Cuba Practicalities March 2011
A visa is required before entering Cuba. Cost $20 USD but ours was included in our package. We flew Copa Air and visas could be obtained at their desk at the airport in El Salvador and in Tucumán Airport, Panama at the gate before we boarded the aircraft.
Trip Advisor information indicated that you cannot enter Cuba without personal insurance. Although ours was provided as part of our package, it was not asked for.
Our passports were not stamped; only our visas. Our immigration cards we were given on the airline prior to arrival were not required, neither was our customs declaration!
USD is penalised 10%. Many currencies accepted including Mexican Pesos! We used GBP. They even accepted old notes! Also changed some smaller USD with no problems.
We buy Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) as locals are paid by the government in another form of Cuban currency; Cuban Peso CUP. ( 1 CUC=24 CUP)
CUC was almost parity with USD. All prices marked in $, which refers to CUC.
There are ATM’s in Havana city center.
We used the money changer at the hotel; Trip Advisor suggests Cadecas (Money Changers) give a better rate, but hotel was easier and only minimal difference.
We had 240v in our hotel with American type sockets.
We found it was 50% cheaper to purchase our airfare/accommodation via Jimenez Travel, Zacatecoluca, El Salvador (near Don Juan Supermarket). It was a quick decision to go so we booked and paid for our travel 4 days before our departure. That may have had a bearing on the price of the on-line airfare. Copa Air have some fantastic deals.
Our deal was $760 USD/person for 5 days in Havana, including airfare, all transfers, city tour and accommodation with breakfast at Occidental Miramar Hotel, a $10 CUC ride in a taxi to Centro, but hotels have shuttle busses. Room was very basic but clean; TV, good bathroom; nice bath but no plug!! So if you want to enjoy a bath...BYO plug! Wi-Fi (expensive) and an amazing breakfast! Being out of the centre does have its advantages as you can walk around without being hassled by those wanting money.
We met others who had booked everything on line and also got good deals.
We did not have time to research hotels and areas properly before we arrived. In the central area, the place to be is near Plaza de Armas or Plaza de Cathedral in the Centro Historico District. Many hotels in the centre with varying prices. Some amazing hotels like Santiago, La Florida, and Palacio O’Farrill; the latter of which was once a palace which has been beautifully restored. An alternative area is near Havana Beaches; Playa Del Este has stunning beaches where the locals hang out and no tourists; only a handful of travellers. Not difficult to find a good palapa restaurant along the beach! Hotels there are only 3 star but apparently good.
Tourism is an important economic commodity, so we are well looked after with regards to security, given we did not stray into unsavoury neighbourhoods. Anyone with criminal intentions is quickly locked up. The upside the government regime here…..no gangs and no drug problems.
Old cars are wonderful and the young boys pose as Taxi cabs….they are careful drivers as they cannot afford a speeding ticket nor do they want to prang their cars. Not sure if they are official taxi cabs….but a lot of fun! You can bargain the price down to $12 to Playa Del Este from Centro.
Cabs that we caught did not expect a tip. Prices they charge, we assume has propina added!! We noticed that many Spanish speaking tourists from the Americas did not tip at all.
Some people spend a few days in Havana then fly to Santiago (old capital) at the other end of Cuba, not far from Guantanamo.
A good idea not to be in Havana on the 1st May…huge May Day celebrations.
Cayo de Coco seems the beach to be….but about 6 hours from Havana by road. Has an international airport. Hotels out at beaches are expensive. A very popular beach is Varadero…not far from Havana and has international airport. Apparently its where the Canadians hang out!
Officials at airport are a little surly, (it’s just a job for them and they have to be serious) but the Cuban people are wonderful, with a quirky sense of humour; amazing racial mix but no racial tension. Cuban’s rely on tips to improve their lifestyle, but not everyone expects a tip.
Soap is in very limited supply so can be used for trade on the street. We were also asked for pens and washing powder. We took a large supply of small soaps and shampoos we had on board and made little zip lock package bags to give to cleaners at hotel and some others which seemed to be appreciated. Someone even left a thank you note under the door of our hotel room!!
Music is everywhere and as you would expect-loud and fantastic.
We thought Cuba was much cleaner than Mexico with regards to rubbish and restaurants in general.
Need to purchase drinking water. Cheaper at supermarkets than hotels.
Ron (Rum)…...lots of it! Prices vary from a little over $3/ bottle to $8 and up for Havana Club which is exported. We went on a day tour to Vinales to the West of Havana and found excellent rum that only the locals drink for around $3/bottle. Prices for ron and cigars are pretty much the same wherever you go.
There is actually a wide variety of food available, variable prices. Cuban meal consists of meat (pork, chicken or fish) with rice, beans and vegetables/salad. It’s the most fresh food we have seen offered with meals south of USA. Food is a little bland though due to a lack of ingredients. Cuba is not the place to visit if you are after gourmet food! Around our hotels there were a few Italian cafes where we good get good coffee and a meal for under $7 for both of us.
We visited Hemmingway Marina. Many yachts and power boats there. A little ways out of town but hotel there has pool/restaurant and we believe a shuttle bus to town. It’s close to the airport. We did see a large fruit/vege market near town but cannot remember where!!
Be prepared for HEAPS of tourists…astounding number from all over the world. Many from South America, Europe, Asia, Russia and Canada. However, there are enough places to escape to and the majority of these tourists are in organised groups so they do not stay in one place for long. Many tour groups go to Centro Historico in the morning, so by lunch time/mid-afternoon it’s quiet.
Tours (City Tour, Vinales) were good as you get a local guide who can explain much more than what you can see. Our tour groups were small as we were the ones that were not part of an organised tour. Both of ours had excellent English. Cubatur was excellent.
Hire cars were $100/day with only 100km inculded in price. Any distance over that was expensive.
Cuban coffee…and chocolate………yum!!
You need $25 CUC/person airport tax.
Save some dollars (either CUC or USD) at the airport for the chocolatier inside the departure lounge!
Cuba is an awesome place to visit. Have no expectations and you won’t be disappointed!