Third country on our list was Cuba. Probably Dan was drone to it for its cigars and I was interested in seeing and understating a bit more about how things work under a system that is less permissive than the ones I have known my whole life. Growing up in a post-communist country I have always heard stories that seemed exaggerated and farfetched. So I wanted to check for myself.
We booked four nights in Havana before getting to Cuba, but wanted to go around Cuba and visit as much as possible. We read a few articles online before leaving and we have been advised by people to book everything in advance, especially during December. We wanted to, but we never managed to get to it. We decided that we will always book “casa particular” as they call it, so you basically live in with the family. I would definitely advise for booking in advance if you want to get the nicer places and people.
After one day in Cuba we decided to start thinking about the rest of the trip so we saw a person in an information place who told us to book buses in advance as there are limited seats. This was indeed true and we could not get any tickets. We moved around with taxis or shared taxis and it was just fine.
Our itinerary looked like this:
- Havana – 4 nights
- Playa Larga – 2 nights
- Cienfuegos – 2 nights
- Trinidad – 3 nights
- Havana – 1 last night
We had 12 nights and wanted to divide these even more and visit more places, but at one point we were tired, travelling in Cuba is very difficult and would have been too expensive. Then, with no accommodation it proved even more challenging. We managed to book accommodation while we were in Havana and we then only had to worry about getting to our destination.
Havana is a crazy place. It is full of people of all colours and nationalities. You find tons of restaurants and bars everywhere and at noon, bands start playing live Cuban music until late. I can’t express how crazy and awesome all is, especially when you don’t really have expectations and you just want to experience and enjoy the city.
All streets are different in style. You can have a newly renovated building next to one that in other countries would be considered as a hazard and you would be advised to stay away. A few shops where you always have to queue and the offer is quite limited. You really need to have all you think you will need, as you will for sure not be able to find it in Cuba.
People selling various things on the streets, from fruits and drinks, to home cooked snacks and in some areas, even old books and vintage watches and jewellery. Then you get the occasional people trying to sell you more expensive items than what other people queue for; like Internet cards. To be able to use Internet in Cuba you need to buy Internet cards and go in some of the Wi-Fi areas they have all around the city and connect using your card. These are 1 or 5 hour cards and you can use them on any device for this amount of time. You can connect and disconnect when you wish, and the cards are valid for 30 days. Usually all hotels have Wi-Fi spots and you can find these in some random areas of the city or in parks. Otherwise, my Swiss data did not work at all in Cuba.
You will need to get with you the cosmetics you think you will need. We had the usual soaps, shampoo, toothpaste, sunblock, face and body creams, small perfume, deodorant, wet and dry tissues and hand sanitizers. We did not need more than that and we tried to get rid of our little bottles so our luggage became lighter as we travelled. We had enough for three weeks of holidays and never had to buy anything, but these all had to fit in our hand luggage, as we only had that. What we wanted to buy in Miami to get with us was toilet paper and we forgot, hence get toilet paper with you because it is scarce in Cuba and you need to queue like crazy for anything. Your hosts will give you, but these are way smaller in size that what we have at home and are never enough.
We also bought in Miami a few energy bars and some candy to have just in case and it proved very useful in some situations, when we could not change money on time, there were no restaurants around or we were travelling. Take some stuff with you because snacks are also scarce and usually not great.
And for the things that I cannot describe, you will be able to see for yourselves in some of the pictures below. I will discuss other aspects in the next articles about Cuba, each relating a city we have visited.
Photos by moi with my phone