Life in Cuba.... a Hidden Gem....
Life in Cuba.... Well at least for 6 days(Tips & dispelling myths)First off let me say this was a super trip!!
So glad I went... 2/18-2/23/17.
If you have not, I suggest you Make room for Cuba on your travel list.. 💖
I loved Cuba so much, not because of the glam and shine, but because of the shine you have to find through the rubble, the broken streets. The shine you see in the smiles on the people, children... shoot even the animals. Just to be in the energy of gratefulness was astounding... But not in the desperation sense, moreso in a proud sense. One thing I can say about the Cuban people is their sense of PRIDE is humongous! It is bigger than life. Of course there is shadiness everywhere, but the true heart of the city, the people was so genuine. They gave me life... The fact they do not see color or race... They see people. There is so much we can learn from them.
Daily we were awakened by the rooster screaming cock-a-doodle-doo at 4:15am until7am. He was like a Rooster snooze button I wanted to shut off. Haha.. just kidding. It was actually neat...yeah neat to hear him every day in the midst of the city. I wondered if he was a pet or soon to be dinner.. Wait do we eat roosters? It tastes like chicken right..
Anyway, Every day I hit El Malecon Blvd (this is the blvd that backs up to the oceanside) and watched the waves hit the rocks. We could see the water from our door step as we were only 2 blocks away. Some mornings I would get up and run from our Apt to the docks where the cruise boats come in. Then I would wander into the streets of Old Havana as I made my way back to the apt. It was usually before 9:30am so it was always fairly quiet. Each courtyard or street offered a new reward of some sort of artistry, statue, smell or people. I snapped shots here and there in awe most of the time a the hidden treasures.
- El Malecon Blvd, La Habana Cuba
Come 10 oclock the streets are buzzing with horns tooting, bicycle bells ringing, smells of good cafe in the air, brooms sweeping, school kids bustling around etc.... As you walk along the streets you will see into most peoples homes as they have their doors open or are even sitting at the doors watching the passer bys. Say Hola or Buenas Diaz.. I tell you it makes their day. To see the smiles on their faces..#winning.
- Museo De La Revolucion Havana Cuba
- Museos De La Habana
Each day we walked the streets looking at the beauty, the french European influence in the architecture on every corner and at the same time we were engulfed with the city streets and the demolition... Some of it new... but most occurring over time.
Cathedral of Havana
Each day was an adventure. It was exciting to wake up each morning and start the day.. without a lot planned. Let's see what happens. Once piece of advice - Remember to take time to actually relax and enjoy... Try to have no agenda and go with the flow. I have learned over time the less you try to control the more successful you are at enjoying life.
Here are some of my suggestions and tips...and things we did along this journey....coupled with what I must do on the next trip, which I plan to take this year!!
- Gran Teatro La Habana De Alicia AlonsoEl Morro, La Habana Step 1...Go ahead and book that ticket!Tickets- Prices were so reasonable when we went.. it was $322 RT with a connection in FLL out of Dallas...on Southwest (SW). WOW!! Initially, I was planning to head back to Belize, but saw Cuba for a great price and saw so many other wanderlusters talking about their trips... so the choice was easy...The Borders have been on lock for so long I jumped at the opportunity to go. *Also Check discount travel sites - ie. flighthub.com (I'll share others as I hear about them) - europeandestinations.com - tripmasters.com - alimindbodysoul.dreamtrips.com - booking.com✔ - google.com/flights✔ - airfarewatchdog.com - cheapoair.com - kayak.com - momondo.com✔ - secretflying.com✔ - skyscanner.com - secretflying.com✔ When you need to make a call in La Habana Cuba - golastminute.com All in all... BE FLEXIBLE with travel dates and airlines/airports... the deals are out there. *You will also need to select 1 of 12 reasons for your travel. I chose Education/People to People - Easy peasy.. Nothing else needed ( didn't need to prove it either) Insurance- Cuba Travel requires insurance. SW and Jet blue incl insurance in the ticket.. Yay!! Nothing else for you to do there. But please check with you airline before you book and your credit cards. Often times they offer insurance is you book using that credit card. Make sure you are getting the best deal and one that includes the insurance
Visa- you can prepay online .. SW sends a link when booking your airfare so super easy to get in advance and cost was $50. OR you can buy directly at the gate.... We saw blue kiosks that say 'Destination Cuba' in Fort Lauderdale airport and the people there are great and can get you ready to go in a jiffy. Cost may vary by airline... They really make it easy!
To Exchange Money or NOT - Ok so here is where it gets good...Global Entry/TSA Pre✔ - try to get this is if you plan to travel alot. Internationally and Domestically... Cost is $100 and really doesn't take long to get. I applied on 1/30/17 and had my application approved for the interview. picked next available 2/10/17. Went for appt and was in and out in 7 mins. The GOES number you get when your application is approved is then activated within 48 hrs. Add this number to any pre-existing travel or new travel. TSA Pre will show up on your tickets for international and domestic travel. Global Entry allows you to use specific kiosks for going through customs and speeds up the process.Before you Leave the States (or wherever that has internet)Download Google Translator APP - download offline the language you will need and it works perfectly. You can hold the phone over the words on a menu or sign or book in that language and it will auto translate without taking a pic. You can speak or hold it up when someone else speaks to capture their words and then translate.. How cool. This app was a Gods send for us.Download MAPS.ME - download the country or city you will be in offline and use this without wifi or data anywhere. It was awesome. It marks your exact location and gives you turn by turn. You can see the arrow move as you move. Cool huh?? and they both are free!!
Things are getting easier so if you want to convert US Dollars prior to arrival in CUBA it seems like the best conversion is to EUR. You will want to check exchange rates either way. My experience and my traveling friends experience this trip is as follows: we were told Cuba will NOT take the US$$ or it will be hard to exchange. We found out... you CAN take the US$$ and you can exchange and exchange fairly easily at the Cuban airport. On top of that the exchange rate in Cuba was better than the exchange rate I got in the US for Exchanging for EUR....Which means I lost more money off the top. :( Also larger hotels will exchange EUR, CAD and some will exchange US$$. Banks will likely exchange all currency types as well.
The most used currency is the CUC, however some of the local stores still us the CUP.
*If you need to go to El Banco please alot a few hours or get there at least a half hour before they open. they only let so many people inside so you have to stand outside until they allow you inside. We had a little connection just by making friends and they exchanged our monies for us. They actually went right in to the front of the line and came out with our money... Wahla!!!
Next question - How much to take? I exchanged $800 US and only used say equivalent to $500 US and that was high. Now that I know how things work, You can easily budget $25-$60 daily depending on what you plan to do.
Wifi- you can buy a wifi card – Internet access can be limited unless free where you stay. Once we got the cards it was pretty easy to follow instructions. NOW getting online at different locations was sketchy. Sometimes we could get on. Sometimes we could not. I will say, sometimes you spent more time trying to get on.. Next time I will use the time to explore.... ;)
o To gain access to WiFi in Cuba, purchase a card from a ETECSA telecommunications centre or a hotel which has WiFi accessibility. The card will cost $2.50 - 4.50 CUC / $4.50 / £2.93 and gives you one hour of online internet access in Cuba. Tyhpicall y they only allow you to purchase 2 cards at a time.
* OR if you are kind.. just ask someone which locations sell cards. FYI - the lines at the Etesca centers were always super long and take hours out of your day. So get there aearly say 7:45-8am Or better yet. plan to be off line and enjoy the city :)
§ How to Log On Using Nauta WiFi - http://www.cubacasas.net/a_intro/phones_Internet.html#Anchor-INTERNET-49575
§ The card has a log on code and password which you score off. When you select the network you will be asked for these. Type both in and hit accept then done. That should be you online.
§ How to Log Off Using Nauta WiFi
§ Type 220.127.116.11 into the search bar (if it takes you to a Google search of 18.104.22.168 ignore this and try again). Here you request to log off and click ‘cerrar sesión’. If you have not used your full one hour then the credit will be available for you to use again.
§ List of wi-fi spots as of 9 September 2016 - ALL you have to do is look for areas where people are sitting with their phones out and you know you have hit a WIFI location...
LA HABANA• La Rampa (from the Malecón up to cine Yara in Habana Vedado),• Parque Linea y L in Habana Vedado,• Corner 13 y 14 in Habana Vedado,• Parque Estadio LatinoAmericano in Cerro - Habana Vedado,• Parque Trillo + Parque Fe del Valle (corner Galeano y San Rafael) in Habana Centro,• Parque Coyula in Habana Miramar/Playa,• Balneario Universitario 1ra y 42 in Habana Miramar/Playa,• Parque 13 y 76 in Habana Miramar/Playa,• Pabellones Central and 14 at Expocuba (Parque Lenin),• Parque de Campo Florido in Habana del Este,• Parque de Calabazar in Boyeros• Parque de 51 + Punta Brava in La Lisa,• Parque 51 y 76 + El Anfiteatro de Marianao • El Paseo de la Villa Panamericana• Parque 9 de Abril + Parque de Santa Maria del Rosario in Cotorro• Parque Mónaco + Parque Cordoba in 10 de Octubre• Parque Jose Marti in San Antonio de las Vegas• Parque Santa Amalia in Arroyo Naranjo• Parque las Madres in Regla• Parque José Martin San Miguel del Padron• Parque Hanoi + Centro Cultural in Alamar• Parque Central + Parque Viondi in Guanabacoa,
Casa particulares - We stayed in an airbnb in the Vedado area. Meaning we were close to everything! It was a full 2bdr apt w/4 beds with full kitchen and living room for $35 per night + $5 per extra person. $252 for 5 nights. Can't beat that. I suggest an airbnb so you get the full experience. Lots of the airbnb's offer meals and give tips. Our host came in every other day and changed our bedding and towels like a real hotel. She made us a great breakfast, provided tour info and on our last night she and her mother took us out for a night on the town! so much fun!!
Our Host -Contact: Lene - Find her on airbnb.com under La Habana Casa Manrique
Location - Manrique 115 el Animas y Laguna, Ctro HabanaEmail -email@example.com
Using the toilet - If you stay in a Casa Particulares ask if you can flush the toilet paper in the toilet. They may NOT be in an area with good septic system....(tissue goes in trash...) This was so tough to remember..
And also carry tissue with you as it may not be available in all restrooms. :)
Restaurant particulares - try to choose a smaller Restaurante Particulares which is usually family owned. This helps the locals directly and you get a chance make acquaintances with locals and maybe hear their story. We found good eats at the smaller street shops and carts for snacks and sweets. Cost can be anywhere from $1.20 CUC= $1.20US for a whole pizza or humongous plate of food incl chicken for less than $5 CUC. you can also find more expensive options, but why??Drinks are easily $2.50 CUC or less. but can be more expensive. Look for places (incl hotels that display their menus and show prices) Oh and by the way... TIP their Margaritas are straight alcohol with a squeeze of lime and the are made with rum of course :)
What to take - Travel light if you can and only take a carry on. I personally did not have any issues with my checked bag except we had to wait for it a bit with a millions others who looked like they shipped their entire house in saran wrap. seriously funny.. :) :)
We went in February and this is considered their winter. It was 70-80s daily and we wore sandals, shorts, tanks and dresses daily and it was warm. Loved it!!!
Transportation - how do you wanna roll?
-Classic cars - so many options and easy to book one. You can find most of them at the Capital area or at any larger hotel or just hail one while standing on the street.
-We were going to book one for 3-4 hrs at $40CUC for 3 people. What a great price!!
-Coco cabs - these are cute 3 seater small cabs that whisk you around town. so if you have a short ride. hail one and as always negotiate your price. I will tell you this... they are open so hold on to your money... you don't want it to fly out the window and have to chase that $20CUC down on the Malecon!! It could be dangerous... hahaha (yes this happened to a friend)
-Yellow cabs -
-Viazul Bus - check the website... you can \ -Local buses- just jump on for .40CUC.. They are usually packed, but you want to experience the culture, give it a whirl ***NOTE- Transfers to La habana from Airport and back – 17mi.. 30 mins $25 each way
Things to see - Everything!!! Honestly, get a map of the city you plan to stay in and mark some things you want to see and then just go with the flow. Going off the beaten path was where we learned more and saw more culture. And DON'T be afraid to talk (use that google translator... it works wonders)
- Got my own Coco Cab!Classic Cars La Habana Many ways to get around - http://www.lonelyplanet.com/cuba/transport/getting-around/local-transport or o http://www.cuba-junky.com/havana/havana-city-transportation.htm o (Taxi, local bus *Astro, bikes, scooters…) · Hershey Train - -http://www.cubalinda.com/English/Transportation/Trains.asp#Hershey · Hop on Hop Off Bus tour – I love these -http://www.cuba-junky.com/havana/havana_bus_tour.html · Old Havana area - check out the local side and the newer touristy side. You will get lots of culture in both areas... · El Malecon blvd · Vinales – Take a day trip. rent a classic car or cabbie... Tabacco farmers (very personal tour $150 CUC or cheaper $70 CUC).. This is great for their economy and buy a cigar or bunch... · To Trinidad- it is a 3hr 56 mins ride – take bus - www.Viazul.com. $25 CUC each way… Or taxi or tour $$$. Beautiful scenery -http://bestcubaguide.com/going-from-havana-to-trinidad-a-great-adventure-excursion/ Easy to get a casa if you choose to stay over night $15. Small place can walk through in a few hours.Bus 7am departure 2pm return… I say stay overnight and take 7:45am bus back or take a taxi later.Other types of Tours - -Bike – 4 hours – to check each site for pricing) -CubaRuta - 152, 16th Street, Corner To 13 | Vedado. Plaza, Havana 10400, Cuba – rent your own bike or take a tour 7:45am-5pm -http://www.rutabikes.com/ -Bike Rental and Tours Havana - Avenida de Los Presidentes No.359 |Apto.11A entre calle 15 y 17, -Havana, Cuba - http://bikerentalhavana.com/ -WOW – bike rentals -https://www.wowcuba.com/cuba-bicycle-tours/# -Bay of Pigs snorkeling tour - https://www.varadiving.club/diving-from-havana/ Beaches to visit -Playas de Este – beach east of Havana and more Cuban than Take the bus from Parque Central. The return trip will cost you 5 cuc, about the same on US dollars. We decided to do a classic car ride for 3 people for $35 CUC. Our Driver Evelio stayed the entire time and then confirmed he'd pick us up for our ride back to the airport for $25. He was prompt and a really nice guy. Check him out when you go to Cuba - Contact info - Evelio - 5 3499053 (cell number) -Veradero beaches - $10 bus ride each way (bus is called Viazul) more touristyPlaya De EstesMuseums etc…- · Gran Teatro de La Habana · EL Morro - http://www.fertours2cuba.com/ (not sure if we have to take a tour or can go solo) · Museo Del Chocolate· Casa De Africa -Obrapia No. 157, e/ San Ignacio y Mercaderes· Old Square Plaza-La Habana Vieja, Havana, Cuba · plaza de la Cathedral · Old Havana · Parque de martin Luther King -Avenida 23 and Calle F, Havana, CubaPlaces to eat: (go where you see locals eating or full establishments –rule of thumb) · Only drink Agua natural – clean water · Limit raw fruit and veggie consumption L drink clean water to ensure you do not get sick….Ropa Veja Plate at Restaruante Particulares · Stick to Restauranes Particular = private restaurants. Have authentic eatery.Drinks – ANYWHERE - look for 1CUC & 2.50 CUC margaritas ( warning straight alcohol ) Hotels and restaurants.... get a drink and walk around....Nightlife- · Buy a Cerveza at local bar and then walk to the Malecon and hang out with locals · Jazz club – El Gato Tuerto $5 · Café Miramar-5ta Avenida | Esquina calle 94, Havana, Cuba · El turquino – salsa dancing - Tryp Habana Libre, 25th floor. | Calle L, entre 23 y 25, Vedado, Havana 10400, Cuba · La Gruta – salsa dancing -Avenida 23 | la Rampa, Vedado, Havana, $5-7 cuc - many say It’s safe there pretty much everywhere at night, even for a woman alone. I walked alone in the dark and was fine. I advise to do what you would do in the states.. Use common sense :)
Souvenirs- · Al masenes San Jose – if you purchase art get the blue certificate to bring back to states. Try to fit in bag as airline may charge to check extra. WE hit the local parque areas and Old Havana. Great prices and you can do some negotiating.
Cigars- try not to purchase on the street they may not be real.
§ a good one is likely $9CUC
§ good brands :
§ One Cohiba
§ Romeo & Juliet
§ Monte Cristo
LAST BUT NOT LEAST... be prepared to have all your senses awakened with smell, sounds & color!
Old Cuba Church
- Get to know the Cuban people. Meet them at the airport, on the streets in the restaurants. They are wonderful! AND They LOVE their country. Explore their culture and history. Learn the language (spanish- I will be taking classes) They are very spirited people so I fit right in. They dance everywhere, stop and talk to you. Just be sure to know what you are agreeing to or who you are going with. And if you want to say NO... say NO.. it is universal in all languages. :)A mega burgerEveryone is friendly ;)
Classic in Old Havana
- Meeting other Americans on these streets in La Habana... making connections I will be going back to do some things I did not on this trip.
- Chillin in these streets, La Habana Vinales, Trinidad & Baracoa and I will be hitting up the Salsa clubs next time. I love to dance and this trip sparked that dancer in me. They do Salsa mostly and another dance called Son... Either way, I will Back!!!