Thaïs is an actress and writer originally from Trinidad and Tobago. An alumna of New York University, she currently resides in Los Angeles. She has toured as an actress both nationally and internationally and has also written and produced for film and theater. Her original play OUTCRY based on the lives of Trayvon Martin and Emmett Till has been produced throughout the U.S., featured in American Theater Magazine, and has been used in school curricula to address racial tension. Her short film Late Expectations has screened in festivals across the world and was honored at ESSENCE’s Black Women in Hollywood with the “Discover Award.” She has been honored by the Root Magazine as one of the 25 under 25 Top Innovators in America, and her academic writings and speeches have been presented in symposiums across the U.S. She also has a holistic interior design company "Thais & Co." which focuses on internal wellness through design. Read on to explore her complete guide to the marvelous country of Cuba...
When I landed in Cuba, there was an instant culture shock in the most fascinating and delectable way. The loudness inspired me, the public displays of affection surprised me, and the ease with which people existed intrigued me. Cuba is bright, bold, and incredibly unapologetic. Just like their antique cars, this island maintains an anachronistic charm. I didn’t want a tourist experience, I wanted to be just like them— and the luxury of my black skin meant that I blended right in. My Cuban experience wasn’t glamorous; it was adventurous, spontaneous and always insightful.
Spanish: Cubans have a thick accent, and the last letters of their words are sometimes not pronounced. For instance, seis (six) is pronounced sei.
Hello – Hola
Goodbye – Adios
Yes - Si
Good morning- Buenos días
Please- Por favor
Thank you- Gracias
Oiste – You hear me?
If you are a tourist you will be charged differently and many times overcharged. Tourism is one of the biggest sources of money for the country, and if they can get more from you, they will.
They use two different currencies. One is CUC and the other is CUP.
- 1 CUC= 1 USD. 1 CUC = 25 CUP.
- Tourists rarely use CUP, only locals. However, if you know a Cuban, try to get CUC and use it in the local markets and restaurants. You’ll save A LOT of money. (Unless you have money to blow— in that case yes, feed the economy and the Cubans your dinero)
Convert USD to another currency before arrival and not directly in Cuba. They have an additional 10 % tax on the US dollar, so you lose more in the conversion. If you convert to Canadian, or Euro, you avoid the tax and get more bang for your buck – literally.
There are no ATMS for American banks, so cash is Queen.
The taxis are expensive. The antique taxis even more so. I once paid $20 for a 10 minute ride. After that, I decided to take the bus. If you take the public bus aka guagua, your Spanish should be good, and you should not be claustrophobic. For 1 CUP, you can get almost anywhere. Though, your head will be smushed in someone’s armpit, and someone will be blasting reggaeton from their cellphone.
Where to Eat
The touristic parts of Cuba such as Old Havana are filled with restaurants, hotels and markets with locally made goods.
Restaurants in Havana
- La Guarida Centro habana
- El Dandy Cafe
- Cafe Mamine
- Restaurante Paladar Cafe Laurent
- Paladar Vistamar (Ocean view!)
- La Moneda
- El Floridita
- O’Reilly 304
- La Terraza de Cojimar (Hemmingway Bar, on the water
- Callejon de Hamel (live music)
- Submarino Amarillo (60’s music)
These places are cute, but if you want authentic, no nonsense, aromatic black beans and a strong drink, I suggest you find a back alley restaurant. I frequented a hole in the wall restaurant in the neighborhood of Cerro, where I’d eat a full course meal, and have an alcoholic drink (mojito please!) all for $4.
Wifi is not readily available. You’ll have to buy a prepaid card, and can only use it in designated wifi zones. It is perfect if you’re trying to kick your social media addiction.
Where to Visit
Habana Vieja (Old Havana)
Parque Historico Militar Morro (Military site)
Plaza Del Cristo
Catedral De La Habana
Hotel Nacional (live music)
Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes
Plaza de la Revolucion (Che Gueverra’s memorial)
Necropolis Cristobal Colon
Fusterlandia (artist Jose Fuster)
Fabrica de Arte Cubano (open 8am - 3am thurs - sun)
Fabrica De Arte is a multi level loft space that has theater on one floor, opera on the next, interactive art installations, many bars, and tons of people having fun. Definitely artsy.
- Playa Del Este
- Santa Maria del Mar
- Playa de Guanabo
- Viñales (3 hours away from Havana): Horseback riding, Finca Agroecologica El Parais, Tobacco Farm, Indian Cave, Learn about 19th Century Afro-Cuban Religion.
If you’re looking for peace and quiet, Viñales is the place. It’s a town nestled in the valley, with nature, restaurants and one wifi spot. Lots of horses, everyone knows everyone here and I spent a lot of time in their one library reading. I also met my favorite twins: 72 year old Maria Gloria and Gloria Maria.
Where to stay
Airbnb’s make the experience more colorful and authentic. My host took me around the city on his motorbike, and his wife made me breakfast everyday.
Cuba is a unique experience. Cubans seem to be in a time warp; many things are outdated, and technology isn’t at the forefront. However, what they do have is a lot of face-to-face interaction, pride, and genuine love for their country and each other. It is the only place I’ve visited where people leave their doors open, and walking around at 10pm alone isn’t scary. By having less things, they seem to have more love. It is a place unlike any other, a world where modernity and nostalgia coexist.
Images courtesy of Thais Francis
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