My Experience in Cuba/What You Need to Know

Hello friends!

I know I have been M.I.A. but to be honest I haven’t been inspired to blog.  But a recent trip for my 33rd birthday (May 11) gave me the inspiration I needed!  So since getting back I have been getting a ton of questions about my experience Cuba and I figured this is the best way for me to answer these questions in one place.  Before I went I feel like I read thousands of blogs to help me prepare.  I made sure I asked every person I knew that went a million questions. Somethings I read were true and some not quite. We were fortunate enough to have an acquaintance that had family in Cuba so she gave us some tips on how to prepare.So lets hop into it.

 

MONEY EXCHANGE

Most the blogs I read there was no straight answer to the best method on getting the most of your money.  To be honest there really isn’t because the exchange rates change daily.  The day  bought Euros the exchange rate was $1.17.  I exchanged $400 and had to pay $465 for 400 Euros.  Then when we got to the airport we exchanged the Euros to the CUC.  My best recommendation is to check on the rates frequently way before you go and when the Euro is low buy whatever your budget is going to be.  Also keep in mind that our American credit cards don’t work there so whatever money you have that is it.  So make sure you have enough for your whole trip. 1 CUC is the equivalent to $1. The good news is that it was so cheap there and I came home with $100 left over.

Photo courtesy of Georgia Martin

Euros!

There are two types of currency the CUC which is what we use and the CUP is what the locals use and this is the difference in the appearance
TRANSPORTATION

This is where you are going to spend most of your money.  Since there were 7 of us we split everything so it wasn’t that bad.  The ride from the airport to our AirBnb in Miramar was 60 CUC and it was a 30 min ride.  Our ride from our AirBnb into Havana Vieja was 15 CUC.  Most of the time your host can also call taxis to take you where you want to go.  I highly recommend staying in Miramar because there were several restaurants with amazing food within walking distance but you’re only 10 minutes away from Havana Vieja.

 

COMMUNICATION 

English was pretty limited. There were three of us in the group that spoke and understood the best so we got by. If you don’t know or understand a lot of Spanish I suggest screenshotting general phrases in Spanish or using a translation app that works offline. For instance two of the girls had dietary restrictions. One is allergic to shellfish and the other is a pescatarian.


Also wifi is not so easy to come by and you have to pay for it. Our first day there we discovered wifi in Havana Vieja. It was 2 CUC for 1 hour. It’s true what the blogs say that you can spot the wifi because many people will be sitting down trying to get connected. Another one of the girls paid 3 CUC for a wifi card but it could only be used inside of the hotel. Also please be advised that the wifi is also very slow because everyone was on it so it was definitely a struggle.

Photo courtesy of Karlene Chung

Photo courtesy of Georgia Martin
 

ACCOMMODATIONS/ FOOD

My friends and I stayed in an AirBnb. The area we stayed in was in Miramar which was like 10 minutes from Havana Vieja. I highly recommend to go the AirBnb route because its the best way to get recommendations on where to eat or what to do.   Something I thought was interesting is that our host actually stayed with us.  It was her her cousin Juliet and Juliet’s daughter but they were in a different room.   Our host Anna Iris was amazing.  She guided us on food recommendations that were in walking distance to her home.  The food was awesome.  The first day she recommended we eat at a place called Olivio and it was $10 for the buffet and mojitos were $2! The best part was that it was in walking distance, about 3 blocks.

Photo courtesy of Erin Baker/ Me making a wish on my birthday

That night we ate at Tapas y Toro which was also in walking distance. This is when we discovered Lemonade Frappe’s. The food was also delicious here.  But be aware if you don’t finish all your food and need a to go box they will charge you 1 CUC for the box.  We learned that the hard way.

Photo Courtesy of Erin Baker


The next day she recommended an italian place called Nero di Seppia.  Contrary to what I’ve read the food was very flavorful which I was very happy about because I love food!  My friends were ready and packed seasoning just in case but they were not needed.

Shrimp Penne with pesto
I’m pretty sure we ate some of the best snapper we ever had in Varadero!!  I don’t remember the exact place but it was on Dos Mares Calle 53 ask for Frank!  Just to give price reference there was 7 of us and it was $12 per person.  Also the drinks in the whole pineapple for $5.

The spread Frank made for us

My plate

The aftermath

Photo Courtesy of Tiffany Black/Thats Frank in the yellow. The other gentleman was the bartender
Also I recommend eating breakfast cooked by your hosts.  Juliet was the cook and made us yummy breakfast for two days and it was only $5 per day!


The only time I experienced “bland” food was when I ate a Cuban sandwich in Havana Vieja.  The cheese wasn’t melted and it was dry.


We stumbled upon a cart making fresh churros. It was 1 CUC and was made to order and took like 20 minutes and they were yummy. The first day I didn’t have any because I’m not big on sweets but my friends came raving about it so the next day we made sure we swung by to indulge.



RESTROOMS

I read that there was no toilet paper or toilet seats.  Our airBnb did have toilet seats and toilet paper. However when you are out in the city on whether or not there is toilet paper is a gamble.  While in Varadero we paid 1 CUC just to use the bathroom and there was no toilet seat(not like I’d actually sit on it anyway) or toilet paper.  Because I anticipated this I always had a roll of toilet paper and sanitizer, wet ones and anything I needed on me in my backpack.  Also keep in mind when you use the bathroom you can not put the tissue in the toilet.  They have garbage cans where you are to throw the tissue in there.  That was definitely an adjustment but you will get the hang of it.

ACTIVITIES

So I wanted to take Salsa lessons.  We went to La Casa del Son and it was freaking awesome!  But be prepared to sweat so make sure you wear something comfortable as well as wear comfortable shoes. Because we had 7 people it was 10 CUC per person and I highly recommend it!


After Salsa lessons we walked the streets of Havana Vieja and did some souvenir shopping.  That area is the “touristy” area.

The next day we  took a vintage car tour to Varadero because we wanted to go to the beach. Make sure you reserve this in advance however you cannot pay in advance you have to pay when you get there.  Varadero was a 2 hour drive.  It was 300 CUC per car and you have the car for 10 hours.  They do have different tour options but this is the one we chose.


Before reaching the beach we stopped at Mirador de Bacunyagua. It was a beautiful bridge and there was music and food and also a place to buy souveniers. I bought a leather crossbody purse. With scenery so beautiful we had another photoshoot, duh!


The beach was the most beautiful beach  I have ever experienced.  The water was crystal clear and it was actually very shallow.  You could go pretty far out and still stand.  This beach was worth every penny we spent to get there. Cue a bajillion selfies and full on photoshoot.

Photo courtesy of Tiffany Black

Saturday we went back to Havana Vieja to do our final souvenir shopping before heading to the beach again.  We asked our host what beach was near and also good.  She recommended Santa Maria beach. This beach was definitely different from the Varadero beach. There was mainly beer bottles and beer cans everywhere.  This was the party beach as the locals were dancing and having a great time.  The water definitely did not compare to Varadaro but we still had a great time with each other.  I will say we witnessed some unique activities at this beach that made it quite interesting but we made the best of it.

Photo Courtesy of Ebonie Barnes
Saturday night we went to 1830 which was a club that was actually in walking distance from where we were staying.  This place is awesome!!  I was excited to use my new moves I learned in Salsa class from Thursday.  Let me tell you that you will dance and you will sweat your edges, weave and wig out. It’s pretty much Zumba on crack but so much fun!  I found it interesting that you dance as a group the whole night.  You know kinda like when someone does the electric slide at wedding except its salsa moves and its not for one song its the whole night. YOU. NEED. TO. EXPERIENCE. THIS.

This banner was so funny to me at 1830 I guess this is who was performing that night

Also we felt very safe there.  The police officers don’t even have guns and crime is very low.  Not to get too political but it kind of made me wonder why guns in America are so out of control. It seems like we just can’t get it right over here.

WATER

We were told after you pass security to head to Cuba to buy bottle water.  Each of us bought 3 to 4 large bottles of smart water that came in handy for our trip.   Also make sure that anything you are drinking that you ask that it is made with bottled water.  No one wants to have stomach problems.

OTHER TIPS

Bring an outlet converter especially for your curling irons or to charge your phone. Also when you are heading back to the states don’t change all your money back to dollars if you plan on shopping in the duty free.  We exchanged all our money back to dollars and the prices in there were so cheap but then when we got up to pay they were like those prices are in CUC and since you’re paying in dollar we have to charge more.  So I would say keep like 20-30CUC if you are trying to bring back bottles of rum, coffee or cookies.  Also you get the visa as soon as you check in at the airport its $50 and we flew JetBlue.

 

Overall it was an awesome time.  I loved all the architecture, food, music and the spirit of the people.  I loved that it was filled with art.  Artists were everywhere.



If you are a creative this is definitely the place to go to inspire you and get those creative juices flowing.  I am so glad I got to experience Cuba before our American influence taints it.  I definitely want to go back  because I feel like there was still so much to experience.  Comment below if you’ve been to Cuba and what was your experience like. VIVA LA CUBA!

Special thanks to Amy, Joey, France and Amber for answering all my questions and guidance to prepare for Cuba!

And special thanks to my girls Ebonie, Georgia, Tiffany, Karlene, Erin, and Jasmin for taking this trip with me!

Comments

  1. Jean Beverley King says

    A most interesting and enjoyable trip you all had. Thanks for the detailed information,I felt as if I was there. That was a memorable Birthday celebration. Happy Belated may there be many more happy ones.

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