Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Trippin' around Cuba !

We just returned from our 10 days trip in Cuba. And it was fun!
Our itinerary in Cuba was:

1) Havana for three nights

2) Varadero for three nights

3) Trinidad for two nights

4) Back to Havana for one night

We used ViAzul bus for all domestic travels. Apart from the Trinidad to Havana trip, we had no issue with the bus. And they were quite reasonable: (and great way to see the country)

Havana to Varadero - 3 hours / 10 CUC per person
Varadero to Trinidad - About 5 hours / 20 CUC per person
Trinidad to Havana - It was supposed to be 6 hours but took us 8.5 hours / 25 CUC per person

Slow service
More waiting

My favorite place is definitely Trinidad. It's very laid back, good food, friendly people and a lot cheaper than places like Varadero.

My least favorite is Varadero - it felt like it was just another beach resort. Nice beach - yes but it was nothing like the rest of Cuba. And very expensive!

In terms of accommodation we only booked for the first stay in Havana & the three nights for Varadero (because it was over NYE) but the rest we left open.

We stayed at two types of accommodation in Cuba: Casa particular and the usual western style hotel.

Our host in Havana!
Casa particular is basically staying with a Cuban family at their house.

You get to interact with the host and their family members and their friends which is great because you can get a lot of local information! It's also super cheap.

But not always the most comfortable - like the shower not having enough water pressure to wash off your shampoo... or.... not having a toilet seat on your toilet!

Staying at western style hotel is expensive in Cuba. The service is not as good as other counties yet the price is equally expensive... we stayed at one of the resorts in Varadero - it was comfortable in that it had plenty of hot water and the room was spacious and clean but the service was awful and it was just too expensive for what it was.

I would only do casa particular next time. It's a better way to get to know the country and its people.

Another great thing about staying at casa particular is you get introduced to the host's network of friends and their Casas which means you can basically find a place to stay anywhere in Cuba.

After spending three nights at one of the casas particulares in Havana, our host connected us with their friend in Trinidad. So when we arrived in Trinidad, we had their friend waiting for us at the bus stop! It was easy and super fun.

Breakfast @ Ari & Alex's Casa
'Western style' hotel in Varadero
Dinner @ Casa in Trinidad
When we came back to Havana the day before our flight out, we went back to our Havana host's place to see if she had a room but all her three spare rooms were full so she put us in her neighbour's apartment.

For whatever reason there was nobody living in this apartment so we basically had the whole place to ourselves in the middle of Havana. It was fantastic!

The apartment was located on the 3rd floor with windows facing the busy street where Frode spent most of the evening sitting by the balcony, watching the people on the street like a real Cuban!

We didn't find the food in Cuba particularly amazing.

We tried Los Nardos in Havana which is supposed to be the best restaurant in Havana according to our host. We had to line up for over an hour (!!) to get a table here but it was really not that great. How disappointing.

We also tried few other restaurants around Havana but none of them were that good... the best food we had in Havana has to be the breakfast cooked by our host. And the home made Smoothies, mmmm.....

We did have some good food though, especially in Trinidad (Highly recommended: La Botija !!!!) - they had great live music and it was very reasonable (price).

We of course enjoyed the Cuban rum - especially the mojitos! They are super cheap in Cuba.. the wines, not so much. There are local wines too but not my favorite.

So Cuban currency is not traded internationally so you have to bring major foreign currencies to exchange once you arrive in Cuba.

All waiting to exchange their money
And every exchange place has a loOOOooOOOOOoOooong queue!!

In Cuba, you spend a lot of time waiting in line for a lot of things (not just money exchange).... like trying to get a domestic bus ticket.

Good place to practice your patience, I guess.

The major legal currency in Cuba is CUC. This is $1 USD to 1 CUC.
BUT if you want to exchange USD in Cuba, you will be charged 10% extra.. plus the exchange fee so it's a really bad deal.

We brought some Mexican pesos & Euro. And they were ok. You can also exchange CAD, JPY, GBP etc.

There is another currency used in Cuba: CUP. This is mainly used by the locals.

If you want to get small snacks on the street, you'd probably use CUP...

We bought 2 rolls and 4 baguette type bread at the local bakery where we paid 1 CUC and got change (a lot of it) in CUP (we later calculated 2 rolls + 4 long bread were only 70 cents!! - and they were yummy- fresh too!!!!!)

The easiest way to quickly find out if you are getting CUC or CUP is just to remember this:

CUP = People's FACE (on the note)
CUC = Monument (on the note)

Face on the note = CUP

Apparently there are scams where they give CUP in change for CUC - this is bad because CUC has about 26.5 times more in value - so always check your change - is it face or monument? Monument - good, face - bad!

Final comment: 
10 days was not enough!! I need to go back and see more of Cuba. I would love to go back and visit other smaller cities next time... till then, Ciao Cuba!

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