Original open uri20151014 2721 19csgqa?1444862520?ixlib=rails 0.3

Five Ways to See Cuba Differently

I recently went to Cuba for the first time, and it stands as the most unique trip of my life thus far. As much as I prepared myself by chatting with Cuban friends and reading up on the country’s storied past, I still had a hard time swallowing the intensity of life in Cuba. It’s host to more conflicting opinions than many countries in the world, but one agreeable constant was the kindness and warmth I found in the Havana locals. Here’s how to see the transitional country differently when you go. 1. Make new friends in the plaza It’s easy to pass an afternoon in Plaza Vieja. There are restaurants lining the entire city square, and many local families gather while kids play in the cobbled streets. I met so many great people there, but the best encounter was meeting Yudel, the boy in the red in the picture above. We played catch one afternoon, and he became my shadow for the entire trip. I was able to meet his family, and hear more about their life and experience living in the city, further proving that connecting with locals is the best way to see Havana.

 2. Enjoy the beautiful art and architecture Okay—this is one is obvious. The history and charm of Havana is endless. It’s easy to roam the streets with your head tilted back, snapping photos of the Spanish colonial buildings. You’ll also quickly recognize the lack of advertising in the city, along with photos of Fidel, Guevara and Chavez sprinkled alongside Viva La Revolución taglines.
 3. Let a local show you around It’s natural to be cautious when traveling, but letting down your guard will be your best decision while in Cuba. The locals exude joy, and are more than willing to show you around their home. I met and talked with a number of families during my stay in Havana, and these interactions were my favorite part of the entire trip. Let them take you to their homes and have a cafecito (Cuban coffee). The company is fantastic, and the conversation will open your eyes to what it’s like to live in Cuba today.
 4. Explore the private-dining scene If someone blindfolded me, secretly took me to El Chanchullero in Havana, and asked me to guess where I was, I would say a tapas bar in Brooklyn; hence my fascination with this restaurant. The artistic, retro-vibe it exudes is truly remarkable. Similar dining options are emerging throughout the city, like 304 O’Reilly, where brothers José Carlos and Julio Imperatori offer the best ceviche and gin cocktails in town. Restaurants like these are only possible with Cuba’s new government reform, allowing residents to own private business.
 5. Skip the resort beach towns Most people would point you in the direction of Varadero to enjoy the beaches in Cuba; but after asking around, La Playa de Megano was recommended as the perfect spot to enjoy the water alongside Havana locals. The beach was full of life, with music blasting from every group of loungers. A sense of community was evident, and a family even invited me to their party later that evening.

Want more? Check out our favorite spots in Cuba!

All photos by Michaela Trimble