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Cuban Vibes for the Frugal Traveler

Here’s the first thing you should know before planning a trip to Cuba…it is not Americanized! So stop trying to make it that way! You’re going to another country for a reason which is most likely to experience a different type of people and culture. Whew! Now that I’ve gotten that out the way…let’s get right to it!

Why Cuba and When?

The question should be why not Cuba. Since travel has opened back up to Cuba from the U.S. (thanks to President Obama) it has become a point of interest for many travelers including myself. After seeing all of the beautiful pictures surfacing the web of travelers in Cuba, my home girl and I thought it was important to take the trip and join in on the hype before it gets too late!

We went to Cuba June 20, 2017 – June 23, 2017 and I booked my roundtrip flight (with layovers both ways in Ft. Lauderdale, FL) through Southwest Airlines from BWI for $339.16 on May 15, 2017. Included in the airfare price along with all the other Customs and Immigration Naturalization fees is the Cuba Health Insurance Fee of $25.00. The Cuban Government requires all passengers travelling from the U.S. to Cuba to have Cuban health insurance. There’s no way around it!

You will also have to purchase a VISA for $50 to get into the country. Yes, you need a passport and a VISA to get to Cuba. I purchased my VISA online about 5 days prior to going on my trip. I picked up the VISA and filled it out when I got to the airport in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. You cannot use the VISA if you make a mistake so please be careful when filling it out! Click here to purchase your VISA.

You can get into Cuba for one of the following 12 reasons:

  • Family Visits

  • Official business of the U.S. Government, foreign governments etc.

  • Journalistic activities

  • Professional research or meetings

  • Educational activities and exchanges

  • Religious activities

  • Public performance, clinics, workshops etc.

  • Humanitarian projects

  • Support for the Cuban people

  • Activities of private foundations, research, or educational institutes

  • Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information material

  • Certain authorized export transactions

I said that I was there for educational purposes.

Where did I stay?

You can’t go to a place like Cuba and stay in a hotel, so we got an airbnb in Vedado Havana with the locals! We paid $90 a night for a modern apartment in Vedado, and we each had our own room and bathroom. Check it out here: We even had our host fix us a traditional style Cuban breakfast two of the mornings for $5 CUC’s (I’ll talk about CUC’s next)! Talk about the best host ever! We were very pleased with our stay!

So let’s recap. Before I went on my trip I spent $539.16 all together for my airfare, airbnb, and VISA. Not bad at all if I do say so myself!

Currency Exchanges

I exchanged $696.32 for Euros prior to going on my trip. The dollar has a special tax in Cuba for the embargo and for every $100 you will only receive $87. I exchanged my currency at Wells Fargo at a rate of 1.1802 so I got 590 Euros. Rates change all the time, so you may not exchange at this same rate when you go on your trip. (FYI - If you don’t have an account with Wells Fargo you will be charged a fee of $7.50 to exchange currency). I exchanged my Euros at the airport in Cuba when I got there at a rate of 1.07107, so I got $631.95 CUC’s. Please understand that there are three different currencies circulating in Cuba (the Cuban Pesos, the CUC, and Euros). The CUC is the main currency used. The last thing you want to do is pay for something in Euros and get shorted because they gave you the wrong amount back in CUC. Trust me just exchange your Euro’s for CUCs as soon as you get the airport. Once your trip is over exchange your remaining CUC’s at the airport in Cuba for Euros and exchange your Euros for dollars when you get back to the States. FYI - 1 CUC = $1.

Major Key Alert: Stay ready so that you don’t have to get ready! You need cash on hand when going to Cuba. Your credit cards will not work in Cuba! Also, please do not get a cash advance either. You’ll have interest charges related to the cash advance as well as your regular purchases. You do not want that type of negativity in your life, so save as much spending money as you can for your trip. I did not spend my whole $700. For my length of stay (3 nights, 4 days) you can exchange about $500 and still be comfortable!

So what did I do in Cuba?

I got lost! That’s right…completely lost and you’ll want to do the same thing! Just literally roam around the city. Experiencing the Cuban culture is the best! And everything is cheap so you can’t go wrong!

Here’s a little bit of what we did though:

  • Ate dinner at La Guarida. You’ll want to make a reservation and let them know that you want to eat outside! This is also a dope picture spot!

  • Ate dinner at San Cristobal (the restaurant President Obama ate at when he went to Cuba) Be sure to make reservations for this one as well!

  • Ate dinner at El Cocinero – you’ll want to make reservations for this one as well and tell them you want to eat on the rooftop! The ambiance is something to die for. You won’t be disappointed! Once you’re done with dinner head over to Fabrica de arte Cubano (FAC). It’s an art gallery/nightlife spot. It was a very dope and only cost 2 CUCs.

  • Took a taxi from Vedado Havana to Santa Maria Beach for 20 CUC’s roundtrip. The beach was a 35/40 minute drive from where we were staying. So 20 CUC’s is nothing!

  • Took a convertible car tour of the city leaving from Old Havana for 1 hour for 40 CUC’s.

  • Went to the Museum of Revolution for 8 CUCs.

  • Went to Sarao’s Bar which is like a really dope club in Havana and it’s free to get in! Men you’ll see some of the most beautiful Cuban women and ladies the men are eye candy as well! Basically everyone is muy caliente!

What you should know!

So like I said before Cuba is not Americanized at all! Don’t go over there thinking you’re going to have air conditioner and WiFi everywhere you go and eat wings at the restaurants as an appetizer. There are only two American phone companies in Cuba: AT &T and T-mobile. Should you need to use your phone to upload an occasional picture or two, buy a WiFi card from one of the hotels. The WiFi card is good for 1 hour. However, use this time to disconnect from the rest of the world if you can!

They’ll be numerous people on the streets and in the museums trying to sell you souvenir type items, Cuban Rum, and Cigars. These items are way cheaper at the Cuban airport in Duty Free or other shops when you leave. I felt good about giving the Cuban citizens my money though. However, I bought my big bottle of Cuban Rum from a store outside of Havana Libre hotel for 6 CUCs! You’ll want to do the same!

Taxi rides are stupid cheap. We went somewhere for 1 CUC multiple times. You’ll want to negotiate every ride though as some of the drivers may try to get over on you. It’s important to know where you want to go and try to gauge the distance before taking your ride.

Have some knowledge of Spanish. Almost no one speaks English in Cuba. Download Google Translate on your phone to use offline to help you out!

Download the OsmAnd App before you leave and download the map of Havana and like I said before, just get lost! Havana is huge and you won’t get to everything during your stay but that gives you more of reason to go back!

I hope all of you Bag Seekers found this blog to be useful and I hope you all enjoy your trip to Havana, Cuba! So where should I go next? Leave your comments below!

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