Since posting on instagram, I’ve received a number of questions on my trip to Havana, Cuba so I thought I’d share and place everything in one place. It really takes a community to help you through something new. A lot of the places that I visited were through friends (thank you Jermaine and Angie!) sharing info so it would be only right to share with you.
- You’re taken on a bus to the terminal (could be a 10 step walk or a 4 minute drive!) The terminal is very hushed and orderly, your picture is taken and you’re asked if you want your passport stamped – say “Yes!” why not?
- A key to having an enjoyable trip is to budget, budget, budget. Save your coins and take cash with you on your trip. There is ABSOLUTELY no US to CUBAN currency exchange in the US and ATMs in Cuban only accept Cuban bank cards and a few European countries. No the embargo has not been lifted on US trade so no US currency. In the event you spend ALL your money the only way to get some more is to have someone Western Union you money that’s a headache (wifi is practically non-existent and expensive when you do find it) so make sure you budget yourself. Otherwise you might as well set up shop and start working there lol which is not advisable, it is still a communist country.
- There are two forms of currency in Cuba. The Cuban Convertible Currency (CUC) and Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUP). You will always want CUC’s aka the dollar. The CUP is the national coin and really only used with those that live there and are measured at a lower rate than the CUC. For example, 25 CUP is the equivalent to 1 CUC so don’t get caught out there.
- Upon arrival in Cuban just after you’ve left customs, your first activity is to exchange your money while at the Cuban airport. Just outside the doors to the “street” there are 2 currency exchange desks on the sidewalk (beware the lines are long). There is also another legit currency exchange desk upstairs at arrivals. Warning: DO NOT DO ANY EXCHANGES inside the airport building itself. It’s under the table and you run a risk of being short changed or given fake CUC’s.
The Language (Spanish)
- So yeah…Cuba isn’t like a lot of other countries I’ve visited where English isn’t their national language. Spanish is the language and 95% of the country ONLY speaks Spanish. Yes they may know a few key words ie. Obama, Hello, Goodbye but that’s really it.
- Although I have a pretty good understanding of Spanish I’m not fluent so the Hubs was clutch in downloading the offline version of the Google Translator app. Save yourself some potential drama and download it now even if you aren’t traveling soon. *once you download the online version go into the app and download the offline version.
- So umm when packing your luggage be wary of sticky finger moments. My mom packed 2 bags of tea light citronella candles in her suitcase and some how 1 bag went missing after we arrived at the airport. When we left she packaged her cigars in her suitcase to return to the states and those went missing as well by the time we landed. You are able to bring rum and cigars back from the island to the states so that’s nothing to worry about but I’d recommend packing the cigars in your hand luggage. You can buy rum at the airport after you check back in and it’s still pretty cheap and you won’t have to worry since you can carry it on the airplane in a clear bag provided by the store.
- Once you arrive and go through customs and such, there is a yellow taxi line the sidewalk to the left and you can hire one to get you where you are going. Havana Central is $25 and Old Havana is $30 (for as many people that fit into the cab. This isn’t a per person situation) Do not get played and told it costs more.
- On the island, “American” Classic cars are pretty common. The average price for hour for a ride 30 CUC DO NOT GET UPCHARGED. The drivers will try to get the drop on you. We were quoted as much as 50 CUC and as low as 25 CUC. 30 CUC is the right price!
*A good rule of thumb is to make a reservation for dinner when you can.
- Porto Havana – Secret restaurant hidden in an apartment building (reservation only).
- 304 O’Reilly – Super cute restaurant. They hand out flowers to all female patrons.
- El del Frente (sister restaurant to 304 O’Reilly) – A bit more hip and has a rooftop dining space and bar with the most perfect lighting.
- Floridita – Ernest Hemingway’s favorite Daiquiri’s served here and they are good! It’s a tourist stop because there is a life-size sculpture of him at the bar – yes you can take a picture with it/him while waiting to be served.
- Café Artes de Aquiar – Perfect for lunch or a quick coffee.
- Café O’Reilly – A great place to buy freshly ground coffee.
- el Dandy – A great place for brunch!
- Hostal’s are common there be sure to check Trip Advisor if you go that route. I stayed at Hostal San Juan. The pictures are an accurate depiction of what the hotel looks like. Very comfortable no frills accommodation and they offer a simple breakfast for 5 CUC each morning. Located in Old, Havana this hostal was walking distance to the Malecon, and most of the famous sites.
- Hotel Nacional is one of the grandest hotels in Cuba and located in New Havana and is a 5 star location.
- Air BNB is another option but as you know it can be a bit touch and go just like it is in the states.
- Hotel Inglaterra is the oldest hotel in Cuba also a great option and located in a prime spot.
- Before you leave wifi heaven download an offline map app. Wifi can only be found in specific areas (parks, hotels) and you need to buy a wifi cards (similar to a calling card). The wifi is a bit spotty so you may get frustrated but What’sApp works when you are connected and that’s the quickest way to let people know that you’re still alive. On the other side of things…it’s actually pretty nice to disconnect for a few days. You don’t realize how much is missed when you’re always on your phone and are always accessible. Enjoy the solitude!
- OH and download all the emails and music that you think you may need in advance.
- Fábrica de Arte Cubano (F.A.C.) – Is a large late night spot/art space with music, films, galleries, etc. similar to Wynwood in Miami. Be sure to check out Anthony Bourdains trip to Cuba where he visits FAC.
- There are obviously a number of beaches on the island. East Havana beach is only 20 minutes for Old Havana. You can take the Transtur bus that picks up just across the street for Hotel Inglaterra (the oldest hotel in Cuba.) and only cost 5 CUC and actually makes 4 stops including Morro Castle. The other 3 stops are different beach options. We visited Tropicoco which is just across the street from Tropicoco Hotel! *You can buy food and beverage on the beach and bottles of rum at the hotel store. I do not recommend staying there.
- Before leaving the country, I’d recommend setting up some tour with the Havana Tour Company. You can pay in advance or pay a percentage of your tour if you feel more comfortable there. We did the 3-hour walking tour and it was jam packed with info. I’m sure any of the other options would be just as great!
- Cigars…Only buy from the cigar stores! We were educated by a number of cigar aficionados that even when guys outside of the store (say on the beach on whatever) and you see someone telling you about the real seal that they are placing on the cigar it isn’t real. In order for it to be real the seal must have a hologram going all the way around the seal. Not just in the front.
Okay that’s about it! When in doubt if you need more info visit WikiTravel for more gems that can be found on the island.
Lets keep the information train going so if you have anything else to add comment below and continue to share.
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