When In Cuba...
So I am going to break this blog post down into categories as Cuba was very different to my usual travel experiences. It was so amazing to witness such a different culture. The beautiful coloured buildings, the vintage cars, the Cuban music and street dancing. So wonderful! Although, I was grateful for some pointers before our travels as the city is very much lacking in the little luxurious that we are very lucky to have, so a few tips are useful. Here goes...
Currency- Cuba has 2 currencies. One for themselves which is called Peso and one just for tourists called CUC. CUC is basically the same exchange rate as euro, (almost 1 for 1), so it's very easy to calculate how much you are spending. CUC is a closed currency so you can only buy it in Cuba once you land in the airport and in the city centre banks. The queues for the currency exchange can be very long in Havana airport so thankfully our Airbnb owner offered to convert our money for us in one lump sum to keep us ticking over. We did have to use the ATM once over there and it was perfectly safe so don't fret at all if you need to use it. I would recommend taking out as much cash as you think you will need as they don't deal with card transactions as much as we're used to.
Accommodation- Myself & John travelled to Havana, Cuba for 3 nights and stayed in a 'Casa' via Airbnb. The accommodation in Havana is not glamorous or luxurious in comparison to other city breaks you may have been on as they simply do not have the resources or money to develop their hotels. I was told this in advance so I was well prepared. Staying in Casa accommodation (someone's private home) is pretty much the done thing with tourists as the city centre hotels are owned by the government and can cost between 500-700 CUC per night. The hotel standards in Cuba are quite low (their 5 star would be the equivalent to a European 3-star hotel) so naturally we didn't want to pay 500 euro per night for a hotel and instead used AirBnb. This has only been introduced to Cuba very recently so I was delighted to have a trust worthy website when making our reservation. I will leave a link to our Casa (here). The room was perfectly comfortable and clean with good air con which is so important. The house owner was very accommodating and spoke fluent English which came in extremely handy for our lack of Spanish (shame on us). He also had a private taxi driver that guests of the house could avail of throughout their entire stay and he was amazing! His name was Hos√© and he was an absolute gentleman. Our Airbnb was fantastic value for a 3 night stay and was located roughly 15 minutes by taxi to Havana city centre, costing 10 CUC each way per day.
Vintage Cars- This of course is something that you MUST do when visiting Cuba. These stunning vintage cars are like rainbows throughout the city in every colour you can imagine. I was so giddy and excited when I saw them for the first time. The convertible cars are the nicest for the tour of the city as you can enjoy a nice breeze whilst taking in the views. We rented a pink Chevrolet for 1 hour and it cost us 30 CUC (they will try to charge 50 but 30 is more than enough). The taxi driver brings you around the city for 1 hour, stopping off as often as you like and they are perfectly happy for you to take as many photos as you please, even in the driver seat. As you can imagine, I took a zillion!
Cocktails- If you are a cocktail lover then you are in for a treat! Cuba is the home of many delicious cocktails including mojitos and daiquiri's. Each cocktail is made with such precision and character & they garnish them to perfection. SO pretty! You will find amazing cocktails in every single bar in Havana, especially in the more touristy restaurants which I will get on to next. El floridita was a popular daiquiri bar and most well-known by tourists as Ernest Hemingway was once a very local customer of the bar. It wasn't my favourite spot but this was one of the main Wi-Fi locations and it was by far the fastest connection I had in Havana.
Food- OK so I'm not going to lie, I didn't each much during our few days in Cuba. With that said, I still have some recommendations for you guys and these places were 100% the best places to eat and were always packed with tourists. I had heard from so many people that the food wasn't great and to be prepared for that, but unfortunately I did get a bad dose of food poising and I was sick for about 5 days. Thankfully John was fine and we did visit most of the western restaurants that had been recommended to me but still I had no luck. I snacked on basmati rice and breadsticks throughout our the few days there. If I had of known better I would have packed a box of cereal bars or granola bars, anything at all like this just to fill a gap as there are no traditional supermarkets in Havana so you'll need to have all of the essentials with you.
Here are the best restaurants to visit when in Havana:
1. Cafe O'Reily- Ideal for breakfast and lunch.
2. 304 O'Reilly- This tapas restaurant is Probably the best spot in my opinion for dinner and a gorgeous cocktail!
3. El Del Frente- A beautiful rooftop bar with delicious cocktails and a good place for lunch & dinner.
4. Hotel Nacional- A must see when in Havana! You can eat in the hotel buffet, outside in the bar and take in the fabulous grounds and history of the hotel.
5. D'Next- This was a super random find but we just stumbled upon this lovely little ice cream parlour/cafe in the city centre and popped in to escape the heat. The perfect spot for some ice cream and a coke!
6. La Vitola- A busy little tapas restaurant with lots of tables outside to soak up the Cuban atmosphere and people watch!
Wi-Fi- The whole Wi-Fi situation in Cuba is a bit bizarre but I was definitely able to manage. I wanted to share as much as possible with you guys and I was a little apprehensive about this before the trip but it basically works like a scratch card. You buy local internet cards for 1/2 CUC in the phone shops throughout the city and scratch out your username and password, enter the details and you're good to go. The cards last 1 hour and can only be used in Wi-Fi spots around the city. A lot of the big hotels around Parque Central are Wi-Fi zones but I found the El Floridita cocktail bar was the quickest connection for me. It won't be hard to spot a Wi-Fi zone as there will be hordes of people just hanging around on their phones, so it's clear to see. Ha-ha.
Cuba resorts- After our stint in Havana, we travelled onwards to Varadero which is a stunning beach spot popular with tourists. Varadero is roughly 2.5 hours outside of Havana and we paid 50 euro for a taxi to bring us right to our hotel door which was amazing value. There are so many other stunning places to visit such as Trinidad etc. but we decided on a beach resort after a few days in the scorching city. We stayed in the Iberostar hotel Laguna Azul in Varadero which you can find (here). The resort itself is gorgeous with beautiful grounds, pool bars, and a Caribbean beach right on its doorstep. The package was all inclusive and it was good value for the resort however again, like Havana, the food wasn't amazing but plentiful in the buffet. I stuck to fresh veg and fish most evenings which kept me ticking over.
That seems to be everything I can think of but if you have any questions at all, please do not hesitate to email me (firstname.lastname@example.org). If you are lucky enough to visit Cuba have an amazing time. Once in a life time experience!
P.s. Don't forget to pack some medication for your trip. Anything at all that your pharmacist would recommended for any food poisoning you may be unlucky to get. Better to be safe than sorry.
You can check out my Youtube below for a little insight into our Caribbean adventure. I will be chatting all about Grand Cayman in my next travel post so stay tuned!