Here it is! My highly requested Cuba blog & VLOG – Check it out before (or after) you read! My fur baby daddy & I recently traveled to Cuba for New Years and had the MOST AMAZING TIME! On our last two nights, we drafted up a ton of notes that I know will be useful to anyone who is looking to go or already has their flights booked to Havana. I did quite a bit of research prior to traveling, and I feel like I never got any of the information I’m about to tell you – & if you know me, you know I’m going to give you the real deal. Here’s everything you need to know about what it’s like to be in this enchanting city!
BOOKING YOUR FLIGHT:
If you don’t know already, I’m not a Trump supporter. Not that, that matters – but if you are, Cuba probably isn’t the place for you (p.s. – they hate him too, obvs.) If you’ve been planning a trip to Cuba, then you know that there are new “mandates” in effect that somebody’s president recently put into place (November, 2017). I’m going to try to stop being shady now and give you the tea
There are 12 criteria for traveling to Cuba – each traveler must meet one of these criteria and “tourism” cannot be one of them. Being that I am a TV Host and Blogger, I booked my flight using the Journalism criteria. Rightfully so – can be easily proven. Plus, I’m writing this blog and created a vlog about my trip.#Journalist. If you are in school or wanting to learn more about the country, then “Educational Purposes” would be right up your alley. If you’re interested in doing some humanitarian efforts – visiting a community center and volunteering, staying at an Airbnb, contributing to the advancement of the Cuban people, then perhaps you’ll choose “For the Good of the Cuban People”. If you have Cuban family members to visit or are of Cuban decent, you can choose that option. Once you book your flight, you sign an affidavit which is a legal document stating that you are traveling under proper pretenses like those stated above. I personally was not questioned regarding my travel at any point in time. This is not to say that you will not be. I suggest choosing the option that is closest to your reason for traveling. Breaking the law is a crime. Not seeing the world is a crime. Be smart. Read between the lines, and choose what best represents you. If you can’t think you anything, perhaps your trip can wait until you can.
MONEY & CURRENCY CONVERSION
Bring as much cash as you think you’ll need to convert. There’s no way of using credit cards once you arrive. Each night, bring as many pesos as you think you’ll need for a fun night out (pre-drinks, dinner, bar covers/drinks, etc.) Once you’re out of pesos, you’re done for the night. We learned that the hard way on our first night! If you’re exploring Old Havana & Vedado like we did for example, you’ll need a minimum of $40 for round trip cab fare. If you can get a Cuban/Spanish speaker to help negotiate a taxi for you – DO THAT. They’ll give you a better deal. I also recommend $10 per person for 2-3 drinks (depending – beer is typically $1-$2.50 and mixed drinks are usually $3 & up), At minimum $15-$20 for dinner (depending on where you go – some places have $5 plates, some have $20. It depends on what you want & where you go, but you want to have enough for food (main course & appetizers) and tip money (5-10% is normal here). Like I said – running out of pesos is the worst, so bring a little more than you’ll actually need! BUDGET YOURSELF WHEN YOU CAN. I recommend not exchanging money at the airport as the lines are super long and I’m pretty sure the exchange rate isn’t as good as it is in the city. Keep in mind that most currency exchange centers/banks (at least when we went – December 2017) only exchange at 86% for USD. Therefore, if you exchange $100 USD, you’ll only get back $86 CUCs (Cuban Convertible Pesos). If you can exchange currency with someone who has a better deal (& is reliable, i.e. your Airbnb host or something) do that. We were able to exchange at 90% for majority of our trip which was super helpful (Ex. Exchanged $100 USD and got $90 CUC back). There are TWO different forms of Cuban currency used here – CUC and Cuban Pesos. Only locals can use Cuban Pesos. Be sure that when you’re spending money around the country, you’re getting your change back in CUC and not Cuban Pesos as the value is not the same. The CUC is worth more than the Cuban Peso.
BRING. TOILET. PAPER. ROLLS. LADIES. ESPECIALLY. As you (should) know, you’re going to a country where majority of supplies are rationed. Toilet paper is one of them. Bring toilet paper & tissues in your bag when you go out. Bring it everywhere. You’ll thank me later. If you don’t bring your own, prepare to tip the bathroom attendant ladies a little. They do what they can, but the bathroom situations can be a little cray. i.e. New Years Eve at Fabrica. Traumatizing. Learned my lesson. Brush your teeth and drink bottled water only. The Cubans themselves recommend it. Food & beverages at almost if not all restaurants are cooked with boiled water to sanitize it & you’ll only be served bottled water at restaurants. If you’re not, leave. That’s you’re forewarning.
Havana is EXTREMELY safe. Forget what you heard from American media/Somebody’s Trump Administration. My boyfriend Gordon walked around Old Havana by himself at 3am with no issue (I know you’re asking why tf he was walking around alone at 3am in the first place. We got into a drunken argument about literally nothing. Too many mojitos. We’re not perfect, guys LOL). Obviously in any country you visit and at home, you don’t want to be an idiot. Definitely take the proper precautions to ensure your own safety, but understand that the consequences for crime here in Cuba are VERY high – therefore, ain’t nobody got time for that. The people are extremely kind & helpful.
THE CUBAN PEOPLE
Again – the sweetest people in the world. SO excited to meet visitors/tourists and engage & relate with you. It is 100% certain that a Cuban will come up to you on the street and strike up a conversation with you. This is not for any reason other than to relate, ask where you’re from, if you’re from a place they recognize they want to tell you their experience with that place (relatives living there, saw it in a movie, etc.), what music you like, etc. Don’t just diss them. If you want to be a part of their culture for the time that you’re visiting, face to face conversation is a part of that. Shocking. I know. Instagram and Kylie Jenner can wait (had to tell myself this a few times). Get to know a local when you can! HOWEVER – Understand that most people here have a little hustle on the side – whether that’s selling loose cigars, posing for a photo in traditional garb, or getting to know a tourist & leading them to a bar for a free mojito on your dime – i.e. Gordon getting scammed by Alfredo on our second day LOL. It was funny and cute, but can happen often if you’re unaware. So just be mindful – and if you want to treat your new Cuban friend to a drink and some appetizers, that’s dope! But bring a few extra pesos with you, with that in mind. Also – the people here need/love whatever you can share. If that’s a few T-shirts you were planning on donating anyway, sneakers you’ll probably never wear again (in good condition) or some summer dresses that you had planned for Goodwill. Leave a little extra space in your suitcase for some giveaways – I regret not having space for that as my bag was already overweight. It’s not uncommon for someone to ask you if you have any leftover clothes you can spare.
WEATHER/WHAT TO WEAR
When we visited Cuba (December 2017) it was chilly in the evenings and sometimes chilly in the daytime if it had rained. Bring a denim jacket and a few jeans/pants just in case! There are SO many gorgeous backgrounds to take photos in front of – so bring all the colorful/eclectic clothing you have! Bring closed toed shoe options as well – the cobblestone streets can be dirty and if it rains, say bye, bye to that pretty pedicure! As for heels, I wore them one night (New Years Eve) to this art gallery warehouse/club called Fabrica that was totally dope (minus the bathroom situ) – but absolutely NOT WORTH THE PAIN. Bring a chunky heels/wedge if anything – but most visitors here will be in flats.
I’m not going to say it’s 100% necessary that you know how to speak Spanish here, but you are in Spanish speaking territory. Don’t expect locals, your cab driver or your waiter to speak English to you either. For me, that’s a given when traveling to ANY country. Don’t be that asshole. You’re in their space, not the other way around. If you can travel with someone who can speak at least conversational Spanish, you’ll be set. I’m not totally fluent, but I know enough Spanish that G and I weren’t totally out of the loop because he only knows how to say “Hola”, “Sí” and “Adios”. I also taught him how to say, “La Cuenta Por Favor”, which means, “The Check Please” – Ladies, make sure you’re man knows that one hehehe
You can purchase the offline versions of some translating apps like “iTranslate” so that you can use it while in Cuba without WiFi. HIGHLY recommend it.
LIFESAVER. Download it right now if you’re planning on coming to Cuba anytime soon. Make sure it’s the Cuba specific map!!! It’s a map of everything around the country (restaurants, clubs, bars) where you can pin the locations you want to visit, have visited, important locations like “home base” – and the great thing is that you can use it while offline (no wifi needed).
You won’t have it lol. Period. Most cellular services are super expensive to use, especially while roaming. I have Verizon & they sent me a free text when I landed saying that calls would be $2.99/Minute and texts would be $.05 to send and receive. You can purchase a WiFi card for $3.50-$4.50 CUC at some hotels – In Havana Vieja we went to San Felipe y Santiago de Bejucal a few times (great WiFi – must purchase a tea or coffee in order to use in the café area, which is the best area for WiFi) and another hotel, Beltrán de Santa Cruz (same situation, best WiFi is further in the hotel where they want you to buy something to use the WiFi service). Keep in mind the purpose of being in Cuba is to unplug and live life. I recommend checking in at a WiFi area maybe once a day – we went every other day – and make sure the world isn’t ending, maybe post a fire IG picture, then get back out there and enjoy the country the old fashioned way! Our Airbnb host gave us a Cuban cellphone to use on our trip which was a lifesaver. Look through the reviews/ask your host if you’re using Airbnb to find out if you’ll have a phone to use once you arrive. We had other friends staying in Cuba & needed to get in touch with our host for little things – so the phone was definitely the best gift we could’ve gotten upon arrival.
WHERE WE STAYED
Our Airbnb was in Habana Vieja (Old Havana). This is a super central location for new visitors to Cuba. Our host, Carlos was absolutely amazing & hooked us tf up. One day, we got stranded at the beach because the buses back to Old Havana had left or were too full, the taxis there wanted $50 CUC to get us back home and it was just a mess. Carlos got us a taxi in 10 minutes for just $20 CUC. He set up our trip to Viñales & was just all around fantastic. Find his listing here. We ended up getting stranded in Cuba for an extra night because of the Bomb Cyclone & had to book a room last minute at the Hotel Sevilla in Old Havana. It was wonderful! They upgraded us to a beautiful room and we had a lovely evening – despite the chaos of our original travel plans being ruined. Definitely made it worth being stranded.
WHERE WE WENT
-Naranja -El Del Frente in Havana Vieja
-361 Lamparilla in Habana Vieja
-Hotel Manzana (not open to non-hotel guests but… we finessed)
+ SO many more – ask around for recommendations! Don’t just try the touristy spots.
-Johnson & Johnson Museum
-Beer Garden & Shops
-San Francisco Plaza
-Day trip to Viñales – About 3hrs from Old Havana – Tobacco Farms & AMAZING food!
-Mango in Vedado
-El Del Frente in Havana Vieja
-361 Lamparilla in Habana Vieja
+ More local spots!
I hope this (long but trust me, informative af) blog & vlog helps you plan your trip to this beautiful place with so much history. We literally had the time of our lives and it felt sogood to unplug and adopt a new way of life. Leave me an IG comment with any additional questions you may have & let me know if this blog made you feel like you’re ready to book your flight TONIGHT!
Love you guys!