When the embargo restrictions for travel to Cuba were lifted and televised, I knew instantaneously that I HAD TO GO!
A few months later, my childhood friend and I stumbled upon a flight deal, and my dream became a reality in December 2016.
I had all of these preconceived notions of what Cuba would look like, how the people would be, the food would taste, and so forth. I am happy to report, that all those illusions and fantasies were SHATTERED after our taxi dropped us off from the airport. This experience leads me to
TIP #1: Confirm ALL PRICES UP FRONT. Write them down if you have to, and make sure if it is more than one person, the price established is for “ambos” both people.
Our taxi driver told us the ride would cost $25 to our hotel. Well they got lost, annoyed, and when we pulled up, my friend handed him $25, an I handed him $30 (not knowing she paid them already) and magically, our $25 price was per person.
We took the “L” on the chin, and dubbed it as our first mistake and learning experience. Just any FYI, a taxi from the airport to Old Havana area should not cost no more than 20-25 CUC PERIOD.
Being the brave individuals we are, we decided to “wing” our entire trip. Hotel accommodations included. We wanted to stay at Hotel Ambos Mundos for at least one night (this is where Hemmingway resided and wrote some books). After our taxi dropped us off, a guy with a cart was waiting with a bell cart to take our bags to the hotel. He dropped us off and demanded 10 CUC per person for a 30 second walk!!!!
WELLLL we was hip to this game, took our bags, gave him a FIRM NO, and walked away!
We learned the hotel was totally booked, and we left to find an Air BNB aka Casa Particular. A nice couple noticed us walking with our bags, and agreed to assist us with finding some where to stay. We went to a few different places who all stated they were booked. Finally we found a lovely place to stay a couple nights thanks to the couple’s assistance. My friend and I decided we could take them out to dinner with us and pick up the tab. We DID NOT TELL THEM THIS. We simply invited them to go eat with us.
They directed us to a restaurant that served a great deal of seafood. They ordered lobster and shrimp platers with alcoholic drinks. Then they asked us, if they could have another drink. (Insert side eye emoji here). My friend and I was utterly disgusted that, they had absolutely NO INTENTION on paying for their meal. These lovely experiences leads me to
TIP #2: ALL acts of kindness come with a price tag: DO NOT expect any native to do, say, or give you ANYTHING without a price tag. My suggestions is to figure it out on your own, ask someone who is not from there, ask your hotel concierge or casa host for any assistance you may need.
TIP #3: The food there is extremely bland, due to importing issues they do not have many seasonings or spices. Even butter for bread or your seafood appeared to be a rare commodity. My friend told her friend who was traveling to Cuba a few days after us, to bring some hot sauce, seasoning salt, and adolbo. She thought we were joking, but it was in all seriousness.
After our 2 nights in Havana, we were off to Trinidad. I paid the host 80 CUC for my 70 CUC bill, but I told her to keep the change. My friend gave her a 100 CUC bill and was given 20 CUC back for her 70 CUC bill. Due to us rushing because our taxi was early, she didn’t realize the discrepancy in her change until we were on the road. Again, we felt slighted and cheated, but gave her the benefit of the doubt, that she thought she was going to tip her as did I.
After one night in Trinidad, we really didn’t care for the place and went back to Havana. Once back in Havana, we decided to take one of the Bike Taxi’s for a quick ride around the city. The cost was 10 CUC for an hour. After the hour was over, we gave him 20 CUC, and he attempted to put it in his pocket. When we asked for change he played the “no change game”.
TIP #4: ALWAYS HAVE EXACT CHANGE. On several occasions, taxi drivers, casa host, restaurants, etc tried to keep our change. It was amazing to watch them suddenly not understand English or SPANISH when it came to discussing change.
My last piece of advice for traveling to Cuba
TIP #5: Speak some of the language. In Havana, most natives don’t speak any English. Expressing your needs and wants will be very difficult, and leave you very vulnerable to scams if you can’t understand what is going on. I was thankful for the bit of Spanish I knew, because it truly saved us from getting scammed repeatedly!
I have to admit, that most of these bad experiences only occurred in Havana. I have more to say on my adventures in Cuba, so stay tuned!