Cuba - Havana
Hello wonderful people, as always I am so thankful for you stopping by – I hope this post is useful for you in someway, whether you’re traveling to Havana alone, with friends, or just interested in what this wonderful country has to offer. Enjoy! x
Havana is electric, alive and beyond colorful. It felt like I was permanently walking onto a 1950s film set. I’m thrilled to have taken the plunge in visiting this unique place alone.
Havana is incredibly photogenic, so I would advise you travel with a proper camera (if you can), the iPhone is great for certain things, but the streets can be quite dark and I found my iPhone didn’t allow enough light into the photo. I’ve recently upgraded to an Olympus Pen F (mirrorless camera) – using a 14-150mm lens. My DSLR does certain things perfectly, but it’s super heavy and I didn’t want to lug it around Cuba. The Olympus Pen F was IDEAL – not sure you can get a better camera for street photography.
Before you travel to Cuba, download MAP.me at the app store. These maps download a country using WiFi, and then once the map of that country has downloaded, you can use that map offline – genius! There is very little WiFi in Cuba, so this helps you NOT get lost in Cuba.
Visas and Arrival to Cuba:
I bought my visa in Miami airport for $100 – however there is definitely a cheaper way of doing this online, but as my trip was a last minute decision; I didn’t have have a choice.
When buying the visa, they ask your traveling purposes, I said ‘educational’ as I felt I was going for ‘photography and educational reasons – I’m not sure being a ‘tourist’ is an option.
Taxi and Currency exchange:
The currency in Cuba is CUP/CUC (they’re the same thing). You’re not able to get this currency anywhere other than Cuba. In Miami I changed my US dollar to Euro, as it’s impossible to change US dollar in Cuba, they don’t except it.
As I walked through arrivals in Cuba, a charming taxi driver swept me up and explained that the queue for changing currency to CUC was long and as I was carrying Euro on me, he insisted I pay him with that (it’s the same a CUC). I then changed my Euro in Central Havana later – where there was another queue.
A taxi from the airport to Central Havana averages from 25 – 30 CUC, be sure to not pay over this amount.
Where to stay:
My taxi dropped me outside the Casa I’d booked on Air BNB. I rang the bell for 15 minutes; when a man eventually popped his head over the balcony and shouted, “We full.” So in response I shouted back “I’ve booked to stay here, and paid?!” He then leaned over and shooed me across the road to a Casa opposite and said “you stay here now, they my good friends – welcome to Cubaaa!” I outwardly responded with a laugh and rang the bell to the other Casa, hoping they would be more helpful. Unfortunately, although the owners of this Casa were incredibly warm and friendly, they spoke very little English. So after about 10 minutes of guessing what the other person was trying to say, I got shown a bedroom with an en suite bathroom.
Casa – means a family home; and the Casa I stayed in was called Casa Samal y Alberto, which was on San Miguel road in Central Havana.
Although there was a language barrier between myself and this family, they were welcoming and their home felt very safe to leave my electronics at, i.e. laptop etc behind. I had a key to lock my room when I wasn’t there. However, I chose to carry my passport with me and obviously my camera. My Casa was 25 CUC a night, but you can also find cheaper Casa’s for 10-20 CUC a night. I felt content with what I paid, as it was clean, safe and the breakfast they offered for 3 CUC felt adequate. When looking for somewhere to stay in Cuba, you will see there are a vast amount of hostels and casa’s dotted around Havana. For me it’s about location – I wanted to stay somewhere in walking distance to Havana Old Town and this Casa was situated in a great position.
Meeting people as a solo traveler:
I very nearly didn’t come to Cuba as I felt apprehensive about coming alone, however Cuba is / feels safe wandering around. Wear appropriate clothing, nothing that would draw attention to yourself, and I advise you to remove any gold or expensive jewellery you have.
(They’re many solo travelers in Cuba, so be open to reaching out to them!)
On my first day, I met a French female traveler and a Cuban male in the bank and they openly invited me to join them for rest of the day, which was fun. The day after, I sat down in Cafe Bohemia in Plaza Vieja, and next to me was a solo-female traveler called Laila, who had arrived the same day as me. I asked if she’d like to join me for lunch. We instantly clicked as friends, so decided to spend the next few days together as travel buddies. This is one reason I like to travel alone, I find you’re forced out of your comfort zone. Not only is being alone in your own company good for oneself, it gives you the opportunity to meet different people, who you wouldn’t ordinarily meet in your everyday life. The people I have met traveling around the world over the years, have a very special place in my heart.
I found out later when I met Laila, that you are able to share taxis. The yellow branded taxis are more expensive / you can’t share, and the local retro car taxis are not only cheaper but you’re able to hop in with 3 or 4 other people, which means you’re sharing the cost. Laila and I took a taxi to Santa Maria Beach shared with 3 other people and it cost 3 CUC per person. Apparently you shouldn’t spend more than this.
Cuba only received WiFi 6 months ago, and there are only a few places you can pick this up. They are normally parks or big hotels, fortunately on Maps.me it conveniently says ‘WiFi zone’, which is useful. The park very near to my Casa had WiFi. Although I loved the break from social media and whatsapp, I also had to get the odd hit every other day! They’re people in the park that sell WiFi cards – as they’re not legally allowed to sell these cards, you have to deal with them on the sly. I found if you stand around looking for someone, these people normally come to you and whisper ‘WiFi’ into your ear. You then secretly pay them 3 CUC and they give you a card. I would say (albeit I like to have fun), I’m such a goody-two-shoes, so making this ‘secret WiFi deal’ gave me a buzz!
Below is a screen-shot of the park (pinned) and my Casa Samuel y Alberto (pinned).
Where to eat:
Cafe Bohemia – on Plaza Vieja (inexpensive)
O’Reilly – Havana old town (inexpensive)
Cafe Paris – Havana old town (inexpensive)
Dominica – near plaza Veja (slightly more expensive)
La Guarida – Havana old town (expensive)
El Del Frente (slightly more expensive)
Restaurante Santy Pescador (slightly more expensive)
El Cocinero (expensive)
Museums in Havana
Museum of the Revolution
Castillo de la Real Fuerza
Colon Cemetery, Havana
Food: Bring snacks with you to Cuba with you if you can – you might have to declare, but worth it! It’s virtually impossible to find a supermarket and when you do, they’re practically empty. I am someone who eats little and often, and actually struggled on this front, as I felt hungry quite a lot of the time. Avoid eating things like salad (as it’s washed in tap water), or any fruits that don’t have skin.
Water: I’m particularly OCD about brushing my teeth with bottled water, but this is up to you. Some people believe if you brush your teeth with the local water, you build up a stronger immune system. I disagree, and I swear the only reason I’m not sick is because I don’t go anywhere near tap water!
Ice: Normally ice in restaurants is okay, but ask before having it. If you go to the beach, I suggest you ask for no ice – as this is definitely tap water.
Probiotics: Before I came to Cuba, I started taking probiotics one week prior to traveling and then throughout my time in Cuba. I did the same whilst traveling around Asia, and I didn’t fall sick once. I couldn’t recommend this highly enough. DO it!
Download: Maps.me. As I mentioned at the start of this post – the first thing you need to do before traveling to Cuba, is downloading this app. This is the only way I got around Havana and back to my casa every night.
Salary: The average salary for someone in Cuba is $30 a month. So when a taxi or a bike guy tells you it’s 30 CUC for a cycle ride into old Havana, you know they’re taking the piss. They don’t earn their months wages in one cycle ride! So if you do take a cycle ride from your Casa / hostel into Havana old town, then it’s 0.50-1 CUC. I made an effort to walk everywhere – on average (as my health application told me), 12-15 miles a day!
Toilets: Carry tissues with you, they either charge you for tissues in the bathrooms, or there aren’t any. Carry Sanitizer hand gel with you, I found this is beyond useful. The bathrooms quite often don’t have soap in them.
Departure Cuba: Arrive 2h30/ 3 hours prior to your departure flight, I left myself 1h30 minutes which was a disaster, the queues were SO long and I had to eventually politely queue barge my way through immigration to my flight, repeating quietly “I’m so sorry, my flights about to leave.” You know you’re late when they start shouting your name ‘JESSSSSICA MEEEEYRICKAAA’ through the intercom, ha!
I hope this post is helpful in someway.
Once again, thank you for reading mi amigos!
The Wondering Dreamer x