1. Visa Situation
Again, BS. I’m glad I checked a bag too, because of all the cigars I brought back 🙂
A lot of websites told me to bring euros to Cuba, not USD. Why? Because apparently banks/exchange houses charge a 10% penalty on USD exchanges. Note that 1 CUC (1 Cuban Convertible Peso) is valued at approx. 1 USD.
In hindsight, I would have ONLY brought USD.
Here’s why: before leaving, I got a message from my cigar class instructor (who I was also ordering cigars from) offering my cigar order price in USD, not CUC. I asked about paying in CUC, and she said that either is fine.
When I got to Cuba I found that many shops and restaurants accept USD just as well as CUC at a rate of 1:1. A number of locals also offered to exchange my USD for CUC at 1:1. Legit. (Psst. Try Ernesto on Obispo St., in front of the restaurant called ‘La Terraza de obispo‘…the food’s not bad either)
FYI when I got to the airport (with Euros and USD in my wallet), the line to exchange money was LONG and the rates were not great (see pic):
I went straight to the taxi area and negotiated a ride to my apartment. They let me pay in euros. My advice: bring USD and only exchange it when you can get 1:1. Having some CUC on hand is useful; I would recommend exchanging at least some USD for CUC.
But Euros? Nah. Not necessary. By exchanging USD for EUR in LA and then EUR to CUC, I basically paid exchange fees twice.
Tengo que practicar.
No, you don’t need to be a great Spanish speaker to get by in Cuba. Sure, it would have helped, but I got by fine with the offline version of Google Translator.
4. Kleenex, fresh milk, eggs, etc.
Ah….groceries. Kleenex. Paper towels. Fresh milk? Eggs? fuhgeddaboutit. There is a shop that sells Kleenex, but there’s a line to get in.
Here it is on the map (Google maps and maps.me), if you are still inclined:
My apartment did have toilet paper. It wasn’t Charmin, but it wasn’t straight newspaper either.
In the shops, things like cookies and hazelnut spread, soap, and condensed milk are in display cases. Just point to what you want and they’ll get it for you. In the shops with shelves for you to browse, you check your handbag at the front. They put it in a locker and give you a key. Like a coat check.
I was running out of eye makeup remover so I thought I’d grab some in Cuba…after checking a couple stores on Obispo, I gave up looking and just used some vegetable oil I found in the apartment. I don’t remember seeing one shop that sold cosmetics or skincare except one L’Occitane, near Kempinski hotel.
I did find milk for my coffee–it was in a can and cost 1.10 CUC:
so just be prepared! I did have eggs in one restaurant. I also saw cows en route to Varadero. Just didn’t see fresh milk or eggs in stores.
Another food note: the seafood is AMAZING. I haven’t had shrimp like that since I lived in Dubai…I’m talking Bu Qtair level good…! (if you have been to Dubai and don’t know Bu Qtair, you seriously missed out…).
5. Wifi cards and hotels
My fellow millennials and Gen Z-ers will appreciate that there is Wifi in Cuba. However, note that the wifi in public parks is kind of meh…spotty. You may get kicked off a few times in a 5-minute period. The wifi in hotels and (some) restaurants is marginally better.
Just know that even though the ETECSA card you buy off the street to use in the parks will not work in the hotels (even though their ETECSA cards look identical).
For AC & Wifi: try Parque Central hotel, you pay 4 CUC for one wifi card (one hour) and one drink (water, soda, beer, coffee).
Also, Don Ricardo restaurant (“Mango Havana” in Maps.Me –their old name) has cheap food, AC, and good wifi. They are the techiest restaurant I’ve seen in Havana –each booth has an ipad-style screen and Alexa speaks Spanish. You ask her to open Firefox and then the menu pops up for you to order stuff. On Valentine’s Day I said “Alexa, te amo” and she didn’t respond. 🙁 Regardless, the food was decent and atmosphere was good. FYI this is not a paid ad or anything. Here it is:
6. No Snapchat
Sorry, no Snapchat in Cuba. I had no idea that it wouldn’t work there…not a huge deal, just something to know. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter all worked fine.
7. Yes, you can take home cigars
I believe the rule is that one can take 100 cigars back to the US duty-free. We are allowed to gift them but not sell them. I didn’t have any issues bringing cigars back from Cuba. New video coming soon re: Cuban cigars 🙂
8. Bargain like hell
Pretty self-explanatory. I knew before I traveled that I’d have to bargain.
Taxi rides, souvenirs, etc…you get the idea. There’s no Uber in Cuba, but everyone with a car is pretty much an Uber driver. I flagged down a “taxi”? for a ride from Vedado to Habana Vieja. He said 10, I said 5, he said OK. 5 CUC it is.
9. Women traveling solo - be prepared!
I was caught a little off-guard when I walked out of my apartment my first day in Cuba.
After having slept a comfortable 12 hours, taken my time getting ready, and studying the map for where I could buy a wifi card, I stepped out into the Havana sunlight at approx. noon on a Monday.
“OOOoohhh que LINDAAAA”….then the kissing noises, the “hi baby, where you go?” “you are so beautiful lady” “you need taxi baby?”
It doesn’t matter how educated or classy you are, or how conservatively you dress…if you’re a woman walking alone, be prepared. I didn’t feel in danger at any time — no one physically harassed me…but it was a little unexpected. Even when I lived in Dubai I didn’t get a lot of that. Stares? sure.
But people walking after me, calling me baby, linda, and making kissing noises? nah…
I put in airpods to dissuade people and I’d like to think it worked. Also didn’t make eye contact…I tried to be polite and smile, but yeah…women, just be prepared.
So that’s it! If you have any questions about my experience, leave them in the comments below.
If you’ve been to Cuba recently and have anything to add, please tell us about it in the comments! You never know how many can benefit.
<3 Happy Travels!