Is Cuba the right place for you?
So, are you thinking about visiting Cuba but you are indecisive about it? I’ll share with you some facts about my experience in it and why I think you need (or not) to go, it all depends on you and your style.
Cuba is one of Latin Americas newest independent countries, it finally obtained their independence in 1895 and after that it was occupied largely by foreigners; recent events turned Cuba into what it is today; a developing country trying to find their identity without much help from one of the most powerful countries in the world (America), definitely not an easy task.
I feel this is important to share because it explains a lot of the shortcomings you will notice in the island in comparison to most other destinations, but at the same time, it makes it into a unique place to visit in this XXI century.
Cubans are highly educated people, which you will easily have interesting conversations about almost any topic; even though they don’t have easy access to the rest of the world, they are worldly people and are aware of news and relevant facts about the world. At the same time, they love their rum and dancing which makes it exciting as it gets for the nightlife.
They are proud of their history and how far they’ve come aside from the many shortcomings we might think they have, so engaging into political opinions can be done but always politely, they’ll respect your view if you respect theirs.
This island has a diverse scene of entertainment, especially compared to the rest of the Caribbean islands; in Cuba, you can find, history, sightseeing, party, beach tourism.
Cuba seems a place paralyzed in the 1960s; old fancy cars, crumbling buildings, broken roads, different architecture (influenced by Spanish, French and American), people smoking cigars, and more in one city. Getting lost in the streets of Havana is one of those unique experiences you can have. If you are interested in this historical side of the island, you can’t miss going to Trinidad – one of the most beautiful cities in Cuba – it used to be an important and rich city during the sugar era that made Cuba wealthy and a lot was invested in the buildings and streets that are still intact as back in those years.
The beaches in Varadero are spectacular; long with white sand, perfect for relaxing and swimming, with the all-inclusive hotels – my favorite, Blau Hotel -, the catamaran parties, the dolphins, the snorkel, and the party; if you are going on a couple trip it would be a sin to miss this city, aside it has different activities you can book around the city like caves, tunnels you can swim in, history tours, and more – make sure you ask in the reception of the hotel you stay at. Varadero is the second (after Havana) most visited city in Cuba and booking any of this activities is fairly easy and with no complications, even though the shortcoming of not having a cell phone, the bus picks you up in the lobby and leaves you at the end, you just enjoy!
Havana oh na na – there is no way you miss this city because the only international airport is in it, but make sure you book at least three days. The vibe you get here is one of a kind in the world, there is a rush and fast city life to it adapted to a very old city, the luxury cars are here (owned by the government), the colorful buildings, the Havana Vieja is chaotic, the salsa bands playing in the bars, the people dancing all night, the sunsets in the Malecon, the worldwide famous cabarets, all of this and more is in Havana.
Other Important Travel Facts
If you are from anywhere aside Central America you are not used to the food in Cuba; their food is very plain and basic (rice, beans, and some sort of meat). There are restaurants you can try to find something “fancier” for Cuba which tries to be international food – along with the Malecon and Havana Vieja you’ll find these – but it will be a struggle. In the all-inclusive in Varadero, they usually have a buffet but don’t expect anything fancy. Summary, this is not the ideal “gastronomic” destination.
Transportation around the island can be expensive and can be a struggle. If you are a self-traveler with lightweight and don’t mind it, try to get the GuaGua in Havana (the local bus), for this you will need the local currency (I’ll explain later), but it is definitely the cheapest way to get around Havana – bear in mind they don’t pass very frequently and even Cubans are used to ask for a ride. If not, then you’ll have to use the taxis in Havana – make sure they are official taxis – and you can pay in CUCs (foreigners currency).
To get around the different cities mentioned above you can book a private transportation – that will be costly – or you can book through a private company called Viazul, you can pre-book through their website and checking in the bus is pretty straightforward, they are on time and are comfortable buses.
In Cuba they have two currencies; one for locals (CUPs) and one for foreigners (CUCs). It is not that complicated to use them because you’ll probably just pay in CUCs, but if you are trying to find cheaper things like food or groceries or use the local transportation you would need to get local currency.
CUCs are around 1USD for 1CUC, but bad news if you have USDs they tax 20% tax so you’ll probably get $80 for each $100 you exchange. If you have EUR or CAD it is usually a 1 for 1 relation. If you have smaller currencies from your local country make sure to exchange in your country to a CAD or EUR and then change in Cuba for CUCs.
Cuba is a very safe place, try not to have luxurious things in your hands and of course be precautious but criminals are highly penalized and they care a lot about their tourists so they will take care of you and keep you safe!
For Havana, I would not recommend booking the hotels; they are way too expensive (close to Varadero prices) for a hotel that hasn’t been refurbished in centuries. You can find way cheaper places as apartments for rent or you can stay in someone’s house (this is the cheapest way) and it is pretty safe. In terms of where I would recommend Vedado in Havana or Havana Vieja.
Cuba is an awesome and unique place to go; there is a trip to self-travelers, elderly, couples, friends and family (not so sure about kids though). It is not cheap but can be affordable if you know what to book and where to stay, there is a place for everybody.