Many of you noticed on my Instagram that I was in the Caribbean these last 3 months. I know I haven’t yet shared anything about my Caribbean trip in the blog but today I would like to start with one of the most requested destinations: Cuba.
Cuba was my third communist country visited and the truth is that after exploring this country for 2 weeks there are many things that I would like to share with you. I swear all these tips will help you a lot and will facilitate your experience exploring this country.
Traveling in Cuba reminded me a lot of my trip to Madagascar, it is a magnificent and quite a unique destination. Upon arriving in Havana, the capital, it really has the magic to take you on a trip to the past where you will see an unequaled architecture, worn out but still fully wonderful. It is a bit difficult to explain until you arrive and set foot on this country. Cuba is fun, adventurous but maddeningly frustrating from time to time. I think I would describe it as a chaotically learning life time experience that you will remember:
- This is the largest island in the Caribbean after Hispaniola (Haiti / Dominican Republic)
- Its main language is Spanish
- It was colonized by the Spaniards so the majority of tourists you will see in the country will be Spaniards followed by Dutch, Latin, German, American and French.
- It is currently a socialist state
- It has two types of currencies: CUP currency (Cuban peso) which is the official currency of the country and CUC (Cuban convertible peso). The difference is that the CUC is like the equivalent of the dollar in Cuba and mostly used in the country. This is the currency for which I would recommend changing. In fact in several places in Havana they do not accept in CUP. CUP are used in other cities like Santiago, Camagüey, Trinidad, etc
Know Before You Go
Cuba is a destination that has become super popular in recent years. Many celebrities, photographers, digital nomads, models, influencers, media are going to visit as its like taking a trip back to the past. Since the famous brand Chanel made one of its main shows in Havana, it has been commercialized a lot and its development is constantly growing faster and faster.
In this post I would like to share some tips that will help those modern travelers trying to capture the magic behind this destination. I’m pretty sure this post will probably help you remove several headaches that I had while exploring this country:
- Visa: you will need a visa to go to Cuba. There are only 18 countries that are exempt from a visa (listed here). Other nationalities need a visa or a tourist card. This can be obtained with your airline before checking-in, but I would also make sure to ask the airline when you are going to buy your air ticket to Cuba. There are two types of tourist card: Pink card and green card.
- Pink Card: this is for people traveling from the USA which can be worth $ 50- $ 100. People traveling from the USA the process is a bit more complicated since they must meet one of the 13 categories mentioned here:
- Green card: this is for the rest of the nationalities and the price is $ 20- $ 30 which you can get at the airport before check in.
- When they stamp the entrance of the country in your passport they will give you a visa paper which you must deliver the day of your departure. You cannot lose this paper since it is your proof that you had a visa and you can leave the country without any problem.
- Drones: if you travel with a drone to Cuba 100% they will confiscate it. Don’t worry, just confiscate! You can get it back the day you leave the country. Don’t even stress yourself in repacking your suitcase by hiding the drone as I did because it is a waste of time. They have the methods to find it! You have to mentalize that you will need a lot of patience and time at the airport because the process is manual and it takes more than an hour to leave your drone with them. There is no infrastructure where the process is better or faster yet. You have to fill out many papers, they are going to ask you a lot of questions and the most important thing you should know is that they will charge you a “fine” at the end when they give you the drone back on your departure. This “fine” was a complete surprise for me because they never mentioned on they day I arrived while I was filling all the paper work. When customs confiscate your drone they will give you a paper that you cannot lose because without this you will not be able to recover your drone. Tip: one of the questions that they are going to ask you is: what was the value of the drone? Do not make the same mistake as me. I declare the real value of the drone but the higher the value you declared, the more money you will have to pay in the end (which by the way must be paid in cash only). How much do they charge? Technically they charge you 3- 4 CUC per day + 1% of the declared value.
- Security: Cuba is a super safe country, there is no crime or mafia. So, you shouldn’t worry about this. I walked alone through the streets at night and never felt insecure.
- The people: Cubans are super friendly, and they will always try to help you. Do not be surprised if locals are looking for a conversation with you or if they are taking you to another address for a better restaurant, bar they know. I think it’s their natural personality.
- Credit cards: there are many banks that automatically block the card knowing that a transaction is being made in Cuba. My best recommendation is to report to your bank that you are traveling in Cuba. Also travel with more than one credit card because it happened to me that there were several ATMs that did not accept my credit card. What we had to do is go to the bank in person (not ATM) to withdraw money.
- Cash: the more money you carry the better. Of course this will depend on the number of days you are going to visit. Many places do not accept credit card. If you are going to carry cash, it is recommended that you bring British Pounds, Euros and last option Dollars. The best currencies accepted are Pounds and Euros. When you arrive at the airport do not change all your money just change what is necessary to leave the airport. In Havana, your hotel, or any local will change for a better rate. Or also go to CADECA that is the local exchange house that are located all over Cuba.
- Taxi at the airport: do not pay more than 25 CUC to go to the center of Havana. They will want to charge you between 30 – 40 CUC but the normal and real price is 20 – 25 CUC
- Internet connection: there are 3 options so you can stay connected to the world. This will depend on how many days you are going to stay, what cities you are going to visit and how much you want to be connected:
- Private connection: this is the option of large-luxurious chain hotels (La Gran Manzana Kempinski, Hotel Inglaterra, etc.) where they basically have free Wi-Fi for their guests only. Some of these hotels sell their cards to the public (limited) where they will only work to connect to their own network. Basically they will give you a card with a username and password which can be used unlimited and others for hours. This will depend on the hotel.
- Public connection: this is a connection that is in the public parks of the main cities of Cuba. They are easy to identify because you will see all the tourists playing with their phones lol. In these places you can basically connect 24 hours buying a prepaid card for 1 CUC per hour. These cards are sold by ETECSA, which is the company that provides the data service throughout the country. You can also buy these cards in public parks where there are several locals that sell them but at double the price 2 CUC for one hour of use. IMPORTANT: remember to log out your session if you don’t use the entire hour otherwise the data will keep running.
- Sim card with data: this is the newest option in the country and I think was the easiest for us as we were traveling for 2 weeks. The only downside of this option is that it is more expensive, it takes time and the signal was a hit or a miss. Sometimes was very good as sometimes it was very bad. The cost of the sim card only is 40 CUC plus the amount of data you want to add. We used 30 CUC in two weeks but it was because we were using a lot of social networks, emails, etc. Once you buy this Sim card you will not be able to use it immediately since it takes from 24-48 hours to activate.
- The Romi in Cuba: do not even try to activate it because it will not work.
- There is a line for everything: Cuba used to be a communist country and for security reasons from many years ago it is normal for people to line up outside the establishments and not inside. They only let one or two people inside and the rest must wait outside (in the sun, make sure to take an umbrella or hat). This will happen in stores and banks. If you are going to ETECSA you will make a line of more than 35 minutes-60 minutes. And if you go to a store they won’t let you in with backpacks or large suitcases.
- It is not cheap: Before traveling to Cuba I always had the slight impression that it was a normal- cheap destination. But I have to admit that I found it quite expensive especially in food, drinks and transportation.
- Women traveling in Cuba: I went with two friends: a girl and a boy. Sometimes my girl- friend and I took a few walks around Havana and I have to say that Cuban men are quite morbid. They say any kind of barbarities or vulgarities that sometimes made us feel uncomfortable. A decent compliment never hurts anyone but the things they were telling us were really vulgar that I thought was very bad taste. No worries they are not dangerous sometimes just disrespectful.
- Accommodation: There are many beautiful hotels in Havana 3-4-5 stars such as La Gran Manzana Kempinski, Hotel Inglaterra, etc. Yes, it is super nice to stay in a hotel with the best facilities at the palm of your hand but the best way to live the experience in Cuba is to stay in casa particulares. These are lovely family homes that you can find on Airbnb or Booking. If your plan is to explore outside of Havana, this is one of the only and best ways to do it.
- Water: do not drink from tap water. This is not healthy and the chances of getting intoxicated by taking this are very high.
- Food: food in Cuba is not the best. To be honest, I had a very bad time eating during the two weeks I was in the country. I feel that the Cuban gastronomic culture is not exquisite and is very limited. In Havana you can find many more pleasant options but I still suffered because I got intoxicated twice. Some of the popular local dishes are ropa vieja and friend plantain. I recommend you take your favorite snacks on the trip. Food resources in super markets are super limited and with your snacks you can survive a lot especially if you plan to leave Havana.
- Drinks: Cuba is famous for its mojitos and daiquiries drinks. Really the best I’ve had in my life. Cocktails is something that will not disappoint you. Go to la Floridita for the best coconut daiquiri you will ever tried!
- Pollution: wherever you go in Cuba there is a lot of air pollution. In my opinion Havana the most. I had to wash my hands very often and bath more than once a day.
- Heat: get ready for the heat in Cuba. It is amazing the heat and humidity there is. Try to stay hydrated with water, bring a fan, a hat to protect you from the sun.
- Transportation: this is one of the issues for which I suffered the most because transportation here is a bit complicated. There are 4 ways of transportations in Cuba especially if you plan to explore other cities:
- Rent a car: this is one of the best options but it can be quite expensive (+ $100 a day) and if you are going to do it you must do this 1-2 months in advance because the rental cars in the country are super limited. Ask your tour company/hotel to help with this.
- Cuban Aviation: this is the local airline that travels to some cities in Cuba. But to be honest, I never used it because their page was down all the time, it is a bit more expensive and their offices were closed the times I went because they were on holidays.
- Collective car: this is basically like a collective car driven by a local. Here you will travel with other unknown people (tourists) until the capacity of the car is full. As we were 3 people sometimes we even had the car for ourselves. I think this is one of the best options according to your route because it is faster, you go to your own time, and you can explore other cities in a classic vintage car that makes the experience cooler. Sometimes it may even be the same or a little more expensive than the bus but it is worth it. To give you an idea of how much these private cars could charge: from Havana to Trinidad 35 CUC per person and from Trinidad to Camaguey 25 CUC per person.
- Bus: this is another option and I think it is the most convenient to travel around the country. There is a bus chain called Vía Azul that literally travels to all the cities of Cuba. However, buses are super limited as it is what everyone uses both local and foreign. In order for you to have an idea for each destination there is a waiting list, and tickets must be purchased personally by cash. My best recommendation is to buy well in advance if you have the dates. The buses are air conditioned.
- Vintage Classic Cars: Havana is famous for exploring the city in these 50s convertible cars that are in super photogenic colors such as pink, red, white, blue, etc. This is something I definitely recommend especially in the sunset hours. Do not pay more than 30 CUC for one hour of tour in the car. They should not charge you per person. That is the rate for one hour in the car until the capacity of the car is full.
- Trade: as you know the resources in the country are super limited and the locals do not have access to many things as any of us have. So, if you go to a store, a souvenir is normal that instead of paying in cash they will tell you I sell it in exchange for your shirt, your earrings, your sunglasses, etc.
- Homeless: do not be surprised if you see many homeless on the street or when they also approach you. Don’t worry they are not dangerous. They will probably ask you for money, soap, water, or anything you can give them. My recommendation is that when you travel to Cuba you take things to give away that are for daily use for them such as toothpaste, soap, shampoo, water, etc. Something I could tell is that soap and water in Cuba is expensive for locals.
- Tipping: there is a culture of tipping in Cuba. In some restaurants in Havana it is already included, just look at the end when paying the bill. However when the locals try to help you either by taking you to a place, helping you with your bags, they expect a small tip in return.
- Cuban Products: It is already legal that you can take Cuban products such as tobacco and rum. Obviously in small quantities but in case you want to bring some of the best Cuba products to your family you should know it’s allowed.
- Bargain: like I said before Cuba for me was quite expensive, especially Havana, so it doesn’t hurt that you can bargain a bit. Sometimes the locals in Havana inflate the prices a lot and when we all wanted to buy something we bargain for a better price.
- When to shoot? I was in Havana for a few days and since the moment we arrived the city itself was super busy with lots of people walking around. I had the opportunity to be there during week days and weekends. I realized it’s less busy on Sundays. The reason why is because most shops are close so all the locals are not hanging around.
I hope all these tips I’m sharing help you for your next Cuban adventure! Havana is one fo the most beautiful cities I’ve ever visited and I’m sure you will LOVE IT!
Panama Hat: Souvernir from Dominican Republic
White long dress: Zara
Red Lace dress: NBD via Revolve
Shoes: Kaana’s available at Humana Shop
Scarf: Paul Smith
Yellow lace maxi dress: Michael Costello via Revolve
Red and pink dress: Concepcion Miranda
Pink skirt: Lovers + Friend via Revolve
White lace top: Tularosa via revolve
Black sandals: Kaanas
Fanny pack: Gucci
Yellow one shoulder dress: Show me your mumu
Colorful earings: Bikinis and More Panama
Gold Earings: Ettika
Lace and mesh cream top: House of Harlow via Revolve
Thank you, Madam ! Romantic Havana, near Miami Florida !
“Bitter tears pour down my face
with an anguished storm of sighing,
when my eyes chance to turn on you
through whom alone I am lost from the world.
Yet it is true that your soft gentle smile
quietens my ardent desires,
and saves me from the fire of suffering,
while I am intent and fixed on gazing.
But then my spirits are chilled, when I see,
at your departure, my fatal stars
turn their sweet aspect from me.
Released at last by those loving keys,
the spirit leaves the heart to follow you,
and in deep thought, walks on from there…”