Hola from Cuba, Señoritas! What a great place, aaaa! Love it here! You should definitely put it on your bucket list with an ‘urgent’ tag on. Here are my 10 observations from visiting Havana, Vinales (where the famous cigars are made) and Varadero (the beach!).
1. IT’S GONNA CHANGE FAST – With the US embassy that just opened three months ago and the Delta airline opening new direct flights from New York, Chicago and Atlanta next month – Cuba will change very quickly. Not to say it is now completely undiscovered and free of tourists. It’s just still off the beaten path destination for most European and American peeps. McDonalds opening is just a question of time, so I suggest we add Cuba to the ‘before they disappear from the planet’ locations, because Cuba the way it is, will not last very long.
2. YOU WILL BE DISCONNECTED – Cuba is probably one of the most isolated and disconnected countries in the world so arrange your life ahead accordingly. The only wifi you will find will be in hotels or parks, but to use it you have to have a special card. To buy the card, you will need to show your passport and it can cost you anywhere from $2 when you buy it from the telecommunication company (and stand in an hour long line) or you can get it from your hotel for $6 – another example how different the prices are throughout town.
3. YOU WILL GET RIPPED OFF – not being negative, just honest. I have been traveling with my fancy camera for years now (plus I have blue eyes and blonde hair and look like a non-local in most countries in the world) so I’m used to being asked for money or people trying to rip me off every now and then. It’s okay, that sth beauty of traveling.
However, in my travel history, I have never had so many people trying to rip me off a few dollars pretty much at every opportunity like I had in Cuba, at least a few times a day. There was a taxi driver saying it’s gonna take 10 pesos to get home (which was already a rip off since the ride was worth no more than 3 pesos) and then telling me once we got there it’s actually 10 pesos per person so 20 pesos total. A waiter told me there is a special 15% tax on this particular street (!) so my 15 pesos all inclusive lunch turned out to be $25. In every instance they got very upset when I would point out in my pretty fluent Spanish I’ve been in Cuba for a week now and I know there is no special tax or that you don’t pay for a taxi per person.
4. IT’S NOT THAT CHEAP – on top of that, it’s not very cheap. When I booked my $15 airbnb room in Viñales while still in America, I expected Cuba to be the cheapest destination out on the planet, but it turned not that cheap at all. Dinner can cost you $60-$70 in a nice but not amazing restaurant, a bottle of water in a tourist area was even up to $3 – more expensive than in America.
5. CASH ONLY – I have not been to a single restaurant in Cuba that would accept cards, not to mention American credit cards simply don’t work in Cuba. It’s been a while for me since I had to plan my expenses days ahead to make sure I have enough money for the next few days because exchanging money is not easy either. Unless you stay in a fancy hotel, you have to wait for at least an hour to exchange money (they will need your passport and check the serial number of every single bill you will want to exchange to make sure it’s real. The entire process takes forever).
6. BEST DRINKS EVER – While Cuban food got a little boring after a while (most restaurants have very basic menu of 2-3 kinds of meat with rice and beans and no veggies, pizzas and a ham & cheese sandwich) – cocktails in Cuba are fantastic. The most delicious mojitos, perfect piña coladas and according to Hemingway – the best daiquiri in the world in la Floridita bar. I mean it!
7. IMPOSSIBLE TO GET BREAKFAST BEFORE 9a or EVEN COFFEE. I was staying in a casa particular – homestay through airbnb so we had to arrange our own breakfast but couldn’t find a single place to get coffee in the morning. Oh boy, did I miss Starbucks. Cubans wouldn’t believe me that in America my coffee shop opens at 4:30a. The only breakfast place I saw opened at 9a.
8. CLASSIC CARS – While classic cars are not the only ones on the streets of Havana, you can rent a convertible 56 Chevy per hour for $40 and see the city from the most Cuban perspective. I ended up renting a classic car to see the rest of the island which is way nicer than just driving a normal taxi.
9. GET OUTSIDE THE CITY – while Havana might be among the most vibrant and interesting city I have ever been to (definitely among the most Instagrammable ones), It is outside of Havana that you will find beautiful, unsploit nature and super friendly people. Ride a horse around Viñales while smoking a cigar and enjoy the fact no one will make you sign a liability contract beforehand 😉 Also – Veradero beach is stunning!!!
10. MUSIC EVERYWHERE – you walk around the streets of old Havana and hear music coming from everywhere late at night, people dancing and singing. It’s so fantastic!