Travel To Cuba – Things You Need To know!
I've always wanted to visit Cuba - the one place that tourism is limited and not everyone can travel. I loved that exclusivity about Cuba. It was a long time dream to visit this beautiful island that was so close to the Keys yet so secluded.
This trip was a complete surprise and what a wonderful way to celebrate our anniversary. After extensive research we booked our flight from Miami International Airport and landed at Juan Gualberto Gomez Internation Airport. The flight from Miami to Havana, was plus/minus 60 minutes. It was so quick that I didn't even have time to finish my Devil Wears Prada movie on Netflix when the pilot announced the arrival. But I was ready to explore Cuba and mostly see Havana.
None of our friends or family has ever traveled to Cuba so this was going to be an experience with no advice or recommendations to where to go and what to see.
Quick Travel Checklist:
- Once we purchase our tickets online we also paid $50 dollars for the Tourists Visa. You can also purchase it at your airport but the prices might vary depending of your location. Make sure you fill out the Visa correctly because you will be paying a fee for messing up. These things are not free.
- There are 12 categories of authorized travel for Americans. If you are traveling for pleasure you need to pick "Support for the Cuban people". It's the most common one and the one that you can get by. However, when we landed in Cuba, the security didn't really check or ask much so this is just in case someone asks.
Money in Cuba:
- We exchanged our money at our local bank. There are few things that you need to know about Cuban Money.
- CUP (Cuban Peso Nacional) is used primarily by locals. It's typically 25 CUP/1USD but it also depends on the exchange rate. I suggest not to use this currency.
- CUC ( Cuban Convertible Peso) is the way to go. It is used in the tourism industry for currency. It's 1:1 and is easier to exchange.
- Try to exchanging your money at your bank but if you don't, you can always do it at the airport or find a Cadeca - a currency exchange office.
- Depending on how long you are staying bring at least 2-3 rolls. None of the restaurants or shopping mall bathrooms have toilet paper. Hotels could vary. Our Airbnb apartment came with the toilet paper but when you go to restaurants, mall, etc. is when you're going to need it.
App To Download:
- The first one is MAPS.ME app on your phone. It's an offline map so you can get around easier (There is no Wifi in Cuba). There are a lot of hotspots. You can purchase wifi cards at the hotels for different amount and different hours of usage. At our place we paid a $1 for an hour - we spend $6 in total.
- AlaMesa is the second app I want you to download. It shows you all the restaurants around you. We used it everyday and discovered one of the best ceviche and plantain dishes.
Our Airbnb Rental:
We booked our stay through Airbnb and before you decided that hotel is the way to go in Cuba, think twice. Cuban government owns everything including the hotels, the restaurants and the air Cubans breathe. We decided since we were coming to support the Cuban people we were going to do exactly that - support them.
There were a lot of beautiful Airbnb rooms being offered and we found our perfect one. It was an apartment building that was run by a sweet family. We had our own private bedroom, kitchen and a full bathroom to ourselves. They lived down the hall from us and every morning we would be served fresh fruits, juices and full breakfast for $80/per night. Hotel prices are between $300-500/per night. Wifi is very limited in Cuba. Our apartment had Wifi but we had to pay for it ($6 for 4 days).
We had our enormous private balcony that overlooked the faded neighborhood buildings but honestly it was very beautiful and aesthetic. Our place was in Verdado on the main street of Avenida de los Presidentes. We were 10 minutes away from the sea wall called Malecon and 2 minutes away from all the restaurants and nightclubs.
After dinner, we would sit on our balcony and look out at the neighborhood. We saw so much life on the streets: music, laughter, and dancing. I envied them a little bit - despite being under government control, they were so happy and full of life.
Cuban Classic Car
I felt like I traveled back in time - no complaints - when I saw the classic Cuban cars riding around town. They light up the demolished streets of Havana. The Cuban experience won't be complete if you didn't ride in of the vintage cars.
You can easily find them through the streets of Havana Vieja and Varadero. The price for the car tour is around 25-30 CUC per hour. Our Ride was a friendly and talkative fellow but much appreciate the experience he gave us. The best part of the tour was trying the Cuban Cigars, which he gave us from his own stash, and stopping in most beautiful spots so I could take my pictures.
Famous Floridita Daiquiri
The cradle of the daiquiri, El Floridita is a tourist hotspot, but worth spending time while visiting Cuba. It's an old stomping ground for Hemingway but he still holds the record of most daiquiri's consumes in one sitting. Super friendly environment where live music is entertaining all the drunk tourist and bartenders keep pouring the delicious daiquiri drinks. Off the record we both had bad brain freeze while drinking them 🙂
National Capitol Building
You have to stop and explore the area around National Capitol Building in Havana. It's an upscale area of Cuba with five star hotels and restaurants. Some celebrities have stayed at the Saratoga Hotel which overlooks the main street and the Capitol building. It's considered the tallest building in Havana and houses the largest indoor statues in the world. During our visit, the Capitol building was closed and never got to see the inside.