I had one of the most fulfilling cultural experiences when I visited Havana, Cuba earlier this month! I encourage you to get there before any type of globalization or commercialism occurs so that you can enjoy it in its authentic state. I was raised that experiences and memories are always worth more than material riches. I am so blessed and thankful to God for this wonderful time.
There are no beaches in Havana, so if you are looking for a beach vacation, you would need a trip that involves multiple locations. Even when I stay on a resort, especially in my international travels, I always get some type of native experience to broaden my horizons. Cuba is a poor country and Havana is not a beach vacation, but it offers a rich cultural experience that’s so worth it. You will see people of all shades of brown with great energy! Cuba is a very safe country and everyone helps everyone as Alfredo explained in the video above. If you enjoy the video be sure to subscribe to my youtube channel at youtube.com/ariansimone will be sharing more of my travels!
Cuba is so amazing that I had to give you all some important tips on how to prepare if you choose to visit!
Top 10 Things to Prepare for Havana Cuba!
- Money- in researching this trip you hear too many stories of people running out of cash. In Cuba, they accept no credit cards, cash only! You must bring enough cash with you for the entire trip. In the US Airport exchange your US dollars to Euros and when you land in Cuba exchange your Euros to CUCs (the Cuban currency). That’s what I did. You can’t get CUCs in the US and if you exchange US Dollars to CUCs in Cuba you pay a penalty of around 15% both ways US Dollars to CUCs or CUCs to US Dollars, so arriving and leaving if you needed 2 exchanges. $100 dollar minimum a day is what’s advised to budget for this trip. I personally don’t advise this, budget according to your lifestyle, and of course you can do less or more than $100 dollars a day. There are banks to exchange if you run out but remember there is no credit system so you need to have your American cash on you to exchange for CUCs and the lines are really long.
2. Visa- You purchase your Visa with airlines and must keep it on you the entire trip because you need it to return to the US.
3. Hotel vs Airbnb- Hotels are expensive for the quality and book very fast. If you stay at a hotel and ball out, that’s fine, but you can also book through Air BNB and stay in luxury for $100 dollars a night or less. I paid $39/night and it was stunning! They had taxi car service on hand across the street for me and a housekeeper to cook and clean as I desired. This is where I stayed and Alejandro & Johanni are the perfect hosts!
If you need something larger there are multiple houses on the property.
4. NO PHONE SERVICE – When you land, American’s receive no cell service in Cuba. Please make sure all preparations are made with family, work, business, etc. prior to this trip because you will be completely off the grid.
5. Wifi – The wifi is not strong in Cuba and once you get a signal you have to purchase a card (similar to the calling card back in the day) and enter a code. Your time on your card will determine how long you can stay online and that’s if the signal remains strong.
6. Food – There are so many mixed reviews about the food. It can be a hit or a miss, so be prepared. I packed plenty of snacks as my Sister went the month prior and warned me. Though I ate very well when I ate with the host family for dinner, I played it safe when out in the city.
7. Toilet paper, towels, etc.- Many people complained accommodations were missing these items but If you do it right none of this is of a concern. The Airbnb I stayed at was fully stocked. Though I packed these items, I never needed them.
8. Tour- Some form of a tour, either official (book online before you arrive which is what we did for our class car tour) or unofficial (the host family took me on the first day) is mandatory because the language barrier is very large compared to other countries. This is not a place you want to roam around by yourself and learn. Book a Classic car tour (we had a blast), a cabaret (I didn’t do this one but heard awesome reviews), but I encourage you to do some form of a tour, so you have someone who speaks English that can show you around.
9. Language – Know basic Spanish, general greetings and definitely know the phrase, “Cuánto cuesta?” which means, “How much?” in English. Bring a small translation book with you and have your addresses written out in advance, because again, wifi is very sketchy.
10. Shoes – No heels ladies. This is a flats only trip. There will be plenty of walking and we saw no elevators, so be prepared to take the stairs.
I didn’t know it until I arrived but the Airbnb I booked had multiple houses on the property. It was like a mini-compound with a courtyard in the middle. The house across from mine was the house of the mother of the host family. I got invited on my first night to tour the town with her son Alfredo and his girlfriend Mariam as you can see in the video. They took me out dancing to a popular club that one of their Cuban hit bands played at life. I even got an opportunity to see one of their clinics where the youngest brother’s wife works. Two of the sons of the host family are doctors and so are their significant others.
My second night I was invited to their family dinner. The food was excellent and the fellowship was priceless. We stayed up all night discussing Cuban Culture and American Culture, and I learned so much. Aflredo recently visited America and explained that he was unable to rent a car because their country has no credit system. University education is free in Cuba along with healthcare. It was an honor and pleasure to hear about the Cuban lifestyle and experience from the natives.
People have this misperception about traveling that it cost a lot but that’s not true at all. With proper research and planning, you can explore the world on a budget. Sometimes you can literally vacation on what you spend on getting a new TV.
Flights- I flew Delta, being that my schedule is flexible as an entrepreneur I can always fly on the cheapest days at the cheapest rates. For those who aren’t and are still looking for a deal, Spirit has flights to Havana as low as $149 round trip. No worries all you need is a carry on for this trip and you are on your way!
If you are based on the East Coast or in the Midwest, you can fly to Havana quicker and cheaper than you can get to LA. But Cuba is so close to Miami and it’s really worth it time wise no matter where you live in the States.
Airbnb or hotel – Everyone knows that Airbnb is rather inexpensive but for Cuba, this is more the way to go because hotels are pricey, especially for what you receive in exchange. My sister stayed at the Sheraton and she said the conditions for the cost are not what you want. My stay was $39/night.
You can do this trip for around $500 to $600 if you catch a flight deal ($200), stay in an Airbnb ($100), book tours in advance ($50 to $100), and bring $200 to $300 in spending money.
If you do Havana Cuba right 3 to 4 days is all you need!
Top 5 of My Favorite Things To Do:
Classic Car Tour – I’m a true motor city Detroit girl so this was a must for me.
- Cigar Factory Tour
- Floridita Restaurante- You haven’t had a daiquiri or mojitos like theirs! Constante, the former owner is credited with inventing the frozen daiquiri in the early 1930s.
- Casa de la Musica de Miramar– If you are into live bands and dancing the night away, this is the place for you.
- Fabrica De Arte Cubano – Art gallery/ lounge/ entertainment/ restaurants/ bars. It has everything for everyone.
*FEARLESS TRAVEL TIP – The one gem that people for some odd reason leave out when telling people about Cuba, is the art! This place is flooded with gorgeous art to purchase at beyond amazing prices!