05 Jun Cuba is calling….
For the past two years all I kept hearing was, “We can go to Cuba now!,” and my response always was “ARE YOU SURE?!?!” I wasn’t going to be the first to try and be held hostage, so I waited to make sure I had seen people I know personally make it back. Ha!
The reviews were very mixed about Cuba. Some people said it wasn’t what they had in mind and others said it was amazing. It’s all about what you like and appreciate. I heard the food was horrible in Cuba. That’s a lie. It also depends on what you do and don’t eat. MOST places in the Caribbean have really good seafood and, if you know me, you know I LOVE red snapper.
Let me tell you about my trip from beginning to end.
GETTING TO CUBA:
#TravelWithCutty Tip: I ALWAYS use Kayak to research flights. I like to use the matrix that they have (that is now HIDDEN and hard to find on their site.) The Matrix compares all of the airlines quickly and efficiently.
I searched and NO FLIGHTS came up. Yikes! The secret is, you have to book it directly through the airlines that fly there such as American Airlines and JetBlue. I booked a flight to Varadero, Cuba with a connection in Miami. There will be a bunch of pop ups warning you that YOU are not supposed to be booking this trip if you do not fit in the twelve categories. I will not tell you what to lie and say because I’m not about to be put on some terrorist list. You figure out what you’re comfortable with saying. Does anyone actually ask you? NOPE (not in my experience), but coming home to the USA, a cop will definitely try to trick you and say something like, “Were you there on vacation? Celebrating your birthday.” You better say, ” Oh no I was there for [insert one of the twelve categories]. You didn’t hear this from me, ok? OK!
Anyway, I’m sure you’ve heard by now that you need a visa. You do. It’s like $85-100. If you’re traveling with American Airlines then “Cuba Visa Services” will most likely call you and give you instructions on how to get the visa in advance. I say most likely because they only called two out of the four people that I went with. They are legitimate. I was skeptical at first because it’s a third party company and I was wondering how they got my info !!! They said they got it from American Airlines. If you do not have time to receive it in the mail because it takes about two weeks, you can get it from your gate at the airport for $100.
You can exchange your money on the hotel premises. PLEASE bring more American dollars than you expect you will need. YOU CAN NOT USE ANY AMERICAN CREDIT CARDS ANYWHERE. You can NOT get more US dollars anywhere. You WILL be stranded with no money if you do not have enough unless you have credit cards that were issued in another country other than USA. You can pay SOME hotels in Euros but everywhere else uses Cuban money.
WHERE I STAYED:
People always ask me whether they should stay in Varadero or Havana. I don’t think it matters but definitely go to both sides while you’re there. You can rent the old cars for about $200-350 for the whole day with the driver. Varadero is a resort town and Havana is the city.
When you go to search for hotels on third party sites, you will get a bunch of warnings reminding you that YOU can not go to Cuba if you don’t have a reason to. Hehe. It’s best to just book on the hotel websites and pay in cash when you arrive. You will not be able to pay in US dollars or a US credit card so bring enough money to pay for the hotel in cash. Some hotels accept euros for payment. Email the hotel to be sure!
I booked the Ocean Vista Azul in Varadero. It’s considered a four star hotel online but, by American standards, I would say it’s about three stars. Nothing is WRONG with the hotel, but, if you were to put it on a scale, it lands right in the middle. It’s not the worst and it’s not the best. The rooms are decent and minimal. The staff was friendly and spoke English well. The hotel is all inclusive so the drinks are trash like most all inclusive hotels. The one restaurant I liked the most was the international gourmet restaurant that served Cuban cuisine. We ate there on two different evenings.
Everyday I came in to the bed made up with my own accessories. That was super cute and I had never experienced that before.
The wifi sucks and only works in the lobby, restaurants and supposedly the pool but I never got it. Lol. In general, in all of Cuba… the wifi sucks. If you are a phone maniac like me, this will be a struggle and you will resort to using your cellular phone data and have a $400 bill when you get home after only a weekend getaway. Not only does the wifi suck but you have to purchase wifi cards (like calling cards) for $1-$2 to log on. Oh my, doing that every hour is beyond annoying!
WHAT TO DO IN CUBA:
The drive from Varadero to Havana is about two hours. There is a lookout half way along side of the road called Puente de Bacunayagua. It’s a pit stop with REALLY good Pina Coladas and a live band. I highly recommend stopping here. I got some cool paintings there as well for $10 Cuban dollars.
In Havana, there are two buildings with faces of men in the Plaza de la Revolución. I ALWAYS thought it was Fidel Castro. It’s not. We even told the driver to take us to Fidel and he took us there and it wasn’t Fidel. How funny! The men are Che Guevara, who helped bring communism to Cuba, and Camilo Cienfuegos, Fidel’s confidant during the Cuban revolution. Read up on it.
Havana is full of life, live music and rum! My type of place. Two of Ernest Hemingway’s favorite bars were Floridita Cuba which had a really good Pina Colada and La Bodeguita del Medio. The other specialty drinks at Floridita weren’t good in my opinion and La Bodeguita supposedly had the best mojitos but that wasn’t true.
We stopped at a cute little restaurant named El Canonazo. It was a tad bit commercial there so the food wasn’t excellent but it was good.
My last night in Cuba we ate at Fiesta del Carbon. The food and drinks there were SOOOOO good!
I didn’t party in Cuba. I’m wack. There’s only ONE private club because everything else is owned by the government. We went on a day cruise and went to take pictures with the dolphins. Lunch was included on the boat trip and it was a buffet on the beach.
People ask me all the time would I suggest Cuba to visit. My answer is yes, but do not compare it to anywhere else you have been, especially if you haven’t been anywhere communist. There’s even a misconception that Cuba is in a time warp. Some people, including me before I visited, think that Cuba doesn’t have any modern cars. That’s false. There’s definitely a vintage vibe but you have to remember that they haven’t been cut off from the entire world, just the USA. There are PLENTY of Canadians and visitors from other countries that vacation there often.
More vacation photos:
Are you planning to visit Cuba? Have you been already? Share your tips and ask questions… down below 🙂