Top Tips Cuba
Cuba is a fascinating country and one which Kerry and I have wanted to visit for some time. We travelled to Havana, Vinales, Trinidad and Varadero. The highlight for us was definitely Havana… The energy, enthusiasm and love of life that shines vibrantly throughout the crumbling beauty of this stunning capital is intoxicating. We loved the music, the dancing and fusion of cultures and traditions. This, set against a backdrop of magnificent architecture and classic cars makes for a vivid, exciting blend of old, new and of what is to come. Havana is a unique and very special city, captivating, enthralling and screams “alive!” Within out top tips Cuba post you will find some useful information which may be helpful when planning your upcoming trip.
Stay in a Casa Particular (Homestay)
Apart from in Varadero, we chose to stay in Casa Particulars. All were excellent, great value for money and owned by perfect “hosts.” In Vinales we had a wonderful terrace, with a hammock and rocking chairs… in Havana a balcony from which to people watch and in Trinidad a beautiful garden. On average we paid around 20cucs for our own room & bathroom with a private entrance. We opted for breakfast (highly advisable) for 5 cucs each and had a couple of dinners too! Hosts are often happy to do your laundry, arrange taxis/tours and trips and in our experience, were extremely accommodating! Why is this a top tips Cuba idea? Going local is good for everyone, you’ll get the best-personalised experience and local people can benefit from the opportunity to earn some extra cash.
Plan before you visit and take a guidebook
In light of the internet limitations (see next tip) plan your route and have an idea of what you would like to do before you travel. It is easy and cheap to book tours when you arrive in most cities/towns. As many companies don’t yet have a website, you will pay more if you book everything online before you arrive. Casa Particulars can also be booked upon arrival, lots of hopeful hosts meet the Viazul bus in order to secure a booking. You will be spoilt for choice! This makes the top tips Cuba list because many of us are used to planning on the hoof, used to a wealth of information at our fingertips. This, controversially, majorly cuts down on your holiday time… do your research at home and maximise your free time!
Get your head around the internet
Internet access is available in public parks and some hotels. You will need to buy a card (1 cuc per hour) from which you can scratch off a “code.” In public areas, the service is notoriously slow. Locals and foreign tourists alike attempt to get and stay online… if you have plenty of time to spare, great! Look out for the “ESTCA” office, from which you can buy a card, or pick up from a hotel. If the queue is long, consider paying double from street sellers – they do work! Alternatively, let your friends and family know that you’re going to be off the grid for a while. Indulge in the opportunity to be legitimately “uncontactable” immerse yourself fully in “the moment,” without a care or a share. This is my personal top tips for Cuba tip because I am a big fan of some media-free time!
Stock up on Snacks
This is a definite top tip for Cuba recommendation for fussy, snack-loving or food intolerant people. As all supermarkets are government run, you will find very little in the way of “snacks.” You will find it difficult, in fact near on impossible… to get chocolate, crisps, biscuits, nuts, cereal bars, sweets or the likes. There is plenty of alcohol – I’d say forget attempting to cook anything yourself. Not ideal I know, for those who like to cook in a hostel, but I’m not sure what exactly you could cook with such limited resources. Also, be prepared to queue to enter a “supermarket.” We found the equivalent of an oxo cube/stock pot being kept “behind” the counter and toiletries “locked” in a display cabinet – there really is hardly anything available to buy!
Get to grips with the currency
2 currencies operate in Cuba. Cucs and cups. 25 cups are equivalent to 1 Cuc. Tourists tend to use cucs, and locals cups but you can exchange cucs for cups in the bank. (You will need your passport.)
Cubans pay in cups, but also need cucs if the price is displayed as such. If you want to eat in a local government-run restaurant or from street vendors or use the local bus, get some cups. Cups are not exclusively for locals! Although, be aware that in tourist resorts like Varadero, you will not be able to use cups… Many of the people we met were shocked we had cups and seemed to have got the wrong end of the stick regarding this “exclusive” currency… so take advantage of this top tips for Cuba info and get yourself a mix of currencies!
Know how to Get out and about
To get from one part of the county to another, either hire a car, take the Viazul bus or a collectivo. The Viazul bus offers an extensive network of routes at a reasonable price. Book online to secure your place as they do sell out. Be aware that you will need to exchange your “printed” booking reference for a “seat allocation” 1 hour before departure. Many of the departures are early, although, at times, it was an unexpected pleasure to see the world at 5.15am. Think barely light, cool and quiet!
Cuban are used to managing on limited supplies and resources. They appear to take “queuing” in their stride and their “systems” by some standards will seem inefficient, time consuming and unfair. There is absolutely no point getting aerated or frustrated with the situation. It is what it is and no amount of arguing will change the outcome. Being calm, patient and accepting of this fact is a top tip for Cuba recommendation because you may have to accept the fact that there may not be any water in your apartment block today. An electrical fault may delay your dinner. The baggage handler might refuse to put your bag on a bus without you paying for the privilege, despite it being “included” and no – you can’t put it on yourself…
Instead, be appreciative of the generous measures of rum that will lavish your mojito for a snip of a price, soak up the musical talent that spills from every corner and be glad you don’t have to wait for 90 minutes in the hope of securing a packet of baby wipes… You do after all travel to different countries to experience something different, in this respect, Cuba is probably not like home.
Be appreciative of your hosts
If you stay in a Casa Particular, your hosts may well offer breakfast and dinner. We always enjoyed breakfast and at least one meal. If you decide to opt for dinner, you will be asked to order in advance. This usually consists of meat/fish with rice/beans and salad and a bread roll. Having experienced first hand the limitations of “supermarkets” be appreciative of the time and effort it will take for your host to source your meal! Although you’d be forgiven for thinking often meals lack originality/creativity, look at whats available. One thing we didn’t do, which we wished we had, was taken a gift from the UK for our Casa Hosts. If we had realised the complete shortage of anything sweet, some chocolate, I know would have been appreciated. So this top tip for Cuba is about being appreciative and perhaps taking a little treat to surprise your host.
Seeing Cuba is not about staying in an all-inclusive resort
You will not see Cuba if you limit yourself to an all-inclusive resort. This is of course, applicable to most countries, but in Cuba, this is particularly relevant. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to see Havana, this unique city is changing rapidly… Much of Europe and America are becoming increasingly dominated by “same same, only different…” at the moment, like much of Mexico and India – Cuba retains that special “feel” of being somewhere else, safely away from Starbucks and McDonalds. The Cubans are excited about the prospect of trying a Big Mac, many want to embrace all that is “American!” But whilst still, not quite on the cards, go now before a golden M ruins your photographs!
If you are heading to Havana and fancy a spot of cooking read our spotlight on The Ajiaco Cafe cookery class.