CUBA

It all started with my friend Parker sending me a text about going on a trip. We discussed a few different options and then before I knew it we were packing up leaving for Cuba! One of my best friends Samantha jumped on board as well and then we were off.

This place was unlike anything I had ever imagined. It was so fascinating to see the way a communist country lives and what their day to day life is like. They live off of roughly $25 a month because of the government, or they can forgo the $25 and earn money from working and then they have to pay the government about 80% of what they earn! It’s seriously so crazy! A lot of the buildings in Havana are run down, thrashed windows, no roofs, its just nuts. We visited Havana, Trinidad, Veradero and Vinales – all beautiful and interesting in their own way. And yes, they have the old colorful rad cars that you get to drive in everywhere which is so much fun!

HAVANA:

Sra Mirtha y Osley Apartment – click HERE

This apartment was a really good location and walking distance to everything!

There is old Havana and new Havana – Old Havana is so rundown with torn up cement streets everywhere, broken into convenient stores, run down shops, etc. Just so crazy to see! New Havana is more developed, has the government housing, and the shoreline which is nice at sunset. If you’re looking to visit here take note that there are ZERO convenient stores or places to buy any snacks, treats, etc. so BRING snacks!! We walked into a gas station in hopes that there would be treats or something and there were only rows and rows of baby food!! Hahaha SO random! Exploring these cities are way fun though and there’s a lot of history to learn about the place.

TRINIDAD:

Ikzal Trinidad – click HERE

Great location – walking distance to everything! The owners were so friendly and helpful with everything!

This is a fun little city with some fun dancing night life. It’s smaller and you can explore in about a day or so. The main plaza has food, dancing, and just a fun scene so make sure to check that out!

VINALES:

This town is so fun to explore! We went horseback riding through the fields and it was SO beautiful! They took us through the tobacco, sugarcane and coffee fields and we got to stop and talk to locals about their way of life here. One thing I do wish that we would have done here is rock climbing – apparently they have some amazing climbs, and I feel like it would have been an incredible experience. The horseback riding is a must though! We just did a day trip here, so we didn’t stay overnight.

Best drink I’ve ever had!!!

VERADERO:

Casa Leon y Betty Varadero – click HERE

This was my favorite city! It’s a beautiful beach town and we found a shop with treats!!! haha the simple joys of life! It was the prettiest white sand beach I have ever been to and just the clearest water ever! It’s a little more touristy with little markets and what not, but such a fun town!

– Bring snacks like I had mentioned above!! There aren’t any places to buy snacks/treats

– If you’re into rock climbing, make sure to rock climb in Vinales

– Always bargain with the taxi drivers! They overcharge big time at first and you have to talk them down.

– MONEYYYY!!! This is a big one because they don’t have ATM’s there that you can use. You have to exchange beforehand in the airport BUT they don’t like USD so the exchange rate is outrageous. So what we did was before we left the states we exchanged our USD for Euros and then once we got to Cuba we exchanged the Euros for their currency and got a way better exchange rate!

– If you don’t have a ton of time and are debating which cities to see, I would take out Trinidad. If I were to go back, I would take that out and add another day in Vinales or Veradero!

ECUADOR

This place BLEW. MY. MIND!!!!! I was so surprised that everything it had to offer and I would definitely recommend it to anyone and everyone! We had a crew of 11 friends and it was just such a blast! We flew into Quito, and then also visited Cotopaxi, Tena and Banos.

QUITO:

Central Quito – click HERE

We flew into Quito and just stayed there for one night. Our main thing we wanted to do was Cotopaxi National Park and the Quito airport was the best one to fly into for that. While we were here though we took this amazing gondola to the top of the mountain to an overlook. It was called TeleferiQo! There are hiking trails, mountain biking, etc. at the top. So beautiful!!

COTOPAXI:

Cotopaxi National Park was UNREAL!!!!! We drove all the way up to the volcano and got out and explored – it was so pretty and one of those moments where you can’t help but just outstretch your arms and take it all in! It’s definitely worth the bumpy ride and wind haha (as you’ll see in the photos below) We just did a day trip here and it was perfect!

BANOS:

Casa Nahuazo – click HERE

– This place was nuts! If you like adventure then make sure to go here because it’s adventure central! We went bungee jumping off a bridge for no joke $20! It’s ridiculously cheap and SO much fun! If you find the main bridge in town and ask someone for bungee jumping, they’ll point you in the right direction. haha They know what’s up! You just pay them cash, and before you know it you’re strapped in jumping off a bridge!

– We also went white water rafting and it was the best white water rafting I’ve done! You know when it advertises HUGE rapids, and then you go and it’s not even rafting, it’s more like floating haha…so not this time! It was actually big rapids and people flew off multiple times!! If you’re looking for something more mellow, then this isn’t for you because it’s for sure like “alright hold on, here we go!” I wish I had the name of the company that we went through but we honestly just found one in town(there’s a lot that offer it in the city center)

– We spent New Years here and it was the craziest New Years experience evvvver!! They have all of these huge paper machete life size figurines…yes I know, creepy and hilarious all at once! So they have these ALL over town and people are dressed up in masks and the weirdest clothing and it’s like the whole city has gone mad haha then when midnight hits they BURN everything!!! All the figurines go up in flames and fireworks everywhere. They have no sense of safety and just start burning anything and everything even if you’re standing a foot in front of it, so everyone is just screaming and running everywhere! Legit, the craziest thing of my life! Haha and then of course, there’s fun dancing and all that jazz that follows! I would DEFINITELY suggest going over New Years!! It was so much fun and not like your typical New Year experience!

– There’s an amazing waterfall here called Pailon del Diablo(Devil’s Cauldron) that is a MUST! You get to crawl up through these little openings to get closer to the waterfall and there’s a beautiful bridge that crosses over the rain forest that you get cross. For sure don’t want to miss it! Make sure to grab some mangoes from the guy at the shop on the left on your way back – hands down the best mangoes I’ve had to date!

– There’s a swing that looks like you’re going off the edge of the earth and it’s way rad! It’s called Casa Del Arbol – you drive up through the jungle a ways to get to the top of the mountain and then pay like $10 and it’s totally worth it. It’s an incredible view and you feel like you’re swinging off the earth….quite literally.

– After doing activity after activity we decided to treat ourselves to a day at the spa which was a fun experience! There are multiple different options – all of us got massages and then some of us did the candle ear wax and then some did a sauna box. I loved it and it was nice to just chill for a day. The name of the spa was called El Refugio Spa Garden.

TENA:

Eco Yoga Farm – click HERE

I CANNOT SAY ENOUGH GOOD THINGS ABOUT THIS STAY!!!! Seriously it was everything we could have asked for and more! It’s secluded out in the middle of the jungle! So beautiful!! The owner, Bhagavatamrita was so inviting and nice – we arrived fairly late and he was there to help us feel at home and situated. Every morning we got to do yoga on the deck for sunrise and it was the most magical experience ever! If you go to Tena you have GOT to stay here!!! 10/10!! This place is in the straight up amazon jungle with no service, no sense of where we were, just us and nature and I couldn’t have been happier about it!

The first night we were there was honestly the most magical night! We were just laying in bed and this HUGE rainstorm starts coming down and you can hear it hitting our deck, we had big open windows that looked out into the jungle and you could here all the animal noises, and then to top it off, a meteor shower is happening across the sky. It was seriously NUTS and will forever be engraved in my mind. And then waking up to the dewey jungle with the sun peeping through the trees was the best as well. I could seriously go on forever about this place, just so beautiful!

– We did an Amazon jungle boat tour which was ahh-mazing! We got to cruise through the rain forest and then stopped at an animal sanctuary to see all sorts of monkeys, birds, and all different kinds of animals. If you’re looking to experience the amazon then this is the place! It’s seriously incredible!!

– Rent a car!! This seriously made all the difference – we were debating about it for a second and I’m SO happy that we decided to rent a car because we drove EVERYWHERE, and we could go wherever we wanted to. It just gave us a lot of freedom to be able to do what we wanted to do, when we wanted to do it.

photos by Autumn Shipp

ARUBA

Aruba is the type of island that you go and straight chiilllllll haha It’s so beautiful and so relaxing! We stayed in the Palm Beach area and it was perfect! The island isn’t huge though, so you can cruise around the whole place.

We stayed at the Palm Oasis – you can find it HERE

We had 10 people all together so it worked out perfect for us!!

– We hit up the beach honestly EVERY day!! Heaven? I think yes!! We loved connecting with Hilton Aruba and staying at their beach – they have the best little cabanas and very calm water.

– There’s a fun karaoke shack that’s right off the side of the Hilton that’s out on the water and that was such a blast at night! Make sure to definitely hit that up and sing your little heart out!

– Renting ATV’s for a day is a must! The island is a desert, so there’s a bunch of cacti and then beautiful rocky beaches along the coast that you can four wheel right next to. We looped around a big part of the island – we started at Palm Beach and then cruised up and over to Baby Beach and back. We stopped at these natural caves that you take a ladder down into and can jump in! The locals will know exactly what you’re talking about if you bring it up.

– Swimming out to Flamingo Island – if you want to take a boat out to it it’s like $100 but you can honestly swim to it in like 10 minutes. We just put snorkel stuff on and cruised on out. Just make sure to look for boats while you’re swimming and you’re good to go. It’s a beautiful beach and fun to spend the day on!

suit by Rad Swim

top from lululemon

suit from Maaji

suit from Nani Swimwear

suit from Albion Fit

If you’re looking for a very relaxing week then this is your place! Since it’s a desert island, it’s not like your typical tropical/jungly island vibe, so you’re not going to get waterfalls and jungle hikes just FYI. Nonetheless though, so fun and beautiful and nice to just chill for a week!

*photos by Autty Shipp