Havana Travel Blog› entry 1 of 8 › view all entries
To start, a few things that will be useful for those planning trips to Cuba:
[a] make sure you take a GOOD guidebook with you (we used the Lonely Planet guide which had just been published). While older guidebooks will be somewhat helpful, things seem to change very fast in Cuba and a number of people we met on our travels complained that their guidebooks were completely unhelpful.
[b] Cuban tourist coaches/buses for travel around the island are AMAZING; just don't make the mistake we made and book them in advance - this seems to confuse people for the most part and almost led to us missing the coach on serveral occasions. Just make sure you arrive with plenty of time to spare, and keep change on you for tips for the drivers and whoever loads your bags onto the coach.
[c] Being a vegetarian is VERY trying in Cuba. Be prepared to eat pizzas, alot. There are some good veggie restaurants that we came across, and I'll point them out where appropriate. The best thing to do is to ask hosts (when staying in casa particulares) to prepare food for you for a small charge, which is ALWAYS better than restaurant food and can be prepared for veggies.
[d] Lastly, there are two currencies in Cuba: Moneda Nacional which is used by Cubans and the Cuban Convertable Peso (CUC) used by tourists (and locals when purchasing luxury/non-rationed goods). Recently, the two sets of bank notes were reissued so they no longer look [that much] alike, but keep your eye out, especially with the coins. The 3-peso Moneda Nacional note has a picture of Che Guevara printed on the back - you can usually get ahold of these at a Cadeca (foreign exchange bureau). One CUC peso is worth twenty five Moneda Nacional pesos. Its handy to keep a few Moneda Nacional pesos on you, though, as you can then buy food from the impromptu stalls that appear where you least expect ;-)
Arriving in Havana on a long haul budget airline (Martinair) from London (via Amsterdam), and then waiting in a queue for approximately three hours to get through customs, my sister and I were cautious with our first impressions. We took a cab, without hassle, to our hotel, Hotel Lido in Centro Habana (just off Prado). Now, I can't say with all honesty that this hotel was 'nice' - in a lot of respects, it was pretty awful: no hot water, no natural light, horrible night receptionist, flies in the bathroom, dubious cleaning regime. On the other hand, it was walking distance from sights such as the Capitolio, the Malecon and Habana Vieja (the Old Town) and we were only staying there for two nights. It also cost about 25CUC per night (about £17) for a double room with private bath ;-)
The next day, we went to the Capitolio, which is simply stunning; it has the largest indoor bronze statue (but don't quote me on that - it may be second or thrid largest), of La Republica, portrayed as a woman. It also has this amazinhg dome, and there is diamond replica of this that you can [just about] see. Beware of Capitolio staff who seem to be helpful, who then go on to ask for tips. Personally, I have no problem with tipping people, especially those that have actually been helpful, but it does grate when you're asked for a tip! We spent the rest of the day pottering around Havana, changing money (which you can only do once you're in the country - but there are plenty of Cadecas open throughout the week, some with late opening hours), getting familiar with the pace of life. We had lunch at an Middle Eastern restaurant called Al Medina, which is great for veggies.
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