Cuba is the second country I visited during my Latin America dream trip. As mentioned in my previous post (The Road to Latin America : An Intro to Our Adventure in Bogota, Colombia), I wasn’t sure if I’ll be able to enter Cuba because I read somewhere from a forum that Cuba now requires travelers with Philippine Passport to get a visa in advance before traveling to Cuba. I also read somewhere that a tourist card should be enough to get in. I emailed Wingo, the airline where I booked my ticket and they assure me that I only need a tourist card. I relied on their information but was still kinda worried. Luckily, I was able to get in without any hassle. [Havana shared airport transfer]
I brought my Mavic Pro in Colombia but since it is still illegal to fly or even bring a drone to Cuba, I decided to leave it to my friend Rafael who was flying to Peru. I read somewhere that you can leave the drone at the Havana Airport and collect it when you depart from Havana but some travelers said they had issues claiming it so I did not want to be troubled and asked Rafael to bring it with him. He also had issues carrying it in Peru but I will tell you the story in my Peru travelogue. [Read: A Comprehensive CUBA Travel Guide]
I arrived in Cuba around 8PM local time, I have already booked my accommodation (Casa Particular) in advance via AirBnB. I asked my host to arrange a pick up for me which she gladly agreed. Clearing the immigration and customs was a breeze, no issues, whatsoever. The only trouble I had was filling out the customs form as it was in Spanish, no translation. I had to ask the immigration officer to translate it for me just to make sure I understood it right. I don’t want to be in trouble so it’s better to be safe than sorry.
I exchanged my USD to the local CUC currency. The line was long so I had to wait for around 30 minutes. The exchange rate was around 0.93 plus a 10% deduction when you exchange a USD to CUC. It’s always better if you change your USD to Euros in advance outside Cuba so you can avoid the 10% deduction.
My driver showed up and he drove me to my accommodation. It was around 30 minutes drive from the airport. My accommodation is situated at San Lazaro No. 604, right at the center of Havana, few steps away from Malecon. I was greeted by my host and some member of her family. It was already late so I decided to call it a night.
A Day Trip to Varadero
I left my casa particular early in the morning, around 6:30 am to catch the 8AM bus trip from Havana to Varadero. I did not book in advance (my bad) so I wasn’t sure if there is an available seat. Luck was on my side since I was able to secure a seat although I had a difficult time since the staff barely speak English but I got through it with the help of some bilingual passengers. [Read: A Taste of the Caribbean in Varadero, Cuba]
The bus departed on time and in about 3 hours, I found myself gallivanting in Varadero. I did’t research much about the place. I only knew that it’s a popular beach destination so I was so curious to see it. I immediately walked to the beach area from the Viazul bus terminal in Varadero. It was indeed a paradise. The turquoise water was so inviting. The long stretch of white sand beach is so gorgeous. There are no establishments near the shoreline, so it was so pleasing to the eyes. [Book a cruise and tours in Varadero]
I enjoyed the beach for a couple of hours before heading back to the bus terminal to catch a bus back to Havana. I am so glad I decided to have a day tour in Varadero. It was super worth the visit. One of the best beaches I’ve seen so far.
Day 2 in Cuba: Exploring Havana
I celebrated my birthday during my second day in Cuba. I rented a 1953 Chevrolet convertible to explore Havana. I felt like it’s the best way to see the city. It was kinda expensive but it was my birthday so I told myself it’s okay. Hahaha. Also did a walking tour after the short guided tour around Havana. [Havana 2-Hour Classic American Tour]
Day 3 in Cuba: Leaving Havana
I had a morning flight to Cancun, Mexico so I had to leave my casa particular early at around 8am. I thought I had a great time in Cuba until I was randomly scrutinized at the airport after clearing the immigration. A security officer asked for my passport and she accompanied me to the x-ray machine. She then swabbed my hand and bag for drug residue and when I was cleared she checked the stuff in my bag one by one. She found nothing but she was not happy with it or maybe she was looking for something so she endorsed me to her colleague to do a thorough body scan. I was scared not because I’m guilty of something but I was scared she might put something in my bag while I am doing a body scan. I don’t want to be locked up abroad especially in a country where there is no Philippine embassy or consulate. It was the worst airport experience I had so far. It was humiliating and traumatizing at the same time. I knew it was just a security protocol but it just felt so scary that I lost my zest for traveling for a while. I felt a little devastated. I just wanted to leave Cuba after that moment.
Travel Tips When Visiting Cuba
- Cuba tourist cards are available at airports where there is a direct flight to Cuba (Havana or Varadero). The cost differs depending on the airline. I got mine at Wingo Airline for USD20.
- When flying with Wingo, make sure you check in online at least 4 hours before your flight or you will need to pay an additional cost if you check in at the airport counter.
- Get a travel insurance before flying to Cuba, you might be randomly asked for a Travel Insurance. I wasn’t asked but I came prepared. I got mine from WorldNomads.
- Download the maps.me app then download Cuba so you can use the map offline. Internet in Cuba is very limited so this is very helpful.
- Also download the Cuba app, it will help you with basic Spanish and guide on what to do and where to eat in Cuba.
- Cuba has two currencies, CUC (Cuban Peso Convertible) and CUP (Cuban Peso). You should be good if you only have CUC. 1CUC=1USD=24CUP.
- Try Cuba’s mojito and Cuban Libre. Cuba is the birthplace of mojito.
- Most Debit/Credit cards will not work in Cuba. Visa will definitely not work but some Mastercard will work if issued outside the US. I’ve tried my Philippine-issued Mastercard and it did not work. Bring extra cash just in case your card will not work.
- Roaming service is not available in Havana, at least for my carrier, but it works in Varadero.
Basic Spanish words and phrases to communicate with the locals
- Hola (OH-lah) – Hello/Hi
- Que Pase (keh PAH-seh) – Have a good day
- Como estas? (KOH-moh-ehs-TAHS) – How are you?
- Muy bien, gracias (MOO-ee-byehn, GRAH-syahs) – Fine, thank you.
- Encantado/a (ehn-kahn-TAH-doh/dah) – Nice to meet you.
- Por favor (POHR-fah-BOHR) – Please
- Gracias (GRAH-syahs) – Thank you
- De nada (DAY NAH-dah) – Welcome
- Si (SEE) – Yes
- No (NOH) – No
- Disculpe (dees-KOOL-peh) – Excuse me (getting attention)
- Perdone (pehr-DOHN-eh) – Excuse me (begging pardon)
- Permiso (pehr-MEE-so) – Excuse me (may I get by)
- Adios (ah-DYOHS) – Goodbye
- Hablo un poco español (ah-BLOH oon POH-koh ehs-pah-NYOHL) – I speak a little Spanish.
- No hablo español (noh AH-bloh ehs-pah-NYOL) – I can’t speak Spanish.
- Hablas Ingles? (AH-blahs een-GLEHS?) – Do you speak English?
- Ayuda! (ah-YOO-dah) – Help!
- Buenos dias (BWE-nohs DEE-ahs) – Good morning
- Buenas tardes (BWE-nahs TAR-dehs) – Good afternoon
- Buenas noches (BWE-nahs NOH-chehs) – Good evening / good night
- No entiendo (NOH ehen-tyen-doh) – I don’t understand
- Donde esta el baño? (DOHN-deh ehss-TAH ehl BAH-nyoh?) – Where is the toilet?
Expenses Incurred In CUBA
Flight ticket from Bogota to Havana via Wingo – USD 138 (already included in the expenses listed in Colombia)
Tourist Card – 20USD
Taxi from Airport to Casa Particular – 30CUC (30 minutes ride). The usual cost is between 25-30CUC from the airport to Havana center)
AirBnB for 3 nights – PHP4,702
Total Day 0: Php7,250
Casa Paricular to Viazul Bus terminal – 10CUC (20 minutes ride)
Bus from Havana to Varadero – 10CUC (3hours)
Bus Varadero to Havana – 10CUC
Dinner – 9CUC
Internet Card 10CUC ( 5 hours at 2CUC each). I bought at Hotel Deauville Habana for 2CUC, it should only be 1.5CUC if you buy at ETECSA.
Total expenses Day 1: 56CUC / Php2,856
Tour around havana with an old car – 30CUC for 20 minutes
Total expenses Day 2: 50CUC / Php2,550
Taxi to Airport – 25CUC (The fare is usually from 20-25CUC from Havana City proper to airport)
Pasalubong – 20CUC
Total expenses Day 3: 51CUC / Php2,600
Total expenses from Day 0-3 in CUBA: Php15,256 (For expenses prior to this leg, see here)
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