Traveling to Cuba and the untold secrets

Have you been reading articles about Cuba and wondering where you will stay or how to get there? Well, fact of the matter is it is not as difficult as it appears to be when reading about Cuba. 

Cuba can be a complicated land especially for Americans, more than any other nation. What I highly recommend is to do your research and read up about the information you need to know for necessary travel to Cuba.

One vital component to traveling to Cuba is that Americans cannot use any sort of plastic, otherwise known as credit or debit cards.

Cuba will only accept cash from Americans. They must bring all cash with them, including the fact, it is best to exchange your money into a currency other than US dollars. Why you may ask? I exchanged my USD in for Canadian and then upon arrival to Cuba you can exchange your Canadian for CUC (the local Cuban currency) right at the airport. You get better rates in the central city at the Cadeca's so if the line isn't too long best to exchange only enough money to get into town, unless stretching your money isn't that important to you.

Well, for starters American dollars, are welcome in Cuba, but because of the various rules andtrade embargos, Cuba charges an additional fee for exchanging US Dollars. Therefore, if you are wondering what currency is the best  to take with you, it would ideally be Canadian dollars or Euros. Both currencies are happily accepted at the 'cadecas' and the banks there, along with our fellow neighbors to the North. Banks are open most days and cadecas are smaller exchange places. At times you may get a better rate at a cadeca, but it is all relative to what the exchange rate to 'buy' and 'sell' currency that particular day.

Next thing that is very important to know is where you are going to stay? There are certainly hotel options, but unlike in the USA hotels are far less reasonable in price. I asked a few hotel staff what the prices were for a night at the hotel, and most were $200.00 or upwards of $450 a night.

This is not your typical price for a hotel room and you certainly will not be getting a room at the Ritz for that price. Cuba has some nice hotels, but again they charge far more money than what you would pay for a hotel anywhere else in the world, at that price. 

I am not at all discounting Cuba, but being transparent on what to expect when you go there. The route I went when going to Cuba was what is called, a 'casa particular.' What this means, is that it is a local Cuban national's home, that they rent out, or an apartment for rent. I was lucky enough to rent out the owners apartment, for equivalent to $35 USD a night. I had access to the entire apartment and it was exactly what I needed, and even included a large fridge, stove, and a microwave.

If you are like me, I highly suggest bringing snacks along as the stores there are few and far between throughout the city. There certainly are plenty of places to have breakfast, lunch or dinner, but if you have food allergies or are picky, then you will certainly want to bring a snack or two. Besides when I travel I love having snacks regardless, so why not bring some foods to have just in case you are off the beaten path exploring around the amazing old town of Havana.

thumb IMG 3048 1024

Havana truly has a zest for life that no other city has throughout my many years of traveling (17 to be exact). The people of Cuba, the business owners, the music and the children are always galavanting around town and happy go lucky people. Despite the fact the locals make very low wages for very hard work, they are always happy. I think we as Americans take so much for granted and have a lot to learn from the Cuban people. 

I myself was extremely forunate to be paired up with a beautiful, kind and lovely local who showed me the educational side of Cuba, from her upbringing in Cuba. She is also happy and carefree as I described the locals above, but she also knew everyone in the city. People would stop us to say hello to my new friend and it was so heart warming to know she knew so many people. I was pleasantly surprised to enjoy every bit of Cuba that I could have imagined.

I didn't know what to expect, due to the fact, it seemed a bit more of a hassle to have to turn my money in before leaving, not really having access to my cell phone or the internet for days, which actually was a nice break to not be summoned via text or email every few minutes. That I could get used to, as we rely so much on what others may not be so fortunate to have, like the constant internet connection.

Do not expect to go to Cuba and spend much time on your cell phone, as the interenet is a rare commodity in Cuba, unless you are staying at a local hotel, and or find the locals gathering by the sea wall, the Malecón, late at night to connect with the outside world.

thumb IMG 3513 1024

The food was good, but not the best I have ever had and the seafood was truly inexpensive for the American on a budget, (see enclosed photo of lobster tail and rice) but the key to that is knowing where to go. Again, it was a blessing to have a local know where to dine at, as normally these are not places that the locals dine. What people fail to realize is that the food in town is mostly to serve tourists, as the wages that the local Cubans make is not truly sufficient to dine out at the Restaurants that us as tourists dine at. 

Despite what you read online and in travel books, there is so much to do in Cuba when it comes to art, music and all the sights that you are able to explore. One of my favorite evenings was at the FAC, also known in spanish as, "La Fabrica del Arte." FAC is an evening of art, fashion and local musicians and djs. Just outside Havana there are some incredible sights to see, and amazing beaches too.

On a  day trip (which should have been more of a two day trip),  we took was a spontaneous day trip to Verdadero beach, which has recently been recognized by National Geographic is one of the world's must see top 20 beaches. This truly was a gem to see and frolicking in the water, was worth the three hour bus ride to this beautiful, clear water beach (see photo). This is a must see if going to Cuba, but ensure you do your research outside of Havana and how to get there. Getting there was easy and you can even make it a quicker trip by having a private taxi take you there. Also, a key piece to konw is it is best to discuss costs before getting in the taxi.

thumb IMG 3467 1024