4/04/2017

Getting to Cuba from the U.S.


I've had the most eventful last 7 days.  I've driven cross country, moved, become a homeowner (bless up!), and went Cuba all in a week.  I didn't mean to plan to go to Cuba only a few days after I moved, but sometimes you just have to go with the flow.  I'm glad I did, Cuba was fantastic. You had so many questions about Cuba, so I wanted to take a moment to answer them.





Getting there:

Getting to Cuba was simpler than I thought. You need two things: a passport and a visa.  Now I flew Delta, and they allow you to get to get your visa the same day at the airport. The visa costs $50 and includes flying in and flying back. Now, I had another friend who went to Cuba on another airline and had to have her visa one week before she flew.  If you are flying anyone, but Delta I would call and verify what you need to do to get that visa at least a few weeks before you leave.  The only thing I will warn you about is that with Delta is if mess up filling out that visa you will have to pay to fill out another one and pay $50 more.  I'm not saying it happened to me, but I'm just saying. LOL!  From Atlanta, the flight was about 1 hour and 45 mins.

Get your money right:

Because I was moving, I had to do all of this at the airport.  Cuba does not exchange American dollars, so I was advised to get Euros and then exchange them at the Havana airport for CUCs.  Normally, I would have done it at my bank before hand, but if you get stuck in a bind you can do the exchange of your cash at the airport before you leave.  When you get to Havana's airport the line to exchange your Euros into Pesos will be super long and you prepare to be in line for about an hour.  I stayed 3 days and spent like $600.  I bought some expensive souvenirs for family like cigars (they are expensive), but if I wasn't buying pricier souvenirs, you could get along for 3 days on $300 - $400 just fine.  For those of us that generally don't carry cash, I would recommend a zipper pouch to hold your money in like the one here. You are pretty much not going to be able access any of your credit cards/debit cards while on the trip, so its super important you keep up with your cash. 

Where to stay:  

The big question is whether to Airbnb or whether to go the hotel route.  The AirBnB I stayed at costing me $59 for three nights (not $59 a night).  We went with a group of 5.  You can find it here.  I didn't pick the Airbnb; I was added in for a friend's birthday trip.  The place was beautiful and clean.  There was a lady who came and cleaned every day.  For an additional $5 in the morning, she made breakfast and had it ready for you at your requested time. The hosts, Yoel & Jose, made themselves available 24 hours a day, they also helped book our classic car rides, gave us recommendations, and booked our travel back to the airport. They were always accessible.   Yoel also told us that his place would have wifi this time next year (which is a luxury in Cuba).   Now the big debate is whether to stay in a hotel or to stay in an Airbnb.  For the authenticity of the experience, I liked the Airbnb; there are also Airbnb that are fancier and fully staffed that you can still get a good deal on if you if you are going in a large group.  

I did sort of a AirBnb/Hotel hybrid.  We did spend a lot time at the Iberostar.   We went to their poolside, bar, restaurant, and sucked up their wifi as they had 1 hour wifi cards for $5 CUCs) and you can flush tissue. LOL You'll want to note if you stay in an AirBnb you won't be able to flush tissue --- I've experienced this at a few islands I've been too...so just note that.  We were told that this hotel was $400 a night.  The staff didn't seem to mind our presence as long as were spending money and we did.  We ate meals, got drinks, and bought wifi all of which in my opinion were still cheaper than U.S. prices.  We spent our morning here until about 12 or so and then ventured out.

Where to eat

Let me just say that I loved Cuba; the people were what made my trip so amazing.  The food, on the other hand, was a little rough for me (and the group I was with). I hate to sound like I'm complaining, but I'm not, I just want you guys to be aware of how I managed my food situation.   I honestly chocked up me not liking the food to me just being used to what I eat, so this is one reason we ate at the hotel a lot.  The food was just more in line with my American taste buds.  Additional we ate a couple of meals at Cafe Del Angel Habana Vieja.  I liked their food even more than the hotels.  They had pasta and seafood dishes, yummy desserts (try the brownie a la mode) and was one of the few places I could get sparkling water.  These two locations were considered to be more expensive, but still cheaper by American standards.  I had drinks, food, and dessert for under $25 CUCs.

Souvenirs

What to do

Classic Cars: The classic car tours are the thing to do in Havana.  We paid $35 an hour for those tours for the entire group.  Split between a group of 5 it was very inexpensive even with tip.  We were advised that the classic cars are independently owned, so you are paying the fee directly to the driver. The drivers are super patient while everyone takes their pictures and will even help take shots for you.

Fabrica del Arte (Cuban Art Factory) - This was an art museum/club scene. There were a lot of tourists there.  I was confused when I got there, but then quickly started feeling it.  The Cuban art is so cool, there are some pieces I would love to have for my home.  You can visit their website here. I'm not going to lie, I only went out one night. I was exhausted from our day excursions and just from everything that I had going on. LOL. 

Cigar Shopping/Rum Tasting: I really don't smoke much of anything, but I wanted to bring back cuban cigars for my dad and my husband.  I was kind of shocked about the sticker price of cigars in Cuba.  I got 2 MonteCristo cigars (the owner told us it was the same cigar that Pres. Obama smoked) at $25 CUCs a piece.  I had planned to buy a box, but the cheapest box was around 800 CUCs and the prices increased drastically from there. Now I understand why they are an items used as a status symbol.  We visited this cigar shop, which also had complimentary rum tastings.  We were warned about not buying cigars on the street, because you could be buying banana leaves instead of tobacco. (Please drink responsibly).

Why you should go to Cuba - If you are looking for a trip where you will be immersed in another culture, get a first-hand look at a different economic system, and get the chance to interact with some amazing people, then Cuba is for you.  So if you are looking for a resort-esk experience, I don't think Cuba is for you.  I'm sure in 3-5 years time this will change.  Things I liked about Cuba were the fact that people interacted with other people. The internet is great for many things, but it is not good when it comes to human interaction. You can also tell that family is vital and get that home vibe even though it's not your own.   I loved seeing the comparison between our economic system and theirs.  If this were a political blog, I'd get into that, but I won't here. All in all, I had a great time. I would go back.

Things to note:


  • You are going to do a lot of walking.  Bring walking shoes...the Cloudwalker sandals from Avenue were so comfortable and great for walking
  • Bring all your toiletries/snacks/etc with you.  I didn't see places where you could buy these things.  There is hardly stores and I saw no supermarkets to be able to buy these things.  Don't come expecting to find these things easily accessible.
  • Prepare to change/shower a couple times a day. It's hot as Hades. LOL. I would plan to have two pairs of panties a day...just keeping it real. LOL 
  • Brush up on your Spanish and be prepared to use it.  Even the people that know some English, their English is limited and they mostly work in the hotel and airport.  I would suggest having that one friend who has decent Spanish.  The people are really nice about it and will help you. Phrases I used a lot were: Como se' dice (How do you say) then insert English word. Por favor (please), words like la playa (beach), Picina (pool), escuela (school), coche classico (classic car), etc.  If you don't have a friend then I would suggest bringing a mini translation book just so you can get what you need. I had Spanish 1 & 2 and struggled, but found myself getting better as the days went on.  Spanish, for those of us that took it, is way easier to read then to understand as people speak it, but when you get your ears attuned then you can understand a little easier. Day 3 was easier to understand than Day 1. 
  • A lot of places are named the same thing, so you need to know cross streets.  The places you choose to stay should have directions and cross streets for your driver. Learning landmarks is helpful when navigating back home. 
Style Notes:  With the cross country move and a car packed to the brim, let's just say there wasn't much room for a lot of clothes.  I threw a couple things in my back and just made it work on what was in my suitcase.   You can find my swimcover/dress with the tassels here.  My pom pom sandals are here.