HAVANA – what to DO!? – 2 of 3

We only visited Havana – so these are tips for visiting the city, and I’ve included a few notes on day trips!

Tours:

1 – Old car tour

We did a 3 hour tour through Old Cars Havana. Great way to see the city. Drove us through Old Town, the Military School/Outlook (where we found the best Pinja Colodas EVER), Vedado, Miramar and the forest

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2 – Havana Club Rum Distillery

We didn’t make it, but read it the book it wasn’t the best anyways. My friend went and said it was interesting but not a hilight. They got to taste rum of different ages.

3 – Chocolate Museum

This is more of a restaurant than a museum, but you can see them making chocolate at all hours and it’s great! We went after dinner one night and had the best iced chocolate drink I’ve ever had. They were sold out of many of the special chocolates so maybe go earlier in the day to get the best selection. VERY affordable – we ordered tons of chocolate for under 10 CUC. Definitely go.

4 – Cigar factory

We went to the old location and ended up just purchasing cigars at the store there. It was going to take us over an hour to get to the new location of the factory and complete the tour. BUT definitely purchase some cigars from a registered place while in Havana – affordable, so why not?!

Walk around:

Definitely take your time to walk around old town. The streets are fun – there’s music, restaurants, shops and museums to pop into. Go to all the old plazas.

You MUST walk around the Melacon. It’s the long walk along the beach. People sit out and fish, play music and just hang out. Our tour guide told us this is where people go to find love. We obviously took every chance to walk on the Melacon.

Shopping:

1 -San Jose markets

This is a massive inside market with tons of crafts. People definitely try to sell you everything under the sun. I bought some cute woven leather sandals for 15 CUC and also came home with tons of magnets after having won a free necklace from opening a magic box. I felt like I couldn’t take a free necklace and didn’t have any small bills so bought 4 magnets. If you want one, email me.

2 – Havana 1971 perfume shop

Come here for the best perfume experience ever. They’ll make you a special scent just for you. We LOVED this place. They have all size bottles that you can take on your carry on. MUST GO.

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Going out:

Casa De Musica – my friend’s rec for a fun show with different musical acts.

Club 1830 – This is pretty far from Old Town. My friend and I didn’t make it, but another friend went and LOVED it. She said it’s the best place to go for salsa – and to go on a Sunday night. We also got the same rec from a taxi driver.

La Zorra y el Cuervo – Jazz club recommended by a friend who went. She said it’s 10 CUC for entry and two drinks. They loved it.

Fabrica de Arte – A bar that has different art exhibits. It was closed when we were in town, but we’ll just have to go back! Supposed to be really great. It’s on the far end of Vedado so we took a cab.

Sarao – This is a night club in Vedado. We went when we found out that Fabrica de Arte was closed. It was fun, but similar to a nightclub in the states.

Day Trips:

Santa Maria – This is a beautiful beach about 1/2 hour outside of Havana. We took the beach bus from Parque Centrale. It’s 5 CUC per person for a round trip. We rented chairs on the beach for 2 CUC and mojitos for 2.5 CUC each. LOVED it. Also ate at a cute little pop up restaurant in front of the Tropicoco. (Don’t stay a night out here – the hotel is quite run down. Much better to come in from Havana). We took a taxi back for 15 CUC.

If you’re traveling around Cuba, everyone we spoke with said Trinidad is the best beach hands down. Next time!

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Santa Maria

Vinales – Friend’s rec:

  • Visit tobacco plantation and coffee plantation
  • Horse riding, sunset or sunrise horse riding trails available
  • Went to these old Indian caves which was cool too!
  • Best meal we had on the trip was at the back of someones house in the mountains. I have no idea the name of where but it was a highlight!

xx

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HAVANA – the basics – 1 of 3

xxWhen your best friend asks if you want to go to Cuba for your birthday – you must always say yes. Melissa and I both love to travel and when Cuba opened up to Americans, with direct flights from both of our cities (read more here) we knew we had to go!

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Who goes there?:

Americans haven’t been able to travel freely to Cuba since the early 1960’s. People have gotten around the restriction through educational trips or flying through other countries. What’s most interesting is that many people fail to realize that although travel has been closed to Americans, Cuba is not foreign to the tourism industry. People travel from all over the world to visit their beautiful country, and they have many nice hotels.

Those we befriended while journeying through Havana:

Scotland

Canary Islands, Spain

San Francisco

Barcelona

LA – NYC – Miami – San Francisco

How to get there:

Take a direct flight!

We both took direct flights from Houston and NYC.

Travel Visa:

You can purchase your Visa at the check-in gate for your flight, or you can order it ahead of time here.

Either works.

Do I need to have a purpose for visiting?:

No. Read the article I tagged at the top. Cuba is now open to American travel. You will be asked when purchasing your ticket to pick a reason for a visit, but it’s not like before where if you chose education you had to be associated with a specific educational organization and fulfill the ‘people-to-people’ requirement. This is a good article about the differences.

Travel Insurance:

You will also need travel insurance (not purchased from the US) for your trip. Options –

 They will have a desk/person selling travel insurance for 5 CUC per day at the airport. You can purchase this before you go through Customs when you get to Cuba.

Our airline tickets (United and Delta) both included insurance for our trip. Save your ticket and carry it with you.

Money:

USD is charged at 10% higher exchange rate in Cuba. Recommend before your trip to exchange USD into Euro or CAD. Then, when you arrive in the airport in Cuba, go to the currency exchange there and get it changed over. MUCH QUICKER THAN EXCHANGE OFFICE IN HAVANA!! There are currency exchange offices in Havana and at hotels but the airport was definitely the best option.

*Note – not all currencies can be exchanged in Cuba (lesson learned for me as I took AUD which were useless there). Euro gets the best exchange rate.

US credit cards / ATM cards will not work (mine got eaten by the machine). Take as much money as you think you will need with you.

Non US cards might work in ATM machines. My friend was able to use an Australian card on her trip.

Cuba has two currencies – CUC and Cuban peso. 1 CUC = 1 USD. 1 CUC = 24 cuban peso. I only used CUC. You will use the CUC.

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CUC

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PESO

Where to stay:

Hotels

Casa Particular

Air BnB

We chose to stay in Casa Particular. There are tons of Casas available all over Havana. A Casa Particular is similar to AirBnB in that you are renting a room at a person’s home or apartment. The government allows the residents to rent out their homes. They’re all similarly priced, around 35 CUC a night. Best deal and you get to see Cuba through a local’s eye.

We chose to stay close to Old Town – which we loved. Our hostess, Elda, was so kind! And there were two other guests staying from the US when we were there as well. Elda’s place was very clean and comfy – perfect for our weekend. She even coordinated our taxis to and from the airport, which is a must, since you don’t have wifi/maps.

We also met people who stayed in Vedado, but they had to take cars more places. Vedado is filled with old mansions and has more of a neighborhood vibe.

Getting to and from the airport:

Ask your hotel or host to book a car to pick you up from the airport. If you are flying into Havana, you should pay 30-35 CUC to get into the city. Write down the address so you have it handy. The person will drop you off at your location and can call your Casa owner as well to let them know you have arrived.

They don’t have intercoms, buzzers, etc to get into the buildings! Organize this part to make your life easier.

My casa owner organized my car from the airport. It’s the BEST because the maps are confusing, and she actually gave us the wrong address, but the driver knew exactly where to go – was SUPER nice – and called her to let her know I’d arrived.

Do I need a converter?

NOPE – they use American plugs.

Maps:

It’s hard to find WiFi. We didn’t use it the entire time of our visit. You can buy a card at a hotel, but not worth it to us. Live off the grid for a bit – it will do the soul some good.

Download Google maps offline

Purchase the map through MAP.ME

Lonely Planet book on Cuba

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Melissa and I lived by this book and loved it.

Getting Around:

Walking – we walked everywhere. Take some good shoes.

There are tons of Taxis in Havana, and we took them if it was late or if we were going a further distance. Remember Havana is a big city. You’ll find them everywhere. Many people saying ‘taxi, taxi’. Always felt super safe in taxis.

Havana also has its own version of ‘Uberpool’. You will see classic car taxis with the car full. There are taxis that run standard loops around the city. So, you can hail one down which has people in it, if they are going close to where you want to go, negotiate lower price and jump in! Enjoy the ride!

They have buses but they are PACKED! We took a bus to the beach but it was a special beach bus and very nice.

CoCo Taxi – little yellow have coconut like motorbikes for 2 to 3 people. I can’t even describe, see photo below. YOU MUST TAKE ONE! They are all over Old Town.

Tours:

We did a 3 hour tour through Old Cars Havana

Great way to see the city. Drove us through Old Town, the Military School/Outlook (where we found the best Pinja Colodas EVER), Vedado, Miramar and the forest

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Fun Notes:

CUBA IS REALLY SAFE!! Particularly for tourists as there are harsh penalties for harming tourists. I felt safer in Cuba than what I do in New York which saying something.

Take anything you think you will need with you – sunscreen, medication, sanitizer etc etc. Not much shopping or convenience stores around.

We drank only bottled water – suggest to do the same

If you don’t speak Spanish, take a travel language book with you as some English is limited. Or, download app on your phone (that doesn’t need data to operate) to translate words so you can converse.

xx

b

Favorite Street…

I’m a passionate person and can name you my favorite places in NYC, Houston and Paris – the trifecta cities of my life. So I couldn’t help but pass along this article from the NY Times about their favorite streets in each city. I LOVE this!

New York is hard. So many streets to choose from – so many nooks and crannies, but I would have to say that I love Grove Street in the West Village, Elizabeth Street in Nolita and I LOVE sitting on the West Side Highway once summer hits – although that’s not really a street. If you are every walking with me through out town you’ll also know there are streets I HATE – see all major cross town streets such as 14th, 34th, etc. Houston is OK at times.

Buvette on Grove Street

Buvette on Grove Street

Do you have a favorite street in your city? Article below.

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/04/15/travel/europe-favorite-streets.html?_r=0

xx

B

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