Claus Lauter: Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Ywe Travel Podcast. Today we want to take a trip to Cuba and to Cuban culture. Therefore, I have a guest with me, Talek Nantes. She’s an Amazon bestselling author and the founder of the [00:01:00] travel blog Travel with tik.com. Which is ask travel tips, advice, and inspiration to help travelers create their own unique travel experiences.
Talek has traveled to over 110 countries and believe that when it comes to travel, it’s all about experience. And that one, we want to get a little bit of experience on the topic of Cuba today. Tik. How are you today?
Talek Nantes: Well, thank you.
Claus Lauter: First question always is, , go back to your childhood.
What is your first childhood memory of, , travel?
Talek Nantes: I was on a plane going from New York to Havana with my mother, and I looked out the window and saw a propeller and I asked my mother, what is that? And she says, oh, that’s the plane is flying and it’s going to continue flying until it lands in Cuba where you can see grandma.
Claus Lauter: Okay. That’s an awesome story. So, Cuba topic today, you have a very asset, , closed collection to Cuba. I haven’t been there, so I am really interesting to learn more about it. Give me a bit of an overview. , what is Cuba nowadays, how is it accessible for travelers?
Talek Nantes: The most, obvious feature of the country is its natural beauty. E [00:02:00] Everyone that goes there will tell you that , it’s a gorgeous place with, , miles and miles , of coastline, , a coastline that if you stretched out the island, by the way, it’s the biggest island in the Caribbean.
If you stretched it out, it would go from the Caribbean all the way to Northern Canada. And it has, , the city itself. , Havana, the capital has amazing. Colonial architecture and due to the embargo from the United States and many other factors, the architecture remains virtually untouched.
so you can walk down a street and you might as well be walking down a street , in the year 1603. , things are so, so intact. , much of it is, , deteriorating, lack of maintenance. But still, you can imagine , what this place must have been like it in its glory days when it was , the jewel of the Spanish Empire.
Absolutely gorgeous architecture. , then you’ve got the music. , Cuban music is world renowned , no politics can touch that. And art, , they have these amazing art [00:03:00] museums and the city alone, Havana has 13 very impressive museums. People don’t know that people go to Cuba and they think it’s all about dancing and drinking mojitos, , and there’s a lot of that as.
But, , some of the art that you see in these museums is very, very beautiful. Also the, , religion, the culture itself is, fascinating because of the multiethnic background that the city has. , we’ve got , the original settlers, the Spaniards, and then you have the, , enslaved Africans that were brought over, mostly from East.
and they brought with them their food, their music, which contributes to the greatness of Cuban music and also their religion, which is called Santeria. So you see traces, not traces. You see big, big, obvious, , parts of that religion throughout Cuban culture. And actually I could go on and on just to say that they have nine UNESCO World Heritage sites.
, people don’t know that, there’s a lot about Cuba that people don’t know and , I love to share it.
Claus Lauter: Obviously people [00:04:00] have seen pictures of Havana, the capital. I think that’s the most well known outside of Cuba, but as you said, it’s the biggest island in the Caribbean. What other places are on the islands that are definitely worse to go and visit?
Talek Nantes: About, , two hours, , northwest of Havana is Valero, which is a resort area. , it’s very beautiful. It is said to be the most beautiful beach , in the world. A lot of countries can make that claim. , and , it’s very easy to get to. You take a bus, you’re there. it’s a fantastic place, , to spend time.
, and the southern part, you see there are two very interesting cities. One is Creos, which was actually founded by the French. It’s the only city in Cuba that was founded by French people from. Bordeaux and Louisiana, and you see the traces of French culture in the cemeteries with the names on the tombstones, the architecture, , their plaza is rumored to be the prettiest plaza in all of Cuba.
Very delicate architecture. Very beautiful. , then, , about an hour [00:05:00] from there. Is Trinidad a very touristy town? After Havana is where you find most of the tourists , has the most perfectly preserved colonial city in the Americas, even more so than Havana, because Havana, there are sections that are very colonial, but then you’ll see something that’s a little bit more modern.
You’ll see some of. , architecture from , the period when the Russians were there. But, , Trinidad is just totally, totally colonial. Lots of outdoor, music venues. You could just walk in and out of different music venues, , all night , there are many of them and they’re very, very good.
That’s one thing that you’ll notice. , anybody that has visited Cuba will tell you that. You’ll see a trio of musicians playing in a restaurant. Those guys in the United States would have top billing. The musicians that you see are just extraordinarily professional , and very, very good. Continuing on all the way to the west of the island to the far east of the island, you’ll see the second.
Which is Sant Reg [00:06:00] Guba, , that’s also very beautiful. Had very nice architecture. And it is near, , the Alexander Humboldt, national Park, which is one of Cuba’s, , many, , UNESCO World Heritage Sites. And it’s named after a German scientist that visited Cuban in the 18 hundreds, fell in love with it and wrote about it extensively.
, I could go on and on. Those are the most important ones. The ones that most people will visit. There are also places that are more obscure, less known, , beaches, but they’re just, very, very beautiful, just less known.
Claus Lauter: Okay, so how do you get around on the island? What kind of travel transportation options do you have?
Talek Nantes: You can rent a taxi. , you can go by collective taxi. That means everybody will, , arrive at the bus station, for example, and nearby every bus station. There’s a lot of taxi drivers that are collecting passengers, and once they have five people that are all going to. A particular city, they all get together and go there.
Another way is to rent a taxi by [00:07:00] yourself. , but that’s, of course, much more expensive. Then there is a national bus service, which is called via, which means the blue weight. , those are very reasonably priced, but they’re not , the most comfortable buses. , sometimes the air conditioning doesn’t work, things like that.
But, , it’ll get you where you wanna. At a very, very reasonable price. Those are the major ways of getting around the island.
I forgot to mention one other place on the, , far, , western part of the island, which is where my family is from. I don’t know how I forgot to mention that one. It’s called Viles and it is another, world heritage site and it is famous for its, , limestone outcrops that.
They’re either big hills or small mountains, however you wanna look at it. Very beautiful. It’s all covered with a blanket of pine trees and greenery, and it’s great for hiking. It’s also where the world’s best tobacco is grown. . And it’s also a pretty nice touristy area, , where everybody that goes there [00:08:00] enjoys it.
And they’re also very big on echo tourism, , these farm to table restaurants and, , hotels that are just totally, , echo conscious and also several artist communities in the area.
Claus Lauter: Okay. Touching on collective taxis, I have used them all over Latin America and I love them. Now. You move freely around on the island, or are there any kind of restrictions that you are bound to go only to the main attractions or tourist places?
Talek Nantes: you can move freely around the island. Everybody can, including American citizens. , the issue with, , , who can go or how you can go, or if you can go, that is from the US side. It’s not from the Cuban side. The Cubans don’t care. , if they just want you to go there and spend your dollars actually, Or your Euros or whatever , that’s their main concern.
And tourism is one of the biggest revenue generators for the islands. So , the tourism is, very protected and the tourists , are watched over as if they were little children. Very safe.
Claus Lauter: Going a little bit more in the Cuban culture. We already touched a little bit [00:09:00] on that. Are there any kind of special festivals any times of the year where you should go and what you should see?
Talek Nantes: Carnival around February. Havana has carnivals. Probably the most important carnival on the island is in San the Cuba second city, what is rumored to be the best carnival, but pretty much every city will have them. There’s also a jazz fest, I believe that’s in January.
, and there are also other little Feast Saint this, saint that, , even though, , religion , was, , virtually outlawed for many, many years. , now it’s not. they still maintained that cultural, , part of Cuba, which is celebrating the saints.
Claus Lauter: Big part of traveling, at least for me, reckon for a lot of other people is food. Tell me a little bit about Cuban food.
Talek Nantes: Cuban food is not spicy. You have all the proteins, the fish, , the beef. Not as much beef, but certainly fish, chicken and pork. Pork is, , a national dish. That’s what we celebrate with on, , the 24th, , of December, , the night before Christmas by eating a roast [00:10:00] pork and the official national dish.
Is something , which means old clothes. It translates into old clothes. And that means meat beef, which is shredded and cooked so that it looks like a shredded garment and it is cooked in a, , tomato sauce with olives. , those main dishes are all, accompanied. , rice and beans, it’s almost, you have to have rice and beans, and also you have another good popular side dishes.
The plantains, you can either, , fry them or you can, , boil them, cook them many, many different ways. are the main dishes. What’s important also to mention is , the drinks. , another big Cuban export is Rum. Cuban Rum is famous all over the world, and that goes into making all of these, , drinks that have become popular worldwide, such as Mojito
and others. , the beer also is cheap, and it is good. two main [00:11:00] brands are Buero and cri, and you can get a nice, cold, good beer for about the equivalent of two 50 us. then there are many restaurants called Palos, which are private enterprise restaurants. , , versus government run restaurants.
And those are good. The s are good. Some of them are very famous. , one of them called Donya Em was rated one of the hundred best restaurants in the world couple of years back. Another one called, that is where Obama went to have lunch when he visited Cuba back in, I believe it was 2017. So there are lots of good restaurants, , of that type. And then you have, street food. There’s some tasty street food as well. Then you have the government, , restaurants, which are just a very, very unappetizing. With that, you won’t go hungry.
Claus Lauter: Okay. No, that’s important. Now tell me a little bit about the pricing. Obviously solo travelers, individual travelers, always a little bit on the budget, and I have heard Cuba, at least at some point, and I might be wrong, had like two different currencies. Tell me a little bit [00:12:00] more about that.
Talek Nantes: That used to be the case up until about a year and a half ago, they had two currencies. One is the Cuban peso, which they still have, and the other one was the cook, c u c, and which means, freely traded, , currency they scrap that. That didn’t work. So the only currency that they have now is the pay.
So, Although, , the hard currencies such as dollars and euros are readily accepted everywhere, but you don’t want to carry these in big denominations. You don’t wanna walk around with a $50 bill to pay for a meal because you’re gonna get your change back in. Pesos and pesos are not traded. They’re exactly useless outside of Cuba, and sometimes when you leave the country, they won’t be able to switch you back to your own currency.
So you don’t wanna get stuck with, know, $45 equivalent in Cuban pesos because it’ll only be a aire unless you go back at some point.
Claus Lauter: Okay. Now getting in and out of the country probably through Havana. Is that right? [00:13:00] Or is there other international
Talek Nantes: That used to be the case and , during the Obama period , that was liberalized. And you could go from several places in the United States, several cities to several cities in Cuba during the Trump administration that was scrapped and the only place that you could go to was Havana.
Now, during the Biden administration, Opened up again, and it is, , more similar , to the way it was during Obama. , so now you can go not only to Havana, but even to Valero. You can go direct to Valero, that beautiful beach area. You can also go to Kama Way direct Santiago Deva gui Santa Clara.
There’s about seven cities in Cuba that you can travel to from the United States on the US side. You can go now direct from, , New York. I believe some cities in Texas, , Atlanta, Tampa, Fort Lauderdale. So there’s , a bunch of cities and, , two airlines have just gotten permits. To [00:14:00] resume their flights to Cuba that is United in Delta. , JetBlue’s already flying there and American has just announced that they will increase their, , flights to Cuba to 100 flights a week. So there’s a lot of traffic going back and.
Claus Lauter: Okay. That sounds that the Borders final have really opened there. What would you recommend as a sort of golden nugget to someone who goes for the first time to Cuba? What should they definitely not miss out on?
Talek Nantes: Wow. There’s just so many things. , definitely Havana, of course, VIN, that I mentioned where the tobacco comes from. , definitely Trinidad. Definitely, , if you have the time, try to make it to the Alexander Humboldt, state, national Park as well as , the city of Sania. But most people that go for like 10 days, maybe two weeks, Europeans.
Because of their, , vacation times. They have a lot more vacation time than the Americans. They can go for a month in that case. , then do the entire island from VIN in the west to, , Santiago in [00:15:00] the East, but Americans that generally will have two weeks, 10 days thereabouts. Then just stick to the areas that I’ve mentioned,
s and Trinidad.
Claus Lauter: Okay. tell me you have a block where you share travel tips and advice and inspiration. Tell me a little bit more about that.
Talek Nantes: Yes. Travels vitalic. It started in, , 2016 and the objective, , originally was to, , share, , thoughts while I traveled. , because my previous position was, , international Business Development Professional, and I traveled throughout the. Opening, , markets, , for US products. So I just wanted to tell people, oh, this is what things are like in China.
Or, look how interesting I saw this in India. But then it just continued to grow and grow and grow. And then people started asking me, Hey, you go to some interesting places, hey, as a joke. Like, Hey, why don’t I, you take me with you? And then I said, yeah, that’s a good idea. Come on. So then I started the tour aspect of this [00:16:00] business.
and, logical place for me to go is Cuba because of my connection and my familiarity with the place and the fact that I am Cuban, which helps. And, then also Spain. I opened up Spain. And I just came back from a tour where I took, , a small group tour, took , 12 people to Northern Spain from Barcelona to San, and I really enjoyed that.
And I worked in China on and off for about eight years. So I’m very familiar with China and I had a tour already all sold out for China. , but it was supposed to leave in March, 2020, and we know what happened there, so that I had to scrap that because of Covid. But as soon as China opens up, I am going to start those tours again.
, next month, , December, actually, I have a tour going to Cuba on December 6th, coming back on the 16th, covering those main cities that I’ve mentioned. And I’m really looking forward to that.
Claus Lauter: Okay. You really motivated me to go to Cuba now, which was not on my travel list because there’s a ton of other countries, but I
Talek Nantes: [00:17:00] definitely. Definitely. It’s unique. That’s what Cuba has, that other places don’t have because of its history, because , of the acrimonious relationship with the United States. It is different. There’s no McDonald’s there. Any island you go to in the Caribbean is McDonald’s, burger King, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Hilton, , days in, all these, you don’t see that in Cuba.
In Cuba, Amer US citizens are not allowed to stay. The big hotels because they’re owned by the Cuban government. So what you can do is stay in people’s homes. The Cubans have opened up their homes to welcome , the visitors, so it’s just fascinating to go to somebody’s house and sit there in their living room and watch Cuban television, play with the kid, play with the dog, and you are having this, , experie.
This authentic cultural experience with the local people. So things like that you don’t see in other places. It’s like stepping back in time. , it is unique and definitely put it on your list.
Claus Lauter: Okay. That’s definitely a very good tip to stay with the [00:18:00] locals. I always try to do that. Gives you complete different access to culture to people. So where can people find out more about you and get in touch with you?
Talek Nantes: www.travelswithtaik.com. You can find me on, , Facebook, Instagram, pin tores, Twitter. I have a Facebook group. For, , women over 50 that love to travel. So join that and, , let’s see where else. Those you can just email me with any kind of questions to find out about my next tour, subscribe to my website, and if you subscribe, then you get a free travel book for a travel ebook.
Claus Lauter: I will put the links in the show notes. Then you’re just one click away and people can reach you easily. Alex, thanks so much for giving us a sort of introduction into Cuba and the Cuban culture. I think it was very insightful and should motivate a lot of people to go to this beautiful island.
Thanks so much.
Talek Nantes: Thank you for your time. Bye-bye.
Claus Lauter: Bye.
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