City Tour of Havana, Cuba

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We booked a Havana city tour through Havana Journeys, which was great with communication about dates and times. They picked us up from our casa particular in Centro Habana and we began our day with Cafe Fortuna, which was a cool, eclectic cafe with hipster decor inside.

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Cubans really know how to make a good sandwich.

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We bought cigars from here, but later found that they were similar priced at the airport – if you are looking to buy souvenirs, just get them there.

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We learned a lot about the history of Cuba.

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A pharmacy!

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We bought tickets here for the concert that night. Can’t go to Cuba without going to a live music concert!

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The singers would walk around to your tables so you felt like you were a part of the show.

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$5 breakfast at our casa particular.

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The end.

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Cuba: Viñales: Cave, Cigars, Horseback Riding

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I booked a tour through Havana Journeys to check out Viñales. Our driver and tour guide were great! The car was air-conditioned and clearly well taken care of. Highly recommended!

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Coffee with that sugarcane.

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Cave tour. $5.

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Tobacco farm.

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Rode a horse. It was sad because the horses looked weak and skinny.

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Great view at this restaurant.

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Ropa Vieja again. Food was okay here; tourist prices.

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Back in Havana, dinner at Castropol:

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Seems like there are always great views at restaurants in Cuba.

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Cienfuegos, the Paris of Cuba

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The taxi driver that I booked came to pick us up in Trinidad and asked if we wanted to take a look at Cienfuegos, since it was on the way back to Havana. We pretty much had him for the whole day and could go wherever we wanted at no extra charge, so why not? Inside my head I was screaming with joy because I had researched about the city before, and it was nicknamed “the Paris of Cuba”.

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The colonial town of Cienfuegos was founded in 1819 as a Spanish territory but was settled by immigrants of French origin. Since it was a coastal city, it became a trading place for sugar cane, tobacco and coffee. I love that there were so many beautiful buildings with French influence!

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My favorite building.

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There’s always music everywhere you go in Cuba.

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We walked into a random restaurant because we were hungry and wanted a sandwich.

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It was just a cheap, simple sandwich with ham, cheese and… tuna?!?! That sandwich ended up to be one of the BEST things we ate on this trip. For some reason it just worked. We should’ve ordered more. It’s called El Palatino, in case you ever want to check it out!

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Back in Havana, we ate at an unlimited buffet place called Ana’s. It was recommended by our host and very affordable ($10 per person). All the meats were dry and salty… but the view of the Malecón was great. I would not recommend it.

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Cuba: strolling through the streets of Trinidad

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I hired a taxi through BestCubaGuide.com. They emailed me to make the arrangements. The price for a Modern Taxi from Havana to Trinidad was 160cuc(160 USD) back in May of 2017.  We paid the driver directly in CUC. When the driver arrived, he had his wife/partner with him. He didn’t speak much English so we communicated in Spanish. Afterwards, I made arrangements with him directly to come back the next day to pick us up.

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Havana to Trinidad by car: 4-5 hours. In between, we stopped for a bathroom/snack break. Bought a hot dog for $1 and it tasted very strange… We saw a lot of local people getting it but it didn’t jive well with us.

Once we arrived at our casa (also through Airbnb, and I highly recommend this one!), our host Yacquelin presented us with ice cold fresh mango juice which was amazing. She didn’t speak English at all so we communicated through Spanish. For some reason, I understood her more than I understood the driver — maybe she was used to tourists so she spoke slower and used more simple vocabulary? Yacquelin was the perfect host.

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The casa was a house connected to their family-owned ceramics factory, where people took tours! You can also buy souvenirs here.

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After our mini tour, Yacquelin helped us order a taxi to go hiking.

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We hiked to this waterfall and spent some time in the water.

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Our casa was about 15 minutes walking distance away from the city center (Plaza Mayor), so we walked through the neighborhood, which was interesting.

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My favorite part of the Cuba experience was live street music.

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What I noticed while walking through the neighborhood was that you can see through most homes and stores – there were no glass, no curtains. We saw family pictures, furniture, beds, people sitting on their couches watching television — everything could be seen from the outside. It was bizarre, like looking into someone else’s life. Passing through the neighborhood, we saw a lot of locals sitting in front of their houses just chatting and spending time with each other. It was nice to see that they weren’t on their phones typing away in silence, like we often see in the U.S. When we went back to our casa that night, we hung out on the balcony, sitting outside feeling the breezes, just like the local people. Even though it was hot, the breeze felt nicer than the AC.

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We encountered a couple of local Cuban people who asked us for our “things” — my friend’s plastic wrist band, my pusheen keychain hanging off my bag, in exchange for some goods that they were selling. It broke my heart when a father of a little boy begged and said “please, we can never get it here…” A little girl asked my friend defiantly for his wrist band, and her mother said it was her birthday (the father of the little boy also pulled the birthday card). We got the feeling that it was a common thing to do — foreigners would give away “things”, just little things that we usually don’t even notice, but they would treasure them because it was nearly impossible for them to get them. They never asked for money, just things.

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Our host recommended this restaurant, Esquerra – right next to Casa de la Musica, and they had a live band too!

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Complimentary drinks.

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Casa de la musica at night.

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Casa de la musica during the day time.

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Staying at a casa meant home-cooked breakfast for $5! Our breakfast here was the best meal we had in retrospect. Yacquelin prepared all this for four of us. I LOVED THE FRESH MANGOES.

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Trinidad was my favorite part of Cuba. Definitely worth the trek.

New York to Havana, my Cuba trip (Part 1)

The Basics: 
Non-stop flight from JFK to HAV (back in May 2017): $272.56 USD
Visa: $50 USD

At JFK, there was a level below the general check-in floor just for Cuba check-ins. We paid for our visas there right before our flight.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Money Exchange:
– $1=1CUC, but if you use USD to exchange, there’s a 10% penalty. We bought euros from the bank beforehand to exchange.
– US debit/credit cards do not work
– Some places will take USD if you run out of CUCs
– You can exchange money at Cadecas, which we did
– We were planning to exchange money at the airport, but the counter was empty and this well dressed taxi driver approached us and said he would take us to cadecas in the city and then to our airbnb for 30 CUC (=$30). He was helpful and did not kidnap us.
– Be careful when you buy with CUC (the foreigners currency), they might be priced at CUP (the local currency). We also found that some places add 1 cuc to whatever you’re buying for no reason at all so check your change! We didn’t bother arguing for 1 cuc but it was inconsistent. There’s no tax so there’s no reason to pay extra.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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WiFi:
Unless you stay in a fancy hotel, internet will only be available at government sanctioned hotspots, usually public parks (you will see everyone sitting/standing around on their phones together and then you know there’s wifi). To access the internet, you need to buy access cards (1 hour increments) from the kiosks (maximum 2 per person per purchase) You must have ID (passport or driver’s license) to purchase the card.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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We saw buildings like this everywhere in Centro Habana, where we stayed at a casa particular (via Airbnb). The host was great and spoke English, and we were lucky to have working AC which some places did not. We did run out of water for a couple of days because it was being rationed.

 

 

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In Havana, you can get around by taking taxi or just walking — taxis are everywhere and easy to catch; just ask for a price beforehand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Local grocery store.

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Entering La Guarida, a Paladar.

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Food was just ok but the building itself was amazing, beautiful and some parts looked dilapidated, almost felt a bit forlorn.

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Malecón at sunset.

 

 

 

 

 

 

For updated rules and tips on traveling to Cuba as a U.S. citizen, check this site.