Tips for preparing a vacation to Cuba

Hey there. It’s been a while! I personally take it as a good thing, have been distracted with fun things and not being behind my computer all the time. However, I still really wanted to write this post, and now that I’m in the train, it feels like the right time! End of May, I was able to make my first longer travel outside Europe! So far, I’ve been to New York, last year to The Dutch Caribbean island Bonaire and now… Cuba!

Cuba is gaining a lot of popularity as a holiday destination, especially because it’s still very authentic as a communistic country, separated and with little influence from the rest of the world. 2 friends of mine really had this destination high on their bucket list, and I took the chance to join them:) I’m so happy I did! And will gladly share my experience with you. IMG_5322

Preparations
We decided to go 2,5 week to Cuba and only visit the west side of the island, however I can say it’s perfectly doable in 2 weeks as well. The idea was to make a round trip and we decided to plan this ahead of going there. We booked our flights in December and then took our time for selecting accommodations, but we kept the transport open. For accommodations, it’s quite a hassle to get that done, hotels aren’t recommended, as most of those are old but very expensive. We heard the best stories about staying at people’s houses, like bed&breakfasts, which they call “Casa Particulares”. I’ll outline our stays below, including websites where we booked them and rate them from 1-5 scores to show you how much I would recommended them to go (not sponsored) :) Concerning prices: rooms were all about 25 CUC (1 CUC = 1 U.S. dollar), most rooms around these prices are available for 3-4 persons, so that makes it quite cheap.

 

Accommodations

  1. Havana – Casa Las Rosas  
    Address: Oquendo 664 apto 15 e/ Carlos III y Estrella.  Centro Habana – Havana, Cuba
    Stay: 3 nights – Book here
    Experience: 2/5 – Friendly host but with limited English proficiency, very basic but clean rooms, good breakfast.
  2. Viñales – Casa colonial Dany y Carlos
    Address: Salvador Cisneros 50 (viñales main street)
    Stay: 2 nights – Book here
    Experience: 5/5 – Wonderful casa with a garden full of flowers, very welcoming people but with no English proficiency, eager to help with excursions in the area, great breakfast & dinner – on the expensive side though.
  3. Las Terrazas (area) – Casa Vila Dona Estrella
    Address: Finca La Pastora, Road Las Terrazas-Cayajabo, Artemisa.
    Stay: 1 night – Book here
    Experience: 4/5 – Booked on recommendation of our previous casa, very nice and clean room and friendly host, bit outside of Las Terrazas but a good spot for exploring the area
  4. Playa Giron – Hostal Yadira & Yurien
    Address: Carretera Cayo Ramona,Playa Giron,Matanzas
    Stay: 2 nights – Book here
    Experience: 4/5 – Neat rooms with friendly and helpful hosts – good English Proficiency and the best breakfast we’ve had all trip!
  5. Cienfuegos – Hostal La Familia
    Address: 47 Street No. 5215|Between 52 and 54 streets,Cienfuegos55100,Cuba 
    Stay: 1 night – Book here
    Experience: 2/5 – Nice roof terrace and friendly host – Basic English, simple room and not recommended for breakfast.
  6. Trinidad – Hostal de Isabel and Eus
    Stay: 3 nights – Book here
    Experience: 5/5 – Highly recommended, good beds & shower, wonderful people and right in the city centre!
  7. Santa Clara – La Casa de Pino
    Stay: 1 night – Book here
    Experience: 5/5 – Highly recommended (also by TripAdvisor), beautiful casa with very good food as well. However Santa Clara is not worth staying longer than 1 night so we moved on quickly.
  8. Guanabo – Casa 
    Stay: 3 Nights – Book here
    Experience: 3/5 – Alright room with simple kitchen included, hosts are not very involved with guests (no food offered), but very nice swimming pool and close to the town. For beach, I would recommend to take a taxi to Playa Santa Maria, the beach in Guanabo is very dirty and limited sandy beaches.

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Tips & Need-to-knows

  • Bring enough cash – there are more and more ATMs in Cuba usable for European credit cards, however American cards almost never work – so bring cash from home to exchange to the local currency. We spend around 40-50 CUC each day for accommodation, traveling around, and everything we did.
  • In Cuba, internet is nearly nowhere available. Only at big city squares you find people selling Wi-fi cards, where for about 3 CUC you can have 1 hour of internet. So prepare yourself for some time off the radar! ;)
  • For travelling around, there are 2 types of public transport you can use: a Viazul bus – connecting big cities, or a “Taxi Collectivo” – a shared taxi with other tourists bringing you from casa to casa. Mostly, the taxi’s are only a little bit more expensive, so a good recommendation when travelling to less touristy areas. For the Viazul bus, you have to make sure you book your seat at the busstation at least 1 day in advance, especially in the high season seats fill up very quickly.
  • Make sure you know some basic Spanish – As mentioned before, at the casas and other places, English proficiency is very low. If you really don’t know a word of Spanish, you might have some struggles on your trip. If your Spanish is at a good level, you are lucky, because often that would mean you don’t get charged the high tourist prices.
  • This brings me to the next topic: Cubans alway try to make you pay more than you should. There are two currencies (CUP – for the locals and CUC – for the tourists, 1 CUC equals approximately 25 CUP), this means that you get charged higher than locals, which to me makes sense in a way. But watch out that you don’t get completely set off, always try to bargain prices.

Overall, I can really recommend Cuba as a holiday destination. In the beginning people warned me that it might not be safe, or that it’s hard to get around. But if you take these tips in mind, it’s all perfectly doable. The people are very welcoming and eager to help you (sometimes to the point of being pushy) but I’ve never felt unsafe at any point during the trip. In my next blog, I will tell more about the things we’ve visited in each of these places, my experiences and will include more pictures of the beautiful surroundings (which I took with my brand new Nikon 5300 Camera!). If you have any questions about Cuba, feel free to comment below. I also would love to hear your experiences!

Love,
Elles

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