CUBA – I love you, but it’s complicated.
Since I’ve traveled to Cuba one thing people have ask me is “How do you find it?”
I am in love with Cuba, it’s a complicated country. But in such an exciting and wonderful way!
There is so much to write about this vibrant island. But it’s totally not like anywhere I’ve been before. So, I thought I’d keep this blog about some basic facts I found out while traveling there, from my experience.
Firstly, it was AMAZING.
Secondly, I think there are a few misconceptions of what Cuba is like. No, I didn’t see any Cocaine, (yeah funny question but it’s been asked!). Not that I wanted to as the fear of ending up in a Cuban prison is not on top of my bucket list. Yes, like any country there is drug use/trade, you’d be naive to think otherwise. But all I can say it wasn’t in my face. The other one was “is it dangerous?” No, it’s safe, well within reason and of course using common sense. But it’s safer than a lot of other countries I’ve been to. I think though as the tourist trade grows so will both things unfortunately like other top tourist spots. I really hope it doesn’t.
The cars are AMAZING, the cigars are good and the rum flows freely.
The people are friendly, mostly helpful and the best Salsa dancers I’ve ever seen!
It is a Socialist country (or Communist) country depending on what you read. So, you will see the obviously propaganda bill boards and lack of private advertising. Not so much of a bad thing except when you’re trying to find a certain shop or building.
So here are some of my top basic facts for visiting Cuba……….
#1; Take a LONELY PLANET GUIDE book! You cannot rely on the internet to look things up or to make bookings etc while there. Also handy for maps. https://www.lonelyplanet.com/cuba
#2; WATER. Buy it while you’re having lunch or dinner. At a bar or cafe and buy a big bottle. You can then use it to top up your smaller bottles. If you see it cheap get it, as there aren’t convenience stores just to pop in to buy water. If you get stuck, you might end up having to pay 3cuc for a small bottle from an up-market Hotel like I did one night.
#3; UNIVERSAL POWER PLUG. Luckily, I was carrying one any way as I was visiting several different countries. I noticed in one room I stayed in they had two different sort of power points. They use what they can get!
#4; ATM’s. Use it at the airport (upstairs) if you must first. Otherwise the big banks in Havana did have good ATM’s. Though until you get your bearings they can be hard to find, again no signs. Be aware your card might not work, so if possible take a backup and cash. I used an ANZ card and had no worries, but other people I was with used Westpac and it wouldn’t work. CASH. Don’t take US currency as they charge an extra 10% to exchange it, so Pounds, Euros or Canadian dollars. You can exchange this at “Cadecas” or change booths. Here’s a good link with some basics, http://www.visitcuba.com/travel-guide/travel-tips/
#5; EXPECT QUEUING. You can queue for anything, from your internet cards to getting your money exchanged. Try and be patient.
#6; ADVERTISING. Or I should say lack of. As I’ve already mentioned there isn’t a lot of private advertising. So, it can be hard to find things. Even the casa’s only have a small sign by their door. Try looking into door ways to find what you’re looking for. We found some cool places exploring like this.
#7; SAFETY. It’s reasonably safe. Now I say this with caution. Don’t think you can run around with lose money in your hand leaving your belongings everywhere. Then stagger home drunk with no sense of direction and be safe! But I found it to be one of the safer countries I’ve traveled to. Just use common sense.
#8; TAXI’S. The transport as far as the Taxi’s go are OK. Check prices FIRST if it is not metered then negotiate a price. A transfer to or from the airport in Havana is around 25cuc. We spent a half a day running around organizing bus transport etc with a private taxi and it cost 20cuc. He was a lovely driver and very helpful. NOTE; to book a bus you will need to go direct to the bus station.
#9; VISA’S. For non-Americans. It is fairly easy to enter, just check your country’s visa restrictions. As for me here in New Zealand I just applied straight to the Cuban Embassy for my visa. They were more than helpful, and it was done within 7 days, and a lot cheaper than going through an agency. It cost me $80.00nz or $30.00 if you hand deliver them to the Embassy. Here is a link with all the basic info (for New Zealand residents). http://www.cubadiplomatica.cu/nuevazelanda/EN/ConsularServices.aspx
#10; TIPPING & GIFTS. For us Kiwis it’s still hard to work out when to tip. Here I’d tip for good service, tour guides & drivers. You will always need small change to use the toilets! Take pens/pencils to give to children or leave your spare cosmetics or toiletries at your Homestays if you don’t need them anymore. Some of the simple things we take for granted are really appreciated! But don’t use gifts in exchange for tipping! As a rule of thumb 10% for restaurants, 25 cents for toilets.
#11; LEARN TO TALK LOCAL; A little Spanish will go a long way here. The more you know the better. But the basics like hello, goodbye, thank you & please are a good start. Of course.”Uno cerveza por favor”
For more interesting reading on Cuba from a different point of view check out these great articles; How to travel like a basic bitch-Cuba
IT’S COMPLICATED! But in a good way.