Pack your bags..Grab a map and learn some Spanish/Espanol!!!….LET’S GET READY FOR CUBA!
A 3 hour and 45 mins flight from Trinidad via Caribbean Airlines leads you directly to the Spanish speaking country located northwest of our twin island republic.
I know that you are super excited to get there, but before you land and get lost in the history and culture, here are some important points to note when traveling to Cuba!
IMPORTANT THINGS TO NOTE WHEN/IF YOU ARE TRAVELING TO CUBA:
◦ TOURIST CARD– Ask about the tourist card when you book your flight. From Trinidad, each person traveling to Cuba must have one. It is handwritten and therefore would take time especially if you are traveling with a large number of people and need to get them done at the airport prior to your flight. The cost is USD25.00 per person. You should organize it prior to your arrival at the airport or arrive ahead of time to ensure you get it done with enough time to catch your flight.
– ‘WE DO NOT ACCEPT CREDIT CARDS’ – Be sure to have cash (CUC – read below) while in Cuba! During the 5 days I was in Cuba, not once did I use my credit card. None of the places we went to accepted tarjetas de credito (credit cards). There are a few hotels that do… and I believe some restaurants but…just in case, have cash… especially if you want to walk the streets of Cuba and grab random items or stop at one of the restaurants. As you touch down in Cuba, you can get money exchanged at the airport. You can also use your card at the ATM to withdraw money but you get the best exchange rate at the airport.
◦ USD vs CAD vs CUC vs CUP – No CAD (Canadian dollar) was accepted at the places/ restaurants we visited and VERY few accepted the USD (American Dollar). The cash required by a traveler is what is called CUC (kooks) and it can be clearly identified by the word ‘convertible’ on the bill itself. Pay careful attention to the prices listed and also the change you receive when purchasing items and/or traveling via taxi. Some may be stated in CUP and some may even give you change in CUP, which is worth a lot less than the CUC (example 1 CUC = 25 CUP).
◦ LANGUAGE BARRIER – Download an app on your phone that can assist with Spanish if you cannot speak or understand the language well. This will help out big time! I was able to put my Spanish to use on the trip but the app came in handy when I couldn’t remember certain words especially when trying to get something to eat or even travel via taxi. Not many persons speak English so you can find yourself in a jam if you can’t explain yourself. Learn the basics before your trip and get your hands on a map (there are also MAP Apps which work without wifi/data) to make getting around easier if you do not have a tour guide.
◦ THE ‘HUSTLERS’ – Beware of those who randomly try to assist on the streets. There are many people who will smile and be super friendly… they are being nice yes but trying to get some ‘change’ afterwards. This is where your Spanish speaking skills might be necessary. They stick to you like glue if you don’t stand firmly and say NO. Also ask for the price of rides before you jump into a car/horse carriage/bicycle taxi. One guy hiked up our price after he dropped us off to our destination…. maybe he realized we were tourists….and thought he could have gotten away but this Trini started on his case… in Spanish!…It was then that he realized I could have understood and spoken in his language. From 20cuc it went to 10cuc for the ride so look out for the hustlers.
◦ SET YOUR MIND FOR AN INTERNET DETOX! – This one took some getting used to for me! There is no easily accessible WiFi access. What you will need is an internet card which gives you one hour usage only at certain areas … ‘WiFi zones’. The card costs 2CUC (the airport was 1 CUC) and you have one hour usage per card. Luckily you did not need to use all of it at one time. Simply switch off your WiFi and the next time you are in a WiFi zone turn it back on. Keep the card as you may need to log in each time but don’t think you can purchase a card and head back to your room and enjoy internet well you chill in your room….you can only use it at certain areas. It was so strange walking along the streets and seeing maybe 50 persons at a time on the pavement and along the side of the buildings sitting and using their phones.
– AS A MUSLIM TRAVELING TO CUBA – It was amazing to see the beautiful mosque (mezquita) in Havana! There were spacious ladies and men sections available for prayer which warmed my heart as a Muslim. After Jummah, there were also Arabic reading classes going on. The mosque is called MEZQUITA ABDALLAH
I know many of you will be upset about this part but I had to take off my scarf at the airport… when I arrived in Cuba and also when I was checking in to get back to Trinidad. Unfortunately the Cubans, in general, are not very aware of the hijab and Muslim etiquettes. I did as they requested because I was limited in my Spanish to ‘argue’ with them. Thankfully, I was wearing a full head cap so no hair etc was showing when I removed my scarf. This is important for the hijabis traveling to Cuba. Be sure to wear a full head covering beneath the scarf just in case you are told to remove it. I strongly believe as well that the airport officials maybe had problems identifying the scarf as a hijab… they perhaps assumed it was simply an accessory and like jackets, slippers, watches etc, they need to be removed when passing through security check points at the airport.
– GETTING AROUND – There were so many options available. Some fun ways and ‘must trys’ would include the coco taxi and a classic American car. Be mindful though that the price will be high. If you enjoy cars like me though, I’d say you should try them out just for the fun of it! The coco taxi cost 10CUC ( can hold 3 persons) and the classic cars vary from 10-20CUC. The convertibles are the most expensive of course…but it was totally worth it!
There are car rentals (but none were available at the time of our stay…too many tourists, not enough cars). However, public transportation was very easy and readily available. Regular taxis on the street were available any time of day and cost 3CUC for short drops. The cost for a taxi from the airport to where we stayed (AVENIDA 23) was 70CUC for a van big enough to hold 9 people and 7 big suitcases.
We travelled to Varadero as well, which was 2 hours away from Havana and that was 250CUC for the driver to take us, wait a few hours and then bring us back. I would say public transportation or hiring a taxi would be best especially if you want to explore.
Also! Hop on the bus (below) in Havana! It takes you around on a tour. It cost 10CUC per person and it’s valid for one day between 9am and 6pm. You can hop on and off at the different bus stops during those hours whenever you like. Try to get a seat on top and you would have a great time! Just look out for the over-hanging trees on the street!
– LOOKING FOR SOUVENIRS? – Most of us purchase souvenirs everywhere we go! We came across the crafts market located on Avenida 23 in Havana where there were t-shirts and various Cuban items. This was the most reasonable souvenir place we found. At the airport it was the most expensive. Also don’t hesitate to negotiate with the vendors! You will be surprised at the final price you will end up paying!
Cuba was one of the most unique places I have visited thus far! For those who enjoy travel and enjoying different cultures this country is a MUST VISIT! The pointers I listed out were areas we had some trouble with during our trip, but once you take note of them, you will have a fantastic time!
Look out for the CUBAN FOOD BLOGPOST coming soon!
Thanks much for reading this post! Be sure to follow me Instagram to see more photos from Cuba!
ESTO ES CUBA! VISITA PRONTO!