Three common misconceptions about Cuba

Ever since the resuming of diplomatic ties between the United States and Cuba, a string of new projects and business developments have studded the island nation. But while the renewed energy is palpable, travelers heading to Cuba are still plagued by a series of misconceptions.

Cuban food is bland
glamping-blog-cuba-news-monica-suma-01870
glamping-blog-cuba-news-monica-suma-00698

Contrary to common belief, the biggest surprise in Havana, and all throughout the country, is its bustling culinary scene. You won’t have more fresh fruit served for breakfast than at a casa particular: pineapple, generous amounts of papaya, bananas, and that’s just a fraction of your morning feast. From homemade guava jam, to endless mango smoothies, to more seafood than before, it’s hard to believe that not long ago, chicken-and-rice was the only dish to be had.

Legendary Sloppy Joe’s has reopened its doors serving tapas style servings, while crumbling mansions lead the way to La Nueva Cocina Cubana. There are more paladares than ever (privately owned restaurants operated in people’s home) and more options to choose from. In Viñales, a region known for its tobacco farms and sustainable agriculture, patrons of Finca Agroecologica El Paraiso struggle through a 16 plates-menu of juicy Cuban dishes, while bodegas off the side of the road serve honest food, simple but scrumptious.

Wi-Fi is scarce
glamping-blog-cuba-news-monica-suma-5-of-6

While Cuba won’t win any prizes for high-speed Internet any time soon, things have improved significantly. Just two years ago, Internet access was slow and prohibitively expensive, and mostly isolated to Havana’s high-rise hotels. Today, for the cost of 2 CUC per hour (the equivalent in dollars), anyone can buy an Etecsa card and log on to high-speed Internet at any of the hotspots around Havana (Calle Obispo in Old Havana, Parque Central, 23rd Ave in Vedado etc.). The same happens in provincial towns, where central squares are now filled with people glued to their phones. This still doesn’t translate to widespread, affordable access to all Cubans, but it’s a phenomenon that’s come a long way.

Is it safe in Cuba?
glamping-blog-cuba-news-monica-suma-4-of-6

As for safety, Cuba is one of the safest destinations in the world. Regardless of the time of day or location, walking alone on the island’s streets should not raise any concerns. The same goes for women walking unaccompanied. Delinquency is punished severely here, and if anything, locals would just say hello or ask where you are from. But aside from a few compliments or genuine smiles, Cubans are not known to stalk anyone down the street, quite the contrary. Part of what makes Cuba so unique and welcoming is its people and unparalleled warmth and hospitality. Fear not and engage with locals, who are very likely to make your trip more memorable.

Monica Suma

Monica Suma is a Romanian-American freelance travel writer and blogger, always on the hunt for art, good food and all things Cuba. Through storytelling and an insatiable pursuit for whimsy, she contributes to a variety of publications such as Lonely Planet, BBC Travel, Business Traveller and more. Follow her adventures live on Instagram and Twitter.

Hardanger Basecamp: Back to nature in a yurt

The thought of arriving after dark to a chilly overnight in a yurt isn’t particularly cozy, especially when raining. But if it comes with a campfire and its very own homebrew, things are looking brighter. This is Norway, where nature excels and fuzzy reindeer are ever-present.

weather-stone-hardanger-basecamp-5330

And at Hardanger Basecamp in Osa, you get much more than a yurt. Within close distance to the Hardanger tourist route, where a simple drive through means dramatic scenery and thundering waterfalls, the gateway to Hardangervidda – as it’s marketed – promotes a “back to basics, back to nature” way of life. The perfect location for active travelers, the basecamp offers guided hikes and various workshops from April to October such as “edible plants and insects,” “bush craft techniques” and “survival skills.” In addition, all guests get a free “making fire” and “campfire cooking” workshop and cutlery to use.

crepes-breakfast-at-hardanger-basecamp-5277
covered-campfire-hardanger-basecamp-5336

Our introduction to Hardanger Basecamp took place over a covered crackling campfire, assembled in front of the yurt. Expertly prepared by our host, Robert, a nature lover and mastermind in wilderness survival skills, using pine tree with resin particularly useful in rainy conditions, we warmed up and sipped beer from our host’s personal homebrew reserve. Driven by his passion for bush crafts and Norway’s stirring landscapes, he made it a life mission to educate people how to get closer to nature.

yurt-interior-hardanger-basecamp-5324

Meticulously built by Robert and his family, a Belgian transplant enraptured by the Norwegian wildlife, the yurts are sturdier, permanent versions of the traditional Mongolian yurts, tailored to suit Norway’s harsh climate. Supported by stakes, with a first layer of felt and then canvas, they are also much homelier, decorated with arctic fox and reindeer furs. Heating is just a push of a button away, and since this year, all yurts are equipped with electricity. It’s like a nature hotel, but better. All you have to worry about is how to most efficiently get to the restroom, complete with showers, some 50 meters away (164 feet).

yurts-hardanger-basecamp-5321

Out of six yurts total, two operate on a youth hostel model, where you can rent a bed and share with others, perfect for numerous families or groups of friends. Breakfast is also provided as a B&B, as well as towels and housekeeping. Two upmarket, more private yurts are expected for 2017.

osafjord-hardanger-basecamp-5342
osa-kafeen-exterior-hardanger-basecamp

Hiking the challenging Hardangervidda mountain plateau is a big draw, as well as fishing, kayaking and more. The nearest town, Ulvik, is also a popular cruise destination, with the longest suspension bridge in Norway. But perhaps the biggest reward here is waking up to stunning views of Osafjord, just steps away from your accommodation. And the second comes over breakfast at the Osa Kaféen. Two words: Belgian crepes.

crepes-hardanger-basecamp
kafeen-hardanger-basecamp-5303

One of the advantages of a Belgian host is indulging in all you can eat fresh crepes, made by Robert’s son, Christophe. Boasting some ten marmalades to choose from, including creative nature-related flavors such as pine tree and dandelion, you’ll have the chance to burn the sugar high following this power breakfast. Try the Belgian brown sugars also available, equally exceptional. If savory breakfasts are more to your liking, plan ahead or talk to your host.

osa-kafeen-hardanger-basecamp-5293

After breakfast, go explore. Nature enthusiasts, this is Norwegian nirvana, complete with a comfortable yurt.

Monica Suma

Monica Suma is a Romanian-American freelance travel writer and blogger, always on the hunt for art, good food and all things Cuba. Through storytelling and an insatiable pursuit for whimsy, she contributes to a variety of publications such as Lonely Planet, BBC Travel, Business Traveller and more. Follow her adventures live on Instagram and Twitter.

How Glamping Changed Our Trip Around the World

When I first heard about glamping, it seemed entirely too perfect to be real. Combining the outdoors and adventure with luxury and comfort? Stop it. And the definition doesn’t even do it justice—glamping isn’t just an accommodation, it’s an experience. And in providing luxury and security, it allowed us to step outside our comfort zone in new and otherwise unreachable ways. Glamping enhanced our trip immeasurably, gave it height through new adventures, depth through new friendships, and breadth through the diversity of the experiences it allowed.

glamping-news-by-blakely-downs-3-of-6

For our year trip around the world, we wanted it all. It was our dream, and we wanted it to leave no drop of energy untapped, no adventure not had, and no place not seen. We wanted it all, which is an incredibly unrealistic expectation in all areas but one. Enter glamping. Being young enough to love adventure, but old enough to love our comforts, we were in a difficult position to find something that kept us close, but not too close, to the action. And once we experienced the balance that glamping allows, it became difficult to do any other type of accommodation. But glamping was so much more than a place to lay our heads.

glamping-news-by-blakely-downs-5-of-6
glamping-news-by-blakely-downs-6-of-6

Whether it was a cooking class in Japan, drinking rosé overlooking a French truffle plantation, or dune busting in India (don’t ask, just know its amazing!), glamping provides a window into a destination that isn’t possible in any other type of accommodation. The luxurious and safe environment allowed our adventurous sides to take over, and the gorgeous temporary homes provided a fabulous base to launch some of the best experiences of the trip. This says nothing of the incredible people who hosted us at these glamping sites. This is a special type of person, and that type of person is our favorite. They provided us a home, and when you’re traveling for 54 weeks straight, this is an invaluable gift. Our time at these glamping sites allowed us to refresh and reset, and we’ll forever feel grateful to the people around the world who made that possible.

glamping-news-by-blakely-downs-4-of-6

Our trip around the world was an indescribable experience, and glamping enhanced it in luxury, adventure, as well friendships. The accommodations aren’t only some of our favorite from the trip, but the experiences we had while glamping were the main highlights from our year. By providing us comfort in a trip that could be quite uncomfortable, glamping refreshed our minds and bodies and allowed us to make more of our next adventure. We wanted it all on our year around the world, and in glamping we found it.

Blakely Downs

Blakely left her job as an advertising producer in New York to turn professional traveler with her husband. As they explore, learn, give, and get lost, thrilled, and changed through distant lands, she recounts it all on her travel blog and enables couch travelers everywhere. She now contributes to Glamping.com as a guest writer.