I’m freash off the plane from taking my first spontaneous trip, and I can’t wait to share what all I got into. A couple of months ago I found a $92 roundtrip flight to Cuba that I couldn’t pass that up. Shortly after purchasing my ticket I found out that a couple of other bloggers would also be there during the same time, so I asked if I could tag along (I’ll be sharing more about our trip later this week). I originally didn’t plan on writing a post about a list of things you should know before visiting Cuba but after popping in on social and sharing a couple of pictures while there my inbox became filled with messages asking about my stay, documents needed to travel to Cuba and where do you get internet while in Cuba. Today I’m sharing 10 things you should know before visiting Cuba, be on the look out for my day to day recap along with a vlog coming later this week.
I tried to write this as simple as I could, please let me know if you guys have any questions.
1. Traveling to Cuba/Visa/Insurance – I was super stressed out about the whole visa thing. I purchased my ticket via JetBlue, and they weren’t too strict when it came to verifying documents for my visa, they did send me an affidavit via email a couple of days after I purchased my ticket. When you purchase your ticket via JetBlue, it also comes with the required insurance that you need for entry to Cuba. I was able to travel under the journalism category. I arrived at the airport 3 hours early on the day of my departure (I had an 8 am flight) took me 15 mins to check and fill out for my visa (all at the same time) the only thing they asked for was my passport. Heads up if you don’t own a U.S. Passport I think you have to fill out for the visa before arriving at the airport.
2. Airbnb -You should definitely opt for Airbnb vs. Hotel, it’ll save you so much money. Be sure to do your research and read reviews. We lucked up and found an Airbnb in central Havana (10-15 from old Havana) for $70 a night and our Airbnb guy was SUPERRRRR SWEET . Also, note that you get what you pay for meaning don’t expect the top of the top. Our Airbnb was clean and comfy. The only complaint I had was the sewer smell coming from the bathroom, but come to find out it smells like that even in the hotels.We stayed here.
3.Locals– Cubans are super nice but beware of the ones who will try to get over on you (that happens almost every where even in the states). You might find a couple of locals who speak English (broken English). The guys love American girls, even us big girls -I had a man follow me to a taxi kissing my hand the whole time lol.
4. Money– Exchange your money in euros before you leave the states then once you get to the Havana airport exchange to CUC. Only exchange your CUC for U.S. Dollars with locals if you understand the money and know the exchange rate. Cuba has two currencies:bCUC (Cuban convertible peso or ‘Cuban dollar’) tourist can only use this and then there’s CUP (Cuban national peso) worth around 1 CUC = 22 CUP, locals use this. CUC is more that peso, don’t get tricked into exchanging CUC money for CUP. If you happen to run out of money, there is an ATM at Havana International Airport on the departing level. Be aware that it will give you CUC, not U.S. Dollars.
5. No Internet– the Internet pretty much sucks in Cuba. You have to purchase an internet card from a hotel for $4 for an hour. You can only find the internet cards at hotels or random parks. You’ll know when there’s internet around because you will see a brunch of people sitting around on their phone. We purchased our internet cards from Hotel Santa Isabel; you’ll get the better connection if you go inside by the bar (buy a drink so you can sit and use the internet, it’s cheap). In Central Havana, we had to use a locals internet (shared from his personal phone) for $2 hour because our internet cards didn’t work there. He did tell us that it was illegal for him to do this (selling internet). I think your internet card only works in the area where you purchased it.
6. Drinks– Alcoholic drinks in Cuba are cheap and super strong, so be prepared. Only drink bottled water with a screw top, Cuban water is not so clean. The bottled water will have a weird taste, drink it cold (I hate cold water and I judge all water lol). I suggest bringing some artificial powder flavor packs (I love the lemon packets), this is so you can wash out the weird taste.
7. Shopping– Be sure to go the Almacenes San Jose Market to purchase your souvenirs. It’s located on the corner of Calle Cuba. The paintings there are amazing, I wish I would have had enough money to purchase artwork. At the market, you’ll find artwork, jewelry, statues, purses, music instruments, and clothing. Almost everything is made by hand. Be sure to bargain; some locals will also accept U.S. Dollars. Heads up, if you purchase a large ticket item such as a painting, statue or musical instrument that can’t be packed into your suitcase you will need to provide proof that you paid tax on that item once you get to the airport. To be safe just ask for a receipt or proof of purchase.
7. Touring– Most tours taking place in Cuba are pretty much booked for the next three months. We found that out a week before our trip. As soon as you book your ticket try and book your tour. We lucked up and found an English translator in old Havana who offered to take us around Cuba for two days. I highly suggest asking your Airbnb for help with that or help finding an English translator. We were in good hands and had lots of fun plus we saved money (I’ll share more on what we did in my day 1-3 breakdown).
9. Food– Be sure to try some ice cream it’s so good, we found a yummy ice cream spot called Helad’oro. Here in Miami, there are Cuban restaurants everywhere, and I’ve eaten at the best Cuban spots. I wasn’t impressed with the Cuban food, it was very bland, and that probably had to do with the restrictions in trade. We even are at the La Guardia, and it was just ok (Beyoncé and Jay-Z ate there, what we ate is pictured above) that place is pretty for pictures. I did enjoy some yummy beans and rice over in Viñals which is 2 hours from old Havana. Also, note- Restaurants and ice creams shops are open late. For some reason, we kept running into a bunch of pizza and Italian food spots which we thought was a little weird.
10. Getting Around– Take a Vintage taxi vs. Regular taxi. Surprisingly vintage taxis are cheaper than regular yellow taxes (make sure you keep change on you, they love yo say that they don’t have change). Be sure to negotiate the price; we were paying $5 more than what we should have to get back to our Airbnb every night.
Random Facts: (will add more as I remember- my notepad is full of stuff)
There is little to no crime in Cuba.
The water and the electricity will go out sometimes.
There is no home internet
I read somewhere that there was a shortage of toilet paper and it’s hard find in public areas, that really wasn’t true, toilet paper was provided in every bathroom I used.
In all, I had a great time in Cuba. I’ll be back in a tomorrow to share a recap of Day 1 in Cuba.