A Staycation in Style at Hotel Alessandra Houston

“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some STYLE.”

Maya Angelou

My first experience at Hotel Alessandra was last year in June 2018, when I visited for my very first staycation. Needless to say, this experience left a lasting impression and I knew I had to return one day. So, I booked a one-night stay and I was so excited to experience Hotel Alessandra all over again!

Top: Thrifted | Skirt: Zara | Shoes: Steve Madden

As I pulled up to the hotel, the valet and concierge greeted me with smiles and grabbed my bags quickly. I was offered a cold bottle of Fiji water and escorted to the second floor to check-in. The staff was friendly, welcoming, and excited for my arrival.

Accommodations

The rooms are cozy, yet sophisticated and offer amazing downtown views encased by floor-to-ceiling windows. The bathrooms are marble with a free-standing tub, which opens up by sliding doors to the rest of the room.

The interior design of the room is stylish and sleek. I spent most of my time snuggling in bed or lounging on the beautiful emerald couch that was nestled right under a reading lamp. This was the perfect place for relaxation, which was the ultimate goal of my entire stay.

Amenities

There’s a second floor restaurant and bar inside the hotel, so guests don’t have to leave the premises at all for good food or a good time. Lucienne restaurant specializes in modern Mediterranean cuisine and offers breakfast, lunch, dinner and weekend brunch. I definitely plan to return soon to try their food as I’ve heard so many good reviews!

Lucienne Restaurant

Across from the restaurant is Bar Bardot, which specializes in serving delicious, hand crafted cocktails and small bites. I had their truffle fries and they were so delicious!

Bar Bardot
Top: Thrifted | Skirt: ZARA | Shoes: Missguided

I spent some time on the 5th floor rooftop pool area enjoying the amazing views of downtown Houston. The pool area is small, but really nice. I actually prefer the intimacy of small pool areas, especially for rest and relaxation. Unfortunately, the weather didn’t permit me to take a dip in the pool. But, I plan to return during the summer to have some fun in the sun!

Top: Nastygal | Pants: ZARA | Headwrap: Thrifted
Rooftop Pool

There is also a spa on the 5th floor, which plan to visit during my return. I love getting massages and facials as part of my self care. I found a deal here that offers EITHER a 60-minute Alessandra all-inclusive massage OR a classic Custom European facial for only $99! (Please note, this offer is only valid Monday-Friday). Needless to say, I’ll be scheduling a massage pretty soon!

Dress: Shop NR Closet
Use Code: LIVINGSPREE for 20% off at checkout

Convenience

Hotel Alessandra is conveniently located in the heart of downtown Houston. The hotel is minutes away from the Toyota Center, Minute Maid Park, George R Brown Convention Center, and Discovery Green Park—some of Houston’s main attractions. If you’re looking for entertainment and nightlife, the Houston House of Blues and Lucky Strikes Bowling Alley are next door along with other eateries and bars you can visit.  Also, Main Street is 2 blocks away and offers more restaurants, lounges, bars, and beautiful downtown scenery perfect for photo ops.  Two of my favorite places, Forever 21 and Starbucks, are next door to the hotel as well.

Jogger Set: My Living Spree

Top of the line from start to finish

Hotel Alessandra prides itself on providing a luxurious, yet familiar experience for all from start to finish. I can truly say I received 5 star service. They even offer complimentary car service for guests who need to be picked up or dropped off at local destinations within radius of the hotel. Not only does the hotel offer free rides, but they offer free rides in a fancy car! Yes, the black Maserati is the complimentary car for all guests to ride in style.

Lasting Impression

If you’re looking for a perfect place in Houston for a staycation, Hotel Alessandra is a standout hotel. The accommodations are top of the line and the staff are super friendly and helpful. The entire experience will make you feel like you’re on vacation at a luxurious European resort, yet you’re right at home!

Be sure to check it out one day! Rates are pretty good on the weekends, which is perfect timing for an inexpensive getaway. If you have any questions or need more recommendations let me know. 🙂 Until next time, let’s go on a living spree!

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EmpowerHER: 7 Ways to Support and Lift Women Higher

“People who are truly strong lift others up. People who are truly powerful bring others together.”

Michelle Obama

March was Women’s History Month—a time to honor women in history, inform the present and inspire future generations. While March marked the national celebration of women, I believe it is our job as women to empower, uplift, encourage, motivate and support women higher every day. We must commit to serving each other in order to fulfill our purpose and make this world a better place. Your sister needs you and below are 7 ways you can support and lift your sister higher:


Pictured with Houston style blogger: @aroundthewaygyrl
Photographer: @sweenshots

1. Show up for her, physically and emotionally

Your sister needs to know that you are there for her and that you care for her. Sometimes the only person that can relate to you is your sister because she has been through what you are going through and/or understands you. She needs your support and to know that you have her back no matter what. Ask her if you can help her with something or be of service to her in any way. Whether it’s stopping by her house to check on her, or showing up at her event, let her know that you care! If she is going through a rough patch, lend a shoulder for her to lean, pray for her or send her words of encouragement. Lastly, celebrate her accomplishments and victories along with her! She may need the reinforcement and reassurance to keep going.

2. Collaborate, don’t compete

This one is simple. We are a movement by ourselves, but we are a force when we’re together! There’s power in numbers and we can work wonders if we collaborate and build together. The goal should be to build each other up instead of tearing each other down or competing against one another. Let go of the selfish “mine, mine, mine” mentality. There is enough out here for all of us to eat. We can build so much more together than we ever will apart.

3. Create a safe space for women to use their voice

Let’s open up! We need to create more safe spaces for women to come together and openly share their experiences, struggles and triumphs. Likely your sister is going through the same thing you are and she needs your support too. And if she hasn’t, it is highly likely that your story will inspire you in some way or shed some wisdom on you or give hope. It’s our stories that give us access and connection to each other.It’s uplifting and encouraging when you know you are not alone in your journey and the only way we know that is by sharing our stories with one another. Let’s continue having conferences, brunches, dinners, talks, girl’s night, interviews and other spaces for women to thrive.

4. Speak to who she is at her core

Society tells us to focus more on external beauty rather than who we are on the inside. We continue that narrative with projection of physical beauty and validation toward each other. No, I am not saying not to compliment women for being beautiful. Please continue to keep that energy going! However, let her know that you value other attributes about her as well! What about her generosity, kindness, humility and integrity? What about the way she gives back to her local community? Speak to who she is at her core. Remember: The most attractive thing about you should have less to do with your face and body and more to do with your heart and how you treat people.

5. Support her new pursuits or life transitions

If she is starting a new business, support it by telling others about her business or purchasing her new product or service! If she has a new baby, visit her and take her food! And if she’s moving into a new apartment or home, ask if you can help her move! Sometimes we need that extra push and encouragement to know that our sister has our back through life’s transitions. It gives a sense of security knowing that someone is supporting us along the way.

6. Create authentic relationships and friendships with each other

This one is huge! How often do you go to events, meetups or conferences and other women size you up before you even open your mouth? They either don’t want to speak to you because you don’t “appear” to be important or they run to you because they feel that you can take them to the next level. Listen, we need to forge genuine relationships with everyone! Let’s give everyone the same energy, time and attention. Trust me, you never know who you will need one day and you could miss out on a great relationship or network by putting up a wall.

7. Open doors for the women coming behind you

Lastly, let’s continue to create opportunities for the women that are coming behind us. Hire women, inspire women, uplift women, give back to women, mentor women and teach women things that you have learned. Be the person that you had or wished you had when you were in that same position. Sew the seeds that others have sewn into your life.

Let’s continue celebrating each other beyond Women’s History Month, beyond #WomanCrushWednesday, and beyond the exterior. We are all powerful in our own right and it is time to unleash that power within us and within each other! What is one way you can commit to uplifting women in the coming days, weeks or months? I want to hear from you!

Don’t forget to like, comment, and share this post for everyone to read on your social media platforms! Until next time, let’s go on a living spree!

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The Secret of Maintaining Your Summer Body All Year Long

Photography by EmexFocus

“Nothing will work unless you do.”

The Journey

Exactly one year ago I completed a fitness challenge that helped me achieved some of my most amazing fitness results to date. As a matter of fact, you can read about #mylivingspree and my fitness journey HERE. For me, it wasn’t about transforming my body simply for a look, a photo, or finally getting into a bikini for summer. I wanted to transform my life and that’s exactly what I did.

Yes, I am proud to say that I was able to maintain my fit body for an entire year! Of course my fitness journey had its ebbs and flows and I didn’t appear “as lean” as I would like during some seasons. However, what mattered most is the consistency and effort with which I applied the principles I needed to succeed. Trust me, once you fully understand what it takes and commit to you goals day in and out, you will be well on your way to maintaining your fitness goals all year long. You must fall in love with the journey and the results will come.

Photography by EmexFocus

If you want to become the best version of yourself and maintain your fitness goals, you must develop habits that will eventually lead to lifestyle. Getting and staying fit isn’t about cutting carbs and calories, intense cardio sessions, avoiding restaurants, and drinking nothing but water. It is a lifestyle change that requires you to adopt a new, healthier mentality all around and ways to sustain and maintain in everyday life. I want to give you a few realistic tips on how to maintain and sustain your fit body not just for summer, but all year long. Please note, I am sharing tips that worked for me and my personal journey. It is my hope that they may help you as well, but ultimately always do what feels right for you and why works for you.

1. Establish A Mind and Body Connection

First, you have to commit to your fitness goals in your mind, then your body will follow suit. Therefore, understand that fitness is on a continuum and you are always actively working to maintain that lifestyle. Once your mind understands the importance of the new norm, your body will too! You will develop the desire to eat healthier on a daily basis, exercise more, and learn more about what your body needs and what it likes. This may seem simple, but trust me this is a major key!

2. Eat Clean

Yes, it is true that abs are made in the kitchen! Eating healthy is 75-80% of your overall fitness and it is the key to weight loss. No matter how much you workout in the gym, you likely won’t see much progress in your health and fitness until you learn to eat healthy. Having healthy foods readily available (or “meal prep”) is the easiest way to develop the habit of sticking to a nutritious diet.

Generally, I choose a source of lean protein (chicken, fish, turkey, etc.), a green vegetable, and a “good” carbohydrate (brown rice, sweet potato, etc.) for most of my meals. I plan to go into more details about sample meal plans, quantities and the best foods for maintenance in a future post. But for now, make sure to limit fried, greasy, and high fat foods for a “cheat meal” no more than twice weekly.

3. Cardio Exercise

Cardio is extremely important in maintaining your summer body as this is how you will stay lean. When choosing the most effective cardio for “leaning out,” you want to do something that will burn the most body fat. Examples of fat burning cardio workouts include 20-30 minutes of any of the following: riding the stationary bike, sprinting on the treadmill, climbing the stairmaster, rowing on a row machine, or performing HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) workouts. My personal favorite cardio exercises are sprints on the treadmill and the stair master. I usually average 30-45 min of cardio 3-4x per week. This may increase leading up to summer or depending on my personal goals, so that I can burn more calories and combat weight gain.

4. Stay Consistent

If you don’t remember anything else, remember that consistency is key! This means if you fall, get back up! When you mess up, start over! Generally, don’t allow more than 2-3 days go by without working on your fitness goals in some way.

Next, don’t get caught up in what the scales says. Focus on how you feel, how you look, and how your clothes fit. No, I am not saying to never weigh yourself, definitely do so if you would like. But, I am saying that just because you don’t see a certain number on the scale doesn’t mean that you are not achieving results or that you are not healthy. It is only when we give up that we miss the results we desire! DON’T QUIT!

Photography by EmexFocus

5. Lift weights

If you want to preserve the curves all year long and stay tone, weight lifting is the answer! Lifting heavy weights helps burn fat and calories long after your workout is done. No matter how much cardio you do, toning only comes as a result of lifting weights. Trust me, you will want to continue the toning process at all times because fat and cellulite can easily sneak up on you!

I always thought that weight lifting of any sort would make me look bulky and masculine. If anything, it was the exact opposite—it enhanced my curves! I usually weight lift at least 3-4 times per week with weighted bars, dumb bells, or kettle bells. If you’re not familiar with weight lifting, click HERE for a 20 min Weight Training for Beginners Workout. I also plan to go more in detail and give examples of good weight training workouts in a future post.

6. Drink water

Drinking water has countless benefits for weight loss and overall health. It helps you get rid of bloating and weight gain; especially when you add detox aids such as cucumber, lemon and mint to your water.

I usually drink 1/2 gallon to 1 gallon daily using this super cool gallon water bottle from Amazon as a fun, accountable way to track my daily intake. Check it out HERE! If that seems to be too much for you, aim to drink AT LEAST half of your current body weight in ounces of water.

Photography by EmexFocus

7. Get adequate rest

Yes, you can maintain those gains in your sleep! Your body repairs and rebuilds itself while you are sleeping, contributing to your overall physical and psychological growth and recovery. Sleeping is one of the best things you can do for your body, so it is important to get more of it if you can! In general, it is good to aim for about 7 to 9 hours per night. Don’t feel like you always have to stay in the gym to get results. Sometimes rest is the best thing we can do for our bodies to achieve and maintain the results we want.

Don’t forget this!

As you can see, maintaining your summer body takes just as much, if not more, hard work and dedication as achieving it in the first place. Trust me, I’ve learned this first hand and I am continuing to learn what my body needs to stay healthy and fit as the seasons change. The major take away here is that you must be committed to making a total lifestyle change. Trust me, it is normal to have some ebbs and flows in your fitness journey. But, the key is establishing a routine, staying consistent, and staying focused on your overall goal–a healthy life, healthy body image and healthy mind.

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P.S. because I love you and I am so passionate about you becoming the best version of yourself and maintaining a fit lifestyle, I am providing you with a free download: Ashley’s 10 Tips and Tricks to Get Fit!

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Thanks so much for taking the time to read this post! Comment below if you have ever been on a fitness journey or thinking about starting one! I want to hear from you! And don’t forget to share this post on your social media using the share icons below! 🙂

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Cape Off: Self-care as a remedy for the Superwoman Syndrome

“Self care is how you take your power back.”

Superwoman syndrome

Last year, I experienced extreme burnout. I gave until I couldn’t give anymore trying to be “everything for everybody.” I did it all: worked full and part-time as a nurse practitioner, managed a blog, worked towards a healthier lifestyle, served in my church and community, had somewhat of a social life, traveled, kept in touch with family back home… the list goes on! Notice, I didn’t include myself in that equation because that literally was my reality. I spent so much time pouring out that I never poured back into myself. This left me weak, depleted, and empty in so many ways. I learned that this was called superwoman syndrome–wanting to do it all and play multiple roles perfectly but underneath it all suffering anxiety, exhaustion and burnout.

Taking my power back

At some point, I felt like hustling was the way to success, I cared more about how others perceived me, and I was extremely hard on myself by striving to be “perfect” in every way. I had tricked myself into thinking that I had to show others how hard I was working at all times rather than take time to rest, revive and restore. Now, I realize that self care is the remedy to this superwoman mentality. I don’t have to be everything for everybody. And, it is unfair for me to be so hard on myself.  I can be “super” without having to be superwoman and give myself grace without the fear of appearing weak. Self care is how I take my power back!

Cape off

In lieu of International Women’s Month,  I’m here to remind you it’s time to take care of yourself! Take the cape off, sis. When is the last time you took the time to check in with yourself? What do I want? What do I need? How could I spark more joy in my life? We spend so much of our time tending to the needs of others that we often put ourselves on the back burner. Yes, we are doing a good deed by serving others, but not at the cost of sacrificing ourselves. Putting our personal needs on the back burner can be detrimental to our mental, physical, and emotional health in the long run.

An ode to self care

No, self care is not always bath bombs, facials, massages and candles. While those things are great and necessary at times, we must realize that self-care is a daily practice of reclaiming your own time. Sometimes, it’s doing the inner work, forcing stillness in our routines and putting an end to toxic behaviors. It’s taking care of ourselves and making decisions that are in our best interest daily. Here are 10 ways to take the cape off and take care of yourself:

1. Meditate

Take at least 10-20 min per day to practice mindfulness. You can practice this by sitting still, removing all distractions, and becoming one with yourself in silence or with guided meditation music (here). Inhale/Exhale. Count to ten. Eliminate all thoughts in your mind. This practice not only helps you get in touch with yourself and your inner emotions, but it also relieves stress and anxiety significantly.

2. Express gratitude

Writing down things you’re grateful for helps you to focus on the positive things that are happening in your life. The more things you’re grateful for, the more things will come to be grateful for.

3. Schedule a “me” day

When is the last time you became present with life? With yourself? Taking time to rejuvenate is a key factor in the process of plotting our “next move” and making it our “best move.” Every energy source needs a period of time to rest and recharge…including you! Take yourself out to dinner, to the movies, or even try a new hobby!

4. Say “no”

We have to learn to say no to things that we don’t want to do, don’t have time to do, or are unable to commit to doing. How many times do we inconvenience ourselves for others by saying yes to things we really don’t want to do? Let’s start saying “no” to any requests to your time, energy and efforts that don’t align with your wants or needs. It is okay to be selfish to preserve your sanity. People pleasing can become a toxic trait if we don’t learn this concept. 

5. Exercise

Exercising has so many benefits! It helps us feel better by increasing your mood, improving your physique, increasing your energy, promoting better sleep, and reducing stress. Exercising at least 30 min at least 3x/week can make a difference in your physical and mental health. 

6. Wake up earlier

This allows you to incorporate a morning routine. Your morning routine may include reading, journaling, planning your day, praying, meditating, or completing your daily devotional. How you start your day is critical because it sets the tone for the rest of your day. Starting early with a morning routine allows more time and clarity.

7. Protect your peace

Get rid of anything that interrupts your energy, including toxic relationships and toxic behaviors.  You have to protect your peace at all costs. Don’t hesitate to cut of any and every source of negativity including people, places, things, music, social media accounts, or habits. Keep your spirit positive and full of joy.

8. Give yourself the love you’re extending to others

Practicing self-love starts from the inside out. How you speak to yourself matters more than you know. Look in the mirror and tell yourself, “I love you. You are so beautiful.” Every day, make the conscious decision to love on yourself, flaws and all, and appreciate your own beauty. You must not rely on others to be the first people to do this for you.  

Remember, you are only one person and it is unrealistic to believe that you can do it all and be everything for everyone. Don’t delay and put it off until you complete everything on your to-do list. Oh, it can wait! Trust me. Sometimes it takes more courage to stop than to keep going. Yes, you may feel like you could be “getting more stuff done” or “helping others” but don’t let it be your downfall. If you want to have a big impact without compromising your health and well-being, be kind to yourself. That mindset shift alone will help you soar even higher. You are enough. How do you plan to take care of yourself this week?

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Incorporating family heirlooms into your look

“I am my ancestors’ wildest dreams”


Influence

If you follow me on social media, you may know that my grandmother passed away back in December of 2018 a couple of days before Christmas. Naturally, I was heartbroken. So much of the woman I am today is due to the immense influence she had on my life. She was a nurse and I became a nurse. She was the original world traveler and taught me the value of collecting passport stamps. As a toddler, she taught me the value of education, which inspired me to excel academically throughout grade school and enter a Top 20 University for college. Last but not least, my grandmother was the original fierce, fabulous fashionista! She was unapologetically “ON” at all times. Yes, she was the type to rock pearls and furs to the grocery store. LOL Furs were her best friend and she prided herself on her collection of fur coats, hats, and stoles. Needless to say, I’ve got it honestly. I get all of my bad and bougie traits from her. Grandma Ruby taught me well! 🙂

Keeping the legacy alive

The day before she passed away I decided to do a photoshoot with a vintage Saks 5thAvenue fur stole she passed down to me in 2015. I kept this prized heirloom tucked away safely in my closet for special occasions only. However, this day I decided to incorporate the heirloom and create a fabulous look with it—one that would honor her legacy and show her influence on my life and style.

An unforgettable moment

Shooting this look, I literally embodied her essence. It was surreal! As I stroked the fur of the stole, I felt her presence right there with me. It was as if she was reassuring me that she would always be there. I always knew she was proud of me, but I genuinely felt it in that moment. It was a moment that I would never forget.

Making her proud

Grandma Ruby tried to keep up with my blog as much as she could, but unfortunately she never got a chance to see the photos from this shoot.  She passed away the very next morning. Her legacy most definitely lives on in and through me! You are looking at “Lil’ Ruby” (as she would call me sometimes). I am proud to honor the original Mrs. Cockrell. 

In Loving Memory of my grandmother Ruby C. Cockrell
(my favorite photo of her circa late 1980s)

Other ways to incorporate heirlooms into your look

Her heirloom means even more to me than ever before. If you have something that belonged to your loved one, don’t just sit it in your closet, incorporate it into your daily look! I also have a scarf from my great-grandmother that passed away that I use as a neck-tie. If you have a broach or pin from a loved one, you can pin on your blazer or on a beret. Every time you see that piece it will remind you of their love and support and wearing these heirlooms helps you to create a style all your own.

Style details

Not only is this look in honor of my grandmother’s legacy, but its the perfect look for a fancy night out on the town. Valentine’s Day is approaching and you don’t have to break the bank to look like a million bucks. Trust me! I found this top at a local Houston thrift store for less than $10 (amazing, right?!), the skirt was $10.50 from American Apparel, and the YSL pumps were less than $300 from a second-hand store (another great deal!). Remember, it’s not how much you spend that makes your look. It is how you put it together!

How do you plan to incorporate your family heirlooms in your next look? Or rather, what is another way you can honor the legacy of your loved ones? Comment below so I can hear from you!

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How I Lived My Best Life In Cuba In 4 Days

“When in Cuba, Do as the Cubans do.”

I wanted to star this new year off by highlighting my favorite travel destination of 2018—Cuba! Cuba has always been high on my travel bucket list due to its rich culture, and because I’m a low-key history nerd with a deep love for historic sites and anything vintage. Naturally, I was excited to live out my 1950s and 1960s dreams. Cuba’s culture has been shielded from tourist influence and allows visitors a glimpse back in time. From riding in old cars to observing vintage fashion and dining in elegant paladars, I was living my best life. In this post, I explore the highlights of my Cuban experience. In a later post, I plan to share important practical information you’ll need for planning purposes (as a quick preview:  yes, I felt safe during my time there and yes, as of the date of this post, it is legal for Americans to travel to Cuba under specific circumstances). For now, let’s go on a living spree!

Welcome To Havana!

My girlfriends and I flew into Havana’s airport on a Monday afternoon and headed straight for the money exchange counter located in the airport, where we exchanged Euros for CUC (Cuba’s primary currency). We took a private shuttle straight to our beautiful home for the week. Upon arrival, we were each greeted with a piña colada made with fresh pineapples!

Our “home away from home” was a recently renovated private residence with a breathtaking ocean view in the heart of the beautiful Malecón neighborhood, which is about a 5-7 min taxi ride to Old Havana and walking distance to local restaurants and bars. We were able to access Wi-Fi inside our residence for a small, daily fee. Every morning, the incredible house staff prepared an amazing breakfast, including freshly squeezed juices, eggs, fresh fruit, cheese, bread, meat, and pastries—all for less than $8 per person! FYI,  everything in Havana is very affordable.

That night we enjoyed an elegant dinner at a popular, privately-owned restaurant called La Guarida. We had one of the best meals of the trip there and, in my opinion, the best piña colada. La Guarida’s magical ambiance, decadence, and spectacular view of Old Havana will take your breath away. I marveled at the castle-like mansion with its grand staircase, enchanting decor, and beautifully preserved walls. I highly recommend this paladar, but definitely make reservations in advance and don’t be surprised if you run into a celebrity or two while there.

Turban: local Beauty Supply | Dress: ZARA|Shoes: Steve Madden
The BEST Pina Colada ever!

Old School Meets New School

We began the day with the quintessential Havana experience:  an “old car” tour, which we booked online through Old Cars Havana prior to arrival. Touring the city in old-school convertibles was pure magic! We stopped at major attractions like Revolution Square—known for the iconic mural of Marxist revolutionary, Che Guevara, and as the backdrop for Fidel Castro’s most memorable speeches.

Scarf: Thrifted | Two-piece Set: I Am So Kate | Earrings & Shoes: ZARA
Infamous mural of Che’ Guevara in Revolution Square

We also visited Fusterlandia, a unique, reclaimed streetscape covered in José Fuster’s fascinating and whimsical artwork.  We learned so much from our tour guide about Cuban history and culture while enjoying the remarkable experience that is riding around in a functioning piece of history.

Fusterlandia

So You Think You Can Salsa

After the tour, we had an excellent, casual lunch at El Guajirito. Next, we explored the bustling city by foot and mingled with residents on our way to a private salsa class. Be prepared ladies, if you travel on foot, you may receive a proposal or two from a handsome Cuban suitor. Our salsa lesson was intense! We really thought we knew how to dance until our instructor challenged us with rigorous combinations that made for the perfect after lunch workout. By the end of the class, we had learned an entire dance, sweated right through our clothes, and even picked up a few, local phrases!  That night, we enjoyed a lobster feast in Malecón at Atelier for under 20 USD (yes, you read that right). We also partied at the local club before calling it a night.

After our Salsa class! She worked us out 🙂
Earrings: Zara | Shirt: Thrifted | Shorts: H&M
Lobster dinner at Atelier

Cigars and Country Side

We took a break from city life and traveled to Viñales to tour the infamous tobacco farms. This trip was an unexpected bonus as we negotiated a deal with our “old car” tour guides the day before. Pro tip:  negotiate everything—from souvenir prices to taxi rides and even tours! As part of the tour, we experienced the entire cigar making process from tobacco seed to leaves to cigar.

Tobacco Tour
Beautiful countryside. So lush!
Earrings: ZARA | Crop Top & Shorts: Forever 21

For the culture, we also learned how to roll and properly smoke an authentic Cuban cigar. There was even an impromptu rum “tasting” and a dance party during which we utilized our salsa skills. When in Cuba, do as the Cubans do! Overall, our Viñales experience was really special.  We immersed ourselves in Cuban culture, had interesting conversations with farmers, haggled with locals in the town market, and ate lunch amid Viñales’ vast mountains and lush, green valleys.

“Must See” Spots

Listen. We did the absolute most on our last day! That morning, we took a walking tour led by Zoe, a fabulous Cuban resident I met through a mutual friend. Zoe, who is fluent in English and Spanish, was extremely knowledgeable about Cuban history, architecture, culture, government and all the “must see” spots in Havana. We started the tour in Plaza de la Catedral. This area is known for the older women smoking cigars, commonly seen in pictures and paintings. You can take pictures with them in exchange for a tip. Next, we walked to La Bodeguita del Medio, a popular bar frequented by famous patrons such as Ernest Hemingway and Fidel Castro to name a few. Their mojitos are a staple for most tourists, but they are a bit overpriced (5 CUC, while most restaurants charge 3 CUC).

Other epic moments in the walking tour included: El Floridita, known as the birthplace of the daiquiri, and Lamparilla Tapas & Cervezasin the heart of the city, where we had the best lunch of the trip complete with pineapple-filled daiquiris. If you want an unforgettable and informative walking tour, you absolutely must link up with our girl, Zoe (see the end of this post for her contact information).

The Infamous Floridita. Known as the birthplace of the Daiquiri
Pictured with our tour guide Zoe. This place had delicious tapas!

Vitamin Sea

That afternoon, we spent a couple hours soaking up our last moments in the Cuban sun at Santa Maria del Mar, the closest beach to Havana (about 1 hour away). If we had more time, we would have driven to Varadero, another beautiful beach about 2 hours from the city. 

Beach day at Santa Maria del Mar
Swimwear: ASOS

Fine Dining

That night, we dined at Paladar San Cristobal, where Former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama dined during their historic visit to Cuba ☺. The food was outstanding and I, of course, ordered the same meal as my FLOTUS. Before the trip, I had received mixed reviews about the food in Cuba, but everything I ate was fresh and delicious. I will say that traveler’s diarrhea is real, so I recommend taking GI medication with you and being super cautious about eating street food.

We had the pleasure of meeting the Chef at Paladar San Cristobal
The dish Michelle Obama ordered when she visited this restaurant

Night Life

After dinner, we pulled together our best looks for Fabrica de Arte Cubano, a one-of-a-kind art gallery/lounge/dance club/restaurant/movie theatre where the cool kids hang out.  It was unlike any place we had ever been. The experience was unreal and we had the time of our lives; we even spent a few minutes in VIP with an American actress and her crew. It was a pleasant surprise. If you have more time than we did, be sure to get into Havana’s popping nightlife by visiting an authentic salsa spot or a club like El Tropicana, which hosts cabaret shows.

Head wrap: Afriwraps and Bands | Two Piece Set: Babes and Felines

Half Of My Heart Is In Havana

Although we saw and experienced a lot, we were not ready to leave! Cubans are so friendly, welcoming, and a joy to be around! Unlike other places I’ve been, the people there seemed excited to meet Americans and enjoyed exchanging stories about daily life and culture. It also helped that several of us, including me, were fluent in Spanish. Overall, I felt so blessed to take in just a few of the gems Cuba has to offer. I will definitely be returning to Cuba soon! If you’re considering a visit to Cuba, I would love to answer any questions you may have. Stay tuned for my future post on things you need to know before your trip! 🙂 In the meantime, please share this post on your social media and with anyone considering Cuba on their travel bucket list!

Headwrap: Thrifted shirt | Earrings: ZARA | Top & Bottom: Forever 21
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