird to switch from shorts, flip flops and bikini to boots, sweater and scarf – but  a month without mosquitoes sounds pretty good!

i took this picture in madison square park last time i was in new york, the serene looking statue by spanish artist jaume plensa. it’s kind of magical, you can’t stop but be attracted to it – and it looks like it’s not really there. hve you seen it?

more on echo here

family weekend in provo

its been a constant party at home this week, with three guests, we’ve had meals in and out, gone back and forth all day, exploring the island, chilling at the beach, snorkeling, diving, kite surfing and shopping too! my visitors will be guest-posting the next couple of weeks, and tell you all about their holidays in provo – so stay tuned!

i took this picture earlier this week on our day trip to iguana island – the weather was perfect, the water was warm and we saw plenty of iguanas.

i’m sad that the week is getting to an end, but i do look forward to next week too – provo -> new york -> lisbon -> london…how exciting!

oh, and in case i’m not around as much, do check me out on facebook, twitter and pinterest – HAPPY WEEKENDING my friends!

pinning countries

whilst i plan and dream about our vacations for 2012, i fall in love with this map for my wall – it comes with 202 pins, plus two different coloured ones to mark home and the next trip.

a few months back, my brother got my parents, my sister and i all competitive about how many countries had each one been to in our lives – how many pins would you be using in the map?