Arrival in Cuba:
The night before heading to Cuba, we attended a pre-tour briefing in our hotel in Miami. Our tour manager explained that in Cuba, we will need to use the "F word" a lot. We all looked puzzled.
"Flexible". Everyone laughed. But little did we know, this word would become the word of the entire trip, starting before we even arrived.
4:00am - Depart for Airport
We departed for the Miami airport to board our charter flight to Cienfuegos, Cuba, a scrappy American Eagle plane with no more than 30 seats on board.
7am - Arrival Part 1
The American Eagle plane departed at 7am, complete with one flight attendant. Our tour group made up 95% of the flight occupants. I was so excited for the trip that I grabbed a Cuban coffee to go for the plane. I thought this would be the easiest flight of all time - only 40 minutes long.
Soon after we departed, the flight became one of the bumpiest flights I've experienced. So bumpy that my Cuban coffee ended up on my lap. After what seemed like much longer than a half hour, I could finally see the land below. Cuba at last!
It was shrouded in clouds, but I could make out the patchwork of farmland and rural roads. It was so sparsely populated and I waited patiently for the clouds to dissipate so I could snap a photo of the landscape.
As our plane descended to landing, the clouds shrouded the airport. The airplane window was completely white from the clouds. Then, we started ascending again. WTH? We circled around, past the coast, and swooped in for landing, again with no resolve. This was the strangest airplane ride ever.
Finally, the pilot got on the PA system and said "sorry folks, we can't see the runway so we are heading back to Miami". Everyone on the plane gasped. And with that, our tour manager said "What did I say about the F word?!" Everyone laughed. We didn't even get our mojitos!
9am - Flexibility & Arrival Part 2
After much flexibility, we set out for Cuba for the second time. The flight was much less bumpy this time around, but there were still plenty of clouds. The pilot had to visually see the runway in order to land due to the lack of equipment in the Cienfuegos airport (ahem, trailer building). Then, with fingers crossed, we went in for landing. Finally, the wheels touched ground. Third time's a charm! Everyone clapped and rejoiced. At long last, we made it to Cuba!
11am - Cienfuegos, Cuba airport
The Cienfuegos airport is the smallest airport I have ever seen. It consists of one runway (we were the only plane) and one terminal, which was more of a portable building in the middle of farm country. The airport security greeted us with security dogs, stamped our passports, and collected our visas. The process was much smoother than I thought, and it was time to see Cuba!
12pm - Lunch at Paladar
After all the flights and flexibility, it was time for lunch at Villa Lagarto. This is a delightful lunch spot along the water. It was like entering Hemingway's beach house. There were plants everywhere, bananas of all colors, and an outside patio for cigar smoking.
We were presented with a tray of fruits: mini bananas cut in half, papaya, and guava. Then an "organic" salad of cucumbers, tomatoes, and shredded cabbage. The waiters explained that it is organic because "we don't have the money for chemicals" (lol!). The last dish was our choice of grilled meat and rice. To finish it off, we had a banana liquor and a "Cuban" coffee, or as they call it here, just coffee.
1pm - Cienfuegos City Tour
Now it was time to set off to see Cienfuegos. Located on the southern coast of Cuba, Ceinfuegos was deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005 for its excellence in Spanish architecture and urban planning.
Here are the highlights:
Catedral de la Purisma Conception - The Cathedral in the Cienfuegos city center.
Plaza de Jose Marti - The plaza in the center of town.
Palacio de Valle - A stunning example of Moorish architecture.
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We are two adventurous young professionals who turned our passion for travel into a blog to help others travel more.