While visiting Cuba we experienced so many “pinch me” I can’t believe we are really here moments. Cuba was such a humanizing experience every human being should experience. Upon our return to the U.S, we were asked so many questions from family and friends. How did we pull it off? What was it like? Was it safe? Etc. Our answer was simple-book a flight and just go! We shared with many what we thought would be helpful and hope that if your reading this you either are going or thinking about going to Cuba.
We paid $162 pp from Varadero Round Trip from Fort Lauderdale. Wherever you fly out of, give yourself the old school time of 2-3 hours as there are lots of people (Cuban Americans) flying there now and it was like going to some countries 20 years ago (Boxes, wrapped luggages, etc) so this delays the check in process if you’re checking in luggage. We have been on team Carry-On for years now so we skipped all that mess.
We took a “Collectivo” taxi (you plus as many as they can fit in the cab from Varadero to Habana and paid $10 for both! LOL yup….. everyone told us it was $75-100 each way but those old fashioned cars fit lots of people. We found one that took us with our luggage for $10. Going back to Varadero from Habana we paid him $40 because it was New years Eve and there were very little cars running. But it’s a long ride like 1.5 hours. So it’s worth it.
Our collectivo taxi from Varadero to Havana-9 people in car, 1.5 hour drive, $10!
Visas. We got ours on cubacenter.com It was easy and fast. They DHL them to us in 2 days and it was legit. Just be sure to fill out EXACTLY how your name is spelled on your passport (no middle names needed). They cost about $45 each plus shipping. Totally safe and the site is actually endorsed by the Cuban Government. We did see the day of departure, people were purchasing Visas at the airport as well.
Lodging. If you don’t care much for fancy hotels, look into AirBnb. It’s cheaper, and you will get the experience of a local. Just stay close to La Habana or Varadero. If you are going to Varadero I have a place for you to stay outside of Varadero. It’s cheap, safe, and the Woman who owns it is AMAZING!!! You will have to take a taxi to get to the beach which is about 10 min away but I would do it all over again. In Cuba these types of places are called Casas Particulares…. So look into that. They give u a room or a whole house and breakfast for an extra $5-6 extra per person per day. If u are going in a group, then a hotel may be more suitable since you are all splitting the cost etc versus time of the year may be cheaper. Varadero hotels wanted $380 a nite! We spent like $459 for a whole 6 days on AirBnBs both Varadero and Habana combined! and it was fine.
The host of the Casas Particulares we stayed at.
Currency. You need to bring Cash! ATMS and credit cards don’t work in Cuba and if you even check your account when you get Wifi (we will discuss wifi next) your bank will block access to your account immediately. So don’t even check it through the app. If you are in Habana, go to CADECA (it’s on Obelispo & Compostela) they offer best rates, and are legit. As like in any airport, the rates are lower so change like $300-400 to get you buy the day until you make it to the place. If you can, exchange EUROS before leaving, something my friend told me and I didn’t listen. Also look into what does it cost to bring Canadian dollars instead as they get the most for the CUC (Cuban Convertibles Pesos). Do the math on Euros and Canadian and see what gets you the most bang. At CADECA it was .96 cents per $USD, and like 1.04 for EURO. So it’s a cleaner exchange and u make more per $100 etc. But definitley we are looking into CAN $ next time.
Internet & Communication. Your phone won’t work. Get a 5 Hour internet access card which is owned by Government, card is $10. You can walk into any hotel, and ask where to get one. They also have these little booths where you can get it. Ibero Star in the center of La Habana is best place for WiFi. They have the strongest signal. Walk in, and sit down and login with your card. No one will ask u anything.
Local Park where you can by an internet card and use internet.
Taxi Rides. These rates are NEGOTIABLE! Remember, in their eyes we are tourists! My husband looks and acted Cuban the whole trip! So they were confused for the first few minutes lol until they decoded the Dominican accent lol. From the airport to Habana, I don’t know what it costs since we flew in Varadero. But prob $20 would be the most I would offer and walk away if they don’t. You can also take those Bike Taxis too.
In Town, you can take the classic cars or “collectivos” which also pick up other passengers depending on where you are. If you are in center of La Habana, you won’t need one unless you are going to la plaza de revolucion (a must go).
You also need to rent a classic car tour for an hour (which will take u to la plaza anyway). From Habana, we paid $30 for one. They charge like $40 per 1 hour ride on average. Do the convertible it’s fun!
Had to pick the pink car for our Convertible Cruise
Fabrica de Arte Cubano (FAC). This was the SPOT!!!! Arrive by 8pm or you will not get in. There will be a line! Taxi ride from Habana is $15-20 (No more!!) We actually paid $10 cause My husband negotiated hard with the guy. But you can get there for $15.
Sarao’s – also a good spot. Kinda tight, and gotta reserve table before getting there etc.
Buena Vista Social Club . This is more of a Cuban Music show with a Dinner. Honestly I didn’t like it and it was expensive ($50pp) and the food wasn’t the best. But many people talk about this in Habana.
La Floridita. It’s a must attend for the Daiquiri’s, live music and cigar smoking. Plus it’s associated to Ernest Hemingway as it was one of his favorite places to frequent. There is even a statue on the left when you walk in. I supposed this is where he liked to stand to get a 180 degree view of the place.
Due to restrictions in trade, Cuban food was a bit bland. Take a little salt with you or a bottle of sauce with you.
La Bodeguita del Medio – It’s like a tourist spot that you must go to in Habana. It’s like going to South beach for the first time and not going to Mangos. So go for the pictures and mojito. Food is a little pricey but good.
Los Nardos. This is the place to go to!!! I warn you, there will be a LINE of like 30 min to an hour depending time of day. We always went for lunch here. Food is cheap, GOOD and place is very cozy. It’s located across the street from el Capitolio. There are other spots in Habana and you have to ask around.
$25 for all this plus we got sangria
The types of restaurants you will hear about called “Paladares or Particulares” they are owned by locals, and not the government etc. you will get the local feel with them and The other big ones are all government owned and there is not much of a tasty
But with those restaurants It’s hit or miss with them. You wil find a tons of them at Calle Obelispo (which is like the “ocean drive” of Habana (walking version)
Safety. We walked around some dark, sketchy looking alleys late at night and felt safe. It is safe to walk around at night. The country is proud of the very low rates of violent crime and theft because they are to scared to commit a crime. However, like anywhere always be cautious of your surroundings and meeting some new ”friends”