Hey y’all! Jessica and Simone here. So often people travel and take Insta-worthy pictures and never share their real experiences. Given that money nor time is unlimited, we think it’s important to share both the good AND the bad. Last month we went to Havana, Cuba around Simone’s birthday and the trip was different than what we expected.
We realize that everyone has their own experiences ― this is ours.
The United States prohibits tourist travel to Cuba. When you research going to Cuba, you see that you have to be going under one of twelve approved categories and you have to create a daily itinerary that leaves very little room for free time. We’ve seen that many people don’t take the law seriously, but we are people who like to err on the side of caution and took this very seriously. In addition, there is an exhaustive list of Cuban government-run entities that American citizens are prohibited from supporting. The list impacts a U.S. traveler’s ability to stay at a hotel, purchase items from certain businesses, and support certain brands/companies.
As stated previously, U.S. travelers are prohibited from staying in hotels run by the Cuban government. Since most of the hotels in Cuba are owned/run by the Cuban government, housing options are limited. Like many U.S. travelers, we stayed in a casa particular, which is a home owned by a Cuban citizen. Casa particulares are similar to AirBnB as Cuban citizens can rent out rooms in their houses or their entire homes. Not all homes are listed on the AirBnB app, so it’s difficult to tell the quality of the homes prior to arrival. When we arrived to our AirBnB in Cuba, we encountered unforeseen issues. There was construction going on next door, which woke us up early and made it difficult to breathe inside and near the home. There were also issues with sanitation in our housing. We think that this could be related to cost and the area of town that you stay in while in Cuba. After speaking with other travelers, we found that those who stayed in more tourist-y parts of town (which we thought was prohibited), and spent more money per night, were more satisfied. For reference we spent about $45 per night on housing (which we read was a typical cost of casa particulares).
The food we had was terrible. Period. Simone has had (and enjoyed) Cuban food before and it didn’t taste similar at all. We also took Pepto Bismol every day and still had issues. Whew.
This is a multi-pronged issue. One, U.S. debit and credit cards do not work in Cuba, so we had to solely rely on cash. Due to this fact, you have to make pretty accurate estimations about the amount of money to bring with you to Cuba. Two, at the airport, we were only allowed to exchange $400 worth of money. All other transactions would have to take place at currency exchanges outside of the airport. Three, there are two different currencies in Cuba, CUC (for tourists) and CUP (local currency). Neither CUC nor CUP are available in the U.S. If you exchange USD to CUC in Cuba you are penalized an additional 10% fee outside of the normal exchange rate. For that reason, many people decide to exchange USD to other currencies prior to their arrival to Cuba (which can be a hassle). Five, Cuba set their exchange rate so that the USD is worth less than the CUC 😶. Due to the Cuban exchange rate, our money didn’t stretch as far as we’d hoped it would (read as should). Lastly, it is illegal to bring Cuban currency back to the U.S., so all of the money we did not use in Cuba needed to go back through the exchange process (CUC –> EURO –> USD), incurring fees every step of the way.
All in all, we lost money. So many fees and so much confusion.
We speak enough Spanish to get by, however, we are not fluent. If you’re not at least able to ask basic questions about transportation, numbers, and food, I wouldn’t recommend going without someone who can OR without getting a guide who can help you get around. This saved us so much.
We just thought we’d also let you know that it is extremely rare to have internet inside of a private home. In order to get on wifi, we had to purchase wifi cards and go to public wifi zones in parks. Not having internet access impacted our ability to communicate, utilize GPS (we recommend downloading an offline map ahead of time), and execute our daily itineraries.