Spring 2010 was my first time visiting the ‘forbidden country.’ It was everything I expected it to be and more! Off course, I went back for a visit in December 2011 and November 2014.
For Travel Tips, check out the Country Overview section.
The information is solely based on my experience at the time I visited Cuba in March 2010, December 2011 and November 2014. Some changes might have been made at some of the establishments. Make sure you confirm.
Visa: Not needed. Citizens of all countries have to buy a USD$20 Tourist Card from the Airline. The Cuban immigration will not stamp your passport; just the tourist card will be stamped. Keep this card safe, you will need it when leaving the country.
Cost and Money
Currency: two currencies in Cuba – “Moneda Nacional” (for its citizens) & “Convertible Pesos (CUC)” for foreigners. USD$1=26 Cuban Moneda Nacional, at the time of my last visit (Dec 2011), USD$1 = 1.15CUC. The CUC is the only accepted currency in tourist areas and for payment at hotels & casa particulars. Advisable to change some of your money to the Moneda Nacional
Cost: This will vary depending on your budget. For travelers with a tight budget, USD$50/day for a room, street or budget food and bus/taxi fare will do.
How to carry your money: it is best to carry your money in cash. ATM exists but your card might not work. If your ATM card is issued by the U.S.A bank, it will NOT work in Cuba ATMs because of the embargo. There is a 10% penalty fee when you change your US$ to Cuban CUC, so best to have Euros or Canadian Dollars. Best to carry all the cash you think you will need and some more.
Spanish is the official language but in tourist places, English might do
Getting to & from the Airport: (La Havana)
Taxi: 30 – 32 CUC to Havana Vieja (Old Havana) and Malecon
Buses: almost impossible, the buses do not get to the airport.
Bus: a real pain for tourists and Cuban citizens. Advisable to use the bus only if you are with a Cuban citizen or after you have been shown how to use it. It is very cheap, cost about 1 Moneda Nacional
Taxi: Depending on your negotiation skills, this might not be of reasonable price. For short distance, use the bicycle taxis, those you can pay in Moneda Nacional.
Walking: Free – if you love walking, you will love Havana Vieja & Malecon area
Traveling around Cuba: Viazul – affordable and clean way to get around various cities.
You can also negotiate a private car or use shared taxis.
- Real Fábrica de Tabacos Partagás
- Museo de la Revolución
- Plaza de la Dignidad & US Interest Section
- Paerque Central & Statue of Jose Marti
- Capitolio Nacional
- Castle- Fortress/El Morro
- Plaza de la Revolucion
- Asociacion Cultura Yoruba de Cuba – most times, there is an amazing presentation on display
- Callejon de Hamel
- Casa de Africa
- Havana Vieja
**For a car tour of Havana – contact Jhoni. The car looks exactly like the picture. He & his partner are great tour guides**
Santiago de Cuba:
- El Morro – very beautiful view, the morro was built to protect the city from pirates and enemy invasion
- Cuartel Moncada – now a school
- Museo-Casa Natal de Antonio Maceo
- Che Guevara’s mausoleum (pictures are prohibited inside)
- Craft market
Places to Stay
- Casa Doris y Nathali: Lealtad No.415 between San Jose & San Rafael apt 53, Centro Havana. The room is clean and bathroom ensuite. Newly renovated. Balcony facing the street. AC and TV with cable in room. The family is nice.
- Apartamento Guillermo Lores: Havana Vieja. Fully furnished apartment, 2 bedrooms & 1 bathroom. The location is perfect! Right in old Havana.
- Casa Particular Senora Maria Regla: Malecon No. 251 between Blanco and Galiano, Centro Habana, Tel – 861.1768, email@example.com. I stayed in a single room ensuite. The bathroom was really nice with hot shower (you don’t really need the hot shower anyway). TV in the room. The room is not luxury but comfortable. The house itself is nice; it is in front of the Malecon (Sea), so the waves wake you up. The owner (a woman) is pretty cool, her son speaks some English.
- Casa Colonial Estrella y Rene: Lamparilla No. 261-B between Compostela and Habana, Havana Vieja, Tel – 861.6179 & 05.332.0615, firstname.lastname@example.org. This is located in Havana Vieja, close to most historic sites. Walking distance to the Capitolio. Two rooms share a bathroom. The couple that runs this place is very nice.
- Casa Colonial del 1715: Great location in Havana Vieja. I didn’t stay here so I cant speak about it.
- Casa Dona Elena: Also in Havana vieja. Great location. I didn’t stay here so I cant speak about it.
**Check the pics for a info of these casa listed above**
Santiago de Cuba:
- Casa Quintana: Bayamo No. 11 between San Agustin y Reloj, Tel – 657455, 01153402068 & 0153596640, Daniel@infomail.com. The house is okay, the room is between basic and okay. The lady that runs the place is nice but her son talks too much. She offers delicious breakfast, lunch and dinner at a very reasonable price. The house is walking distance to the center of town.
- Hostal Olga M. Rivera Gomez: Calle Evangelista Yanes #20 between Maximo Gomez and Carolina Rodriguez, Tel – 53.42.211711, email@example.com. TV in the room, the lady is very friendly and informative. The room I stayed in was okay with clean ensuite bathroom. House is walking distance to the city center.
- Casa Yolanda: (Telephone Number –firstname.lastname@example.org). Room comes with private bathroom – the room was not clean. Cost 25CUC. It is behind the bus station and walking distance to everywhere else. Trinidad is really small.
- Villa Basita: located on the main street so great location. I didn’t stay here because she had no vacancy. She seem nice. We stayed at her son’s casa which is 2 houses down. The son’s casa was great – ensuite bathroom and AC .
- Casa El Chino: also on the main street, very close to the cathedral. Looks decent from outside. I didn’t stay here so I can’t speak of it.
**Check the pics for a info of these casa listed above**
- Kiki’s House: You get a bungalow with ensuite bathroom and kitchen to yourself. Great location. The owner is nice and helpful. **Check the pics for a info of these casa listed above**
- Callejon de Hammel – on Sundays, a spiritual ceremony
- Calle 23
- Fresa y Chocolate
- Café Cantate, 1830, Turf, Casa Belear, G Café, Casa de la Musica [Cafes, Bars and sometimes live music – confirm if these places are still around, most are located in Verdado area of town
You have to try the Mojito and Havana Ron. For non-alcoholic drink, try the Guarapo (sugar cane juice in Old Havana) and ‘tu Kola’ (Cuban version of Coke).
I wasn’t too impressed with the food. Most of the food served at casa particulars tasted better than those in the restaurants.
Other things you should know
Cuba is safe in terms of very low crime. However, beware of hustlers and scam. They have them plenty in Cuba. They might not look like your typical hustler but be very careful of these sweet, smooth talking guys/ladies.
No, prostitution is not legal in Cuba.
Cubans are very open about sex and have no problem asking you for sexual relation within 5 minutes of meeting you.
Walk around with a photocopy of your passport.
- ¿Quién es la última? = Who is the last in line? [when is always a line for something, most people reserve their space on the line and go do something else or sit around, so always ask who is the last in line]
- ¿Que bola? = What’s up? [typical Cubano greeting]
Hotels/Casa Particular (I did not use any of these sites so I cannot comment): www.netssa.com, TripAdvisor.com, www.cuba.cu/reserva/hotels/hotels.php, www.casaparticular.com, www.casaparticularcuba.org, www.casaparticular.info, www.cubaccommodation.com, www.mycasaincuba.com
Enjoy the photos!