One of the main reasons why I love traveling so much is because it allows me to learn about the world in a way that is deep, meaningful and personal. From soaking up tradition and culture in the medinas of Marrakech, Morocco to uncovering the horrors of the Nazi Regime at Auschwitz Concentration Camp in Poland to learning of former Yugoslavia’s struggles following the collapse of the Soviet Union in the streets of Ljubljana, Slovenia, time and time again my travels have taught me that the best classroom in the world truly is the world. Although, if only I could get the same feeling and depth of knowledge out of textbooks or Netflix documentaries, my bank account would be a lot fuller!
I’ve also found there is no better way to really understand a place’s culture or history than by touring with a local. Perhaps as travelers we will never really fully be able to comprehend the destinations we visit, but to see a place through the eyes of a local and not just the lense of a tourist can at least get you a more profound understanding.
The opportunity to learn about Cuban history from actual Cubans was at the top of a long list of reasons why I was out of my mind with excitement at the opportunity to visit Havana. My pre-arrival excitement was so great in fact that I spent two of the three final nights before my trip wide awake with an adrenaline rush of insomnia further fueled by listening to the entire soundtrack of West Side Story. (Yes I’m aware the Sharks are Puerto Rican, not Cuban, but I didn’t have a Cuban musical to fall back on).
Havana Tour Company
To make sure I learned as much as I could on my visit to Havana I booked a guided tour with Havana Tour Company.
One of the biggest mistakes I made when I first started traveling extensively was to not take more guided tours. In the past I used to kind of turn my nose up at them, branding them as the lazy way out for people who don’t want to be independent when they travel, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Tours in places like Budapest and Guatemala City taught me that you can learn way more on a guided tour than you ever could on your own, even if you have a guidebook.
Havana Tour Company offers tours that “showcase the real Havana.” The itinerary of their Full Day Tour of Havana includes a morning walking tour of La Habana Vieja, lunch at an authentic Cuban Paladar and an afternoon cruise in a classic car. Both private and group tours are available.
I took a private tour and met my tour guide, Yaniet Curro Cabrera, at the Hotel Inglaterra, Cuba’s oldest hotel, to begin our trek through Cuba’s capital city.
I couldn’t have asked for a cooler tour guide than Yaniet. While I do speak Spanish, Yaniet is completely fluent in English, making her a great guide for non-Spanish speaking visitors. Yaniet and I are very close in age and I found we had a lot in common. We both wanted to study journalism, taught English for a stint and have an unquenchable thirst to “see the world.” We both hate cat-callers and people who abuse our tendencies to be too trusting. We both love dresses and Sandra Bullock in the movie The Proposal. We both, as young women in 2015, want our voices to be heard, although we aren’t always sure the best way for this to happen in the confusing world we now live in.
I may not have found love in Cuba (I’m officially adding it to the long list of countries where my Before Sunrise fantasies did not come true), but in Yaniet I definitely found a potential Cuban BFF. And she taught me so much about Cuba. Here’s some of what I learned. (more…)