Mike and I have always loved slinging on our backpacks and jetting off to far-flung places and exploring. We weren’t sure how it would work with Penny in tow, but we knew we were still going to try our hardest to make it work. We were flying with Aeroflot and set off to Havana from Vienna and via Moscow, which instantly doubled our flight time. In the end, door to door turned out to be 24 hours travel. It was exhausting. However, Penny rocked it. I may have underplayed her weight to the air stewardesses in order to secure her a bassinet and prayed it wouldn’t break! All in all, we were dreading the flights but actually, they really weren’t that bad. Penny napped and played on the floor and we were even able to watch a film. Aeroflot were fine with very friendly staff and good plane seats as well.
First stop was Havana- a whirlwind of loud, colourful music from every corner. Our homestay was right in the middle of the chaos and fantastically located in between Plaza Vieja and Plaza de Armas. Maracas were shaken in our faces, old men singing passionately from their windows, cigar smoke swirling from the porches. We loved it and Penny was treated like a celebrity. I’ve never been anywhere where the local people love babies so much. We were stopped by men and women, young and old so that they could coo and squeeze Penny’s cheeks every 10 seconds. We walked to El Capitolio and got a bright pink 1950s Chevrolet Bel Air for a one hour tour of the city- a very common tourist activity. We shopped for art work at a large flea market that I had visited 10 years before and weirdly had a strong memory of exactly where it was. We also visited El Morro, a fortress that protects that city of Havana and can be seen from miles around. With Penny, we were forced to take things at a slower pace than we otherwise would have. Our average day started with an excursion somewhere and Penny would have a quick nap in our carrier, we would stop off somewhere for lunch at around midday, head back for afternoon naps and then have a relaxing afternoon usually bar hopping around the beautiful squares. We kept Penny on her usual routine, which meant bedtime started at 6:30pm and she was usually asleep by 7pm, It was lovely to have the evenings to ourselves but also frustrating in a city like Havana, where it comes alive at night. Whilst our fellow residents of the homestay danced the night away, we played cards and drank rum.
Trinidad, 4 hours away, was our next destination. We had ordered a car to pick us up that I wouldn’t recommend. It actually worked out a bit cheaper and easier to organise this once there. Our driver drove for 3 hours and then dropped us in a random location whereby we had to find another person with another car who then took us the rest of the way. It was all a bit annoying and shouldn’t really have happened with an organised company that had pretty good reviews online.
Trinidad was beautiful; a very small UNESCO Heritage town with an array of activities close to the town. It is beautifully preserved with charming houses, cobblestones and some great dining options as well. Cuba isn’t known for it’s fine dining, but Trinidad seems to have opened to privately owned restaurants, meaning the choice available was broader and the standard of food was much higher. We visited Playa Ancon, a very nice sandy beach about a 15 minute drive away from the town centre. Penny took her first swim in the sea and Mike and I both got a bit sunburnt. Close by to Trinidad is Cuba’s second largest mountain range, the Escambray Mountains, and within them, the Topes des Callentes Nature Reserve. The hiking here is excellent and we had originally planned a trip to the El Nicho waterfalls. However, this particular spot was only reachable by 4x4 and so we were recommended the Caburni Fall, a more popular route. This was absolutely fine except for the last 500m, which was a sheer drop, wet and muddy. Mike carried Penny on his back in the carrier and she, unfortunately, decided to get her top tooth through on this exact part of the hike. And so, he endured 30 minutes of her screaming whilst using all of his concentration skills in order to get them both down to the bottom safely. I, on the other hand, also massively struggled with the old dodgy knees and took about 20 minutes longer. Once at the bottom, the fall was beautiful and quite spectacular. You could also swim in the freezing cold pool. We believe that Penny was probably the first baby to make it to the bottom and feel utterly stupid that we attempted this. It was far too dangerous and I would really not recommend it if you’re carrying a baby. Still, we arrived back home in one piece and seriously achy muscles.
Our last stop in Cuba was Varadero, the place I vowed I would never visit! Varadero is famed for its beautiful beaches and lies on a peninsula. We were told there were 70+ resorts here and you definitely don’t visit Varadero to get an understanding of Cuban life. You are able to stay in homestays here as well, but it seemed pretty pointless as the reason we decided to add Varadero to our itinerary was precisely to relax and be looked after. After another 4 hour car journey, in which Penny wasn’t as well behaved as before, we pulled up at our resort, the Iberostar. We walked in to check in and were eyed suspiciously by the receptionists. Just then, Penny shat herself. Everywhere. All over Mike and both their clothes. The receptionist, obviously offended by the smell, snootily informed us that this was an adults only hotel and we should leave. Turned out there were 3 Iberostar resorts in Varadero. Of course. So, back in another taxi with a smelly, pooey Penny, and eventually we pulled up to our much friendlier and baby-loving other Iberostar. And my goodness, we loved it! We didn’t expect to. We fully had our minds turned around regarding all-inclusives and it was just so lovely not having to be worried about money or wonder where we would get our next meal from. They had highchairs for Penny and even a kids club where Penny had her own babysitter and got to play for 2 hours each morning while Mike and I sunned ourselves on beach! I was really impressed with the food and even the entertainment was fantastic and of a very high standard. We spent a lovely 4 nights here and enjoyed every minute. I would imagine we will look at staying in an all-inclusive at the end of a back-packing trip much more now.
All in all, travelling around Cuba was fantastic. Sure, we got sick in places, we were frustrated by the two currencies- the CUP for locals and the CUC for tourists, which was based on the US dollar and meant that basically everything was a complete rip off. We were without internet for most of the trip, which meant that when Penny cried for seemingly no apparent reason, I couldn’t google it- annoying but we got over it and actually quite enjoyed being away from it all. As I said before, Cubans LOVE babies and this really helped us out a lot of the time. People rushed to help us (apart from the people at the adults only hotel), people were extremely friendly to us. We found it funny how Cubans didn’t think twice about us bringing Penny to Cuba, yet we were told many times by tourists how ‘brave’ we were, which seemed to be underlined with possibly how ‘stupid’ they also thought we were. Penny was wonderful throughout. We were constantly impressed with her adaptability, her ease of fitting in to a new routine, her bravery when meeting new people, and her ability to charm just about anyone we passed. I would thoroughly recommend travelling around Cuba with a baby and feel both relieved and excited that it was so successful. I can now start planning the next trip!
Some key things to bring: