Timeworn but magnificent, dilapidated but dignified, fun yet maddeningly frustrating – Cuba is a country of indefinable magic.

Cuba is like a prince in a poor man’s coat: behind the sometimes shabby facades, gold dust lingers. It’s these rich dichotomies that make travel here the exciting, exhilarating roller-coaster ride it is. Trapped in a time warp and reeling from an economic embargo that has grated for more than half a century, this is a country where you can wave goodbye to everyday assumptions and expect the unexpected.

-Lonely Planet

Sitting in a bar with my local girls months ago we were deciding on a girls trip that would be both economical and fun.  And of course after a few glasses of wine and laughs a cruise to Cuba was selected.  We decided to do the Norwegian Cruise Lines as it included alcohol beverages and no fancy pansy formal meals etc.  We could do whatever we wanted at anytime, anywhere on the ship.  A quick call to my buddy Shara Murlin of Happy Feet Travel Company and our booking was confirmed and ready.

Of course Rita doesn’t do ordinary so I decided to seek a private tour company within Cuba.  After a bit of research and instagram digging I saw this beautiful picture of Vinales Valley. I was awestruck! Quick decision turned into booking with a reputable company called Cuban Adventures for a day trip to Vinales. I quietly mentioned to the girls this was going to be a rough 3 hour drive to the valley, included lunch and a quick tour of Havana. All agreed, set, ready to go.

Once our ship docked we were picked up promptly by our private guide Armando.  We were taken to our minivan.  Unlike many of my other private guides with luxurious rides, this was definitely a step down, in fact quite a few steps down. I needed to remind myself Rita, this is Cuba! No imports, No luxurious cars! Shook my head and said lets do this and have the ride of our life!

Here is the outline of our trip with pros and cons

Pros – It’s an adventure, set that mindset before you go.  Do your research and be prepared.  This is an underdeveloped country. It’s definitely going back in time. Once in a lifetime experience. The cars, the country, the people. Going to Vinales was the perfect day trip to really see how the locals live and you get to see how the country really is outside of the bustling city of Havana. Be sure to hire a great guide and company to be safe and the tours include perks. Cruise ship did not offer a day trip to Vinales as it was too far inland.  Our tour included a trip to a cuban tobacco cigar farm an awesome traditional cuban lunch and a quick tour of Havana. Armando did his best to accommodate us to finish up in Havana.  With a visit to the Hotel Nacional de Cuba indulging in some incredible Mafia Mojitos to the Morro Castle it was still worth every minute. Here is the link for the Tour Company

 Cons – Damn pot holes! Everywhere! The three hour journey to Vinales was definitely full of ups and downs literally! If you’ve been to India and Asia you’ll see how the roads have no rules. Once in Vinales though the view and valley is so breathtaking you’ll forget about the rough journey back to Havana till you get back in the van. Since the day trip to Vinales was so long, we honestly didn’t have too much time in Havana, it was starting to get dark and it had rained.  Some of the girls headed back to the ship and some of us enjoyed a delectable dinner overlooking the Plaza Vieja

I would love to go back to Cuba but this time actually stay within the country. There is so much to see and even though the cruise docked overnight, really its not enough to enjoy this beautiful country. The one day adventure was still great, it leaves you with a sense of  a great appreciation how some people are so content and happy with what little they have.  Of all my journeys in the world this was definitely one of my favorites.