The Cuba Survival Guide

As part of this travel series, I decided to create a guide to inform you of what you need to know before and while your trip to Cuba. This post will inform you of everything you need to know and do while planning your trip and once you get there.

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1. Money Exchange

After doing some research, we discovered that it was better to exchange Dollars for Pounds (GBP), even though we would get more Euros (EUR) for our Dollars.  The reason we went with pounds is because in the end we got more CUC for pounds than euro. 

            For example:                                                

            $500 came out to 367 pounds  vs  $500 came out to 405 euros

            That's  a $40 difference! 

            However when converted to CUC$ (Convertible Peso)

            £367 GBP came to 500 CUC$

            €405 EUR came to 460 CUC$

So even though we initially got less GBP than EUR with our dollar, we got more CUC for our GBP than we would have got for the EUR!

When you order your pounds at the bank, DO NOT GET 5 GBP Notes. They will not exchange them at the Cuban airport. We ended up having to find a bank in Cuba to exchange them.

Also, be sure to take some USD with you just in case you run out of CUC.  We had to go to exchange our pounds for CUC and while I was there I happened to have $10 with me so I exchanged that as well.  I had £30 GBP and got 37 CUC$ and for $10 I got back 8 CUC$. Again, see how it's worth exchanging USD to GBP before leaving the country and then exchanging GBP to CUC? You get a better exchange rate at the Bank, so if you want to convert £50-£100 GBP for your taxi ride from the airport and any other essentials and then go to the bank, that's a great option as well.

Remember, the exchange rate changes daily, So the exact numbers will probably be different when you get ready to travel, but the fact you get more GBP vs EUR will most likely be the same.

Most banks still do not have Cuba on the list yet to exchange money, however even if they do, going with a British Currency is still your best bet.

2. Cuban Currency: CUC vs CUP

Cuba has two types of currency, CUC and CUP. CUC is basically a made up currency for tourist to use.  We are to use CUC and natives can now use both (at one time they were not allowed to use CUC)

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On the is left is CUP and on the right is CUC (notice it says peso CONVERTIBLE. Be careful when receiving change back from shop owners. They will intentionally give you CUP's back. As a tourist you can spend it, however some merchants, especially more modern businesses, will not accept them because they are LESS VALUABLE than CUC. Make sure when you get change that it says CONVERTIBLE on it. If you at some point do get stuck with CUP's, try to give them to your taxi driver. Most of the time they just scan the denomination to make sure it's the correct amount and then shove it in their pocket. Otherwise keep it as a souvenir.

3. Plug Adapters

In Cuba you can have British and American plugs. I always carry my adapters with me just in case. I’m glad I did. In our Air BNB my bedroom had British plugs and Ashley’s bedroom had American plugs. I have the EnergyPal Travel Station from Amazon. You can also purchase adapters from The Container Store and Target.

4: Travel Guides

When choosing a travel guide, be sure to allot some time to go through several to see which one is best for your trip. Some are general with bare minimum details and some are way too detailed. Pick a couple of places and activities and compare the information between all the books you've chosen. Be sure to check the maps and make sure they are easy to read and understand. If you have trouble deciding between your final choices, check to see what year it was revised and ask a sales consultant which one they sell the most of. I've also check Amazon for reviews even though I'm buying it at the book store.  

Prior to your trip, go through and mark pages and highlight places and activities you want to do and make note of hours of operation and if they shut for holidays or observant days. Once you get to your destination, make sure you take your book everywhere. It's helpful to give to your taxi driver especially if there is a language barrier.

 5. Delta Sign In & Baggage

In America, you can sign in the day before ONLY on the computer. You cannot sign in using the Delta app. Even when you check in on the computer, if you are checking luggage you cannot check in curbside. You still have to go inside the airport and go through the check in line to check your luggage and pay for your visa (you can also pay at the gate). If you are taking a carry on, you can go straight to the gate. When booking your ticket, spend the extra money for Delta Comfort. It gives you Sky Priority and the line is never long. I've never waited in a Sky Priority line for more than 5 minutes.

 6. Visa

In order to enter and exit Cuba, you have to have a visa. Once you get to your gate, go to the counter and the agents will give you the proper paperwork and the visa to fill out. For more information about types of visa, listen to my short podcast 5 Things You Must Do Before Going to Cuba or read the Show Notes here

7. Baggage Claim PLEASE READ!

Oh where do I begin?

Baggage Claim at the Cuban Airport

Baggage Claim at the Cuban Airport

First off, I was informed the day before leaving for Cuba about the cluster f%#k that is known as baggage claim at the Cuban airport. So get ready and take notes.

When you walk through security, you can turn left to go to baggage claim or turn right to go to baggage claim. There is also a screen on the wall in front of you with flight information on. Don't trust it! Here's why...

Once we got through security, we walked right to baggage claim because the screen on the wall pointed to the left and said all things Mexico. Cancun, Cozumel, take your pick. Ashley parked herself at one end of the carousel and I parked at the other. The carousel is one long belt that weaves in and out of the wall with several doors that luggage shoots out of.  After waiting an eternity, we noticed that the screen never changed and only had flights from New York and Moscu (Moscow?), however we kept being reassured by agents that we were at the correct carousel. Finally I went to Lost and Found and while standing in line talking to a young man that was on the same flight, he informed me that his  "....first bag was all the way down at the other end of the hall and the 2nd bag never showed up." Wait? What?!? So I walked (okay stomped) to the other side of security, where the signs still said Mexico, and scanned the floor for clusters of luggage that had been pulled off the belt. There were none. Right when I looked up, I saw my neon pink bag come towards me looking sad because she thought I forgot about her. She had been weaving in and out of the wall for 2 hours. 2. HOURS. Do I need to say it again? As I walked back to the other side to meet Ashley, I ended up behind a young lady who was also on our flight. She retrieved her luggage within 5 minutes and the only reason she was still there was because she was waiting for friends to arrive from New York. Apparently she got the memo that the right carousel was New York flights and the left carousel was Atlanta and all other flights (again, remember the sign that said all things Mexico?)

So the moral of the story is, if you are traveling solo, go to the left carousel first for 15-30 mins and then go to the right. If you are traveling in a group, split up. Half go left, Half go right. Trust me, you'll thank me later.

8.  Jineteros or Jockeys

Basically, hustlers.  Know going in you will be approached by Cubans asking if you are American. They will strike up a conversation, make some reference to American culture and ask you what your plans are for the day and what have you done so far.  They may even lead you to a cafe or a building with food or drink available and begin telling you about the history of Cuba. That's what happened to us.  Be aware of when it's happening and embrace it. Basically they just want a drink and a snack, to tell you about the country they are so proud of and to ask you about America. If you do end up in a cafe, know that you will be paying the full bill. Most Cubans cannot afford to eat or drink in the local restaurants and  they just want the kindness of stranger from another land to spend some time with.

9. Cuban Cigars

The best place to purchase cigars are at the airport, hotel or the University. Do not go to someones home. There are a lot of fakes and they tend to be more expensive.

10. Checking In from Cuba

You will have to check in at the airport, you cannot check in on the computer. This is where Sky Priority will truly benefit you. When leaving Cuba EVERYBODY has to check in. This is where they take your visa and check any other documentation you may have. Because of this, the line is ridiculously long. Unless of course you took my advice and purchased Delta Comfort!

I hope you find all the information I have provided you helpful. I know you will have fun and safe travels!

Until next time,

be mindful. be present. be you.

~Lay'Na

Buenos días Cuba! Your Mini Guide to Havana...


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Mural of Ernesto “Che” Guevara in Havana

Every since Cuba became open for travel from the U.S., I knew I had to go! When planning a trip to Cuba, it goes beyond what excursions you want to do and what you want to see. With Cuba being know as "the place where time stood still",  some modern conveniences are still out of reach. 

where to stay

Although Havana, Cuba just finished construction on their first 5 star hotel, I personally feel that an AirBNB is the way to go. While researching with my travel partner for a place to stay, the majority of the reviews for AirBNB's in Cuba are 5 stars with detail comments on what to expect. We both decided to stay with Superhost Betsy.  Betsy was amazing and you couldn't ask for a better host. Definitely check her out!

wifi

Be sure to download any apps, music or shows that you may want to entertain you prior to getting to Cuba. Although you can get wifi at some coffee houses and hotels, you still need to purchase a wifi card to do so. Never purchase one of the street! If you do buy a wifi card, make sue the Pin and Password are not exposed. They should be covered like the numbers on a scratch off lottery ticket

currency

Cuba does not take USD or accept credit cards.  Be sure to take an appropriate amount of currency with you as well as some USD in case you run out of CUC and need to exchange for more. 

where to eat

If you love Cuban food then hold on to that memory! You will not experience that same joy at any restaurant that is not a Paladar (privately owned restaurant). I will say the Cuban's try their best, but the food is bland and most dinner dishes are covered in an obscene amount of cheese.

paladars

Two well know and highly rated Paladars in Havana are: 

San Cristobal 469 Calle San Rafael, between Valle Lealtad and Campanario. We had a reservation at San Cristobal and for some reason it was closed without notice or a sign on the door as to why. 

La Guarida 418 Calle Concordia, between Calles Gervasio and Escobar                                   La Guarida was absolutely amazing! Everything from the decor, the rooftop view and of course the food, definitely puts this paladar on the map.

//what we ate// Pescado Caimanero/Red Snapper in Coconut Sauce * Boniato Frito/Fried Sweet Potato *  Sopa de Coco/Yellow Cake with Coconut Soup * Bombon/Coffee with Chocolate and Cream * Langosta Grille/Lobster and Risotto * Platano Maduro/Plantains * Tarta de Manzana/Puffed Pastry with Apples * Mojitos

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Pescado Caimanero

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Bombon

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Sopa de Coco

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This receipt comes in this beautifully branded box

After dinner we went upstairs to the rooftop lounge to enjoy the view and cocktails.

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One of the best Sangria's I've ever had!

where to go

Whenever I go out the country, the two items I always bring home for myself is a hand fan and perfume. We were definitely in luck when we visited Old Havana because they have shops dedicated to both.

Casa de Albanico 107 Calle Obrapia between Calles Mercaderes and Oficos

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Habana 1791 156 Calle Mercaderes, at the corner of Calle Obrapia

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Source: www.lahabana.com

Source: www.lahabana.com

Of course no trip to Cuba would be complete without Cuban cigars, Cuban art & the artists and classic cars...

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Cuban Cigars

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An artist and his work

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Studio Villaneuva

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And of course, a random dog on the street with a hat and glasses !

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Her name is Lucy

These are just the  some of  the highlights of our trip. To see more of our adventures in Cuba, please enjoy the video below.

//watch the video//

Music: Chan Chan: Bueno Vista Social Club * Bueno Gente: Eric Frazier * Quimbara: Celia Cruz * The Calling: Santana ft. Eric Clapton

I hope you've been inspired to plan a trip to Cuba. It is definitely a trip worth taking!

~Lay'Na

the mstudio life

mstudio inc. is a lifestyle brand and online boutique that curates custom products for aromatherapy, face & body and your home. the mstudio life is the lifestyle behind the brand.  On the blog and through the podcast,  you will receive education, tips and content that show you how to live a life of balance through the things that you love and enjoy!

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See you in August!

Lay'Na  ~Aromatherapy Alchemist +  Lifestyle Maven