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A quick guide to one of my favorite trips…CUBA!!!
There was a lot I was nervous about prior to my trip (mostly because not many people I know had gone there). I spent a TON of hours searching online for helpful info so hopefully my post can give you some helpful tips all in one place.
Know Before You Go:
Due to travel restrictions from the US, you are only allowed to visit under certain regulations. When we purchased our flight we had to declare a reason for our visit...we chose “Educational Purposes” and had no issues getting in and out of Cuba.
Cuban Health insurance is also required, this cost $25 USD and was included with our airline ticket.
Getting a visa was super easy! We flew united from EWR to HAV and purchased our visa at the airport for $75 USD. Make sure to keep your visa to enter AND depart from Havana.
US issued debit/credit cards are not accepted, so make sure you bring enough cash to cover all your expenses and a little extra in case of an emergency.
Tourists are only allowed to use CUC (Cuban Convertible Peso) which 1 CUC = 1 USD, be careful when paying for items and receiving change as you don’t want to get CUP (Cuban National Peso) instead., as that currency is worth less.
We paid about 25 CUC to get from the airport to our Airbnb, between breakfast, lunch and dinner we paid about 100-150 CUC per day in food. Overall our trip was well under $1,000 USD for 5 days/4 nights, this includes airfare & accommodations.
Some websites recommended bringing Euros instead of USD, however I didn't find this worth my while. By the time you convert USD to Euros and Euros to CUC, I didn't feel it was cost effective.
Basilica de San Francisco - Plaza Vieja, Old Havana
Hotel vs Airbnb:
Hotels are owned by the government and can be super pricey. We opted for an Airbnb so ditch the hotel and stay in a “casa particular”. This gives you the opportunity to see how the locals live and get a first hand experience of life on the island.
We decided to stay in Amelia's House right in Plaza Vieja in old Havana. Our host was super friendly and helpful, the apartment was perfectly located within walking distance to all the sites we wanted to see.
Forget the Internet!!! Better brush up on your map skills because the use of internet is extremely limited. Only major hotels have wifi access and you have to purchase an internet card for about $5 USD that gives you about 1-2 hours of WIFI service. But being disconnected could be a good thing… we can all use an internet detox.
Learn some Spanish! Knowing the language goes a long way as not many people in Havana speak or understand English.
Make sure to pack your essentials especially any special products and toiletries.
The financial situation in Cuba can really take you by surprise. Yet the Cuban people are some of the friendliest and welcoming cultures I’ve ever encountered. At no point during the trip did we ever feel unsafe. A lot of buildings are rundown and unkept however it adds a certain charm and character, but some people can find this sketchy and be taken back by its rustic beauty.
Things to do:
One of my favorite things was exploring the area by foot. I felt like an explorer every time I took out my paper map.
All the colorful buildings were amazing to see in person and I LOVED walking through the music filled streets.
Of course our favorite part was touring Havana from the comfort of a top down classic car…. cus come on this is one of the reasons we really came here!
Make sure to check out:
Plaza de la Revolución
La Bodeguita del Medio
So I can’t lie I was underwhelmed by the food we ate. Most places were true tourists traps withe the food quality being overpriced and mediocre. However we did manage to find some good spots, here are some of my favorites:
El Frente - we came here for the best mojitos in Havana and they played the best hip hop music.
El Dandy - our go to breakfast spot in old Havana; delicious and affordable.
Paladar La Esperanza - had my favorite meal of the trip here. The food here was Ahhhmazing & the atmosphere was great too!
One of the trips I wanted to take was visiting Viñales and Trinidad but instead we hired a taxi and headed straight to Varadero. We paid about $160 USD to go back and forth between Havana-Varadero then Varadero-Havana Airport.
We saw some beautiful landscapes while going from Havana to Varadero which took us about 3 hours due to the heavy rain. We thought we left the cold weather behind back in Jersey but a cold front and heavy rain followed us all the way to Cuba.
The water was gorgeous and we braved ourselves to get into the water even though it was a bit cold.
We stood in Iberostar Laguna Azul - Varadero. They had a pretty cool swim up bar - one of my MUST have in an all inclusive hotel. My favorite part was watching them cook up a giant Paella on the beach. Which was DELICIOUS!
Cuba was such an awesome experience, felt like 5 days here was just not enough at all...hope this guide serves as a footprint to your trip.
Have any more questions or comments just let me know.