With Cuba being the latest hotspot destination for Americans it is a good idea to know what to expect. It’s never been easier to Travel to Cuba, however, there are few things you can expect once you land and start exploring:
Your credit card and ATM card will not work. Cash is king!!! Make sure to get some CUC once you land. The line will be long but you will need cash for everything. You may get by using some US$ for the cab or your transfer, then I suggest going to one of the big hotels to exchange money. There will be no line and it will be fast and easy. A 10% commission will be taken and the exchange rate is the same everywhere you go. When I was there in January it was .87 and I doubt that it will change.
Some people recommend buying Euro and changing them, however, in my opinion, it will be a waste of money because you will pay a commission here and most probably lose on the exchange both in the US and in Cuba. Most people will be carrying a couple of thousand dollars at most. Therefore we are not talking about large losses.
Everyone speaks Spanish (of course LOL)….. so! unless you are at large hotels or touristy spots, you will need to be very creative with you basic English and use a very creative sign language. This is particularly true if you are staying at a bed and breakfast (casa particular).
If you think you will be connected to the internet you are dreaming!!! The Internet is harder to get than you think. You need to buy a one-hour internet card for 2 CUC and hope to find a hotspot. Usually, you know you are in a hotspot when you see people gathered on a street, along the sidewalks and hanging out with their noses glued to their phones. In Havana, it will be easier (a couple of spots here and there), especially if you are in a large hotel (usually one spot at the hotel). However, once you are out of the city good luck to you. In the city of Trinidad, there was one hot spot in a park and the service was lousy at best.
Don’t bother getting a sim card because your phone should work once you turn it on and it will be working on the Cuban service. I did use it to text my family and call them few times to check in. My phone bill arrived this month, my overage for the whole week was around $60 However, I used it sparingly to text and connect here and there. I did not download or use social media.
Forget about plumbing as we know it. All around Cuba they use a septic system….. so!!! you really cannot flush anything in those toilets. Guest houses and hotels provide waste baskets next to the toilets. When you go to a public restroom, you better have some toilet paper in your bag because the restrooms do not have toilet paper. Most of the time, you will find an attendant who will give you two tiny pieces of toilet paper for a tip. The shower pressure is another story, especially if you are staying at a guest house. The hot water level will depend on how many people are using the shower and hot water throughout the house.
Those lovely old cars that you see are a carcass of their old grandeur. I would say around 10% of these cars are well kept in and out. The others are basically put together with scotch tape, pins and glue LOL!!! They look decent and colorful on the outside but the inside is barely there. They are fun to ride and great for pictures.
You will also meet amazing people wherever you go. Most Cubans want to take pictures with foreigners and Americans in particular. We were standing by our guest house in Havana and a guy was passing through and asked us to take his picture with us. I mean, he does not have a phone and will never get to keep a copy of this picture. We took the picture and showed him. He was very happy and proud then went on to finish his job. It was very sweet. They are very happy we are visiting their country.
If you think you are going to shop in Cuban, you will be disappointed. Beside souvenir shops, books about Fidel and Che, galleries with printed oil paintings (I am sure made in China), there is nothing else to buy. From one city to another it’s the same thing and all at the same price.
Food at the hotels was not so great in my experience. However, the meals we had at the guest houses and the paladars were superb. Fresh, organic and delicious homemade meals.
Would I go again to Cuba?? May be!!! I would love to go again and see as many hotels as I can. With the influx of Americans going to Cuba I want to make sure the accommodations are acceptable for my clientele. I am glad I was there and glad I saw it now. Would love to see the change in 5 to 10 years.