Traveling To Cuba – Here’s The REAL Deal
While I was in Cuba so many people had questions about the overall trip that this blog post was a must for me to do in order to save you all from making any mistakes + planning accordingly.
Travel Docs: You no longer need special permission to travel to Cuba. When purchasing your plane ticket you will be asked to choose from a list categories as to why you want to visit Cuba, nobody will ask you to prove your purpose. A Cuban visa is also required, but your airline will sell you this Visa at the airport for $50 USD (at least in the case of Jetblue). You are also required to have medical insurance to enter Cuba, this is also something your airline provides and will include it in your taxes and fees charge. I flew through JetBlue and the entire process was easy.
Necessary Items: When packing bring anything you made need or want to snack on since there are no stores that you can walk into and shop. Toiletries are a must + snacks. You will go long periods of time without eating while at beaches and walking tours and with the exception of fruit stands I saw no snack spots per say.
Flight: The goes fast and felt like traveling to Miami from New York. During my flight I asked the flight crew to give me all the water they could spare since I had no plans on consuming the water in Cuba. Glad I did this because even the bottled water has a totally different taste from what you may be accustomed to. But, yes there is bottled water and ice in Cuba.
Money Exchange: I was advised to change my Dollars into Euros before I left New York because I would get more bang for my money if I arrived in Cuba with Euros. Once in Cuba, you can exchange your money to CUCs at the airport or any big hotel. Please be mindful that there are two types of currencies in Cuba: CUCs and CUP s. As a tourist you would only handle CUCs but pay attention when getting change back as they may try to give you change back in CUP’s which has less value.
Accommodations: I personally choose to stay at an Airbnb rental as opposed to staying at a hotel. The apartment was in a high rise building and was furnished in a humble manner + came with a round the clock cleaning lady which stood with us the entire time and would cook breakfast. My Airbnb was located next to a hotel so it was not in a desolated area, I had cabs right downstairs at all times + I could reach some wifi through the window. Hotels that are new or updated in Cuba tend to be a bit pricey, some charge $300-$400 USD per night. So if you’ve got the extra bread to spend go for it.
Internet: There is no such thing as wifi in people’s homes unless you are some extra VIP human. The wifi can only be obtained by purchasing a wifi card and then it’s up to you to find a wifi hotspot so you can access connection. So no, buying the card alone does not grant you wifi access. Cost? The cards are sold in denominations of one, two, three, four and five hours of internet access. I opted for buying the one hour cards for $1.50 ($1.50 USD) or the five hour cards for $7.50 CUCs ($7.50 USD) – You can stop the card’s time from running by simply disconnecting from wifi.
TV/Radio: I watched no television or listened to radio while I was in Cuba, I was told they do not really have their own TV channels or radio stations. Most music I heard was played either for a CD or a person’s phone. So load up you phone will all favorite music and movies. Definitely bring a portable speaker and/or DVD player.
Restaurants: There is absolutely no fast-food or chain restaurants that you can just pull up to in Cuba. You will consume most of your meals from a home or a local restaurant. While the food was delicious there, you can feel the lack of abundance in seasoning and that many things are served in smaller portions. Fine cuts of meat or huge pieces of chicken breast will not be easily found, but the seafood is fresh and they give you plenty of it. Example: I ordered a lobster lunch and it was FOUR lobster tails for $16 CUCs ($16 USD).
Clubs/Bars: There are plenty of clubs and bars in Cuba, many are in old Havana and stay open late. Drinks are cheap with an average price of $3-6 CUCs depending on the spot. The locals will tell you what’s popping that night and even offer to meet you there to party with you.
Tropicana Show: The show was absolutely amazing and transports you back to Havana back in the day, it is over two hours long and they recommend pre-buying the entrance tickets. I opted for buying my ticket through www.cubatravelnetwork.com Ticket included the entrance + a bottle of Cuban rum with the mixers.
Beaches: The beaches in Cuba are absolutely beautiful, the water is clear and the sand is white, soft and there’s no rocks on corals of any sort. You can take a cab to Playa Santa Maria which is about 30 minutesfrom Havana for about $40 CUCs ($40 USD). I also booked a tour to visit famous Varadero beach also through www.cubatravelnetwork.com Beach was two hours away but tour included transportation and a day pass at Hotel Playa de Oro for $85 USD which included food, drinks and access to the hotel pool as well. I also booked this tour before I left the US.
Taxis: In order to easily access yellow cab you need to stay in a hotel or close to one since they’re all lined up outside. Most cabs charged $10 CUCs ($10 USD) almost every single time I took a cab anywhere in Havana with the exception of twice when we traveled a bit further. They also have the older cars which tend to be cheaper as long as they are not fully restored back to full glory. The classic cars that look absolutely beautiful and seem to be in mint condition will run you about $50 USD per hour to tour Havana.
Tours: I did a walking tour of Old Havana which I booked before leaving the US through www.urbanadventures.com and it was very informative, it was a full three hours long and included a one hour stop for lunch and amazing restaurant called Arte Pub at no additional cost.
Locals: The locals are very friendly and a bit reserved. I got the feeling that they do not want to have any weird interaction with tourist and possible get in trouble with the law. Now the Cuban men when it comes to tourist women are a different story! They are very flirtatious and wasted no time in telling you they’re interested and want to take you out. Cuban women warned us against hanging out with Cuban men since they’re main objective is to try to score a tourist wifey that may later send them money from abroad or better yet send for them all together. Women in prostitution is also available if your a lonely soul looking for companionship while on vacay.
Safety/Crime: I was told by locals crime rate is super low in Cuba because even small crimes there are punished with long sentences and conditions in Cuban jails can be compared to being in hell. At no time did I feel threatened of unsafe in Cuba. There will be some dark streets in Cuba that may make you like WTF am I doing here right now, but that’s only because many of the homes in Old Havana are run down and there’s no street lamps in many streets.
Shopping: There are no stores for you to shop per-se so make sure you bring everything you made need. There will be no CVS, malls or stores that you can roll up to and buy sunblock or tampons should you need either one. We did visit a local market that sells souvenirs to bring back home called Mercado San Jose. All prices there are negotiable. While they had no Cuban cigars for sale there, a young shop owner took us a small house across the road and sold us the Cohibas on the low as if it was a drug transaction of sorts. He then left the house before us and said if the police approach you, these cigars were not purchased from me or at this house. The most odd encounter but the cigars sold were premium quality.
I could literally write pages about my trip to Cuba, but I will leave you with this: this trip is more of experience and can be taken to hit the reset button in your life. All the things you take for granted by home will be intensified while there since they will be stripped from you. You will find yourself deep in thought and actually absorbing the life around…LIVING.