Cities Traveled: Habana, Vinales, Trinidad, Varadero
How To Get To Cuba
Change all of your American dollars to Euros. You will be charged a 10% conversion fee if you bring American dollars. U.S.- issued credit and debit cards do not work in Cuba so travelers should plan to bring enough cash with them to cover all the expenses they might incur during their trip.
A visa is required to enter into Cuba for American citizens (and most other countries).
In order to legally travel to Cuba, you’ll need to meet one of the requirements for the 12 visas. You can read about them here: https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/country/cuba.html
As of November 9, 2017, individual People-To-People visa is no longer valid FOR AMERICANS ONLY. If you’d like to still travel as an individual to Cuba you must: 1) Check Support Of The Cuban People, 2) Avoid these entities restricted to Americans, 3) Keep track of your transactions and activities in a listed itinerary. If you booked ANYTHING before November 9, you are exempt from these new rules. Then continue onto Cuba!
Keep in mind that Support of the Cuban People visa means you’re not there solely to be a tourist, but to actually interact with Cubans and learn about the culture, a.k.a. what you’re supposed to do anyway when you travel. That means no sipping on a mojito at the beach at an all-inclusive resort when you will meet not one Cuban except for the desk lady and maybe the janitor. Don’t be basic. Reach out and send emails to artists in Cuba, photographers, have an itinerary of things you want to learn and people you want to talk to before leaving the United States.
The cost of the visa can vary depending on the airport you’re flying out of.
From the United States a visa costs $50 (United Air and JetBlue). However, depending on the airline there way be up to an extra $50 processing fee (American Airlines and Spirit Airlines). So expect to pay an addition $100. When I went they required cash, but others reported airlines only wanting credit card. Bring both just in case. You can buy them at the gate 1-hour prior to departure.
Due to recent travel restrictions made by Donald Trump for Americans, there will be an increase in audits of return trips to Cuba to make sure you meet the requirements for the visas. However, what document is necessary for proof has not been updated by OFAC, yet. There are no clear rules on how any of this will be enforced regarding penalties . Because of this, you can continue with your Cuba trip until further notice. The rules are expected to come out September, 2017.
From A Third Party Country
From Cancun or Mexico City give yourself 3 hours to be able to check-in. Cubans take forever to check-in and they also have a ridiculous amount of cargo to check-in since a lot of them are bringing over electronics and necessities for their families that can’t afford it back home. As you stand in line to check into your flight, there is a person handing out visas for $20 USD or $12-15 if you pay in pesos. Once landing in the Cancun airport, remember you will need to take a taxi to the terminal that offers Cuba flights. Allow 20 minutes for this and be prepared to pay in Mexican pesos or more in USD. If landing in Mexico City airport, take the elevator to the second floor and buy your visa at the counter of your airline.
The Language And What To Pack
Speaking Spanish is damn near a necessity in Cuba. However, even if you do speak Spanish, Cubans are the laziest Spanish speakers I’ve ever heard. They only say half words, so if you can’t understand them, you’re not alone. For example: “buenos dias” is just “bue” or “gracias” just “gra”.
You should pack sunscreen. I can’t emphasize it enough. Also, sunglasses. Don’t bring anything nice because it’s a dusty, polluted place that you wouldn’t want to ruin anything. So yea girl, don’t even think about putting those heels in your bag. Don’t do it, child. Also, I don’t recommend jeans. Linens, skirts, shorts, dresses, anything cotton to let your private parts breathe unless you just enjoy feeling musty down there.
Arriving In Cuba
Upon arrival you will go through various security checkpoints and it will take awhile to exit. You will have the option of getting your passport stamped. I did, my brother did not. Neither of us got questioned upon arrival back in the United States. If you have a checked bag, prepare to kill yourself. You will wait no less than 90 minutes for the bags to come out of the carousel.
Once you exit the airport there will be a bunch of taxis waiting. Pay NO MORE than 25CUC for the ENTIRE CAR (not per person). To the right and left are places that you can exchange money. Here is where you will exchange your Euros to the Cuban Convertible, otherwise known as CUC. The exchange rate is pretty much 1 to 1 so if you thought you were going to get bang for your buck here, you’re wrong. Plan accordingly. I suggest changing most of your money here because going to the bank in the cities of Cuba take forever and a day. Allow at minimum an hour to access a bank. Even though you may be the first in line, banks will allow all the Cubans to go before you and also will take forever to process your request. Don’t do it. Avoid at all costs.
Transportation to Havana
Assuming you’re flying into Havana, you can take a taxi to Habana Centro or Habana Vieja. Again, don’t let them charge you more than 25 CUC for the entire car. They should drop you directly at your casa door. Remember, in general, try to negotiate for everything, even if things seems like there’s a set price.
Where To Stay In Havana
This all depends on what kind of traveler you are. You can stay in a “nice” (quotations because nice just means better than the rest, but compared to an American standard of living, just understand everything is ratchet as hell) hotel that has internet (you still have to pay for it) in the lobby such as Iberostar. However, it’s better for Cuban citizens and as Americans to stay in a “casa particular”. You can search on Trip Advisor, Google, or AirBnB for places to stay.
There are 3 different sections you can stay in: Habana Vieja, Habana Centro, or Vedado.
Habana Vieja is where all the tourist action is and the buildings are “better” than anywhere else in Habana. I have never stayed here, but if you want to be close to all the tourist traps, this is your place.
Habana Centro is a little hood, but it’s cheaper and where all the people watching happens. You’ll see the most random shit here. I saw a man sharpening his knife using his bicycle; just try to imagine it. You might feel it’s a little sketchy, but Cuba is really safe. You don’t have to worry about getting robbed or murdered. My brother and I walked perfectly safe at night around the entire place with no problems. If a cab driver tries to scare you into taking his taxi because he says it’s unsafe at night, call bullshit. Cuba has one of the lowest crime rates in the world. You’ll be fine.
I stayed in two different casas in Habana Centro cause I like things dirty and cheap and as raw as possible. I highly recommend one of them: Casa Marilyn. She doesn’t speak English very well but luckily I speak Spanish. However, if you don’t speak a lick of Spanish, she’s good at interpreting your hand signals and could understand my brother perfectly. She’s also so fun and will arrange anything you need. Her breakfast is only 3 CUC in the morning, cheapest I’ve had! And then watch reggaeton music videos with her and her husband in the morning. Warning, the bed squeaks like a crazy. If you’re a couple, don’t stay here. You can access her at email: firstname.lastname@example.org, telephone: (05) 360-4055, address: Lagunas No 329, apto 4 e/ Gervasio y Escobar Centro, Habana, La Habana.
You should also understand that you should have zero expectations of the casas. Actually you should expect that your room will be a shanty. There will be an old bed and maybe water, sometimes maybe not. Also the building you’re in may have electrical wires hanging out and half of the building may have fallen and you’re living in the other half, which may or may not collapse during your stay. In addition, there will be 5 doors that you’ll have to unlock before ever leaving or coming into your place of accommodations because #ThisIsCuba.
Vedado is my favorite place to stay in Havana. It’s what Cubans would describe as “mas tranquilo” more calm, relaxed, people don’t bother you or harass you like Habana Vieja. People are living their regular lives and ain’t worried about you. All around this area you’ll see old mansions converted into apartment complexes and rooms for tourists. They’re broke down, but you definitely get the feel of what it was like back in the day when Cuba used to be the Pearl of the Caribbean and was populated by many wealthy families. In addition, it’s within walking distance to the Plaza de Revolucion, Viazul bus stop, Habana Libre, Hotel Nacional, Universidad de Habana, the hospital, and the Fabrica del Arte. Restaurants are cheaper around this area because this area is geared more towards Cubans than tourists like the other areas.
Kuky’s Place is prime location. Right in front of the University of Havana and on the border of Habana Centro. She is a Cuban grandma, completely adorable, super helpful, and her daughter speaks perfect English (she lives in New Jersey, is an English professor, and manages the AirBnB account). She woke up at 5 in the morning to cook me a vegetable omelette because she said it was healthier for me instead of ham. Thanks, abuelita, you da bomb.
Hostal Zaza is not a hostel, it’s a casa. It is the newest and cleanest place I’ve stayed in all of Havana. There are multiple rooms in this complex, but each room is its own space. The bathroom is huge. Jose’s brother speaks a little bit of every language and they have Internet IN CASA, which is super rare. Jose manages the account from Switzerland and works for the U.N. for his family who lives there. He can arrange a taxi for you. Everyone in casa is sweet and always ready to help.
What To Do In Havana
Museum of the Revolution, El Capitolio, Morro Castle, Floridita
Basically, nothing. Your best bet is just to walk around and people watch. We went to a few museums, they’re awful. They will have things displayed like “This was the type-writer that Fidel used to send a message,” but there’s no type-writer, just the label. Save your money, don’t go to any museums. They’re not what you would consider normal museums. There are a lot of Ernest Hemingway things to do in Havana, again, over-rated and boring af. But, do you.
The best parts of Havana for me were not actually in Havana. The beach near there called Santa Maria beach was better than any beach I went to in Cuba. Better than Varadero. You take the local bus for 5CUC round trip. It takes about 30 minutes to get there and is the LAST stop. It runs every 40 minutes, the bus is air conditioned, and the last bus picks up at 6PM. If a lady tries to sell you Cohibas, just understand they’re fake and you’re playing yourself. There is another bus, but it is an obvious double decker tourist bus and probably where most people will point you to. They charge you 5CUC to go and 5CUC to return. Understand that you are basic if you take this bus. Ask for the regular bus, it stops in the same place in the main square.
My other favorite was Fusterlandia, which is in a town called Jaimanitas about 30 minutes away by taxi. This is an entire neighborhood decorated in wild mosaics. The art knows no bounds. From bus stops, to roof tops, to entire homes, the artist Jose Fuster created this magical wonderland of art. Highly recommended. How to get to Fusterlandia: 20CUC by taxi or 1CUC by taxi collectivo to get there and 1CUC to get back. You can find the taxi collectivos along the street, tell them you’re going toward PLAYA, and then at the last stop, get into another taxi collectivo towards SANTE FE, but tell the driver to stop at Casa de Fuster. Hours are everyday 9AM-4PM, but they sometimes close from 12-2 for lunch (I went at 1PM and they were not closed) and it is free to enter.
You can also visit the Malecon, which is a 5 mile long wall along the sea and watch people fish on pieces of trash. I saw a man fish on a Styrofoam cooler even though the sign specifically said DO NOT FISH ON TRASH (it actually says “tire” but same-same). Like, how many times did that have to happen before they made a sign?
The Plaza de la Revolucion is a monument dedicated to the poet Jose Marti. There is a museum inside the memorial, as well as a huge photo of Che and Fidel, perfect for selfies. Come here during independence day and the whole place is packed with floats and parades.
Another attraction is walking down the street next to Floridita (I would skip Floridita all together) called Calle Obispo which is probably the busiest walkable street in Cuba. You’ll see places to shop, buy souvenirs, eat, and at the end it leads you to the Plaza de Armas where you can feast your eyes upon old colonial architecture and a local flea market.
And finally, last but not least, GO TO THE FABRICA DEL ARTE. Only opened Thursday and Saturdays starting at 8PM, 2CUC entrance fee, is well worth the effort. This place is all the possible art forms you can think of packed into one place. You’ll be looking at contemporary art, structure and design, jewelry making, video and performance art, all while a live quartet is playing in the back room and you can hear classical music all around you. In the front may be a Cuban band singing Spanish ballads, and way in the back a discotec for dancing. All while drinking mojitos upon mojitos because this place is also a bar. This site is not to be missed. If I could advise you to do anything, it would be to go here.
Remember that if you ever get lost, you can ask a police officer where things are. A pub, a bar, a museum, they’re cool with it and won’t ask you for money afterwards. You can also drink in the streets.
Where To Eat In Havana
You can troll your tourist guide books for fancy places to eat in Havana. I’m not here for that. I’d rather spend my money on experiences, not food. Its simply sustenance for me. HOWEVER, if you want to eat the best tasting food in Havana, go to El Burrito. Skip over all the Mexican stuff and head to the Cuban menu. The proportions are ridiculous AND cheap af. For beers, meals, and desert for two, I think we paid $11 total.
The Cuban version of Chipotle you can find near the Plaza de Armas called El Canchullero. Everything is served as basically a Chipotle burrito bowl and everything on the menu is delicious.
If you plan on eating in Habana Centro or Vedado, you may want to change your CUC to Cuban pesos (the currency that Cubans operate in, CUC is for foreigners or extranjeros.) Where to do this? I actually don’t know. Ask your casa, but I just usually trade with a Cuban off the street. The exchange rate is 25 cuban pesos to 1 CUC and watch how magically things become cheaper for you. Check out this menu, thats 2 cuban pesos for a coffee, the equivalent of 8 cents USD, or $1 for a hamburger. Your Cuban dollar menu at your service. YOU’RE WELCOME.
If you’re feeling fancy, I highly recommend the rooftop bar of La Guardia. I admittedly have skipped this place on four previous trips to Havana because literally every tourist stops here. I hate myself. This place is BEAUTIFUL. From the beautiful speech on the wall, to the newly restored intricacies of the yellow building on the inside, to the plein-air-white-linen-table-cloth-dining area outside, it’s a must-see. The prices are American prices. The ONLY thing I request is that you walk there. Located on Condesa street in Habana Centro, you’ll really get a feel to the every day reality of Cubans living in Havana. The streets are trashed, buildings have fallen, but yet people are carrying about their lives like nothing happened. I think it’s important not to pull up in your fancy taxi and eat at a fancy restaurant without seeing what that neighborhood is about.
What To Avoid In Havana
At night or even during the day, a Cuban may ask you if you know the time or some arbitrary question to start conversation. JUST IGNORE THEM. TELL THEM TO FUCK OFF. They’re not actually being nice and friendly. They are promoters that get paid by different establishments to bring tourists in, in which they get a commission, and may also play you by ordering a drink that you may have to pay for, and then also aggressively ask you for money at the end. How do I know this? I got played, don’t judge me.
How To Get Internet
The myth that there is no internet in Cuba is….well…a myth…just like every other thing in this country. You may buy an internet card at any Etecsa store for 2CUC. There is a massive line and they have different hours on weekends. I advise you to buy a bunch at once. That hour goes by quickly and I don’t have time to play games with that line. If the store ends up being closed when you need a card or you just don’t want to wait in line, you can buy one from someone off the streets for 3CUC. There are certain squares that have the wifi and only those squares. Where can you find these plazas? Just look around and see if there are crowds of people on their phone or laptop and know that you’ve found the place. Around here are park benches, just ask around if someone is selling “tarjetas de wifi” and someone is bound to try to sell you one.
To connect to the wifi, click on the wifi option and a screen pops up. You will need to enter your username and password that was given to you on the card. And then boom, you are connected to the outside world. Once you log in, the time starts and once you log off the time stops, and you will need to re-log back in to use the rest of your hour.
Transportation In And Around Havana
Admittedly, this took me three trips to Havana to figure out, but I fucking cracked the code. There is a Havana Uber, for lack of a better word, but you will need to speak Spanish to upgrade to this mastery of travel. But you can get basically anywhere in Havana for 10cent CUC’s per person or the equivalent of 40 cents. However, it is not door to door service. You can catch these taxis on the side of the street anywhere in Havana, but you’ll need to ask around for the exact spots in which these taxis stop. They’re not marked so it’s like some universal code that all the Cubans in the area know. In addition, FOR EVEN CHEAPER, you can take what they call the “wa-wa” which is a bus that looks like a giant accordion and will drop you in and around Havana for 2 Cuban pesos per person or the equivalent of 8 cents USD. However, there is no intercom on when you need to get off, you’re just gonna have to figure that shit out for yourself and ask the people on the bus when you need to jump off and look out for the street signs. So understand this mode of transportation is for MASTER LEVEL travelers. Otherwise, go take the basic taxi and pay $3-$10 per ride.
Transportation To Other Cities
There are multiple ways to travel around Cuba. However, the most affordable options are by taxi collectivo or by Viazul or Transtur bus. The Viazul bus website always says sold out, that’s a lie. Don’t try to book online in advance cause LOL. But you should go buy a bus ticket at the bus stop one day in advance. This is the most comfortable way to travel as the buses are nice and air conditioned. A taxi collectivo is when a minimum of 4 people are in one taxi and are all going to the same city. The benefits of the taxi collectivo is that it’s usually the same price as the bus but it is door-to-door service. So no need to hire a taxi to take you from the bus stop to your casa and vice versa, the taxi drops you and picks you up exactly where you need to be. In addition, you can hire them at any time of day instead of on a schedule like the bus. However, the taxi collectivo is not as comfortable and definitely does not always have air conditioning. Pro tip: sit in the front seat next to the driver because at least then the windows roll down. If you sit in the back, the windows may or may not roll down and good luck to you.
If you are traveling far distances, for example Vinales to Trinidad. By bus it is a 10 hour ride, but taxi it is a 6 hour ride. However, you will need to change taxis multiple times. So don’t freak out when the taxi stops randomly at a gas station and orders you to get into another taxi. The taxis don’t make the full trip, they hand you off to other taxi drivers. Be careful if they tie your baggage to the top of the car. It rains, so make sure they put a tarp over your baggage if you have something that can’t get wet inside. Also don’t be alarmed if the cab driver stops on the side of the road to idk eat a sandwich or stop by his house to say hi to his daughter, you know #ThisIsCuba type-shit.
Pricing may vary on who is booking your taxi collectivo, but this should be the maximum amount you should pay: Havana to Vinales- 15CUC; Vinales to Havana- 15 CUC; Vinales to Trinidad- 35CUC; Trinidad to Varadero- 25CUC; Varadero to Havana- 15CUC. You can also compare against the Viazul bus prices. The taxi collectivo should never be more than that.
What To Do In Vinales
By far my favorite city in Cuba. This is the only place on the Gringo Trail you’ll be able to see the actual nature side of Cuba. You can take a 4-hour horseback ride through the tobacco fields (and smoke free cigars), coffee fields, visit lakes, and caves all for 25CUC. It’s a reserve so that means all these cigars were made herbicide and pesticide free, non-GMO, and protected by the government. In addition, this is the only place where the cigars you buy here will go directly to the Cuban farmers, not the government. My dad, a self-proclaimed cigar connoisseur, said he preferred them to the Cohibas. Highly recommended. Also the views are insane and perfect.
At night, if you’re there on a Friday or Saturday, there is a disco in a cave called Palenque. SO FUN. YOU MUST GO. The main square will be crowded with young children who should be asleep. The older kids will be at the cave. There will be a ton of taxi drivers in this area whispering in your ear “cueva” and you should whisper back “si, vamos.” It costs 1CUC to travel there and 1CUC back and the entrance is 2CUC. Don’t be alarmed if you show up before midnight and there’s a tranny in a leotard with a wig stuck in between his legs lip-syncing to Whitney Houston or an off-pitch Latino singer trying to sing Spanish ballads. Just keep buying more Presidentes until the reggaeton comes on and then it’s showtime. Shake it, shake it, until you can’t stand any longer and/or you find a Cuban mami/papi and book it home.
Also in the main square of Vinales is the Casa de la Musica. Which is also fun if you want your dancing skills to be put to shame. Literally everyone is a professional salsa dancer, don’t even try. It’s embarrassing, don’t do it. The Cubans will point and laugh at you, but only in secret, then maybe ask you if you want to dance later to show you really how its done. There are sometimes performances here that are super fun to watch also. This place is crowded every day of the week. And costs maybe 1 CUC to enter.
You can go to the Mural de la Prehistora, but I wouldn’t. I did, and it was a waste of money. The most remedial mural I’ve ever seen. You can also go to the Cueva del Indio. But I wouldn’t. I did, but it was a waste of money. It’s a 45 minute line, into a cave where you come to a boat and they point out weird shapes on the wall for 5 minutes in dirty water and then drop you off to exit. WASTE OF TIME. There’s no hieroglyphs like they say.
However, I do recommend the view at the Hotel Los Jazmines. You’ll need to rent a taxi to get there, but the views are amazing. There’s also a pool if you want to go swimming, but it’s like half full and it looks like a pool from the 70s that hasn’t been repainted or touched up since then. But that view, though. You feel like you’re in Avatar or looking at a blue screen, it looks so fake because it’s so beautiful. No camera can capture it.
If you’re still vibing off the views, there is a zipline 5 kilometers/3 miles outside of town. You can get there by taxi or ride your bike. It’s the perfect view of the countryside on the way there. The zipline costs 8CUC per person and lasts about 20 minutes. Here you’ll get 360 views of the mountains.
There is a day-trip available at 9AM-5PM that leaves from Vinales to Cayo Jutias for 15CUC per person roundtrip. Dotted with mangroves, there’s tons of Cubans salsa-ing on the sand and munching on 1CUC Cristal beers and 2.5 CUC Cubano sandwiches, the best I’ve ever tasted.
Cayo Levisa is also an option, but Levisa is a tourist destination in that you are required to present your passport, no Cubans are allowed on this beach and thereby everything is way more expensive. The price is 45CUC round trip and includes lunch.
Where To Eat In Vinales
IN CASA. Whatever you do, always eat in casa. But if you don’t believe me here are list of restaurant options.
The best restaurant-restaurant to eat in the square is a Mediterranean one called El Olivo. Not exactly meditteranean, but you can get a massive flavorful steak for $12. But if you turn the corner at the end of the street, making a left, walk one block down, there is a much cheaper restaurant called La Esquinita and another next to it, where you get entire pork chops and plates of Ropa Vieja for $3. They cook it on a grill in front of you.
But the restaurant not to be missed is at the Finca Agroecologica. An actual farm that grows organic, non-GMO vegetables offers the best ingredients for a great price. Here, you will get 25 plates of food for $10/person. Way more than you could ever eat by yourself. Also, check out the view.All the ingredients are local and organic.
Things To Avoid In Vinales
Don’t ever order Italian food in Cuba. Like not ever. Just stick with beans and rice and a piece of meat, whatever you may choose. And also check if the meat is thoroughly cooked. Cause nah… If you have the option, choose to have dinner in casa, the food is SO much better and probably cheaper. Also, you’re helping out the locals by eating at their house.
Where To Stay In Vinales
The place I recommend is my boyfriend’s parents house called Casa El Cactus, because they’re the most adorable humans on the planet (but I’m biased af). Also the house is on a street 5 minutes walking distance to the main square.
Laura cooks THE MOST amazing lobster tail complete with avocados, beans and rice, papaya, and french fries. I think it costs like 12CUC for the entire thing which you won’t be able to finish anyway. She also offers breakfast for 5CUC and lower priced meals depending on the meat you choose. You can book them here: Cactus El Cactus
Also, Alejandro’s brother, Victor, is a professional salsa teacher that has taught in Paris and offers his services for 8CUC/hour. You can book through this website by emailing or at the casa directly. I’ve taken his classes, and I was dripping sweat 30 minutes into it. Best 8CUC you’ll ever spend.
The other casa I’ve stayed in was the most expensive (35CUC) but also the fanciest case I’ve stayed in while in Cuba. It’s run by a family who is funded by someone in Switzerland so all of their furnishings are brand new. The breakfast is 5CUC but seriously they feed you more than you can eat. You can access them by emailing email@example.com phone number: +5353311817, name of the casa is Renga y Julia. Check out their instagram @casa_vinales_cuba or their website www.casavinales.jimdo.com
There are neighboring casas for 20CUC or 25CUC if you wish to choose one of those, but often times they’re not near the main square at all. The woman (or man) at the casa will arrange all of your excursions for you if you ask them. Don’t forget to eat in casa.
Things To Do In Trinidad
Trinidad is supposed to be the wealthiest city in Cuba; meaning it is the most expensive and a tourist trap. However, for no reason. I’ve seen more well-preserved colonial cities in central America. It’s honestly a waste of time AND I WENT DURING CARNIVAL, which is equally wack (have you been to Haiti’s karnaval though, so much better.) Trinidad is home to the old sugar cane barons, so there’s one square that is nice and preserved and considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The houses around the square are also well-preserved and worth going into, but we got food poisoning in those restaurants. Just stick to eating at your casa, like I said before.
You can go to the Valle de los Ingenios and see the old sugar cane plantations with a guide for 15-20CUC (depending on the amount of people in your party). You can also take the local train that goes around, but I recommend the guide so you can hear the history. You can see where slaves used to be bred in chambers based on physical attributes. They were forced to have sex with each other while chained around their necks that were tied to the wall. You can also see how the sugar cane was made. On the way there you can buy souvenirs and linens and climb the watch-tower where they would keep watch over runaway slaves. Kinda sick.
Someone is bound to try to convince you to go to the “waterfalls” in Trinidad. There are 2. One you can reach by horseback, the other not, it’s too far away and steep. We went to the larger one. It costs money to not only rent a taxi but also to enter. An exorbitant amount, something like 10 CUC to hike 45 mins down to the lamest waterfall I’ve ever seen and 45 mins back up. The water is brown. The hike is hard. Bring water, you might pass out.
There is the Casa de la Musica on the main steps, which is fantastic. The band is amazing. There is also dancing in a cave at the very, very top. Just ask around and people will point you to the cave. How to get to the cave: if it looks like you’re going down a sketchy path and there’s no one around you and you believe maybe you should turn around, that means you’re almost there. It seems quiet because the club is actually underground. You need to pay a 5CUC cover (which includes 1 free drink) and the party is down a few stairs and then back up into the club of the cave. Here you will see both local Cubans and tourists partying together. Super fun times, highly recommended.
The nearest beach is called La Boca. It’s ok. We rented bikes for 6CUC for the day and biked to the beach. You can bike the entire coast and stop at beaches along the way. The best beach was Playa Ancon #1, however, don’t bother trying to snorkel. It’s trash underneath the water. People will tell you Playa Ancon #3 is the best because it has sand, which is true, but it’s not as blue. And also the biking gets tiring but the view from the bikes is amazing. You can take a taxi back from the beach and put the bikes on the roof.
Where To Stay In Trinidad
The best part about Trinidad were our hosts. Jesus is the shit. He cooks, he cleans, he smells like onion rings (not really). He speaks excellent English (he used to be an English professor, both of his parents are doctors) and will fill you in on how Cuba operates and what is going on around you (if you ask). They have beer and water on site (which is useful and cheaper). He cooks the best food, feeds you more than you can handle, and will also arrange everything you need.
What To Avoid In Trinidad
It was here that I got so incredibly sick from all the pollution in Cuba I started to develop an allergy. I went to the doctor down the street, (it’s inside the pharmacy) firstly because I was sick but secondly for investigative journalism since I read that Cuba had the best healthcare system in the world (they actually eradicated AIDS! Something like 0.02% have AIDS and they’re all quarantined). My consultation was 5 mins maximum, the fee was 25CUC, antibiotics was 30CUC, honey for my throat was 7CUC, and anti-allergy medication was another 20CUC. Uhm, why did all that cost 100CUC I’m so confused. They will give you a paper that you can send to your insurance company. I have yet to do that, but I want my money back.
I suggest self-diagnosing yourself with Google (if you’re not too sick), and asking your casa guy to go to the pharmacy and get you want you want. It’s cheaper for Cubans to buy medicines than it is for foreigners.
Update: Since this post, Cuba has started embedding a $25 insurance fee when you buy your airplane ticket so it is free healthcare for foreigners too! They must have heard me complaining. Yay!
What To Do In Varadero
Go to the beach. Any beach. The water is so blue and crystal clear. It doesn’t matter where in Varadero, it all looks the same.
Where To Stay In Varadero
Beware of resort row. It’s 10CUC to access and 10CUC to exit. You’re completely removed from the city. BEWARE OF BLAU VARADERO THEY ARE PIECES OF SHIT. I went to resort row because I wanted to see what they looked like. Within every hotel, around the corner from the main desk is a travel agent that books your field trips and excursions. However, they can also book you rooms in the hotel for a lot cheaper than the front desk. For example, Blau Varadero told me that it was 88CUC per person per room with everything included from breakfast to lunch the next day and all drinks. I went around to the kiosk and the lady gave it to me for 65CUC. After giving her the money and going back to the front desk, they gave me a wristband (signifying I can eat and drink as much as I wanted as a hotel resident). However, since they’re hijas de putas, one of the front desk ladies went to her manager who then cut the bracelet off of me and told me I could only stay there if I paid the full price. #ThisIsCuba I went back around to the kiosk and booked a casa for 35CUC within walking distance on the beach and got drunk on the beach for less than 88CUC a night. So take that, satas! I will now promptly go finish my scathing review of Blau Varadero on Trip Advisor.
The Life and Culture of Cuba
After 5 trips to Cuba, I am no expert on the daily dealings of life in Cuba but below is what I have learned from talking with the locals and experiencing them myself. However, statements have not been fact-checked but will be backed up by accompanying websites where possible.
First, I’ll start with the bad. The average salary in Cuba is $25/month. No, I’ll wait. The cost of that burger you just ate could feed someone for an entire month. I spend more on a glass of wine. I’m so confused, $25/month. There are many blogs and websites that say this is OK because the government subsidizes everything such as water, electricity, and food and also offers free health care and schooling.
Imagine the entire country being on welfare, that’s basically what they mean. You get a month’s supply worth of food, just like the SNAP program in the United States but you will be eating rice and beans for most of your meals because that’s all you can afford. Water is subsidized, but not always available. And also, it needs to be subsidized because hello, who can afford to pay for it off of $25/month? I also read that that the WHO rates the Cuban water quality as the best in the world? Who said that? I fact-checked that, that’s a lie. Don’t drink the tap water. Drink bottled water. Even if you feel like the water is safe, the pipes that hold the water are not. Just don’t unless you wanna have the shits. However, ice is OK because they actually make them with bottled water. Also, here’s a picture of a dangerous electrical set-up that is fairly regular all around Havana.
Compared to other impoverished countries, Cubans are highly educated and are actually paid to go to school and have access to health care. But imagine going to University and getting a degree and becoming a doctor, lawyer, architect, and making….$25/month, having to ration out your savings to buy anything in excess. You don’t have to pay for insurance or health care, but what about shoes? Those are regular price. Toothbrush? Regular price. Sunscreen? Regular price. Headphones, shirts, bobby pins, lotion, beer…etc most of the prices for material items that we take for granted are Western prices. They do not have a price adjustment for this. And yes, they are fully aware of Westerners making exorbitant amounts more than them. The only people who are able to afford these things are casa owners, taxi drivers, people with their own private businesses (which is rare), government officials, or people with a relative on the outside to send them money.
Effects of the Embargo
In addition, due to the embargo, the infrastructure is crumbling, buildings are falling, and bureaucracy is king. Cars are old, although beautiful, would never pass a modern day emissions test. Pollution is rampant.
At first, I thought racism didn’t exist in Cuba, and thought it was the best thing ever because everyone was so mixed and interactive. But as I’ve gone back, I’ve noticed it in subtle remarks. Although there are a variety of colors and colorism may not be blatantly noticeable, it does exist.
What To Contribute
My advice? Help where you can, as always. Bring necessities like feminine products, shampoo, things you take for granted. Every time I go, I take clothes I don’t mind parting with and just leave them all there. Also GUM is the thing people request from me most to bring back. The only gum I’ve seen are those 25 cent Wrigley’s packs and are a luxury. So if you care anything about the privilege you’ve been bestowed upon, do what you can.
Now that I’ve completely convinced you not to go, I’ll go ahead and tell you the good things, actually not just good, AMAZING things that Cuba has to offer and put some hope back into your heart.
Firstly, everywhere you go in Cuba, there’s live music. You can be sitting on your porch, or just walking down the street, you’re bound to hear music coming from somewhere. Music is just a part of the air.
You know what else is part of the air? SEX! The cat calling is a bit much, it does exhaust you, but pay no mind. If you had one leg, a hunchback, 2 teeth and green skin, they would still call out to you “Linda! Mami! Sexi!” and stare at you like they’re about to devour you a.k.a. you look beautiful, but…I mean…TRUE. I interviewed two guys on the dealings of sex in this country. They both said (and this has not been fact checked) that Cuban women love sex, 3 or 4 times a day. They said that most Cuban women don’t work so they have nothing to do but think about sex. If you don’t give them sex for 3 days in a row, they will leave you to find another man. Because of this, Cuban men must be very strong and able to make love for long periods of time in order to appease their Cuban woman. So, I’ll let you fact check that yourself. But, lowkey, I think that’s true (not the part about Cuban women not working, I saw plenty). But watch out for jineteros or prostitutes. You’ll see them situating themselves outside of bars full of foreigners.
Secondly, with the average salary being put at $25/month, Cubans in the tourism industry make a lot more money, something around $1000-1500 a month or more. In addition, those who own homes usually have their entire families living in them and/or they rent them out as “casas”. These homes, once paid for, the government lets them have, they do not need to pay a property tax, just tax on what they make from rental income. So I encourage you to go and support the locals.
Thirdly, there’s no time warp. They use the old cars because it’s cheaper to fix them since one of those cars cost around $10,000 and to ship a new car is around $100,000. However, they have Chinese electronics, Russian cars and trains, just because there was an embargo on America doesn’t mean there was an embargo on the entire world.
Fourth, Cubans truly do have the basic necessities. With free access to healthcare and every family being provided with a home and food. Also, education is not only free, but you get paid a stipend for attending school while getting your degree, of which there is no limit to how many you can get. The level of intellect in Cuba is great.
Lastly, the most striking thing to me was you can find a blonde, brown, red-headed Cuban with gray, green, blue, or brown eyes, and have the skin color of a negra, morena, mullato, or blanco. The color gradient is enormous and gorgeous. And I wondered how so many beautiful people live in one place. Would you ever guess he was Cuban?
In addition, there are no guns, no drugs, no violence of any kind. Police are only allowed to use their weapons to shoot someone below the waist. Shooting someone above the waist is against the law and the policeman would go to jail. I fact checked all those statements and you can read about them here.
And one last pro-tip:
Cuban breakfast is the best part of everyday, everything in the restaurants is shit. Don’t be fooled by the goody goody gum drops that is Little Cuba in Miami, IT IS NOT THE SAME. Cuban restaurants always give you way too much food so order one plate before ordering a second if you’re 2 people. Also the restaurants are state-runned try to cater to tourists, but it doesn’t work. They should just stick with Cuban food. Also lobster and beef are illegal to be sold outside of state-run businesses. Always eat in casa if you want delicious. Also, the Cuban Coca-Cola tastes way different, but isn’t too bad. Buen provecho.
Cubans will tell you 2 hours or 3 hours as if it’s the same thing and have no sense of time. Also, the answer changes for every person you ask when it comes to directions, how things taste, what time it is, everything.
Bien viaje y cuidate!
Other posts that may interest you are:
A 14-day trip including airline ticket cost $2000 (not including souvenirs, doctors visits, or alcohol). I recommend bringing $100/day
(If you have any questions or want to tell us if something has changed since this blog was posted, please leave a comment below! Also if you’ve traveled to Cuba and felt like you want to give back, feel free to visit our Donate page or Donate here and we will transport the money for you and give it to a family in need.)