Need a Getaway from Orlando? Try Cuba!
Guess what’s less than a 1 hour plane ride away? Havana! That’s right kiddos, if you’re ready for a ‘weekend away’… look no further than the land of $1 mojitos and some serious Cuban-Afro-Salsa-Jazz music.
What You Should Know About Cuba Travel Before Going:
American’s can’t just go
You need a “reason” to visit Cuba (besides sitting on a beach.) However, the reasons are many, and you can pick ‘cultural experience’ or ‘journalism’ and it’s all rather self-enforced, so you likely won’t have anyone check your reason. It’s always smart to save museum ticket stubs, and I even keep an itinerary on hand of my ‘cultural’ events that I plan to do.
You need to pay for a visa
This isn’t too much of a pain, but it’s an extra $50. Don’t forget to budget it!
You need Cuban Health Insurance
Again, not a huge deal, and JetBlue is kind enough to include it in the price of the ticket — but you do have to get it. It’s just a few bucks, but a requirement.
Changing Dollars = Bad Idea
When you go to Cuba, you need to present your passport and change your money at the airport. (Don’t expect to find reliable ATMS or get cash from your bank.) You need to take cash. And it’s better to take euro or pounds—right now the pound is strong, so you’ll get more money for your exchange. If you exchange dollars into CUC (the currency most used in Cuba), you’ll get an extra 10% taken away from your funds, just for being American. 🙂
Don’t Book a Hotel
Really, the best way to go is a rented room or an Air B&B. The (government operated) huge hotels are quite dated, and extremely expensive.
Besides, you can always go to them to lounge by the pool. They charge about $10 – $20 for a pool/day pass, but they give you back most of that in mojito credit to spend by the pool.
I recommend finding a nice guest house or Air B&B, and paying as much cash for it as possible when you get there. It’s really tough for Cubans to get money we wire/pay for rooms, so they much prefer it. We found beautiful places on Air B&B for around 30CUC (about $30 USD) per night, and it even included breakfast.
- Owners like it when you pay cash for rooms.
- Air B&B has sweet finds! This room was $30 per couple per night, and it came with breakfast.
Do Get Airport Pickup
If your host offers you airport pickup, just get it. It’s so worth the $25 to have someone with a sign at the airport waiting for you. Sure, you might be able to get into town cheaper, but the first 10 minutes of arrival are not the time to scrimp and save. This will help you get relaxed and accustomed to finding your way around. It’s just a nice stress relief.
Lower Your Standards (a Little)
Cuba is amazing, it’s oozing with history and fascinating photography opportunities. There’s artist and writers and crazy creativity, but the toilets aren’t always the best. Chill out and just enjoy it for what it is; don’t expect 5 star Sandals resort experiences. You’ll just be disappointed and miss the beauty of what’s there. If you want a resort experience, just so somewhere else. If you want to savor the authenticity and the history, Cuba’s for you!
- Savor chilling in cafes that feel like times gone by.
Do Make an Itinerary
You’ll have limited wi-fi, so make sure you download your plan into your iPad or print it out before you go. Also, get a map or make sure you download one or load Google map. You’ll want to feel self-sufficient about getting around.
Take the Walking Tour
Really? A walking tour? Yes, really. Get to know the ins and outs of Havana with a local. You’ll get a true intimate introduction to history, and you’ll also start your trip early with connecting with locals and really getting a sense of Cuba from their perspective.
- Take a walking tour through Havana to really experience Cuba.
Don’t Just Stay in Havana
There is STUNNING nature in Cuba, and this includes perfect beaches, cool pottery classes, waterfalls, caves, and horseback riding in cute farm areas. Don’t be afraid to leave the city, fabulous as it is. Cuba has more to offer than Havana nights. 🙂
Don’t Check Bags—Carry on Only People
How do bags get lost on a 1 hour direct flight?! I don’t know. And at this point, I don’t care. Just do yourself a favor and take a carry-on bag. I’m partial to my Away carry-on (one of my life-loves), but whatever works for you. And make sure it’s got a lock.
Appreciate TripAdvisor, but Don’t Let It Control You
Yes, TripAdvisor at this point has HOARDS of suggestions for Cuba. It’s got 35 reviews for every hole in the wall restaurant.
But honestly, part of the relaxation, beauty and charm of Cuba is NOT having internet everywhere. You truly disconnect, and you get to enjoy finding places (even without Yelp) on your own.
I also really enjoyed the Anthony Bourdain Cuba Episode (link here). Antony Bourdain does a nice job just giving you the vibe of a place. My husband and I watched it last year and thought “Yep, we need to head to Cuba.” It has a vivacious aliveness that’s special. Just go, you won’t regret it. 🙂