Apr 2020 - Cuba 2017 Part 1



Like many other keen travellers Cuba has always been high on our bucket lists. Although high, it was one of those exotic locations that we thought we may never get a chance to visit.

In late 2016 we started planning a trip to backpack down through Central America including Mexico. After doing research we discovered a flight from Europe to Mexico City with a stopover in Cuba was of similar cost to a direct flight so decided it was a perfect opportunity to check it out.

As with most new countries we visit our research began with googling the country and reading blog posts. It didn't take long to realise that the information within these posts would become super important as Internet is hard to come by in Cuba.

Some blog posts we found useful were:

25 Awesome things to do in Havana, Cuba
11 Things To Do During Your Trip to Havana, Cuba
Budget Diving in the Bay of Pigs: Things to Know
Cheapest Scuba Diving in Cuba Review
Playa Larga on a Budget: Planning Your Visit

In addition to saving the above websites for offline viewing we found having a copy of Cuba Lonely Planet really useful.

The sections below give an overview of our 12 day trip with a focus on budget travel and documenting useful information that we think could help others.

Mobile Apps

Two apps that we recommend downloading before heading to Cuba are:
Google Translate
Map of Cuba offline

Locals speak very little English so if your Spanish is rusty like ours it will save you. The app is great as it works without an internet connection and also pronounces translated words which we found useful for learning useful phrases such as "dos de cerveza por favor".

Before we visited Cuba we marked everything on Google Maps knowing that even without internet we could still find our way around with GPS. For some reason once we arrived in Cuba both of our markings disappeared. Luckily we had downloaded Map of Cuba offline. It was useful for finding Lonely Planet street addresses, tourist attractions and other places of interest such as currency exchanges (Cadeca) and banks.

Itinerary

Havana Airport to City – 30 minutes – 30 CUC total
Havana - Casa Mariela - 3 full days - 17 CUC per night x 4 (Airbnb)
Havana to Vinales Collectivo - 5 hours - 30 CUC per person
Vinales - Casa Lliana y Albe - 1.5 days - 12.50 CUC per night x 2 (Airbnb)
Vinales to Playa Larga Collectivo - 7 hours - 35 CUC per person
Playa Larga - Casa El Ruso - 1.5 days - 16.50 CUC (Airbnb) + 20 CUC extra night
Playa Larga to Trinidad - 3 hours - 15 CUC per person
Trinidad - Casa ??? - 2.5 days - 20 CUC per night x 3
Trinidad to Havana - 5 hours - 25 CUC per person
Havana - 1.5 days - 15 CUC per night x 1
City to Havana Airport – 30 minutes – 20 CUC total

Budget for 2 people

Visa = 2 x £23 = £46 = €53
Flights = 2 x €285 = €570

Collectivo Transport = 260 CUC
Accomodation = 204.50 CUC (99.50 CUC pre booked through Airbnb, 105 CUC spent while in Cuba)
Spending Money for 12 days = 605 CUC

Total spent in Cuba for 12 days = 1069.50 CUC = €900

Total spent in Cuba for 12 days + flights + visas = €53 + €570 + €900 = €1523

Visa
We both (Lithuanian and Australian) required a 30 day visa to visit Cuba. We paid £23 each through the website http://www.cubavisas.com and they were posted to our home address in the UK. The visa took about 5 days to arrive in the UK but you can pay extra to get it delivered express.

Arriving in Cuba
We took a 16 hour bus from Ljubjana, Slovenia to Cologne, Germany and then flew with Eurowings direct to Havana, Cuba. The flight took approximately 11 hours.

Once arriving in Havana we paid 30 CUC for a taxi into the city.

Money

1 Convertible Peso CUC = 1 USD
1 Convertible Peso CUC = 25 Local Cuban Peso CUP
0.05 Convertible Peso CUC ~= 1 Local Cuban Peso CUP

Do not bring American dollars as they charge a 20% fee at the exchanges!

At the airport we exchanged 600 euros into 670 convertible pesos. A Passport was required. The airport didn't have any local Cuban pesos so instead we had to wait till the next day to find a currency exchange (Cadeca).

For an idea of how much to convert into local pesos, we converted 40 CUC which lasted us for 12 days. No passport was required when converting CUC into CUP.

While in Cuba we withdrew an extra 300 CUC using our UK debit cards at a cash machine near the Sevilla Hotel in Havana. My Australian bank card didn't work.

There are banks in Cuba but the waiting times we witnessed were very long so wouldn't recommend relying on a Travel or Debit card. Bring cash.

Before we visited Cuba we were expecting it to be really confusing which currency an item was being advertised in but it didn't take long to work it out. The street stalls generally advertised in local pesos but also accepted convertibles and fractions of convertibles. Cafes/bars/restaurants/casas/collectivos always advertised in convertibles.

We found that things were slightly more expensive than blog posts suggested which maybe an indication that Cuba is getting more expensive or we need to work on our haggling skills!

Street Food

Cuban streets pretty much consists of pizzas and toasted sandwiches and the going rate seemed to be 15/20 local pesos.

Sometimes a stall would advertise a pizza/toasted sandwich for 1 CUC but most often if we offered 15/20 local pesos they would accept.

Also often no prices were displayed on street food and when enquiring we would get the standard response of 1 CUC. We often observed how much a local was handing over to get an idea of the real price.

Crime/Safety

Crime is pretty much non existent in Cuba. We felt extremely safe the entire time. Even walking around at night with mobile phones and DSLR camera out.

The scariest part of Cuba for us was the rainy 130 + km/h collectivo ride from Vinales to Playa Larga with 15 of us in the back. The roads have lots of pot holes and it doesn't help that the cars aren't in great condition either. Also all our backpacks were tied on the roof and there was no cover so our backpacks and everything inside got soaking wet.

I didn't see any car crashes but did see alot of broken down cars on the side of the road and witnessed it first hand. On the way back from snorkelling at Bay of Pigs our bus broke down. We flagged down another bus which let us on for free. Cubans are friendly people and even if your collectivo were to break down on a longer haul I'm confident it wouldn't be too hard to flag down another and continue the journey.

Water

We always drank bottled water but apparently the tap water in Cuba isn't as bad as other Central/South American countries.

One thing that we noticed was that hardly any peso stores had the price of water. When enquiring the standard response was 1.50 or 2 CUC which was the same price being charged in restaurants. We tried haggling the price down but couldn't get anyone to budge.

At the Havana local bus station we managed to get it for 0.80 CUC which I think is closer to the local price.

Beers/Alcohol

The going rate seemed to be 1/1.5 CUC for a local beer, 2/3 CUC for a Mojito and 4/5 CUC for a bottle of rum.

The best Mojitos we had were at Hotel Sevilla and Maximo Bar in Havana. They both cost 5 CUC but were large and quality. Hotel Sevilla had really nice views over the city.

Our favourite local bar in Havana was Bar Lucero.

You see alot of locals drinking straight Silver Dry rum from cardboard boxes especially along the Malecon in Havana. It costs about 1 CUC for 200mL. I initially thought it was a cheap pre-mix but turned out to be 200mL of 36% local rum. Try if you dare!

Local Restaurants

We often found restaurants offering meat with salad, rice and black beans for 4/5 CUC.

Accomodation

Home stays in Casa Particulars are the most common accomodation in Cuba. No matter where you stay generally it will include the following:
A private room
A private bathroom
2 single or double beds
Air conditioning
Fan
Breakfast offered for 4/5 CUC

We prebooked 7 of our 13 nights through Airbnb before we arrived. It's super easy to find accomodation once you arrive in each city but we found on average we were paying around 15/20 CUC through Airbnb but in person they were wanting 25 + CUC. For our last two nights in Havana we did manage to haggle a room down to 15 CUC.

We tried booking Airbnb accomodation while in Cuba but received an error message saying you aren't allowed to.

Transport

We used collectivos taxis the entire time as they offered door to door service and were the same price as buses.

For arranging collectivos we always found if we booked ourselves we would get 5 CUC cheaper than what a Casa owner quoted as they got a commission.

In Havana we arranged transport through Hotel Lido and in the other cities we found locals offering cheap deals. Sometimes we had to pay a deposit to secure a seat.

The Locals always fulfilled there promise of picking us up from our accomodation at a certain time and then dropped us at the door of our next city accomodation.

Departing Cuba

We managed to get a taxi to the airport for 20 CUC and flew direct to Mexico City, Mexico with Interjet. The airport didn't have many food/drink options but thankfully the prices weren't overly inflated like many other airports. We paid 2 CUC for a sandwich and 1 CUC for a coffee.

Havana

Time Required: 3 days

Aug 2017 - Vintage cars in  Havana

Aug 2017 - Vintage cars in Havana

Aug 2017 - Vintage cars in  Havana (6)

Aug 2017 - Vintage cars in Havana (6)

Aug 2017 - Vintage cars in  Havana (5)

Aug 2017 - Vintage cars in Havana (5)

Aug 2017 - Vintage cars in  Havana (4)

Aug 2017 - Vintage cars in Havana (4)

Aug 2017 - Vintage cars in  Havana (3)

Aug 2017 - Vintage cars in Havana (3)

Aug 2017 - Vintage cars in  Havana (2)

Aug 2017 - Vintage cars in Havana (2)

Aug 2017 - Vintage car in  Havana

Aug 2017 - Vintage car in Havana

Aug 2017 - Vintage car in  Havana (6)

Aug 2017 - Vintage car in Havana (6)

Aug 2017 - Vintage car in  Havana (5)

Aug 2017 - Vintage car in Havana (5)

Sep 2017 - Vintage car in  Havana (4)

Sep 2017 - Vintage car in Havana (4)

Sep 2017 - Vintage car in  Havana (3)

Sep 2017 - Vintage car in Havana (3)

Aug 2017 - Vintage car in  Havana (2)

Aug 2017 - Vintage car in Havana (2)

Aug 2017 - The tunnel in to la  Habana

Aug 2017 - The tunnel in to la Habana

Apr 2020 - Taxi ride at  Malcon,  Havana

Apr 2020 - Taxi ride at Malcon, Havana

Aug 2017 - Taxi in  Havana

Aug 2017 - Taxi in Havana

Aug 2017 - Taxi in  Havana 2

Aug 2017 - Taxi in Havana 2

Aug 2017 - Taxi driver fixing his car

Aug 2017 - Taxi driver fixing his car

Aug 2017 - Sunset from  Malecon

Aug 2017 - Sunset from Malecon

Aug 2017 - Plaza de la  Revolution

Aug 2017 - Plaza de la Revolution

Aug 2017 - Refreshing  Mojitos at  Mercure  Sevilla hotel

Aug 2017 - Refreshing Mojitos at Mercure Sevilla hotel

Aug 2017 - Playing football on the street

Aug 2017 - Playing football on the street

Aug 2017 - Plaza de la  Revolution 2

Aug 2017 - Plaza de la Revolution 2

Aug 2017 - Old houses in  Havana

Aug 2017 - Old houses in Havana

Aug 2017 - Museo de la  Revolución

Aug 2017 - Museo de la Revolución

Aug 2017 - Local poser

Aug 2017 - Local poser

Aug 2017 - Local gangster

Aug 2017 - Local gangster

Aug 2017 - Local bar  Havana

Aug 2017 - Local bar Havana

Aug 2017 - Havana

Aug 2017 - Havana

Sep 2017 - Havana 3

Sep 2017 - Havana 3

Sep 2017 - Havana 2

Sep 2017 - Havana 2

Aug 2017 - End of  Mojito

Aug 2017 - End of Mojito

Aug 2017 - Capitolo  Havana

Aug 2017 - Capitolo Havana

Aug 2017 - Best  Pina colada at  Maximo bar

Aug 2017 - Best Pina colada at Maximo bar

Aug 2017 - Beautiful sunset from  Castillo  De  Los  Tres  Reyes  Del  Morro

Aug 2017 - Beautiful sunset from Castillo De Los Tres Reyes Del Morro

Sep 2017 - A view from  The  National hotel havana

Sep 2017 - A view from The National hotel havana

Aug 2017 - A view from  Mercure  Sevilla hotel

Aug 2017 - A view from Mercure Sevilla hotel


Vinales

Time Required: 2 days

Aug 2017 - Vinales valley

Aug 2017 - Vinales valley

Aug 2017 - Taxi  Collectivo

Aug 2017 - Taxi Collectivo

Aug 2017 - Traditional rocking chairs on the porch of  Casa

Aug 2017 - Traditional rocking chairs on the porch of Casa

Aug 2017 - Smoking cigar at  Vinales tobacco plantation

Aug 2017 - Smoking cigar at Vinales tobacco plantation

Aug 2017 - Smoking cigar at  Vinales tobacco plantation 3

Aug 2017 - Smoking cigar at Vinales tobacco plantation 3

Aug 2017 - Smoking cigar at  Vinales tobacco plantation 2

Aug 2017 - Smoking cigar at Vinales tobacco plantation 2

Aug 2017 - Mojitos in  Vinales

Aug 2017 - Mojitos in Vinales

Aug 2017 - Local supporting his favourite band

Aug 2017 - Local supporting his favourite band

Aug 2017 - Local kids walking with goats in  Vinales

Aug 2017 - Local kids walking with goats in Vinales

Aug 2017 - Local houses in  Vinales

Aug 2017 - Local houses in Vinales

Aug 2017 - Bananas in  Vinales grow everywhere

Aug 2017 - Bananas in Vinales grow everywhere

Aug 2017 - Cigars at  Vinales tobacco plantation

Aug 2017 - Cigars at Vinales tobacco plantation


Playa Larga

Time Required: 2 days

Apr 2020 - Snorkelling at  Punta  Perdiz  Cuba (4)

Apr 2020 - Snorkelling at Punta Perdiz Cuba (4)

Aug 2017 - Taxi collectivo

Aug 2017 - Taxi collectivo

Apr 2020 - Snorkelling at  Punta  Perdiz  Cuba (3)

Apr 2020 - Snorkelling at Punta Perdiz Cuba (3)

Apr 2020 - Snorkelling at  Punta  Perdiz  Cuba (2)

Apr 2020 - Snorkelling at Punta Perdiz Cuba (2)

Aug 2017 - Punta  Perdiz  Cuba

Aug 2017 - Punta Perdiz Cuba

Aug 2017 - Playa  Larga beach

Aug 2017 - Playa Larga beach

Aug 2017 - Octopus diving club

Aug 2017 - Octopus diving club

Aug 2017 - Local fishing boats

Aug 2017 - Local fishing boats

Aug 2017 - Local pride

Aug 2017 - Local pride


Trinidad

Time Required: 3 days

Aug 2017 - Taxi car in  Trinidad

Aug 2017 - Taxi car in Trinidad

Aug 2017 - Sunset from  Plaza  Mayor  Trinidad

Aug 2017 - Sunset from Plaza Mayor Trinidad

Aug 2017 - Plaza  Mayor  Trinidad

Aug 2017 - Plaza Mayor Trinidad

Aug 2017 - On the way to old town  Trinidad

Aug 2017 - On the way to old town Trinidad

Aug 2017 - Locals watching the sunset

Aug 2017 - Locals watching the sunset

Aug 2017 - Local posers  Trinidad

Aug 2017 - Local posers Trinidad

Apr 2020 - Local ladies pet

Apr 2020 - Local ladies pet

Aug 2017 - Horse drawn taxi carts in  Trinidad

Aug 2017 - Horse drawn taxi carts in Trinidad

Aug 2017 - Icecreem in  Trinidad

Aug 2017 - Icecreem in Trinidad

Aug 2017 - Cuban  Flag

Aug 2017 - Cuban Flag

Aug 2017 - Casa particular  Trinidad

Aug 2017 - Casa particular Trinidad


Playa Ancon

Time Required: 1 day

Aug 2017 - Playa  Ancon

Aug 2017 - Playa Ancon

Apr 2020 - The way to keep it cool

Apr 2020 - The way to keep it cool

Aug 2017 - Freshly cut coconut at  Playa  Ancon

Aug 2017 - Freshly cut coconut at Playa Ancon

Aug 2017 - Freshly cut coconut

Aug 2017 - Freshly cut coconut

Aug 2017 - Coconut and cigar

Aug 2017 - Coconut and cigar

Apr 2020 - Freshly cut coconut 2

Apr 2020 - Freshly cut coconut 2