Havana, Ooh Na-Na! 🇨🇺
Updated: Nov 12, 2019
When travel restrictions to Cuba were lifted, Cuba was instantly on the top of our must-visit list! It took some time to get there, but it was most definitely worth the wait. Here are some do's and don'ts for your next trip to Havana!
As flight attendants, we tend to plan things pretty last minute. With that being said, whether you're a flight attendant or not, be sure to plan your trip out a bit before you go! You won't be able to use your cell phone, your credit cards won't work, and internet access is VERY limited, so you have to go in with a plan. Plus, due to travel restrictions, you'll also need a very specific reason for travel to Cuba according to the guidelines outlined by the US Embassy. We chose to go in "support for the Cuban people." What this entailed for us was a guided tour, an experience within the LGBTQ community in Havana, and an inexpensive stay in an AirBnB. All of these were ways that we chose to support the people of Cuba.
What To Do
Old Havana: This part of the city is full of incredible architecture, old cars, great food, and wonderful people. While this is the more touristy section of the city, you will definitely enjoy your time here. This is where we spent the majority of our time since our AirBnB was located here and we loved every minute of it. The people of Cuba are incredibly friendly and kind. English is spoken by some, but not all, so knowing a few keywords in Spanish will be useful.
Guided Tour in an Old Car: It's very cliche and touristy but absolutely worth it. Wander over to Parque Central and you'll find many, many cars and taxis, old and new, ready to take you around Havana and beyond. These trips seemed to range anywhere between 50CUC-100CUC depending on how long of a tour you were taking and what you wanted to see. We stopped at El Morro, Plaza Vieja, John Lennon Park, Malecón, the Capitol, and a few other places. We opted for a convertible which was tons of fun, but as people who are pasty and burn easily, hats and sunscreen are strongly recommended! ;)
Queer Havana: This was our first time using AirBnB for excursions and it was worth every single penny. We wanted to see a different side of Cuba and this was the way to go. We met with a woman named Susana for a late-night tour called Into Queer Havana. The city overall is very safe at night. We never felt uncomfortable there at all. She took us to an LGBT nightclub, we watched a drag show, had drinks, met some of the locals, and then went backstage to meet the drag queens after the show. The performers shared their stories with us. It was powerful, inspiring, and some amazing insight into the LGBT community of Cuba.
Daiquiris with Hemingway: Stop over at El Floridita for a famous and slightly overpriced daiquiri! Most food and beverages are rather inexpensive in Cuba, but this one was worth it for the photo opportunities!
Where to Stay
If traveling to support the Cuban people, one of the best ways to do this is to stay at a Casa Particular. This is a private homestay and you can look up many of these simply by Googling them. We didn't learn about this until we arrived in Cuba, so we opted for a stay with AirBnB which can also be considered support for the Cuban people. We paid a whopping 40CUC a night for a safe, clean, comfortable, and well air-conditioned one-bedroom condo in the heart of Old Habana, right by Plaza Vieja. It was simple but perfect for what we needed. There are tons of fantastic options both with AirBnB and many wonderful casa particulares. We advise against staying in hotels since many of them are owned and operated by the government. The only issues we've learned of in Cuba have stemmed from staying at one of these hotels. When in doubt, it's best to go with a local and stay under the radar to avoid any issues.
Money & Visas
As we mentioned before, you can't use your credit or debit cards, so you won't be able to take out any money once you get there. What this means is, you'll need to take cash with you, including some extra in case of any emergencies! You will have to wait until you arrive in Cuba to get Cuban currency. Currently, the exchange rate is 1USD to 1CUC but US Dollars are taxed in Cuba. Some websites recommend converting USD into Euros for a better exchange rate, but the Euro to CUC exchange rate isn't the same, so we weren't sure it was worth it in the end to convert to Euros. One thing we can say for sure is, wait until you get into the city to exchange your CUC's if you are able to since they will give you a better exchange rate in Havana than at the airport.
Obtaining a visa for Cuba was far simpler than most countries. While it did cost $100, you simply show up at the gate for your flight, explain to them your reason for travel, and pay them the $100. Truth be told, they seemed more interested in getting your money than what you want to do when you arrive in Cuba. Just be sure to never say you are traveling for tourism. Tourist travel in Cuba is no longer allowed for Americans, so you must have a valid reason for travel! Double check with your specific airline regarding visas. We flew American Airlines, and they outlined everything on their website.
While reading many blogs and websites initially intimidated us about our trip, Cuba instantly became one of our favorites. The people are kind, friendly, and happy to have Americans there. There is such a stigma around traveling there, and the US will lead you to believe that this isn't the place to go, but if you plan your trip right, you will have a wonderful time.
Have you been to Cuba? What was your favorite part? Are you going but have a question for us? Let us know if you have any questions or experiences to share in the comment section!
PS: This shouldn't be surprising, but Cuban Sandwiches are a very American thing. If it's on the menu, you're likely at a touristy spot. They are not recommended. Opt for arroz con pollo and a Cuba Libre instead! Yum.
PPS: "Havana" by Camila Cabello has been stuck in my head ever since the trip. It's on the radio constantly in Havana and I'm not even a little bit mad about it. ;)
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