Sunday, November 5, 2017

CUBA TRAVEL GUIDE: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT TRAVELLING TO CUBA (how to travel to Cuba, how to get a Cuban visa, itinerary, where to stay and more!)


Cuba has always been one of the countries that has always sparked my curiosity. So when my family and I decided to spend the summer in the Caribbean, we definitely included Cuba in the list! Going around Havana is fairly easy, but if you want to see the Cuban countryside, that's where you have to make sure that everything is planned for. Not only that, you need to make sure you have your Cuban visa with you, regardless if you're American or not, because it's a must to go to this country.

GETTING A CUBAN VISA

If you are a holder of a United States Passport, the best thing to do is to arrive in the airport early because you will be getting your Cuban visa once you check-in for your flight to Havana. We booked via Delta Airlines and they were very helpful with the process of getting the visa. Make sure you do not make any corrections with your information details on the visa form because you need to purchase another one once there are corrections in the visa. 

If you are like me, a Filipino, getting a Cuban visa is harder. There are no embassies that cater to Cuban visas in the Philippines and the nearest embassy that could help is situated in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. We went through a travel agent to help us get our Cuban visas and she expedited the process of getting the visa by personally flying to Kuala Lumpur with all of our travel documents. There is no other option by either for you to travel to Kuala Lumpur yourself or have someone else arrange the documents for you. We had to pay a fee of 5000 pesos each, but considering the amount of work she put into the processing of the visa, it was a small price to pay. 



WHERE TO FLY TO GET TO CUBA 

As of this writing, not all of the states in the USA fly to Cuba. I was told that it would be easier and you would be interrogated less if you fly from outside USA (like Mexico or the nearby countries), but based on my experience, flying in from New York City didn't really make any difference or caused more trouble than if you flew from outside the USA. They were only strict with the visa and the purpose of your travel. 



OUR ITINERARY

We spent a total of 5 days in Cuba. We flew to Havana and on our first day, we enjoyed a day of leisure and went around on our own. Our hotel was located right in the middle of Old Havana so the restaurants, the clubs, the shops and the grocery marts were only a few blocks away. 

On our second day, we did a walking tour around Old Havana in the morning. It was a great way for us to learn more about the history of Old Havana and our guide was very helpful. In the afternoon, we did the convertible classic car tour that took us around the city. This is a must-do if you are in Cuba.

On our third day, we took the bus and joined a tour that brought us to Vinales. This is a town 4-5 hours away from Havana. Taking a tour is cheaper compared to renting a car in Cuba so if you want to explore the cigar factory/farms and see the Cuban countryside, going on a tour is probably the best option. 

On our fourth day in Cuba, we did an Ernest Hemingway house tour. Again, this is a tour that is outside Havana and in order to save some of our money, going on a tour was the best option. This was a private tour anyway so you are given enough time to go around at your own pace. We spent the rest of the afternoon shopping for local Cuban goods like cigars and handmade paintings.

On our fifth day in Cuba, we just spent the morning going around the town on our own.

There are other places in Cuba that are also worth the visit like Varadero and Trinidad but these are further away from Havana.

We were helped by RDV Voyage for our tours as well as Journeys of Faith.




HOW MUCH MONEY TO BRING IN CUBA

There are two currencies in Cuba - the CUC (which are for tourists) and the Cuban Peso. Make sure to know which one is which because the exchange rate for the CUC is higher than the Cuban Peso. Not only that, tourists are only allowed to pay either CUC or USD. The sad part about paying with your US Dollar is that they charge you an extra 10% so you end up losing more of your money. So it's best that if you have your money changed, make sure to bring EUROS instead of US Dollars. The exchange rate of 1 EURO = 1 CUC compared to a dollar where you get lesser CUCs per dollar.


WHERE TO STAY IN CUBA

The best place to stay in Cuba is right in the middle of Old Havana. We stayed at the Casa Vieja Hotel all throughout our stay. They served breakfast in the morning and the rooms were somehow old, but the beds and the air conditioner were perfectly alright. The vibe of the hotel was very Cuban, and the whole aesthetic was one of the reasons why I would give the hotel a 4.5 stars out of 5. The only setback was that the receptionist isn't present in the counter most of the time so if you need something, you have to tell them in the morning.


WHAT TO WEAR IN CUBA

Since Cuba is situated in the Caribbean area, the weather is usually hot. There are only two seasons - the dry and rainy season. The rainy season usually runs from June to October, so it's best to prepare for weather appropriate clothes. Regardless if it were rainy or sunny, the weather is very dry and humid so I suggest you wear something loose or light to the skin. Most of the clothes I wore were sundresses and cropped tops. 




WHERE TO EAT IN CUBA

There are so many food choices in Cuba! Usually, if you go on a tour, they serve you the usual food for lunch - brown rice with beans, roasted chicken, fish and some mashed potatoes. All throughout our stay, we kept on going back again and again to this restaurant called Donde Lis. The food is absolutely great! My favorite is the fried beef (or what they call fried cow). The price is also right! Don't forget to get yourself their famous Cuban lemonade also, it's one of the best!








WIFI IS REALLY SLOW

I had to include this. Cuba is a country that is frozen in time, so the development may be a little bit slower than most of the other developed countries. That is why the access to wifi in this country is scarce. You need to buy yourself a government card for a price of 3 CUC. This is usually sold in local stores around the streets in Old Havana so you need to find a local store that sells this card. Most of the cards that we got were sold in hostels/hotels where they know tourists will be staying. Make sure the scratch card is not tampered or used. This card is only usable for an hour, so you have to make the most out of it. Or if you're not satisfied, spend another 3 CUC and get yourself a new card. 


WHAT TO AVOID

Like any other tourist going around in a foreign country, make sure to always count your money after leaving the money exchange center and watch out for all your belongings. While Cuba is really safe based on my experience, there are certain people who will give you a run for your money. DO NOT BUY WATER THAT IS DISPLAYED ON THE SIDEWALKS. These are water bottles that were reused and refilled with tap water. Make sure to buy from local stores and check if the cap is sealed properly and if the logo sticker of the water brand is not dirty.



INTERACT WITH THE LOCALS

This is probably one of the things that made my stay in Cuba worthwhile. The Cuban locals are some of the friendliest people I have ever met in my entire life! They are willing to talk to you and share some of their experiences with you! And while there may be a language barrier if you barely speak any Spanish, the best way to interact with them is by using sign languages and maybe get an interpreter that can translate your English for them. My uncle had a haircut in the apartment that was located across our hotel and we got to know their entire family. From the outside, you see a facade of a building, but inside the building there are usually around a dozen families that live inside. They have a lot of stories to tell and you can tell how amazed they are to hear your side of the story. Almost all of the locals of Cuba have never been outside of Cuba so they always get excited about hearing stories from the rest of the world. 



I had such a great time in Cuba and will definitely come back in the future! As of the moment, the country is slowly developing and opening up to the rest of the world! And while the whole town is frozen in time, it actually gives you a glimpse of what life is like back in the 80s. It's like it came straight out from what you see in the movies! Everything you see in the movies, from how Cubans dress to how aesthetically pleasing the structures are in the city, are really the same. I hope you enjoy your stay in Cuba! 

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