GO TO THERE: CUBA
It all started with a conversation over dinner at burger and lobster...
DO YOU WANT TO GO TO CUBA???
My friend and I had been chatting about Cuba ever since Obama made it easier for Americans to visit. I'd always wanted to visit but it never seemed to happen until this conversation. After the question was asked I was immediately down. Then she said just look out for the email. There's one thing to say that you want to do something, but there's another thing to actually come through with flight prices, possible Airbnbs, sights to see, and most importantly how much things would cost. It's great to talk and dream but if there's no action then it's just daydreaming while life just passes you by. Shout out to my super organized home girl, Kali Brown, you da bomb girl!
I've been back from Cuba for more than a month now and I am officially off vacation mode. There's lots of information out there, but here are my tips that will help you have a great Cuba trip. These tips helped my homegirl and I make it through five days in Cuba so I hope that they will help you as well. This is how we planned it...before president tiny hands meddled in what was a good thing...
You will need a VISA to enter the country. You will not need to go out of your way to get one. We traveled directly from NYC to Havana on Jetblue and purchased our VISA while our boarding pass was printing. Total cost: $50
WHAT ABOUT YOUR FRIENDS?
First things first. Find friends who are down with roughing it and don't need to stay in a ritzy 4 or 5 star hotel and who is down for whatever. Now don't get me wrong, I love a shiny hotel with amenities, but when you're traveling people to people (please follow the current guidelines, since things have changed), it makes sense to stay with the people. It's also important to travel with people who understand budgets and staying on one. I would love to ball out on vacation but I don't have ball out funds lol.
MI CASA, ES SU CASA
Our casa was in central Havana which was referred to the heart from some people in the country. Tatiana, our hostess was wonderful. Super sweet and gracious. She helped to coordinate our pick up from the airport, provided two breakfast options, a free one and the other for 5 CUC. The free breakfast included fresh bread from the bakery up the street, coffee and juice. The full breakfast included bread, cheese, eggs, ham, fresh fruit (banana, guava, papaya, pineapple, mango and watermelon), coffee and juice. The room was modestly furnished with a full sized bed and a twin bed with a wardrobe, bathroom w/ tub, AC, bright lights and most importantly, it was clean and safe.
DO YOUR GOOGLES
I'm so grateful for the Facebook group that my friend invited me too. The people there had been back and forth to Cuba since the gates opened so they knew the ins and outs. Their recommendations and first person encounters were much better than Trip Advisor. What you have to understand is, if you're going to Cuba, you will not get the simple things that you are used to having (thanks embargo). For example, you can't flush tissue down the toilets. You'll also need to carry tissue with you wherever you go just in case the restaurant or other establishment doesn't have any. And you will have to tip if there's an attendant. Just understand that this is not the damn Bahamas. Yes they've been getting tourists from other countries for years, but Americans coming in with that "American is the greatest in the universe" mentality will be quickly awakened that they are not in Kansas or in my case, New York City anymore.
Convert your USD to Euro. You can bring your USD but it's dollar for dollar for CUC (they have two different currencies. CUC for tourists and CUP for citizens). I nearly lost sleep thinking about the money leading up to the trip because we would only have access to cash since you can't use any US debit or credit cards. At home, I hardly EVER have cash so I knew this would be a major adjustment. We first transferred €200 at the airport which converted to 216.25 CUC. We didn't want to convert all of our money because we wanted to see how long we could make it on that amount. Happy to say that lasted for two days which included meals in Havana and a tour/tip from Havana to Vinales (one night we used Euros for dinner at La Guarida because our CUC was running low and we wanted to really indulge). We didn't exchange money again until Saturday, which was our third day. I exchanged €450 at Banco Metropolitano in Old Havana and that converted to 486.79 CUC. This money went towards souvenirs from San Jose Market in Old Havana, an hour long classic car taxi tour/tip in Havana to Revolutionary Square, Coppelia (ice cream shop - they told us to go to one area and they only had chocolate or vanilla. thumbs down), and to Callejon De Hamel (this was oversold in my opinion so ONLY go on Sunday for the performances), brunch/dinner in Havana at El Dandy, a taxi to and from Fabrica De Arte Cuba, and our payment for two nights at the all inclusive resort Grand Memories, taxi/tip to and from Varadero to the airport, and last but certainly not least, liquor from duty free at the airport. In the end, I lost sleep for nothing, because I didn't have to hitchhike or eat bread for the remainder of my trip. I even brought home Euros so that's a win-win for me.
BRING YOUR WALKING SHOES
You've probably read this in your other Cuba research, but this is so important, PLEASE wear flats, no flip flops though. Your feet will thank you. Leave your heels at home. We did a lot of walking on our first and third day because honestly it was more cost effective and due to the location of our casa, we were close to most places. And that's "close" for people who don't mind walking or if you're from New York (we're just used to walking places). It's kind of in our DNA or it's in the water or something. Either way, taxis were only used for longish distances like FAC or 1830 (it was closed the night we tried to go). The best map to help you get around that also works offline is maps.me. My friend took charge of that and we were able to get most places by foot. The first day we walked from central Havana to old Havana, walked down the Paseo del Prado to the Malecon. Then walked back to our Airbnb. So I will repeat: BRING YOUR WALKING SHOES.
I think that covers it and I salute you for reading through all of that. But each one teach one and all that jazz. Now for the pics.
P.S. The food was okay. I wasn't blown away but that doesn't mean you will be disappointed everyday.