I went to Cuba for two weeks and went to four places on the island; Havana, Santiago de Cuba, Trinidad and Vinales. I also attempted to go to Sancti Spiritus however that is a story I will tell in the following series of posts. I will do four further posts on Cuba over the next four weeks one for each place that I went to.
Cost of trip
My return flight from London to Havana via Madrid cost £585 and it took 15 hours in total, there are direct flights from London to Havana that cost around £900 and take 10 hours.
I paid £114 for all my accommodation over the two weeks, however I will specify further in the following posts.
There are two currencies in Cuba one is Cuban Peso (CUP) for locals, the other is the Convertible Peso (CUC) for tourists. there are 24 CUP’s to 1 CUC. Tourists can use the CUP, but it is mostly used by Cubans to pay for their rations, their electricity and water, to buy food in the markets and from stallholders in the streets and to eat or drink in ‘peso’ bars and restaurants. Basically, as a tourist, you do not have to worry at all about the Cuban peso.
The Convertible Peso is a closed currency, which means it cannot be purchased outside of Cuba. You can change your money at the Cadeca (Money Exchange Bureau) at the Airport on landing in Cuba or at your hotel.
If you reside in the UK you should take Sterling; clean, untorn bills with no writing on them, in £10, £20 or £50 denominations. Please note that Scottish notes are not acceptable. Canadians should take Canadian dollars and if you are from a European destination that uses the Euro, then take Euros. The exchange rate varies on a daily basis, however it is approx 1.5 CUC’s to £1.
I went on this trip with my current housemate but Cuba is very safe for lone travellers, however it was nice having someone else there to share the experience with. Our trip started in Havana in which we stayed 2 nights before moving on to Santiago de Cuba.
We went to Cuba from the 6th to 18th October 2015 which is during the hurricane season however the weather in Havana on the first two days was blue sky and sunshine with the weather being 27 degrees both days.
Where I stayed
We had decided from the beginning of our trip to only stay in Casa particulars as we felt we would have a more authentic trip, also Casa Particulars are a fraction of the price of staying in hotels. Casa particulars are similar to bed and breakfasts in their operation, the only difference is that most times the Casa Particular also serves as the familiar home, so you get to mingle, chat and live with Cubans.
When booking a Casa particular it is advisable to book one recommended in the travel books or otherwise lookout for the sign below which is the state approval for an abode to operate as a legal Casa Particular.
Havana Vedado- Ada Colonial
Our first stay was in Ada Colonial which was an impressive Casa particular we managed to book online from the UK via Travel Republic. The exterior is not a reflection of the well-kept and nicely decorated interior. The owner was lovely and greeted me with a big hug and a kiss, a pleasant surprise for a stiff British girl like me.
The room was humongous and it had an en-suite with a large jacuzzi bath that four people could have comfortably fit in. The shower was the best of all the Casas we stayed in, there was hot water and the water pressure was good.
Ada colonial was the most expensive Casa we stayed in, at CUC105 for two nights for two people but it was worth it to start of the trip in a great place.
What I did
Havana Plaza Vieja
The square was quiet, peaceful and very beautiful, it is also a great place to visit as there are many bars and restaurants on the square, also it is a great place to just sit and people watch. The square is also home to a memorizing and somewhat sexual statue called Viaje fantastico which is of a naked woman wearing high heels riding a cockerel whilst carrying a fork.
Walked around Havana Vieja
Aimlessly wandering, getting lost and finding new things if you have read my previous blogs is one of the things I love best when travelling. We walked around Havana Vieja away from the touristic hustle and bustle and found ourselves on quiet streets with the locals. The buildings had the charm of French or Spanish colonial influence, the colours of the tropics and dilapidation all rolled into one. I have never seen crumbling and old buildings so beautiful anywhere else I have been.
Meet two Cuban salsa teachers
We meet two salsa teacher who took us to Sociedad Cultural Rosalia de Castro where they kindly gave us a list of things we should do and also not do. The Museo de la Revolucion was highly recommended but it turned out that the ladies were club promoters and they kept recommending that we go back that evening to Sociedad Cultural Rosalia de Castro as the Bueno Vista Social Club were performing to celebrate their 50 years anniversary. Not swayed by their sales pitch to buy tickets for the evening event we left to make our way to Museo de la Revolucion.
Museo de la Revolucion
Entry to the to the museum costs CUC8, cameras are allowed however all bags must be checked into the cloakroom. The Museo is a beautiful white stone building. It took some damage during the revolution with some 130 bullet holes riddling the front entrance at the peak of the revolution. The exhibits take you through the history of the revolution, giving you insight into some of the goings on during the troublesome time. You can also learn about the revolution heroes such as Che Guevera and Fidel Castro. Mosts of the exhibitions are written in Spanish but it was easy to get the gist.
The wall of cretins was a humorous piece caricaturing the people credited with enabling the revolution through their bankrupt and immoral policies the wall depicts Fulgencio Batista, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush Snr and George W. Bush, Jr.
Walked along Malecon (Havana Harbour)
We walked along Malecon during the late afternoon which was nice and relaxing, on the way we meet another traveller named Jessica who joined us on our walk to enjoy the beautiful views of the harbour.
Centro is a district of Havana that has many historical places to visit but is also the down town area of Havana. The area was not as clean as other areas we had been to and many of the buildings were dilapidated but they had a certain charm and beauty to them. Whilst walking around and taking pictures two local women separately warned us to put our cameras way as we would be mugged otherwise. It wasn’t until we left the area that we read in our travel book that Centro Havana is an area to be weary of due to tourist muggings. I didn’t feel unsafe walking around Centro Havana until the women approached us, I didn’t feel any air of hostility from those in the area.
Vedado is one of the wealthy districts of Havana and it is very evident when walking around the area, the houses are grand and impressive remnants of Spanish and French colonial rule.
Hotel Havana Libre
This hotel is not as impressive as you would imagine, it took us ages to find the hotel as we kept getting lost. However we felt it was worth the visit to see one of the places Fidel Castro had made his head quarters during the revolution. It is worth going to, to see an important piece of Cuban history but I suggest making it part of something else you are doing; like walking along Malecon.
Food and Drink
Breakfast was included in the price of our stay in the Casa, Cuban breakfast is very nice and large, due to the size of breakfast we didn’t need to eat lunch. The best bits about breakfast were the fruit salad and coffee, Cuban coffee is like silk very smooth and rich. The tropical fruit salad usually consisted of melon, guava, banana and papaya it was a good way to start the day.
The restaurant is not far from Museo de la Revolucion, the pizza was delicious, huge and only CUC4. The Mojito I had at the restaurant was also the second best I had in all Cuba and believe me I had load of Mojitos.
Bar Montserrat is a very cool bar near the Capitol building, with amazing cocktails, good food and live music, the bar is popular with Cubans and tourists alike.
Review of Havana
Havana set a very pleasant tone for the rest of the 12 days we would spend in Cuba, staying in Ada Colonial in Vedado which is akin to Manhattan in New York or Chelsea in London was very nice , meeting the Cuban salsa teacher and Jessica also left us on a high after the first two days.
The next stop was Santiago de Cuba in the south of the island.
Do you want to find out what we did in Santiago de Cuba and how it compared to Havana? Then follow my blog to find out more and you will be notified as I upload more posts.