Cuba! I didn’t realise it until experiencing it first-hand but it’s definitely the country I’ve been longing for. It’s definitely been the happiest and most memorable time of my life. The constant music, dancing, singing, art, architecture and passion of the variety of incredibly friendly and kind hearted people has set my soul on fire. The trip was put together by Monica (from Estilo Cubano), who made sure every detail was sorted before we even got on the plane. Most people attending the trip were Estilo Cubano students from Johannesburg & Pretoria and seeing as I was from Durban hadn’t met anyone before. I met the group at the Johannesburg and Turkey Airport and we all just instantly got along like we’d known each other for ages.
By the end of the trip we were family. The dance classes we attended in Old Havana were incredible: so full of learning curbs, laughter, fun and spontaneous beatboxing by the teachers to create a song. The teachers and assistants became such amazing friends by the end of the trip even partying with us till early hours of the morning before we left. The ability to find out how our bodies worked improved 10 fold with those classes. Walking around and discovering hidden gems of places in the little crevices was such a beautiful experience: finding churro trucks and the best drinks and dancing spots in town where you can’t help but stay until you got kicked out at closing time! The tours not only helped us bond but helped us learn and experience so much more about the culture and where it stems from.
The walking tour guided us to places we later visited in our own time (palm readers, la bodeguita del medio, floridita, cigar stores, etc), Viñales taught us where those famous Cuban cigars originate, Tropicoco and Varadero gave us some time to relax and rejuvenate, the night shows showcased such talent, Fusterland had the most magnificent art, Matanzas showed us the roots of the Afro Cuban culture and the car tour let us experience the sights first hand in those incredible vintage open top cars! Definitely so many experiences to note and remember. Our tour guides were so much fun and so knowledgeable.
I think between the lot of us, the amount of pictures we took could break the Internet! The night life inclusive of places like Hotel Florida, finding night clubs walking around, 1830 and of course Baila en Cuba Salsa Festival, with the biggest salsa bands trending today, was the biggest highlight of the entire trip. Whilst connection to the Internet was minimal, Cuba stole my heart in every way and form possible so much that I didn’t want to leave. There was definitely no shortage of partners to dance with and you can’t go a day without a mojito, cubata, limonada, bucanero or cristal in hand. All in all I’ve had the most unforgettable and incredible experience with friends I’ve made for life and I can’t wait to go back soon!
Wow, what can I say. Truly a vacation of a lifetime. Reminiscing of what had been, it still feels like a dream. The city of Havana with its old Spanish colonial buildings and mid-century architecture, the classic cars, live Cuban music on the streets and Cuban food and much much more all moving to the same rhythmic tempo. But what stood out for me was the people. Their spirit, tradition and culture. Though their lives are incredibly hard, they still were out on the streets welcoming everyone with a smile. I never felt unsafe. Coming home from dancing parties at 3 am, walking on the Malecon seawall at 4 am while fishermen are out fishing. Being on the streets late at night was normal. The same beat that moves the Cuban people pulsates throughout, always inviting and enticing, you can’t help but being mesmerised and captivated.
On the trip, I’ve met an incredible bunch of fun-loving, adventurous people, who simply lived for the next opportunity to salsa, sipping on cubata and mojito cocktails or a bucanero beer. The organisers Estilo Cubano and Monica did a fantastic job, our itinerary was packed full.. daily 3 hour dance classes with amazing teachers; to walking tours of Havana passing by Cuba’s most popular bar La Bodeguita del Medio, a bar frequented by Hemingway to one of Old Havana’s most beautiful spots the Plaza de la Catedral; riding the iconic streets of the city in colourful vintage cars to the Plaza de la Revolucion; 5 day concerts at Baila en Cuba the highlight being the performance by Gente de Zona with their hit song Bailando; tours to the cigar producing valleys in Viñales where we saw cigars being rolled by hand and the traditional Afro Cuban village in Matanzas; relaxing at the exotic beaches of Tropicoco and sailing on the pristine calm seas of Varadero; to watching live shows of Legends of Cuba and cabaret shows. A lot to take in in 9 days with hardly any sleep, but with still so many places and a whole island left unexplored, it’s a good opportunity to go back again.
A unique place where wifi is not available everywhere and internet won’t connect, but you can build a lifetime of memories that only Cuba can make possible.
“I’ve always wanted to visit Cuba, and finally had the opportunity to go there in January. Monica (Estilo Cubano) arranged the most awesome trip for us! She put together an itinerary based on our interests, and we visited Havana, Trinidad and Santa Clara, where we stayed in casas particulares (home stays) which enabled us to meet with local people and get to know the Cuban culture better. She shared a lot of information, so we knew what to expect and also shared recommendations of interesting places to go, salsa lessons, and nightclubs. Cuba is beautiful and vibrant, but it’s not an easy travel destination. Monica made it so much easier and highly enjoyable. I would recommend anyone wanting to go there to arrange their trip with Estilo Cubano.”
“Although I lived in the Caribbean for 15 years the atmosphere in Havana is different, it’s relaxed, back in time, no rush and festive all day and night. I, of course, do realize I was there as a tourist and wonder if it feels the same for the Cuban people but as a tourist I had a great and fun time. The architecture is amazing and sometimes seriously dilapidated but that gives the town its special character, I really enjoyed walking around with Monica and my fellow travellers and sit down in one of the many cosy restaurants often with live music, all through the day for one of their famous drinks. The people of Cuba are friendly, gentle and charming and for me the home stay was a lovely experience to get in touch with their way of living, habits and hospitality. The dance school was great with a typical Cuban vibe and bunch of amazing, happy, crazy and dedicated teachers. I never felt the 3 hours of classes was too long. The trip and the experiences there still have an impact on my life today. Cannot wait to go again!”
“I went to Havana, Cuba for the first time through Estilo Cubano Cuban Salsa dancing experience. The trip was well organised by Monica of Estilo Cubano who, although not a Cuban has a profound love for the country and has been there numerous times. This gave us a unique window to Cuban life. Even though we were tourists, part of an organised tour we didn’t have that 100% canned tourist experience. Firstly we were accommodated in what is referred to as a home stay – it’s like a hybrid between a B&B and Airbnb. Living in someone’s home you can have a better feel of a culture than when you are living in a hotel. A hotel is a hotel! The actual dancing at the Salsa school was amazing. I remember flying there I thought “How am I going to dance for 3 hours every day? This is crazy. It’s going to be long and laborious.” My fear was unfounded, the 3 hours flew by because we had amazing teachers. They were fun, warm and they truly knew what they were doing. It didn’t hurt either that absolutely every single teacher at the dance school looked like they had won the genetic lottery. Good-looking people everywhere! Thanks to Monica we got to go to a few Salsa concerts as well. Cuba is FAR, but the experience was well worth it because it was so unique!”
I’d always been fascinated by Latino culture, the Spanish language, the music, and the lively spirit they all seem to possess, and determined not to let my African -born heritage get in the way. I signed up for salsa classes. Salsa cannot be understood by explanation, illustration or demonstration; it’s only through feeling the music and harmonizing your movements with your partner that the true essence of this dance is perceived. With this mind, I decided I needed to experience the real deal: learn to salsa like a Cuban in Cuba. From the moment I placed my first steps in Old Havana I felt like I’d entered an authentic 1950s movie set. Elderly gentlemen sitting outside charming, decaying colonial homes playing chess, whilst their wives share the latest gossip through open windows. Children merrily dodging in between vendors casually trying to convince the neighbourhood to buy their wares. Music blasting from vintage cars, each trying to outdo another. My senses were on overdrive. The accommodation was in the heart of Old Havana and an easy walk to the dance studio where I would spend four hours practicing salsa with a professional instructor, and at night take advantage of the vibrant, non-stop nightlife to test my newly learned moves with friends and new acquaintances. In the afternoons I strolled the streets, admiring the rich colonial architecture of the historic plazas, churches, and buildings. People watching from quaint cafes while sipping on coffee or Cuba Libres, became a favourite activity and I never got bored of the colourful, noisy, and diverse culture that is etched into every facet of the city.
This was an amazing experience, my only regret is not staying longer. I fell in love with Cuba! I will definitely be back. There is so much to see and do …
What a great and life changing experience this has been. Dancing, laughing, singing and lots of walking. Music is everywhere.. Cuba is magical! Do yourself a favour and be at the next trip in 2016… Life will never be the same!