Travel To Cuba - Tips

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jimcrawford01
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Travel To Cuba - Tips

Post by jimcrawford01 »

Flying from PWM (Portland, ME) on JetBlue through JFK (New York) to HAV (ICAO - MUHA) first week of DEC for 10 days.
Any one been there recently?
Looking for any travel tips you folks might offer.
TIA.
Jim
The Wizard
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Re: Travel To Cuba - Tips

Post by The Wizard »

I've not but am thinking about doing similar.
Are you part of a cultural group of some sort or just doing this strictly as a personal trip?
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TravelGeek
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Re: Travel To Cuba - Tips

Post by TravelGeek »

We were there several years ago (2012), as part of a group trip (individual travel wasn’t allowed yet). We went with a US based travel company called Insight Cuba. This is pretty much the itinerary we had:

https://insightcuba.com/cuba-tours/sign ... -cuba-tour

While we are usually individual travelers, being part of a group had a couple of advantages for us at the time:

1. It was legal - we have a US Treasury Dept permit :)

2. We got to see and visit things that you might not easily see as an individual traveler to a Caribbean island

Not saying that you aren’t going to have fun as an individual traveler (but intineraries like the one above might give you some idea what regions to visit). In fact, we want to go back and would likely go without a group if it is still legal (need to research what constraints now exist).

Not sure if/how Cuba has changed, but we had a great time and found it very interesting.

Favorite memory? Randomly walking the back streets of Trinidad (Cuba) and coming across a guy sitting on his front steps, wearing an Obama “Hope” t-shirt. I asked if I could take a photo of him and he asked for a dollar (which he got).
krafty81
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Re: Travel To Cuba - Tips

Post by krafty81 »

My daughter went with a group of mid-20's girls 12/17. They had a great time. Some tips.

Bring cash. Get more at the airport ATM when you arrive. Otherwise, there are basically none.

They went to the bank to get more cash. First time turned away for passports. Next time turned away for "inappropriate attire" - they were wearing sun dresses basically. Third time OK.

Wi-fi is rare. They got it by walking up to a guy in a park with a sign and payed.

Air BNB worked great.
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pezblanco
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Re: Travel To Cuba - Tips

Post by pezblanco »

TravelGeek wrote: Sun Nov 25, 2018 5:01 pm
Favorite memory? Randomly walking the back streets of Trinidad (Cuba) and coming across a guy sitting on his front steps, wearing an Obama “Hope” t-shirt. I asked if I could take a photo of him and he asked for a dollar (which he got).
This is why I hate Cuba. (It's completely personal. I go there because of family. I genuinely feel sorry for the tourists. The island is a ... how to say it .... (a brothel? Not entirely in the usual sense but in every other sense, it is.)
TravelGeek
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Re: Travel To Cuba - Tips

Post by TravelGeek »

pezblanco wrote: Sun Nov 25, 2018 8:19 pm
TravelGeek wrote: Sun Nov 25, 2018 5:01 pm
Favorite memory? Randomly walking the back streets of Trinidad (Cuba) and coming across a guy sitting on his front steps, wearing an Obama “Hope” t-shirt. I asked if I could take a photo of him and he asked for a dollar (which he got).
This is why I hate Cuba. (It's completely personal. I go there because of family. I genuinely feel sorry for the tourists. The island is a ... how to say it .... (a brothel? Not entirely in the usual sense but in every other sense, it is.)
Really? I thought it was fun to see:

(a) a local wearing a t-shirt with the picture of an American President in public (remember, Raúl Castro was still president at the time)

(b) capitalism taking hold at the lowest level

I did not feel... exploited. No need to feel sorry for me.
WhyNotUs
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Re: Travel To Cuba - Tips

Post by WhyNotUs »

Your request is hard to respond to as it is so general, so here are some very general responses. Cuba is a very large island and you did not say anything about your interests.

• Almost everything is easier and less expensive if you are competent with Spanish. If not, you will be okay but will spend more money and be limited in what you get to see

• If you are staying in Havana, a central location in or near Old Havana will make walking a lot possible. That will limit transportation costs and communication issues. Once again, if your Spanish is decent, you can consider other neighborhoods and a casa particular using local currency and transportation at a fraction of the cost.

• Centro is a fascinating area to explore from Old Havana. A real slice of Cuban life. Nothing is hidden- all of the charm and collapse on display.

• Eat cheap, there are not many good food opportunities so don't waste your money. Most restaurants are state owned with pretty bland and relatively cheap food.

• It is very safe to wander Old Havana at night. Hit Hemingways drinking spots- Floridita and Bodeguita (there are near each other)- for a taste of mojitos and daquiris. The streets that connect the two are full of live music, if you hear a band, stop for a drink and a dance.

• One place that I urge everyone to visit is Fusterlandia. It is a bit out of town but can be combined with a trip to the Hotel Nacional. The bar is highly recommended and my drink of choice is a pina colada. Take a photo with Hugo Chavez.

• Hire a car & driver for a day and get out to the country. If you are interested in cigars, everyone will know a farm with cigar sold on site and Vinales NP is nice if you are up for a long day. Talk to a few people before getting locked in. A 57 Chevy with a 60 year old seat is a hoot for a 10 minute ride but not for all day. Make sure that if you are hiring a driver as a guide that they are clear on that expectation and can speak in a manner that you can understand. Those cars are a huge investment for a Cuban family and they need to make money so it will not be a bargain.

• Everything in Old Havana is set up to fleece tourists, it can still be fun as long as you know what is going on but is not why I went there (buying high markup cigars and rum). If you get to Centro and know some Spanish, things are cheap.

• Consider internet access a luxury that you may or may not have. When it happens and you get a decent connection, limit your activity to quick emails.

• Keep a sense of humor about expectations. Unless you are tucked into an Italian All-Inclusive it is an adventure rather than a vacation.
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AlphaLess
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Re: Travel To Cuba - Tips

Post by AlphaLess »

^^^
Awesome post, thanks!
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pezblanco
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Re: Travel To Cuba - Tips

Post by pezblanco »

TravelGeek wrote: Sun Nov 25, 2018 9:10 pm
pezblanco wrote: Sun Nov 25, 2018 8:19 pm
TravelGeek wrote: Sun Nov 25, 2018 5:01 pm
Favorite memory? Randomly walking the back streets of Trinidad (Cuba) and coming across a guy sitting on his front steps, wearing an Obama “Hope” t-shirt. I asked if I could take a photo of him and he asked for a dollar (which he got).
This is why I hate Cuba. (It's completely personal. I go there because of family. I genuinely feel sorry for the tourists. The island is a ... how to say it .... (a brothel? Not entirely in the usual sense but in every other sense, it is.)
Really? I thought it was fun to see:

(a) a local wearing a t-shirt with the picture of an American President in public (remember, Raúl Castro was still president at the time)

(b) capitalism taking hold at the lowest level

I did not feel... exploited. No need to feel sorry for me.
a) The Cuban government has always made a delineation between the American people (clueless but OK) and the American government (the essence of evil). The USA and all things American have long held a special place in Cuban culture.

b) It has never left. Everybody more or less has to spend their days hustling or they and their children don't get enough to eat.

You were exploited but not anymore than anybody else that goes to a say a theme park for instance.

When I travel, I like to experience the culture and have genuine interactions with the inhabitants of the place. That ideal simply isn't possible in Cuba. There is a huge gulf between the Cubans and the tourists (consisting of economic components, cultural components and fear). The only thing that tourists are exposed to on the island are the official sanctioned Disneyland presentation of Cuba (Cuban music from the 50's in the bars on Obispo (Cubans don't listen to this stuff any more), Cuban son dancing presentations in those same bars (this dance is almost unknown now among regular cubans), old American cars (most now with Russian engines and drive trains), street performers like the old Cuban ladies dressing up like guajiras and smoking cigars (5? dollars a picture!), The Tropicana etc etc). This is all tempered by the hordes of tourist hunters, scoundrels, jineteros, "guides", prostitutes, etc etc that are desperately trying to chat up anybody not from there. Going to Cuba is not "normal" traveling .... you only get to see what the theme park wants to present to you. The vast majority of the Cubans that I know (and I know lots on and off the island) hate being in Cuba also .... it's really not a very nice place for the inhabitants.

Enjoy your trip! :D
protagonist
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Re: Travel To Cuba - Tips

Post by protagonist »

I have been to Cuba about 6 times between 2009 and 2016. I would rather avoid getting into the contentious discussions above regarding Cuban culture, at least here on Bogleheads. I can tell you that there are many paradoxes and surprises. If you are an open-minded "traveler" type who is not prone to stereotypes, meet people and make friends easily, and can deal with frustrations with a smile, you will likely find it fascinating and may even love it. If you go with luxurious tourist expectations you may wind up hating it. Chacun a son gout. The following recommendations are more suited to the former.

For authentic and very reasonable accommodations stay at Casa Particulares rather than hotels....private homes found everywhere, average $25-35 night as of 2016, some exquisite with home cooked meals, etc....some pretty dumpy, so shop around.
Some recommendations in Havana (I have not been since 2016 so if things have changed please don't shoot the messenger):

For jazz (usu. afrocuban inspired):

- La Zorra y el Cuervo. Great club but now they seem to have huge long lines of tourists and they pack them in even after tables are full....you will find that a lot of the better restaurants and clubs are like that now bc they are listed in Lonely Planet or whatnot and there is now a huge inflow of tourists. So it may be SRO and you may not get a seat unless you get there very early and wait a long time. 10 CUC cover includes music and 2 drinks....show starts at 10 PM, On 23 around O or N or so.

- Jazz Cafe. Also very good performers and less crowded but still come early. Harold Nussa was playing on Tues nights...maybe still is....very talented. You pay 10 CUC cover and get 10 CUC credit towards drinks and food (you can eat here too). Show starts 10 PM. at end of Paseo across from Malecon in old shopping center (across street from Melia Cohiba).

-Gato Tuerto. More touristy.... I like the above 2 better, Across from Hotel Nacional.

Other culture:
-FAC (Fabrica de Arte Cubano). Not to be missed. I really mean that. Go and find out for yourself. Opened in February Thurs-Sun from 8 PM to 3 AM. Show up early to avoid long lines. 26 and 11 Vedado. Cocinero restaurant next door is very good but you may well need a reservation for the restaurant....anywow you can eat at FAC.
-Museum of the Revolution: A much different take on it than what we learned in the USA.
- the big National art museum near the M. of the Rev....I forget its name but they sometimes have great shows.
-The National Theatre has anything from ballet, opera, classical music, whatev....check schedule....30 CUC for tourists and 30 CUP for residents.
-Movie theatres all over the place....movies are 2 CUP (like a nickel). No kidding. Eng. lang. movies are subtitled.
-Just walk around and explore....tons of art, music, dance, etc.
-Callejon de Hamel on Sundays (12-3???) has afrocuban rumba, singing, percussion in small street in run down neighborhood painted by local artist. Interesting but jam-packed with people , very crowded with tourists, lots of hustlers.

Very good CAFE:
with loads of Eng. lang. books, comfy setting. great source of info and place to meet other travelers and artsy intellectual Cubans: Cuba Libro at 19 and 24, Vedado. I like the ice coffee. Check out book about revolution after Raoul. Nearby on 24 and 15 is excellent stand selling guarapo juice fresh squeezed for 1 CUP.

Restaurants: (V means Vedado, H means Havana Vieja):
Dirt Cheap:
Cafeterias everywhere, prices in CUP. Sandwich, spaghetti, pizza, coffee etc....meals usu under $1. Food usu. decent and edible....good for quick bite...nothing special. Pizza tends to be terrible by US standards (IMHO).

Good cheap to midrange:
Las Duenas. 19 bet 14+16, V. Recommend the Pollo con Pina, comes with beans and rice (moro) and salad for about 50 CUP, beer or fresh juice is about another 10 CUP. Arroz con Pollo also recommended. Cimarron across the street is midrange and pretty good with local music too.

Midrange in Vedado (average ~5 CUC for main dish):
- La Pachanga. Mexican. I'd get the fish tacos. 28 and 21.
- Karma. 24 betw 19 and 21.
- Union Francesa de Cuba. 17 and 6. nice patio, good salads, pasta dishes, etc
- Motivos y Razones. F betw 5 and 3. Nice balcony in Motivos. Razones less atmospheric, same food. Good. A little pricier than above.

Upscale in Vedado (main dishes around 10-15 CUC):
- Cocinero. 26 and 11 next to FAC. Excellent duck dish, lamb curry, other stuff.
- Balcon del Habano. 21 betw E and F. Had excellent rabbit and lobster in local red sauce with anise (enchilado)
- Starbien. 29 betw B and C. Excellent all around, nice patio.
- Cafe Laurent. M betw 19 and 21. Also excellent meal.

Best places I know to eat in Havana Vieja (main dishes around 10-15 CUC).:
- O'Reilly 303 and 304: Great food and drinks. Menu is same in both restaurants. I like 303 "El de Frente" better for atmosphere- more open- both artsy and cool. I like 2d floor more than 3d floor rooftop because they smoke on rooftop. Fantastic drinks, ceviche, tacos, prob. anything is good. On O'Reilly betw Aguilar and Habana.
- Habana 61: Also very good food and drinks, sort of trendy atmosphere. On Habana betw Cuarteles and Pena Pobre.
- On the Malecon just west of Prado is a Russian restaurant w good views and food...sit on balcony overlooking water....name is Nastrovie or some such thing. Big old Soviet flag flying.

Best beer in Havana:
Cerveceria in Plaza Vieja - food is mediocre but great place to sit, listen to music, drink beer, watch people.
Across Plaza Vieja from the Cerveceria is a Cafe with good coffee drinks and ok pastries....also great place to hang out.


If you go to better restaurants, try going at weird times of day (eg 2-4 pm or very late), or make reservations...they can be very hard to just walk into since Havana is not used to recent influx of tourists. I often took my main meal around 2-3 pm.

Also check out Trinidad and Vinales if you have time. I loved Baracoa but it has been devastated by hurricanes and hard to get to- I haven't been since the two hurricanes that destroyed the town. Get out into the wilderness if that interests you- it is an exquisite country.
Last edited by protagonist on Tue Nov 27, 2018 2:04 pm, edited 4 times in total.
protagonist
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Re: Travel To Cuba - Tips

Post by protagonist »

By the way I am not familiar with the new travel restrictions. To travel legally from the US is it now necessary to go with an organized tour group?
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siamond
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Re: Travel To Cuba - Tips

Post by siamond »

protagonist wrote: Mon Nov 26, 2018 10:13 pm I have been to Cuba about 5-6 times between 2009 and 2016. [...]
What an impressive post. Thanks a lot for sharing. Been playing with the idea of traveling out there for a while...
WestsideGuy
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Re: Travel To Cuba - Tips

Post by WestsideGuy »

In addition to what Protagonist listed, I would add:

(1) Fabrica de Arte Cubano (great art and live event space, with much more), (2) Dona Eutemia for the Ropa Vieja, (3) La Guarida for great food in a really neat building, with a nice rooftop bar. The latter two require reservations, which you can do via email.

Vinales is also worth visiting if you have the chance. You can ride horses, visit farms, go to Indian caves, etc.

And take cash, lots of it. I never saw an ATM, and nowhere took credit cards. If I had ran out, not sure what I would have done...
protagonist
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Re: Travel To Cuba - Tips

Post by protagonist »

WestsideGuy wrote: Tue Nov 27, 2018 1:35 am In addition to what Protagonist listed, I would add:

(1) Fabrica de Arte Cubano (great art and live event space, with much more), (2) Dona Eutemia for the Ropa Vieja, (3) La Guarida for great food in a really neat building, with a nice rooftop bar. The latter two require reservations, which you can do via email.

Vinales is also worth visiting if you have the chance. You can ride horses, visit farms, go to Indian caves, etc.

And take cash, lots of it. I never saw an ATM, and nowhere took credit cards. If I had ran out, not sure what I would have done...

Fabrica de Arte Cubano is what I referred to as FAC. Yes, fabulous...IMHO cooler than anything in artsy hipster Brooklyn or wherever. As of my last visit it was opened every other month.

Dona E. is also a good restaurant. I've never been to La Guarida.
kayakprof
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Re: Travel To Cuba - Tips

Post by kayakprof »

U.S. law requires Americans to be part of a tour group. U.S. banks are not allowed to operate in Cuba. This means that you cannot use an US issued ATM card, and that you cannot use a US issued credit card while in-country. Everything is cash - so you should bring enough cash for the entire duration of the trip. Exchanging cash can be a very serious hassle unless you are staying in a 5-star hotel (which have special exchange kiosks). I always change all of my cash at the airport before driving into Havana. One can exchange at certain banks, but be ready to stand in line for a few hours. Casa particulares (home-stays) are comfortable and offer a more interesting experience. You can secure a casa particular on air-bnb. For all intensive purposes there is no wifi. When I want to use wifi I go to a 5-star hotel and purchase a wifi access card. If this is your first time to Havana, try hiring one of the 50s convertibles in the central plaza for a 2-3 hour tour of Havana. It is expensive ($70/hour) but a fun way to see the city.
WestsideGuy
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Re: Travel To Cuba - Tips

Post by WestsideGuy »

protagonist wrote: Tue Nov 27, 2018 2:04 pm
WestsideGuy wrote: Tue Nov 27, 2018 1:35 am In addition to what Protagonist listed, I would add:

(1) Fabrica de Arte Cubano (great art and live event space, with much more), (2) Dona Eutemia for the Ropa Vieja, (3) La Guarida for great food in a really neat building, with a nice rooftop bar. The latter two require reservations, which you can do via email.

Vinales is also worth visiting if you have the chance. You can ride horses, visit farms, go to Indian caves, etc.

And take cash, lots of it. I never saw an ATM, and nowhere took credit cards. If I had ran out, not sure what I would have done...

Fabrica de Arte Cubano is what I referred to as FAC. Yes, fabulous...IMHO cooler than anything in artsy hipster Brooklyn or wherever. As of my last visit it was opened every other month.

Dona E. is also a good restaurant. I've never been to La Guarida.
Protaganist - didn't mean to take credit for your idea! See that now, my bad. And as Protagonist say's, "cooler than anything artsy hipster Brooklyn"...
protagonist
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Re: Travel To Cuba - Tips

Post by protagonist »

WestsideGuy wrote: Sun Dec 02, 2018 1:49 pm
protagonist wrote: Tue Nov 27, 2018 2:04 pm
WestsideGuy wrote: Tue Nov 27, 2018 1:35 am In addition to what Protagonist listed, I would add:

(1) Fabrica de Arte Cubano (great art and live event space, with much more), (2) Dona Eutemia for the Ropa Vieja, (3) La Guarida for great food in a really neat building, with a nice rooftop bar. The latter two require reservations, which you can do via email.

Vinales is also worth visiting if you have the chance. You can ride horses, visit farms, go to Indian caves, etc.

And take cash, lots of it. I never saw an ATM, and nowhere took credit cards. If I had ran out, not sure what I would have done...

Fabrica de Arte Cubano is what I referred to as FAC. Yes, fabulous...IMHO cooler than anything in artsy hipster Brooklyn or wherever. As of my last visit it was opened every other month.

Dona E. is also a good restaurant. I've never been to La Guarida.
Protaganist - didn't mean to take credit for your idea! See that now, my bad. And as Protagonist say's, "cooler than anything artsy hipster Brooklyn"...
not worried about credit (smile....) Just wanted to point out that we both consider it insanely cool.
When I was there FAC was only open every other month (it would take a full month to install the next month's attractions). I imagine that is still the case. I went in Feb. which would suggest it might be open in even months.
freebeer
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Re: Travel To Cuba - Tips

Post by freebeer »

I went in 2017. Some tips:
1. Bring Euros not dollars, better exchange rate (no 10% penalty)
2. Old Havana (Habana Vieja) has many nice nooks & crannies and unlike say Venice you can get away from the hordes pretty easily... if you avoid Obispo Street you immediately depart from the 90% of the tourists who never get more than a block from it. Plaza de Cristo is a good bet (El Dandy is a quite nice restaurant/bar there).
3. Salsa dancing in decreasing order of touristy-ness: Hotel Florida, El Canon, Casa de Musica Miramar, Club 1830.
4. Salsa lessons: very affordable, high quality teaching, and a must-do if you have interest in dancing. Casa de Sol is the big one but can get quite crowded. I recommend El Canon or Salsabor or PM me for teacher contacts
5. Wifi in the public parks is very crowded with locals getting online and speeds are terrible, compounding by the high cost of the scratch-off cards. You can use the same cards in hotel lobbies,and I particularly recommend Hotel Los Frailes as it's slightly off the tourist path yet still walkable from anywhere in old town. It's also a super cool space.
6. Set up and test a VPN before you arrive and you MIGHT be able to connect to your US bank, etc. But don't count on it given the slow speeds and spotty connections. Without VPN you will have a hard time using most US-based online services due to the embargo formally still being in place.
7. Find little places that you can pay in Moneda Nacional (CUP not CUC). Not only way cheaper but often better. There are the ubiquitous walk-up window places that are good for an omelette sandwich, coffee, and fresh juice breakfast (for < $.50 USD) but there are also sit-down ones. Obviously harder to find these in Old Town where tourist-catering spots with CUC prices are the rule but they are there and as you get out into the rest of Havana of course they are the majority.
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