One year ago I took a plane back to Europe after having visited Cuba. It was exactly 4 days after Fidel Castro’s death when we entered this beautiful island. Would we notice any difference? Is Cuba still worth a visit? Curious about my travel experience? Read everything you should “know and do” while visiting Cuba.
1. The death of Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz
His death is the reason we chose to visit Cuba. We decided to go and book our tickets flying from Quito (Ecuador) to Havana (Cuba) the 5th of December 2016, a few days after Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz died (i.e. 25 November 2016).
After his death, things might change dramatically in Cuba, so we had to be quick, right? In a few years, Cuba could have changed into a booming tourist’s paradise, leaving nothing of her beautiful culture behind. We know better now. Nothing really changed, and if so, it went slowly. The country and her people are not ready to change from strong “communism focused politics” to our “capitalism”, for all kinds of reasons.
I am sure you will still be impressed visiting the country even in 10 years.
The first thing you will meet having flown into the country will be… Waiting for your bags. In our case, it took 2 hours. While talking to a local we learned this was a just normal procedure. Even waiting up to 3 hours for your bag wasn’t a big deal. Be prepared and change your mindset. It will help to have a relaxed start of your holidays.
Important: MAKE SURE YOU ENTER CUBA WITH ENOUGH MONEY! We tried 5 different cities and in none of them, it was possible to withdraw money. Bring your credit card with you (luckily we did). In case you do run out of money you can go to a ‘’banco internacional’’ while bringing your passport to receive some money.
CUC and CUP
A thing I had never experienced before was: a different currency for locals and tourist. In Cuba, this is the reality.
What does this mean for you? Well, we discovered that with CUP (local currency) you are sometimes able to buy very cheap food in the streets; for example; we paid around 50 CUP (around 2,- euro) for a big breakfast including 2 tostis, a (milk) juice, and a hamburger. While we paid 5 CUC (5 euro) in our ‘’casa particular’’. But this doesn’t go for everything and it’s a bit hard to find those cheap places.
25 CUP = 1 CUC (Cuban peso Convertible)
1 CUC = 1 US Dollar (peso Cubano)
We found some difficulties getting the CUP (we exchanged in the streets with a high exchange rate). I heard people saying it is possible to get CUP in the banks too but for us, this didn’t work out.
– Casa particular: 20-30 CUC for 1 – 2 persons
– Breakfast, lunch, dinner: around 15-20 CUC for 1 person
– Bus trip (60 minutes): around 7 CUC
– Taxi from Airport Havana to city centre (20 min): 30 CUC
– Internet Card (60 minutes): 3 CUC
– Phone card (5 minutes): 10 CUC
– Class of Salsa (one hour): 15 CUC
– Bottle of water (1 liter): 0,75 – 1 CUC
– Clothes etc.: you will not find.
5. Public transport + Taxi’s
We used the bus company ‘’Via Azul’’ to travel between cities. Good thing to know is that you need to be at the bus station one hour early and for many destinations, it’s wise to buy the bus ticket one day on beforehand. For all other short trips, we took a regular taxi which cost around 30 CUC for 30 minutes.
6. Where to stay?
There are some fancy 5-star hotels in almost every city. Especially in Varadero and Havana, you will find many of them. We decided to ‘’go cultural’’ and stay in a ‘’casa particular’’ Which are kind of bed & breakfasts We just walked around and choose one we liked. It’s really easy to spot them because of the ‘’sign’’ they have (see picture above) and you’re sure it looks good, you’re close to the city center etc.
Disadvantage: many locals will come to you (they can’t miss me: blond, big backpack, and straight out of a tourist bus) and tell you, you should ‘’follow them to a very nice, cheap, good and great etc. etc. place’’ once you get rid of one, the next one is coming over to you; understandable but super annoying! If you want to avoid this: Just tell them you already booked something and walk away. Or really book something on beforehand. For example at the website ”homestay”.
Cuba is super, super, super safe! We walked around with our cameras during the night and it didn’t feel uncomfortable at all. I have been to some 3rd world countries but I have to say that Cuba felt the safest. Weirdly enough if you know that the monthly wages of the locals are around 30 CUC for a 40-hour working week. The only thing is: being a woman walking alone through SOME streets you might start to feel like a cat walking around: some of the ‘’oh so latino guys’’ non-stop whisper and make other sounds to you, a bit annoying but, of course, not really dangerous. I would just try to take it as a compliment.
8. You need to know…
– Shops: you seriously can’t get anything there so don’t think that you buy stuff like shampoo/clothes in Cuba… Plus you will have to wait in line again.
-Bring pencils! People might ask for it. Cuba only produces local stuff and hardly imports products. For this, almost all products are out of reach for Cuban people. We had some pencils/ballpoints with us and they were so happy with it. Kids are also known to ask for this.
– The north of Cuba (like our trip) has many visits of tourists. My advice for people who really admire to go ‘’back in time’’ is rent a car and make a road trip in the southern part of Cuba: this must be super authentic and is still on my travel list.
9. Nice videos
See this VOX video to learn more about the wages and money in Cuba
See this VOX video to learn more about using the internet in Cuba
10. Show me more about Cuba
Hope you enjoyed and found some interesting stuff reading my story about Cuba. I would love to hear your opinion about this article and please let me know if you have any further questions about this stunning country! Let me know in a comment below or read one of the following blogs:
- Cuba, Havana
- Cuba, Vinales
- Cuba, Varadero
- Cuba, Trinidad
- Coming soon: ”An unexpected travel itinerary in Cuba”