Monday, July 31, 2017

Woman Poetry Retreat: Caribbean Magic

Woman Poetry Retreat
NOVEMBER 9 -13, 2017
Isla Holbox, Mexico


You are invited to experience a yoga retreat like no other. 

But, before we go any further . . . forget calling it a yoga retreat -- it's a life change. It's that pause you are so desperately craving. It's a wild uprooting of your soul. It's a conscious abandonment of all people and all things that deplete you. It's a rediscovering of the beautiful, magical person that you are before the world told you otherwise. You were meant to touch the stars, to reach for the moon. To fall asleep to the sound of the waves crashing in the Caribbean Sea without a care in the world. 

Join a tribe of people who are ready to reclaim their brilliance and shine bright once again. Find the call of your wild and untamed heart. Adventure past your comfort zone and experience freedom in your mind, body and soul. 




Meet Your Hosts

Mandy Burstein -- Having grown up all around the world, Mandy blends her love of travel and adventure to create amazing, unforgettable yoga retreats. She has guided over 100 students on retreats to Mexico and is completely in love with the country, as it has healed her personally and challenged her professionally. Mandy teaches powerful vinyasa flow and deeply restorative healing yoga, concentrated around the theme of self-love and personal empowerment. 

Jade Alectra -- After finding yoga in her darkest of hours, Jade realized the healing powers of the practice and became a certified yoga instructor. A passionate runner and all-around talented athlete, Jade teaches a unique, dynamic physical asana practice. She challenges her students to go to their edge, helping them find a deeper sense of self-love and self-respect. After collaborating with Mandy on three life-changing yoga retreats in Mexico, Jade is excited to explore the Caribbean with a new tribe of wild hearts and free spirits.  Read Mandy's entire interview with Jade here.  



Your Retreat Package Includes: 
  • 4 nights stay on gorgeous Isla Holbox, a small secluded island just north of Cancun on the Yucatan peninsula, where no cars are allowed. Barefoot, wild and free! 
  • Our private ocean-front Caribbean boutique hotel has shared rooms with 2 beds and also private rooms with one bed, please choose your desired option below.
  • Round trip transport to and from Cancun airport (CUN)
  • All land transportation. Private drivers from Cancun airport to Chiquila, then a quick 20 minute ferry from Chiquila to Holbox
  • All local taxes, fees, and staff gratuity
  • Yoga classes with inspired teachers Jade Leblanc (@jadealectra) and Mandy Burstein (@zengirlmandy) 
  • Our signature #WomanPoetry workshops on releasing and living from a place of radical self-love
  • Private retreat Chef will cater all meals, can make vegan, plant-based, dairy/gluten-free
  • Organic breakfast + superfood smoothies, delicious lunch and dinner every day
  • Guided meditations + Journaling sessions
  • Goddess Circle + Beach Bonfire
  • Free time to explore the charming island of Holbox, go snorkeling, paddleboarding, try SUP Yoga, cruise around town on a bicycle or golf cart
What's not included? your flight; any additional excursions or spa treatments

Ready to sign up? 

Package Options
Preferred email address
Phone Number


SHARED ROOM (two queen beds with a private bathroom)
total package price per person = $1799




PRIVATE ROOM  (one king sized bed with a private bathroom)
total package price per person = $1999




Payment Schedule: A $500 non-refundable deposit reserves your spot on the retreat. There are only 15 spots available so please book ASAP if your intention is to join us. Once your deposit is submitted, you will receive a confirmation email within 24 hours. Your remaining balance will be due on or before October 20, 2017.
















Frequently Asked Questions
  • Which airport do I fly in to? Fly into Cancun airport (CUN). Please arrive by 4pm on Thursday November 9th. If traveling from the west coast, look into taking a red-eye flight. Jade and I will be flying over-night and arriving in Cancun at 11am. Check out of Isla Holbox is on Monday November 13th at 12pm. Book the latest flight of the day on Monday 11/13 so you can enjoy as much time as possible on the island! (Travel time from island to airport is 3 hours)
  • Most major airlines have direct flights into Cancun. Southwest has great fares too!
  • What is the payment schedule? First, submit your $500 deposit to reserve your spot. Then, start looking at flights. The sooner you book, the better prices and flights times you will get. Email Mandy your flight reservations as soon as you book. On October 20th, Mandy will send out an email with instructions on submitting your final payment.
  • I am new to yoga. Am I ready for a retreat? Yes! You deserve a break from life! Look at a yoga retreat as a much-needed vacation for your mind, body, and soul. We love working with yoga beginners and introducing them to this powerful, life-changing practice. All of our retreats are always lovingly open to all levels of yoga ability and life experience. Come as you are. We will grow together.
  • Is Mexico safe? Yes. Absolutely. We only work with venues and local vendors that have been thoroughly vetted. Isla Holox is a charming relatively undiscovered island that people say feels likes Tulum 20 years ago. So much charm and very few tourists so we'll have it to ourselves!
  • Who will my roommate be? We carefully, consciously pair you with another woman that we think will be the best fit for you. We have organized over 15 retreats between us and have become pretty damn good at roommate pairing. Solo travelers, have no fear! We have a knack for linking up people who end up as life long friends. If you and your bestie are traveling together on this retreat, just be sure to send Mandy a message and let her know that you want to room together. Either way, we got you covered!
  • What should I expect? In a nutshell . . .  laughter, long hugs, life-affirming moments. Conversations that will shake you to your core and remind you of your purpose. New sisters. Connections with nature and spirit that will open new portals of love in your heart. An opportunity to find your voice and speak your truth. Yoga. Salsa Dancing. Tacos. Sunshine.

    If you're more of a visual person, like me, here is a re-cap of our New Years Yoga Retreat (December 2016) and here is a photojournal of some of my favorite memories from the last 6 years of organizing retreats. 

Friday, July 28, 2017

Woman Poetry in Orange County!

When a woman is loved correctly, she becomes ten times the woman she was before.

I feel an uprising. A deeper knowledge. A more refined way of living and being. The Wild Warrior Women of today are learning to love themselves fully. Without restraint. We smile in the face of a society that teaches us to hate ourselves and to compete with one another. We know better. And therefore, we do better. We dance gracefully away from toxic energies and rise above the noise. We support each other, unconditionally. We nourish our bodies and commit to self-care rituals every damn day. We gather on the new moon and dance under the full moon. We understand that you can't rush your healing, that change happens despacito, and that life doesn't give you what you want, it gives you exactly what you need. To learn, to grow, to evolve. When wild women gather to connect, release, and transmute their pain into love, the whole world heals.



I am very excited to announce that my yoga partner, Jade Alectra and I just booked our next Woman Poetry workshop! Come as you are. All shapes, all sizes, all backgrounds, all faiths, with years of yoga experience, or if this might be your very first class. We welcome you with open arms!

Saturday September 30
6 - 10pm at You and the Mat studio
Laguna Niguel, Orange County, CA





Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Zen Girl's Guide to BAJA

Baja Mexico is one of my favorite places in the World. With its miles and miles of wild coastline, to it's rugged mountaintops, to the hustle and bustle of mini-cities like Rosarito and Ensenada, Baja California Norte truly has something for everyone. The crown jewel of the region, in my opinion, is the up-and-coming wine country known as Valle de Guadalupe. I've been exploring Baja since 2008, starting out as a weekend visitor, searching for the best tacos and waves south of the border. As my interests evolved over the years, my travels took me deeper into knowing Baja on a more intimate level, seeing its beauty in many different forms. In 2014, I started bringing groups of people down to experience 3-day yoga and adventure retreats, where I finally had the opportunity to show off my favorite local spots and support my favorite local business owners. 



Baja holds such a special place in my heart. This year, I hope you release any fears you have about traveling south of the border and take time to get to know this magical place. Here is a compilation of most of the travel guides I've written about Baja so you can get some insider tips and tricks for your next trip!

For more on my BAJA MEXICO adventures, check out these posts -- 

Friday, May 12, 2017

Nourish: A Goddess Celebration

In honor of my first Mother's Day, I designed an event to bring women of all walks of life together. To reconnect with your divine feminine energy and remember that we are all Mothers. Whether you mother children, a business, your garden, your community, etc, we all need a space to decompress. For the women who give, give, give all day long, now is your chance to receive. 



This 2 hour gathering includes a healing and powerful yoga class led by Mandy with sound healing and aromatherapy. We will conclude with a guided meditation led by Yanai designed to connect you with your highest self and honor the sacred female lineage, celebrating all women who have passed on and holding space for what is to come. If you are looking for more goddess energy in your life, I hope to see you there!

NOURISH: A Goddess Celebration
Saturday May 13 from 12pm - 2pm
with Mandy Burstein and Yanai Calderon
at Kundalini Windansea yoga studio
price $35 // reserve your spot here

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

20 Life Lessons Learned In My 20s

I’m writing this article on a bumpy plane flight home from Kauai. With sand still stuck between my toes and salty wet hair from this morning’s swim, I’m gazing out the airplane window looking down at the Pacific Ocean from our place way up in the clouds. The sun is about to set over the seas and life, at this very moment, just feels right. 

With only a few days left until my 30th birthday, I decided to take this trip to hit a much-needed pause button on life. The days seem to be flying by faster and faster and I was longing for a chance to step away from the daily grind and do some serious reflecting on the past decade of my life. 

For pretty much everyone, turning 30 years old is a big deal. 

In yoga circles, we call it “Saturn’s Return” or the culmination of the first third of your life. As I approach this milestone myself, I can’t help but become super introspective and try to wrap my mind around everything that’s transpired over this last decade. I literally watched myself transition from a girl into a woman, and it was the most humbling thing I’ve ever experienced. 



From the wild-party-girl-binge-drinking college days of my early 20s, to navigating my way in the “adult” working world, to getting married, finding yoga, changing career paths, starting my own yoga business, doing some serious self-healing … to this moment right here — being 30 weeks pregnant on the eve of my 30th birthday. This decade has been a rollercoaster ride, to say the least.. 

A beautiful, wild, exciting, scary, truth-revealing rollercoaster ride, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world!

Here are the most important lessons I learned in my 20s:

  1. You are your own biggest teacher — Gurus, mentors, and teachers in many forms will enter your life and impart knowledge on you. Some welcomed, others, not so much. I’m a big believer that every person we encounter can be a great teacher to us on our path. “Can be” being the operative words in that sentence. Never forget that YOU are your greatest teacher of all. Read the quotes, study the ancient texts, peruse the hottest self-help blogs, listen, absorb, digest — yet keep only what truly resonates with your soul. 99% of the time, they are just reflecting back to you something you already know. YOU can heal and help yourself better than anyone else ever can.
  2. You are the designer of your destiny — Think of yourself as the architect of your own life. Our American culture teaches us that we grow up, get a job, buy things on credit, and spend our whole life paying it back. Sure, that’s one way. But that’s definitely not the only way. You can live in the suburbs, or at the beach, or in a van, or abroad, or in the mountains, or with your mom and dad because you guys are tight like that. You can literally write your own story, and you should! Every day, every meal, every purchase, every career move is UP TO YOU. How amazing is that?!
  3. Never choose a career based solely on the pay — You know that old cliche “do what you love and the money will come” Well, it’s true! Picking your career based on salary alone is the quickest way to end up unhappy and unfulfilled. I’ve seen it a million times. Money does not equal happiness. Duh.
  4. Consider becoming self-employed —When people gave me this advice in my mid-20s I scoffed at them. Me?! No, I could never be the boss. I wanted to, I needed to work for someone else. Then came the “3 year burn”. Getting burned over and over again (financially, emotionally, etc.) by people that I worked passionately for was rough. But it taught me that I should direct all that energy, hard work, and passion towards my own goals and dreams. Not only did I become self-employed by 27 years old, but I also convinced my husband to do the same. Now we’re both able choose our hours and to do things like move to Mexico for two months, which is how we started out 2017. Freedom equals happiness. And it feels sooo good.

  5. Place an extremely high value on your time — To build on the last concept about becoming your own boss, never forget that we’re only given so much time on this planet. It’s up to us how we use it. Investigate any areas of your life that feel negative or weigh you down. Friendships, careers, projects, even the space in which you happen to live at this moment. If it doesn’t serve you, don’t waste your precious time on it. Be fiercely protective of who and what you allow into your life.

  6. Never be afraid of success — For so long, I held myself back, never wanting to over-shadow other people. Then, I was taught a powerful lesson that “when we allow our own light to shine, we unconsciously give permission for others to do the same.” This concept, first introduced by author Marianne Williamson was a game-changer for me. There is plenty of space for ALL of us to do our thing and shine.
  7. Relationships are a privilege — Growing up, my dad always emphasized to us the idea that under the age of 18, we are all obligated to each other as a family. But, after 18, once we’re out of the house and on our own, we choose how much or little we stay connected. And that has always stayed with me. No one is obligated to another. Every relationship in your life is a privilege. Even if you’ve been friends for 15 years, or you are dad/daughter, sister/brother by blood never take that for granted.
  8. True friendships take WORK — Building on the last one, friends and family will disappoint you. They will break your heart and shatter your idea of them as a “perfect person”. But that doesn’t mean that you give up on them. No one is perfect, and of course, if they cross the line one too many times or are truly hurtful to you, it’s time to let that relationship go. But, day to day maintenance of friendships is crucial. Choose carefully the people you want in your tribe, then cultivate and nourish those relationships as deeply as you can. If you surround yourself with the right people, the love you put in is equal to the love you receive back.
  9. Investigate your childhood — Think of yourself as a conscious observer of your own life. Spend serious time reflecting and journaling your childhood. Trace back the patterns that were instilled in you at a young age, especially when it comes to your ideas of self-love and self-worth. The answers to most of your adult problems can be revealed by fully processing and understanding your youth.
  10. Life doesn’t happen to us, it happens for us — Life will throw us all kinds of curve balls. You can be having the best day of your life, the sun is shining, you’re skipping around without a care in the world feeling so at peace with everything and then, BAM! You trip and fall and that beautiful green smoothie you just made goes flying in the air and lands right on top of you. No joke, this has happened to me on more than one occasion.
    At first, I would wallow in the setbacks. But now, I try to pick myself up as quickly as possible, and move on. There is a lesson in everything that transpires in your life. Nothing happens to us, it happens for us — to learn, grow, and expand in some new way. Playing the victim is NOT CUTE. Loose the victim mentality and start to see the clear messages in the setbacks that come your way.
  11. Drop the comparisons — You know another thing that’s really not cute?! Jealousy. Envy. Longing. Of course, in our age of social media overload, we tend to only see the highlight reel of everyone’s life, and comparison is totally natural. But, lusting for someone else’s existence will only leave you feeling less than and empty inside. Focus your time and energy on watering your own grass. Focus on attracting the things and people you genuinely want in your life. Be inspired by beautiful images you see on a screen, and make healthy changes where needed, but never forget the perfect existence that’s right in front of you.
  12. Communication is crucial — My husband used to tease me about the “Mandy Maybe”. Whenever I couldn’t commit to a decision, I would just leave it at a maybe and not have to deal. It was my perfect cure-all to not having to be assertive, or confrontational, or stand up for myself. Do you want Thai food for dinner? Maybe… Do you want to go out with the girls tonight? Maybe… Do you want to continue working this job you hate? Maybe….   I absolutely loved hanging out in the gray zone, never having to make a clear cut, black/white decision. Until it started effecting my relationships. I became flaky and unreliable. My word meant nothing. I did some serious soul searching and decided I didn’t want to live like that. I worked really hard to be clear and specific with my words. This change empowered me in so many ways, and I can’t imagine ever going back to that maybe life again.

  13. Become a really good listener — Communication doesn’t only mean being able to articulate clearly and effectively. On the flip side, it is just as much about listening to what others are saying. I know we’re all guilty of thinking of our response as the person is talking. It’s human nature to prepare for the next step. But, truly hearing and listening to every word someone is saying is SO powerful. It brings you right into the present moment and creates a sense of understanding, empathy, and connection you wouldn’t have otherwise found.
  14. Don’t be so sensitive — In writing this article, I asked a few people closest to me what changes they’ve seen in me since my early 20’s. One friend totally surprised me by saying, you’re not as easily offended. WOW! Holy truth bomb! But, she’s right. I am naturally a sensitive person, I always will be. I hope to always be, as my sensitivity and empathetic nature has allowed me to tap into understanding, empathizing, and healing people through the yoga lifestyle. But, there’s a fine line. Being overly sensitive or easily offended is SO NOT necessary. I’ve worked hard at embracing criticisms with a grain of salt and understanding that we are all a work in progress.
  15. Healthy boundaries are EVERYTHING — If you keep finding yourself is a series of awkward relationships or situations, check in with your boundaries. People will only treat you with the level of respect in which you require them to.
  16. Ask for what you want — Be bold in what you ask for. Life is too short to play it small. When crafting your vision board, journaling, or praying to the Universe, go big. What would it feel like if you were to truly “shoot for the stars”?
  17. Stop saying sorry — One word that I have almost completely rid from my vocabulary in my 20s is the word sorry. Or at least the disingenuous sorry. If you are truly regretful of something, take the time to make a heart-felt apology. But every time you bump into someone, or drop something, or snort while laughing-out-loud in public? Not necessary. Women spend way too much time apologizing for the littlest things, which over time, builds up in our subconscious and keeps us in a constant state of asking for forgiveness. Enough already. Be unapologetically YOU, and be OK with that.
  18. Forgive. Every damn day. — Speaking of forgiveness, every day is the perfect day to practice that little gem. Release, surrender, let it go. Your childhood. Your ideas of perfection. The way your mother treated you. The ex-boyfriend who cheated on you ten years ago. The girls that talk behind your back. The people who underpay you and don’t realize your worth. Release, surrender, let it go.
    Start with the outside world, and when you come to a place of peace with that, turn the forgiveness inward. You deserve it. You deserve to feel light and free. It’s probably the hardest work you’ll ever do, but be relentless about it. Fall in love with the idea of forgiving yourself and others, every damn day, and soon enough it will become second nature.
  19. Hangovers suck — Am I right?! Each year the headaches tend to get stronger and the recovery time longer. Now, in my 3rd decade of life, I’m committing to quality over quantity, in everything I do. Hell yea I still love a good margarita! But top shelf tequila only, please. Or while we are at it, small-batch handmade Mezcal from Oaxaca, por favor. I've become so particular about what I put into my body and I've never felt better! Changing my relationship with what I consume catapulted my health in amazing ways I could never imagine. I ditched the dairy, eat mostly vibrant, living foods, and when I do indulge it's only the best. Less is so much more, if you are eating and drinking the right stuff.
  20. Gratitude for it all — The good and the bad. Coming to a place of peace with my past and gratitude for my present has set my heart free in so many ways. 22 year old Mandy was wild and crazy and confused... but perfect in her own way. It breaks my heart when I see people bash their former selves. Every step of the way leads us to the next. No matter how dark your past was, be grateful for everything it taught you. 








In closing...

I used to think that feeling FIERCE was purely physical: youth, swag, sex appeal. The right dress that hugged your curves, a sexy hair day, the right shade of red lipstick.

But now, these days, most days, feeling FIERCE has nothing to do with my external being. My 30th year has taught me how to feel beautiful and strong and wild from a much deeper place. That's why they always say that life for a woman really begins in your 30s, and gets better in your 40s, 50s, and so on. 

You go through shit. You stare death and depression and the depths of your spirit in the face and you get to make a choice. These things can break you. Or they can make you into the fiercest, kindest, most authentic and loving woman you'll ever know. 

Today, I feel fierce. Even when I'm up to my elbows in diapers and have bags under my eyes from no sleep. Today, not in spite of these reasons, but because of these reasons, and so much more . . . 

I feel fierce when I think of how far I've come. 



Wednesday, April 19, 2017

How to Heal Chronic Pain and Live Better: An Interview with Jenn Hudgens

Today I am excited to introduce you to my good friend Jennifer Hudgens. She is a Doctor of physical therapy and a yoga instructor, who is committed to helping empower people through essential oils.  Her life was changed forever at 25 years young. An accident left her disabled and reliant on large amounts of medication. 

She decided this wasn’t the life she wanted to live and got herself off of all of her medications, working closely with an acupuncturist, massage therapist and beginning a daily yoga practice. For years, Jen attended my Tuesday afternoon Vinyasa Flow class where we became good friends and got to know each other on a deeper level. After hearing her story and seeing her fierce dedication to her own self-healing, I gained so much respect for her. Jen took her journey to the next level when she decided to commit to Yoga Teacher Training where she once again amazed me with her focus and dedication.

After dealing with pain and emotional stress for over 4 years, Jen was introduced to essential oils.  Very skeptically, she began trying them to manage her pain. With amazement and relief, she realized they were actually working! Since then, Jen has been driven by her passion, helping others who want to gain their health back, and those who want to find healthier options for caring for themselves and their families. 

Our teacher/student relationship has beautifully evolved over the years. Now, Jen educates me on the healing power of essential oils and has helped me incorporate them into my daily life. She posts helpful daily tips on her facebook and instagram page, @natural_wellness_tips and is always happy and excited to introduce "beginners" to the wonderful world of natural, plant-based healing from the inside out.



Here is a bit more from Jen, in her own words . . .

When I was first introduced to essential oils I thought they were hocus pocus and just smelled nice.  I thought to myself, there is no way these things can actually help me!

You see, just a few years ago, I was dealing with daily back pain ranging from a 4/10 all the way to a 9/10 on really bad days. I have a spinal cord injury, herniated, disks and arthritis from an accident I was in back in 2009. I was told by doctors that there was nothing that could be done and I should take pain pills every day. Say what?! Pain pills, every day?! There is NO WAY I was going down that path!

I am a little stubborn and knew in my heart that there was a better way to care for myself. I found amazing support in practicing yoga every day and making regular visits to the acupuncturist and massage therapist. However, sadly, all this did was lessen my pain temporarily. Never fully got rid of it.


I remember sitting at a table thinking that the woman talking to me was completely out of her mind, telling me all the things I could use essential oils for, including my severe back pain. What was she talking about?! Thankfully, that day, I decided there was nothing to loose and took a leap of faith. For the first time, I gave essential oils a try. Now, I'm happy to say, I've been living free from chronic pain!


In addition to alleviating my back pain, essential oils have also personally helped me manage the following:

  • Headaches
  • Cramps and PMS
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Decreased Clarity
  • Unstable, ungrounded energy

When you are using essential oils, especially to cure serious issues in your body, quality truly matters. Many essential oils are labeled therapeutic grade or 100% when they are not that at all. It is false advertising and a bit deceptive. One great tip for you is if the bottle also says, ‘for aromatic use only,’ ‘for perfume use only,’ ‘do not ingest,’ you are most likely dealing with an altered essential oil filled with synthetics. 

I personally only trust one company and that is doTERRA.  They have raised the bar when it comes to quality of essential oils. They source all of their essential oils from their natural habitats, and have NO additives and absolutely NO impurities. Lavender is simply that, pure lavender. 

While pure essential oils are absolutely important to me, I think what attracts me most to doTERRA is their humanitarian work. Many of the countries they source their essential oils from are impoverished.  doTERRA works with these communities through their co-impact sourcing mission creating fair-trade work environments and their Healing Hands Foundation, a non-profit that focuses on building up and giving back to these communities. Take moment to read what they have been able to do in Nepal alone since the earthquakes that devastated that nation.

So where do you even start? This journey of beginning to use essential oils in your life can be overwhelming. Turning to your oil case instead of your medicine cabinet is a personal choice, and it can take some knowledge and support before you feel comfortable doing that. I am here to help you connect the dots, simplify the use of oils, and help you create clean and healthy solutions for yourself and your family.

As a special gift for taking the time to read my story, I have put together this amazing free workbook on how to create your own personal, powerful morning routine.

My journey towards self-healing is never ending. I've learned a lot about myself and life along the way. If you ever want to reach out to me and chat more about any of this, please do! We can all learn so much from each other and grow together. 

Here are my personal daily words of wisdom that I tell myself and others:
  • It doesn’t matter how devastating your journey has been, you can recover and come back better than ever
  • You and only you can make the choose to pursue the life you want.
  • The life you want is worth the fight, it may not be easy but it will be worth it.
  • Whole living and wellness isn’t only about one area of your life. It is about all areas of your life.
  • Listen to your gut, your intuition, your heart. Follow it. It always knows what you need!

Monday, April 10, 2017

Zen Girl's Guide to Cuba

Wow. What an experience! We've been back from Cuba for 3 weeks now and whenever people ask me what the country was like, the word interesting always tumbles out of my mouth. Havana was the most visually and intellectually stimulating place I've traveled to in a long time. People often describe Cuba as frozen in time and for the most part, it definitely had that museum-like vibe. 



For a quick history lesson: Relations with the US were crumbing towards the end of the 1950s, we stopped providing financial aid to Cuba in 1961 and the official embargo prohibiting all US imports was fully in effect by 1962. 

Meaning that any "American" items you see in Cuba (up until just a few years ago when relations started to normalize) are literally relics, carefully and lovingly preserved for the past 50+ YEARS! That blew my mind! Which explains all the cool, old-school cars. Most of the taxis and personal cars of locals are the 1955 and 1956 Cheverolet Bel Airs. Can you imagine still having your Grandfather's car in the family (using it as your primary vehicle) and bartering for leftover parts from other cars and even tractors to keep it running?! And these cars were pristine. Fresh paint jobs, new upholstery.... you could feel the love they put into their belongings there because there was literally no other option. Amazing. I'm totally not a car person by nature, but what it symbolized spoke volumes to me. 

With its multi-layered, complicated history and relationship with the United States, I was of course curious about how they would treat us "Americans". Surprisingly, the locals were not even phased. Cuba has been closed off to the US (and vice versa) for almost 60 years now, but has kept normal relations with almost every other country in the world. In downtown Havana, there were huge plazas and cathedrals that had a very European influence. Restaurants had infusions of flavors from neighboring Caribbean islands. African culture is evident in the music and roots of most Cubans. While we Americans have this idea of it being a closed-off bubble, it actually felt very much like a global melting pot. The architecture, building and roads are where it feels frozen in time. Crumbling, yet sufficient. 

There's an over-arching joy and kindness that surprised me about the Cuban people. Always smiling and welcoming, despite knowing that they are at a turning point in history, where once the flood gates from America truly open up, they will be inundated with visitors. Even with this knowledge, there was a general warmth and gratitude for our presence. Definitely no bad vibes against Americans that we experienced, at all! 



Luckily, we had the expert tour guide in our corner. "Havana Lana" aka my Auntie Lana from Halifax Canada who has spent a few months a year in Cuba for the last 10+ years invited us down for a visit. My husband's parents had Cuba on their travel bucket list as well, so we all joined forced and met for a week of exploring this forbidden country.

A few girlfriends have since asked me if it's safe for a girls trip. Yes, absolutely! A few things that amazed me were how safe, clean, and healthy the country felt. I think a girls trip is totally OK and would be an awesome adventure! We traveled with my baby girl Luna in tow, who was only 7 months old at the time. The Cuban people absolutely adored her!

For the ideal Cuban experience, if you want to cover all bases of educational, relaxing, and adventurous, I would spend 5 days in Old Havana and 4 or 5 days enjoying the beaches of Varadero, Cienfuegos, and Cayo Coco. And if you're into it, there's also a really cool countryside area called Valle de Vinales where you can go horseback riding through tobacco farms and learn the art of rolling their famous cigars.

Here are my favorite photos from our Cuban Adventure, and be sure to scroll all the way to the bottom for a list of my favorite restaurants and not-to-miss places in Havana!




































Havana Vieja ~ Old Havana
  • Classic Car Convertible Tour: yes, it’s touristy but it was so much fun and such a highlight – also a great way to see the city. We did the four hour option with an English speaking guide and it was worth every penny. If you do 4 hours you go to Fusterlandia Art Gallery located out of town – it was fun and funky art space.
  • Night out at Fabrica de Arte Cubano (FAC): Located in Vedado neighborhood of Havana. A huge multi-purpose art space with galleries, stage for performances, DJs, theater, and bars. Open only Thursday - Sunday.
  • Dinner at El Cocinero: right next to FAC in Vedado, must have a reservation. Get a table on the rooftop terrace. Best plan is to make a dinner reso here for 7 or 8pm, then head next door to FAC for drinks after.
  • La Guarida: a classic fancy dinner spot, nice if you want to splurge. Very popular, for a reason! Must have a reservation.
  • Castro Pol: restaurant on the famous malecon as you leave/enter downtown Havana. Perfect location for a long lazy siesta or dinner with a sunset view.
  • 1830 Bar (Mil Ocho in Vedado): Gorgeous restaurant, literally ocean front! Open-air Salsa bar with a live band and then DJ some nights. Not to be missed!
  • 304 O’Reilly: My husband, baby Luna and I stopped in here for tapas and mojitos in the middle of a long day walking around Old Havana. Perfect location in the middle of everything. Tightly packed restaurant resembling an English pub. Definitely no room for a stroller or baby gear but the staff was so nice and made room for us :)
Other great spots that came highly recommended to us 
Shout out to Christine Seisun and Lis Meyers for these super helpful lists! Gracias chicas! 
  • Habana Mia 7 (restaurant in Vedado)
  • Museo del Chocolate
  • Sia Kara for cocktails
  • Museum of the Revolution
  • Clandestina: boutique and art store
  • Havana Club store in Old Havana: do a tour of how they make rum and taste test!
  • Casa Del Musica: classic Cuban salsa and live music spot, not to be missed! Ask a taxi driver to take you to the one in Miramar.
  • Sunset stroll on the Malecon! Lots of Cubans come out to enjoy the sunset. Also a fun nighttime walk. People will be drinking and playing music – an unforgettable experience. 

If you need help planning your Cuba Adventure
Especially if traveling in a group from the US, contact my Aunt Lana via her website.
She specializes in corporate training and team-building, and sustainable Edu-tourism in Cuba, and can assist you with the proper government forms needed and/or help you book out your itinerary. 


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