• Top Five Havana, Cuba Travel Tips

    July 14, 2017

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    Though the rules governing travel to Cuba by Americans are expected to tighten back up this fall, that shouldn’t stop you from traveling there. I just got back from Havana, and the place is well-worth what little extra effort it takes to get there. Here are a few things I learned that will help your trip…



    1) You can’t use U.S. credit or ATM cards. You have to bring cash.

    You really do. I know that one blog said you could use your U.S. debit card, and your friend’s cousin’s old boyfriend claims he hit up ATMs across the island, but because of the American government’s six decade long economic embargo on Cuba, U.S. folks cannot do any business electronically. Your credit cards and ATM cards will not work. Nope. No way. Most everyone else, no worries, ATMs are available, at least in bigger cities. But as an American you have to arrive in Cuba with the money you will spend, in your pocket, in cash. You simply cannot access your money at home (maybe via Western Union if mommy will wire you) from Cuba. Scour the web for prices for your style of travel, add some extra for extras, and roll up to Cuba with a (literal) bankroll.



    2) Changing money (CUC versus CUP)

    With the exception of at the few duty free shops available at the airport as you exit Cuba, all tanned and happy, everything you buy will be bought in one of the two local currencies. So you’ll have to change your foreign money. U.S. dollars (alone) are penalized for the exchange (it’s all politics, friends) at 10%, so it is better to get Euros, Canadian dollars or even Yen outside Cuba, and then exchange those.

    It is relatively quick and easy to change money at the airport upon arrival. You already have your passport with you, and the workers there are used to the whole messy process even though you may not be. Change what you think you’ll need for the whole trip at once. Otherwise, once in town, changing money means either a lower rate at the big hotels that may help you, or a typically long wait at a local bank where clerks seem to draw mysterious strength from working s-l-o-w-ly and enjoying watching you burn away your vacation hours in their lobby.

    There are two currencies circulating, convertible pesos (known as CUC) and “local” money (known as CUP.) Do some Googling on the difference. The short answer is CUC is used nearly anywhere you’ll be as a tourist, is desired by local people as a tip or payment, and is what you will receive anyway when you exchange foreign currency. The coolest part about the local money, the CUP, is the three peso note has Che’s picture on it, a great souvenir. You can change any leftover CUC — but not CUP — back into foreign currency when you depart Cuba.


    3) Taxis and negotiations

    A lot of things in Cuba are negotiable, none more than taxis. For practical, casual, tourist purposes, there is no such thing as public transportation. You’ll travel around by taxi. They have no meters. Taxi drivers have been doing this longer than you have.

    So research a bit and get a general idea of what prices are from the airport into old Havana, or from Vedado (a popular AirBnB location) into town. For the latter, we paid at times US$5 and US$20 for the same trip. Nicer cars, time of day, negotiating skills, official taxi or not, and maybe just luck all affected price. If you are a group, make sure the price you settle on (and settle before you get in the cab!) is for the whole group. Some unscrupulous drivers will offer a group of say four a low price, only to demand x4 that price upon arrival. Negotiations are soft-style, a smile, a little sigh, a lower number, another smile, that kind of thing. You’re not Liam Neeson trying to get his daughter back, you’re on vacation.



    4) Spanish words, every one helps

    Speaking of negotiations, every word you know in Spanish will improve your trip to Cuba. English is not widely spoken, and in most cases you will have a better/easier/smoother/more culturally mindful time if you can tell drivers your destination in Spanish, and settle a bill in Spanish. So go, right now I’ll wait, and write down the Spanish words for 5, 10, 15, 20, 25… and so on. Know the street address of where you’re staying in Spanish, and thrown in an hour of review online somewhere for a few handy phrases. It’ll all pay off. Tourists who already can communicate well in Spanish are in for a real treat because…


    5) Hit the Beach (Playa de Este)

    …because the Cuban people I met were uniformly friendly, warm, and interested in chatting. We were held back only when language walls were reached. Not everyone was willing to talk politics, but if you want to, so do some others. Local baseball fans seem well-informed about what was happening in the U.S., and young people have reasonable access to the web and are aware of music and fashion trends, at least in Miami and the Bronx.

    One can’t miss way to mingle is to hit the beach. About 30 minutes’ taxi ride outside of Havana is the Playa de Este area, a string of great beaches. Pick one (we liked Santa Maria), go on a Sunday, and it will be mostly Cubans of all types. Go on a dull Monday afternoon, and there still will be plenty of local people. Everyone is in a good mood, beer and rum may be involved, and it was easy to strike up a conversation. The beach trip also gives a short-term visitor a (albeit) brief glimpse outside the city itself.

    You can also easily find people to talk with at Havana’s outdoor WiFi spots, as well as the usual places like bars, cafes, restaurants and the like.



    Bonus

    Otherwise, I encountered no crime, and never felt threatened or afraid. Drink bottled water. Wear good walking shoes, and sunscreen like it’s the tropics because it is. Bring pocket tissues as some public toilets don’t have toilet paper. Enjoy the fact that there are no fast food places cluttering up the streets.

    And say hello for me to the Cuban people. I already miss being in their company.




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    Copyright © 2017. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

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  • Recent Comments

    • Rich Bauer said...

      1

      You forgot to include info about the political asylum process.

      07/14/17 6:46 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      2

      I sent a letter to DHS asking for approval to travel to Cuba, given my tiptop secret clearance. I got this response from the Trump White House (apparently it is standard boilerplate)

      From the White House inhouse lawyer: I’m on you now. You are fucking with me now Let’s see who you are. Watch your back. Call me. Don’t be afraid, you piece of shit. Stand up. If you don’t call, you’re just afraid. We already know where you live, I’m on you. You might as well call me. You will see me. I promise. Bro.”

      So, I guess I can go, right?

      07/14/17 8:02 AM | Comment Link

    • Mitch said...

      3

      Rich.

      Try the other pills….. Or more of the blue ones. The green ones clearly didn’t help this morning.

      M

      07/14/17 8:27 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      4

      Mitch, so you DO work for the Trump White House!

      07/14/17 9:58 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      5

      Peter, how many cigars did you get me?

      07/14/17 12:38 PM | Comment Link

    • wemeantwell said...

      6

      Whole box. But you have to pick them up in person in New York. I’ll leave them with the doorman, just ask if I’m not around.

      07/14/17 6:32 PM | Comment Link

    • Mitch said...

      7

      Rich.

      Nope…. Been on the tour though…. That was cool. Although…. The nice men in suits that are EVERYWHERE have zero sense of humor….. Go figure…….I mean…. It was just cheap silverware anyway…… Who would figure they would actually miss a few dozen pieces….. I mean…. First there was the thing about no Chili Dogs allowed…then no Bourbon…… . Then the no Bazookas thing….. Then the issue about (they say)…. ( I STILL say I own the stuff anyway, I mean like ‘DUDES !!!!! I pay TAXES!!!!!!) …”Stealing” silverware……

      Like that really warrants the lifetime Ban thing….. People just take shit way to serious…

      So….. Actually….. Hysteria and mis-information just irrates me.

      It is pretty clear now….. Trump scares the shit out of these people.

      Which I would think is a good thing.

      Rich,
      You BITCH louder than anyone I have ever not actually met about how stupid the same old,same old is doing nothing but destroying everything…..

      Yet……. We finally get someone in that damn office that tears the mold to shreds……

      And your ass whipping him too…..

      Think of it this way…… Brad Pitt is supposed to be running in 2020.

      M

      PS….

      I know a guy who knows a cat that can get cigars for you cheap…box quanties

      M

      07/14/17 2:05 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      8

      Trump dont scare nobody. He does what he is told. Yes, Mr. Koch. No sir, Mr Putin.

      I met Trumpie standing outside the State Dept as we waited about an hour for Gorby to arrive. Must say the guy was just a regular guy- ignored his wife the whole time. He is singleminded though, only thing he talked about was doing big things in Russia even back then. Kept saying he had to get inside, that he had to take a pee. I felt sorry for the guy.

      07/14/17 3:07 PM | Comment Link

    • Mitch said...

      9

      Rich.

      If he doesn’t scare anyone…..

      How do you account for the rabid, hysterical, off the chain, out of control hate …. With a side order of paid off media doing everything to attempt to destroy him…

      Oh…. And as a bonus…. Destroy an entire nation at the same time….

      Experience says…. Anyone that has that much effort being put in destroying him…

      Scares the crap out of a lot of people

      M

      07/14/17 3:42 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      10

      Why?

      Ratings!!!!!!!!

      MSNBC and CNN wouldnt rate higher than QVC without Trump.

      07/14/17 7:35 PM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...

      11

      Bauer- agree. The MSM has nothing going for it today. They need an impeachment thingee to justify opening their doors. They don’t “report” anymore- their business is to incite with the plan to print the results. Pathetic.

      07/15/17 7:06 AM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...

      12

      Speaking of ratings, imagine how many people would watch Donnie Junior getting waterboarded to get him to spill the beans on the Russia White House.

      Donald Trump has said he believes waterboarding works, stating “we have to fight fire with fire”.

      Well, where there is smoke, there is fire and water is the perfect solution.

      07/15/17 10:30 PM | Comment Link

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