Welcome to Cuba!

This was my second time visiting Cuba

This was my second time visiting Cuba. The first time I visited this mystical country was so fascinating to me, that I decided to go back a second time. While things have changed since both of my visits, both in Cuba and the rules and restrictions that must be followed due to Trumps tougher travel restrictions that were recently passed, you can still visit Cuba through what is called people to people category. I recommend researching to see what new laws and regulations have been passed before booking your trip.

Documents needed. You will need a visa to enter Cuba which you can obtain at the airport. Make sure you fill the visa out correctly without any scratch outs or write overs as Cuba will not accept the visa and you could potentially be charged hundreds of dollars at their airport once in Cuba. If you happen to make an error on the visa, the airline will make you repay for the visa which is $20 to $75 US dollars depending on the airline.

So, you have made it to Cuba! While Cuba is beautiful and rich with history, it has stayed stuck in the 1960’s. There are no US businesses there and certainly not very many ATM’s in Cuba and American dollars are still not excepted. ATM’s are scarce so I recommend exchanging your money at the airport for CUC’s which is the Cuban currency that Americans are allowed to use in Cuba. Make sure you ask for your money when exchanging currency in small bills if possible. Be aware that exchanging money at hotels can be expensive and many hotels will not allow you to exchange money unless you are a guest of the hotel. Another thing to consider is exchanging your US dollars to EURO before leaving for Cuba. I did not personally do this but I heard that it can save you some money.

Once stepping out of the airport you will have many cab drivers soliciting you for rides. Make sure you negotiate your taxi price before agreeing to the ride. A taxi ride from the airport shouldn’t cost more than $25.00 to $30.00 CUC’s. While Cuba is not expensive, cabs rides can add up quickly especially if you plan to visit other parts of Cuba, which I highly recommend. I befriended a local driver by the name of Julio, he spoke great English and you can set up prearranged transportation. Julio Taxi +(53) 373 1438 / (0) 5 373 1438. juliomoret@nauta.cu

Where is my WI-FI? Internet at the time that I went was not easily accessible. Not sure if much has changed but you have a few options. You can purchase WI FI cards and utilize the cards in public parks or hotels. If you are staying at a hotel, they may have it free for guest or you can pay the hotel if you are not staying to utilize their WI FI. I personally liked the feeling of being off the grid while in Cuba so not having access to the internet wasn’t a big deal for me. One thing that I noticed was the first time we went to Cuba you were able to sit in the hotels and utilize there WI FI once the influx of Americans started visiting Cuba, they became hip and started to charge non-guest to sit in the hotel and use the WI FI.

Airbnb/Casa vs. Hotels

The first time I traveled to Cuba, we went to Havana and Vinales. We stayed in a Casa book via Homestay and Airbnb in both cities. I had a great experience staying at both Casas. I loved my Casa so much in Havana the first time, that when I went back a second time, I stayed with her again. In Havana I stayed at Casa Nini and at the time, a one-night stay was $30.00 USD. For an additional $5.00 she made breakfast which was delicious. You can book her Casa via Airbnb. I’m not a fan of the hotels in Cuba due to the fact that they are expensive and I enjoyed staying somewhere where the host was able to guide me because traveling in Cuba is so different than any other country.

Do I need a converter in Cuba? The answer is no. I didn’t know what to expect the first time I visited Cuba when it came to plugging in my phone and other electronic devices so I did bring a converter with me the first time. But you will not need a converter as Cuba outlets are comparable to US devices including hair curlers, flat irons, portable clothing irons and blow dryers.
Let’s Explore! So, you’re in Cuba now and ready to get out and see what Cuba has to offer. I recommend walking around the first day to get familiar with the area and check out the local restaurants and attractions in the area. The Airbnb that we stayed in was very convenient to El Capitolio which is a National Capital building in Cuba. This area is bursting with locals and this is where you can find quite a few restaurants, hotels, clubs and retail shops. Another place to visit Old Havana. I recommend paying a driver who has a convertible if you don’t already have a driver and taking a tour around Cuba. This will cost you around 50 CUC’s.

Now Let’s Eat!

While the food is not that great in Cuba. I did find a few places that exceeded by expectations.
Here are a few recommendations for restaurants.
• Paladar La Guarida
• Hotel AM OS MUN OS. The hotel has a roof top restaurant with spectacular views.
• Restaurante Paladar Genesis. This is a very inexpensive restaurant and the lobster is phenomenal.
• Caf? O’Reilly
• Me Gusta

Time to hit the beach! There is a cool beach located in Playa Santa Maria which is about 25 minutes away from Havana. We decided to take the bus which was only 10 CUC’s round trip. The bus stop is located near the El Capitolio. There are cute restaurants where you can grab drinks and food on the beach and near the beach.

Let’s Salsa! We found some great places with live bands and salsa music. Casa de la Musica de Miramar was a pretty cool spot to eat and have a drink and the band was amazing. Sala de Fiesta Macumba Habana located in Cubanacian is Macumba is one of the largest venues with live salsa music.

Other places to visit. I also recommend taking a trip to the Malecon water front. It is rich in history and it is there you will find the Mercado de Artesania. This is a large market where you can find souvenirs from various merchants, as well as artist who sell paintings. One of my biggest tips is to beware of buying fake Cuban cigars. My friend found out the hard way as she purchased fake cigars and was told by the seller that they were Cohiba. You can check by looking up the serial number or if they have holograms, they are most likely fake and you will be out of money. Another cool place to go is the Callejon de Hamel which is a colorful display of street art and sculptures. Callejon de Hamel is a narrow alley in Havana that is described as Afro-Cuban style art.

Other Cities to Visit While in Cuba

I recommend planning at least five to eight days as there is so much to see in Cuba. My second visit to Cuba was a lot shorter than my first trip as we only stayed for five days. We stayed in Havana for three days and spent one full day in Varadero. By far Varadero is the most beautiful beach besides Turks and Caicos that I have ever seen. It takes about two hours to get to Varadero from Havana. We paid 150 CUC’s to a driver we met near El Capitolio. We actually did stay in an all-inclusive hotel called the Melia which I booked online but it was less than impressive but was convenient to the beach. During the day we enjoyed the warm ocean water and laid out in the sun. During the evening we found ourselves at a local restaurant bar called Calle 62. The music was good and the people were friendly. It was like a block party outside. But be sure to get there early if you want a place to sit and enjoy the live performances.

After our fun filled day in Varadero we headed back the next day to Havana to catch our flight back to the states. Make sure you leave in plenty of time as it can take a little longer to travel from city to city as the cars do not travel at high speed rates and in our case, we were pulled over by the Cuban police for over 30 minutes as the driver did not have the proper operating license.

Cuba should definitely be on a traveler’s list of places to visit as it is filled with rich history and culture as well as friendly people. You will never visit a place like this! I hope that Cuba is able to keep its authenticity as more Americans start traveling to this once mysterious place. I highly recommend doing some additional research before visiting.

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