Havana, Cuba…. It isn’t what you think it is, it is better.
You need to go… and go again. And for the heck of it go one more time. This should be the vacation spot. It has all that you need. It is a great place that deserves more love than it gets.
I felt safe. Safer than walking g the streets of NYC at night by myself. I walked a lot and many of the streets didn’t have tourists on them. I walked them at night by myself and felt fine. Men would catcall me, but no one tried to touch me. It is an interesting combo of masculine guys with amazing eyebrows. Their eyebrows were on point. Damn.
Cuba is very clean. Cleaner than main US cities with a lot of traffic, tourists, and people. It is still 3rd some respects, but very clean.
I like that there are trash bins on mostly every street and people are consistently cleaning their street. I say it is what you think but it isn’t because, there are the 1950s cars rolling around consistently, BUT, you can also rent a new Mercedes. If you are expecting to roll right back into the 1950s you will be sorely disappointed. However, if you stay in the US you might actually see it happen. Anywho, it is a mix of old and new. I can see in 5 years it being a completely different city. The old cars will stay around because it is a great tourist attraction, but they won’t be needed.
Cubans run on their own time and it is laid back. Don’t come with the US mentality of hurrying and doing things fast. It won’t work here. It is a very chill pace of life. Businesses don’t open on time, buses leave or arrive late, it is on Cuban time.
I wasn’t worried too much about pickpockets and theft like in Italy. But I did keep an eye out.
You do see homeless people or people begging, but not in the amounts in US cities. I walked around Havana for days and saw very few people begging, unfortunately it was usually older people and women. It was a very interesting realization.
After my short 7 days in Havana I wanted to help others who will be going but not sure what to expect as websites aren’t that up to date.
Before you book your ticket, check out the 12 types of legal visits. You must pick one. I chose people to people/support for Cuban people. I heard the US government can ask you for an itinerary for up to 8 years so have one prepared on your computer just in case.
When flying United into Cuba through Newark or Houston you can buy your tourist visa at the ticket counter where you fly out. Google on your airline’s website Cuban Visa to see if they sell them at a ticket counter of if you have to find it yourself. You must buy it before you get on the flight. It is $50 and a $25 processing fee, but lets be honest. It is $75… You can pay cash or credit card.
When you fly in, you will have to fill out 3 forms, with one being a sanitary form. On the form it asks you to check yes or no for cough or running nose. DO NOT CHECK YES !! Do you hear me? It can lead to you potentially being quarantined.
Bring cash, bring a lot of cash. I have heard that there are ATMs and possibly accepting credit cards but I wouldn’t hold my breath. You don’t want to be one of those people, waiting for hours to get cash. Here is a picture of the wait to get money exchanged- don’t be one of these people.
There are two types of Cuban currency, one for locals and one for tourists. At this time the tourist currency aka CUC is between .87-.95 to our $1. Currency exchanges will give you .87, but you can find “street currency exchangers which will give you .90-.95 for your $1. Your immediate need for cash will be at the airport for a taxi, you can exchange your American money with a taxi driver, but don’t do a lot as you can find a better rate with a “street currency exchanger” when you get into the city.
Cuban pesos are the locals currency and is about 25 pesos to a CUC. You will see prices in both of them.
Cuban Pesos (local $) CUCs (tourist $)
Stay at an Airbnb. They are local people who own them. The rooms will be between $25-$30, but won’t have A/C. Please don’t come expecting the comforts of home, you will be sorely disappointed. I stayed at an awesome Airbnb for $25 a night. My host was AH-MAZING. YOU HEAR ME?? AH-MAZING. He had breakfast fruits and coffee as well as gave me a map while explaining the best places to go. Please note that most will be upstairs will no elevator. If you do not see anything about stairs just ask, it will be better than waiting until you get there and have five flights of stairs.
Your googlemap or Apple map will be hit or miss. You will need to buy one of the books on Cuba or a Cuban map before you come. I didn’t, but luckily my awesome host had two maps for me to use. The airport will not have any maps when you fly in so do not bank on it. There are infotour places that have “free” maps they will sell you! Ha! Take one and use it. The maps are always a great way to show the shared taxis where you want to go.
Don’t bank on it within homes as most Airbnbswill not have it. Heckmost places won’t have it. Some hotels have it in their lobbies, but you have to pay for it. Wifi is majorityof the time in park areas. You can buy a card for an hour of wifi for $3 CUC. You can tell where the wifi is because people are on their phones in droves. There are people that sell the wifi username and password cards. They sell it almost like black market kidneys. It won’t be the supersonic fast wifi you are used to, but it will let you tell people you are alive. Are sure to turn off your wifi when done because if you don’t you will accidentally use it all.
Food is relatively cheap. I had a 12 inch pizza and soda for $4. The snacky things are cheap and you can get them anywhere. I would try them all, never know what you will find. There are churro stands all over the place. .50 for churro- you can’t beat that at all, and they give you a bunch of them. Churro heaven. Sit down places are going to be more expensive maybe $5-$10 range, but not super expensive. They will be normal US prices.
.50 cent churros
Here are some good places:
$7.50 Pork Chop Dinner
Hanoi is another good place both for food and price and it is in Old Havana. Food is a nice potion size and good.
Hotel National is an expensive hotel with a sea view. They have great mojitos for $5 CUC. View and the history you can see is totally worth it.
Look at pastry shops for breakfast food. You can get a croissant for .30 cents and a chocolate croissant for .50. It is so worth it for afternoon snacks.
Cubapasion which is next to University of Havana is ah-mazing, and cheap. For $15 I got two excellent EXCELLENT mojitos and Caribbean pork chops which are to die for. Go there. I did, four nights in a row!
Try to walk around as much as you can. It is worth it. There are some pretty cool things you will miss out on when driving. There seems to be art everywhere and you will see it when walking around.
Hop On/Off Bus is the best way to get around and see attractions on tour time. T1 is $10 CUC and takes you on a 2-hour tour if you stay on the whole time. You can get off at any stop and then pop back on. It goes from 9am-6pm.
T3 is $5 CUC and is the bus that takes you to the beach hotels, getoff on the last stop- Atlantico Hotel. Less crowded, and for 2 CUC you can rent a lounger on the beach the whole day. So worth it. The T3 goes from 9-6pm and is every 30-40 min. I would strongly advise you to take like the 3-4pm bus as when it gets later everyone is trying to leave and it is like a cattle rush. Don’t wait until the end you might not be able to get on the bus.
Jose Marti Outside: 1 CUC- worth it for views
Jose Marti Museum: 3 CUC- all in Spanish, if you think it would be worth it
Tour guide at Revolution Square: 10 an hour
Callejon de Hamel is a MUST see. It is on an off street off of Hospital and between Concordia and Neptuno. It is a community project run by Salvador Gonzalez who is world famous. It is amazing art everywhere. Sides of buildings, on the ground, everywhere. It is just awesome. The picture shows you exactly where it is so you don’t have the problem I did when I first looked for it. No one had a clue what I was talking about. It is an amazing place to go to see a lot of art by different artists. It spans a block and has art on the sides of buildings, on the walls, on the ground, pretty much anywhere art can be.
If you like to go out then you MUST go to Fabrica De Arte on Calle 26. If you look at my pictures you will see it is mostly art gallery, part jewelry store, part bar, part cafe, and part movie theater. But it is all amazing. Seriously we need one of these in the states. Just a cool place and cool vibe. It is open Thurs- Sun 8pm-3am. It is $2 CUC for entry. Get there early because it will get packed and a long line will be outside.
You can rent an old car and driver for about $30-$40 an hour, depending on the amount of people with you. Remember to take great pictures of you in the car!
They have little half egg mopeds called CoCos and also bicycle taxis. Always ask the price before hand ALWAYS. Once you get the price barter it down. Depending on where you leave from the price might be higher. Don’t be a sucker.
Shared Taxis: you can get in one of these. Just stick your hand out and one of them with people already in it will stop and get you. Have your map handy to show them where to go.
Plaza de Armas is a great place as they have books, newspapers, and etc from 1800s and early 1900s. It is really cool and a great place to buy something for the history lover in your family.
Feria Artesanal Nav San Jose is a market off San Pedro that is huge and where you can buy all your souvenirs for people. ALWAYS argue about price. Always.
There is a little market on Obispo that is cheaper and has more handmade stuff. Way better deals than anywhere else I was,
To go to Casablanca you will have to go to the ferry terminal which is off San Pedro and Luz. It is 10 cents each way, yes 10 cents. You will stand as if you were on the subway but the ride is 10 min long so you will get over it.
To go to the large status of Jesus you will go straight. Up the colored stairs, then left up the windy road. It is a decent hike but worth it for the views and picture ops with you know who!!
Hersey Train: the Hersey electric train station is on your left once you get to Casblanca. It costs $3 CUC each way- try to have exact change as the person collecting money will try to get you. This picture shows you the arrival and departure times. Please remember they are more fluid than set in stone. The train stops like 47 times on the way to Mataznas. It is about a 4 hour ride each way. It is long. It is a cool train to be on and see. There is a stop half way, which I would advice you to think about getting off at and returning. Mataznas literally has nothing and you only get 45 min there before you have to get back on the train to head back to Casablanca. It is a long ride, but very interesting. Especially what some of the stops look like. If you ride this train, BRING YOUR OWN TOILET PAPER. DO YOU HEAR ME-BRING YOUR OWN TOILET PAPER!!
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Just remember to pay attention to two things closely: traffic and poop. Seriously. Cars don’t stop for you. There is no pedestrian right of way. Also there is poop everywhere. Don’t be the person to have it all in your shoes.