The Get Lost team recently took our first adventurous trip to Cuba and certainly had our fair share of mishaps. Follow our journey as we provide useful tips to prepare you for your Cuban Get-Away and help you to avoid making the same traveller mistakes.
Day 1: No Habla Español or Inglès
We arrived on the beautiful Caribbean Island of Cuba on a sunny Friday afternoon. The flight over was only about 45 minutes, and the process of obtaining our Visas was quite painless but it didn’t take long before we encountered our first challenge…waiting on the luggage.
1. Pack light if possible and avoid checking luggage.
The process getting our luggage took longer than the flight from Fort Lauderdale itself, so I immediately reminded myself that I was going to need to exercise EXTREME patience on this trip. We are after all in the Caribbean and Island time is a real thing here. Plus, being that it’s a Third World country would also mean a lack of modern technology. And the influx in travel from us American’s surely doesn’t help matters. Things were going to take some time so just remain calm.
2. Be patient, no one here is in a rush.
We finally retrieved our luggage and we were promptly greeted by a taxi driver holding a sign with our names just as our host arranged. Let me tell you, that was a a much needed sign of relieve. I have to admit, I was a bit nervous they wouldn’t show up and we would have to rely on my limited Spanish to get us to our Airbnb. Thankfully they came through as promised.
3. Brush up on your Español or have a translator.
Our driver spoke very little English but still did a fairly decent job of pointing out some important landmarks and tried to make small talk as best as he could during the 30 minute ride to our apartment in Miramar.
We did have some minor issues with communication and a mix up where the driver failed to take us to exchange our currency. But overall the transport from the airport to the property went rather smooth.
4. Exchange currency upon arrival to CUC -Cuban Convertible Peso not to be confused with CUP- Cuban Peso.
This does bring me to a point here. Make sure you exchange for CUC at the airport. I’d recommend at minimum, exchange a couple hundred US dollars if you are concerned with the exchange rate. I can’t vouch to if you can find better rates within Havana, but you’ll will need CUC to pay your driver for sure.
I’d also recommend exchanging to EUR or CAD before departing from the States if possible. The trade in our Currencies is still highly restrictive and Cuba does impose additional fees on USD. If you do any have remaining CUC, prior to departing Cuba you should covert it to either of those currencies to ensure you get USD in return. Also, check the exchange rates before you leave and you’ll minimize your exchange losses.
Anyways…. Once we arrived at our Casa, I only had EURO’s and trying to get the cab driver or Suzie, our host, to understand we still needed to exchange currency was extremely difficult. Needless to say, I ended up paying 45 Euro for a 30 CUC cab ride because I didn’t have the right currency and wasn’t sure of the exchange rate.
Even though we had a serious language barrier here, with my No Habla Español and Suzie’s No Habla Inglès, she still managed to take us around the neighborhood and found us a place exchange our money right before they were closing.
Getting their was an adventure in itself. We ended up on a 4 mile adventurous city hike through Miramar, in search of a exchange counter.
Now, I would highly discourage you from repeating my same mistakes, but in hindsight it does go to show you how safe of a neighborhood Miramar is and how generous the Cuban people are. Can you imagine walking several miles in a foreign neighborhood, with a tour guide who doesn’t really know where she’s going either, nor can speak the same language as you? Add to the fact, you’re carrying about a grand of cash or so in your pocket, and your wife is carrying an extra large Louis Vuitton purse.
We we could have easily been a victim of a robbery or worse. Which brings me to my next tip.
5. Leave your valuables behind.
As a rule of thumb, it’s not wise to walk around in a improvised area showing a sign of wealth. Granted, all of the Cuban people I encountered were very friendly but most were also very poor. So try to keep your attire and accessories modest so you don’t attract unwanted attention. Always be cautious of your surroundings no matter where you are.
Back on our journey…We finally found a makeshift cash booth of some sort in the middle of a street. By looking at this place you would have no way of knowing this was a place to exchange cash. There wasn’t any signage or anything to identify exactly what this place was. But, to our amazement they were able to exchange our currency with no issues at all at a very competitive rate.
I only wish I would have trusted my first instinct and walked a half mile down the road to the Copacabana Hotel that our driver pointed earlier. If I checked with them first I would have found out they exchange currency as do most major hotels in Cuba.
6. Wear comfortable clothing and shoes.
You never know when you’ll end up on a journey like we did. Unfortunately for me, and my wife’s poor feet, I didn’t find out about that until our last day. Let me tell you, that walk had a sista’s feet throbbing in those sandals, lol. But hey, you live and you learn.
7. Stay in a Airbnb or a Casa.
We rented a 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom flat through Airbnb in the suburb of Miramar, an upscale neighborhood about 15 minutes outside Central Havana.
The apartment was modest but nicely furnished, with AC throughout and great ocean vies. It was also pretty spacious and modern for Cuban standards.
My wife is a germaphobe, and I’m somewhat of a clean freak so I was thrilled to find that our unit meet both of our approvals. My favorite part was the balcony. It was perfect for watching the sunset over the Ocean while enjoying a Cuban cigar with a class of fine aged Rum. During the day it was a good spot for people watching which was entertaining in itself. Cuban’s are full of life and energy and never seem to sleep.
All of the basic necessities were included with the unit. They even had some liquor and a couple boxes of cigars. The fridge was stocked plenty of beverages including cerveza. They also provided breakfast in the morning if you choose. All of the extra goodies of course were provided for an additional small cost but well worth it for the convenience.
We ended our first night at a neighborhood restaurant, La Chucheria, sipping mojitos and having a few good laughs about our day’s adventures. And boy what a day it was.