Replies: 16 - Last Post: Nov 2, 2012 9:02 PM Last Post By: chefhagan
Oct 30, 2012 7:29 PM
Simply Amazing!To all of those here who helped and put up with my endless questions I have a huge thank you! I loved Cuba so much. This trip was only to Havana but it was an incredible time!
I stayed at the Hotel Inglaterra in Old Havana. I thought it was perfect for what I wanted. I met a few people on the way there and we made it our starting and ending point every day. We did the $5 double decker bus tour, hired an old car for the day, hit the fort, and walked the local markets in the streets. Each night we tried a new restaurant and I made sure to never eat the same thing twice.
Overall my experience was incredible but not without its flaws. The Cuba Network (or Hotel Inglaterra) screwed me the first night and simply tossed me in another hotel around the corner. I think they treat the place like an airline where they overbook and if you arrive late you get the other place. I was very upset with this one but I did manage to score a balcony room on the top floor with one of the best views in all of Havana. Every night when I got to my room I just sat out on the balcony with a glass of rum and enjoyed the sights and sounds. I also was detained at the airport for a while. I'm a caucasian, 30yr old, traveling alone male with a newly issued passport so I wasn't surprised I raised a few flags. It was a little hairy when they told the other people I was going to split a cab with to go ahead and leave without me because I'd be a while. I actually missed the hardest part of the hurricane hitting because I was still detained lol.
Here are some tips I learned along the way. I hope someone can find a few of them useful.
1) The Hotel Ingleterra is a great place location wise and had the best price for what you get. I paid $286 total inc. taxes for 5 nights. The others seemed to really like my place the best.
2) Everything can be bargained. From a Taxi to a painting be willing to stand your ground.
3) I exchanged strait US to CUC and got a better deal than anyone else. For $400 I got $348.00 while a person that went to Pesos first exchanged $500 and received only $350. For the hassle I found it better to just go with the US and eat the 10%. At best right now you aren't seeing much of a difference if you're going to convert your currency twice.
4) Take large bills. I'd say $50-$100 bills. Make sure they are clean bills. Go to a bank and get newly minted if you can. Sometimes the front desk lady would just grab them and hand me CUC but everyone else studied each bill very closely. Usually had two people look at them each which took a long time. If not in your hotel they will require your ID. Just show them your drivers license. Mine is from Texas and they took it.
5) Keep $150 at home for emergencies. You'll need $25 to get to the airport (can't really haggle at 5:45am with that one) and $25 in fees to exit. If you purchase any paintings or other art works you'll have to pay $5 each once you get through security. This I didn't know so was forced to get another $40 CUC at the airport.
6) Get to your hotel and put your passport in a safe. Never bring it out again until you leave. If anyone asks for it just show them your hotel key.
7) Tried about a dozen places, and while against the knowledge of the best mojito in the world being a few streets over, we all agreed the Hotel Inglaterra had the best we could find.
8) Everyone has a brother that works in a cigar factory lol. Just stick to the hotels.
9) Find a local that's wearing the style of cuban shirt you want then ask them where they got them. We picked up a few custom made ones that I can't wait to break out over the holidays.
10) Buy a CD from a band here and there. It's more than a tip, usually $10, and you get to take it with you. I couldn't believe how great the music was. You couldn't turn a corner and not hear how amazing it was.
11) Never be afraid to say hello to people. I met a couple in the airport on the way there and a couple at the hotel TRYING to use the internet. We stayed together the entire trip and they made an already amazing place even better. I look forward to seeing them again.
12) Anyone walking up asking where you're from is trying to sell you something. The sales pitch might not come at first but it will happen. Amazing I bet half of them thought Texas was still in Mexico. I never hid that I was American and never felt in danger.
13) If you need to lay low on the radar purchase a ticket from Cancun then one back to panama. Or simply go from Panama. PTY is one large terminal that unlike most airports they do not require you to go through customs if you land. By staying in the terminal you don't get your passport stamped a second time. I flew to CUN-PTY-HAV to get there then just flew HAV-PTY to get back. My passport only showed one stamp, Cancun, and I blew through customs.
14) Hire a 50's taxi when you can. Made everything more enjoyable since it wasn't just about getting there anymore. Speak with the guy that owns the car directly and not the one who runs the service for a better deal.
15) Treat yourself to one expensive night. We went to the Tropicana and saw an amazing show, drank a lot of rum, and I eventually found myself with three of the show girl dancers moving in ways only rum lubricated joints can.
16) Hit every bar you can. Each one had great music and something different to offer.
17) Walk around and look for rum at the local liquor stores. A good bottle of 7yr was $11.
18) Crown Royal bags... I can't stress this enough. Take a few. Cameras, Glasses, Rum Bottles, personal affects, camera lenses, cell phones, etc can all use them. Heck the last night there I had to use them as a towel since I had run out! It's the Swiss Army Knife of towels/bags
As for my travel experience I've spent time in Hong Kong, Japan, Thailand, Africa, all over the Caribbean and Mexico, Sweden, England, great spots in the United States, Costa Rica, Honduras, Belize and the list goes one. This trip was a top three. It's hard to beat a wildlife safari in Kenya but it sure tried hard :)
Thank you again to all for the help and the encouragement. I hope to go back before too long since Sandy didn't let me get my diving in!
Edited by: FlyingTexan1
Oct 30, 2012 8:14 PM
1Good on you for enjoying yourself so obviously and so much, great to see the enthusiasm. And thanks for taking the time to report back with your experiences and your travel tips. This indeed was an enjoyable read.
ummm. - what are Crown Royal bags? i'm intrigued.
I do hope you get back to enjoy Cuba again, and I hope also that next time you can get out of the city for a while, see some more bits of the country - and end up in Santiago, where the music is even better!!!!!
Oct 30, 2012 8:39 PM
Thanks! This post was super informative, it's amazing how much you can learn about a place in such a short period of time. I've been posting about my experiences in Cuba, hopefully it adds something to the story. I'll have some general travel advice posts up in a couple weeks.
Oct 30, 2012 8:59 PM
It's the bag a bottle of crown comes in. It has a rope top to tie it shut and is soft so you can put things like a few glasses for your rum in. Holds a camera great, you can stuff them with something and make a pillow of them, they also clean a camera lens pretty well to :)
Oct 30, 2012 9:15 PM
4Thanks for the tips! One thing, converting to pesos and then to cuc is the worst thing your friends did because the peso is so weak. I convert to Canadian (or euro is also good). I live close to the Canadian border so I was charged only $11 per $1k recently because they're about even. If you're not close to the border, a major bank can convert as well, just not as a good of a rate as crossing the border. When I was doing my research, I found that Wells Fargo seemed to have the best rates.
Oct 30, 2012 10:22 PM
Oct 30, 2012 10:22 PM
Oct 30, 2012 10:30 PM
7Nice report FT - thanks for making the effort. Glad you took our advice re MxP's.
Do enjoy your NEXT trip!
#4 note Jacpan that the reason that CAD or Euros are likely (depending on the fees added to that day's exchange rate) to be better than MxP's isnot because of the relationship between those 3 currencies and the USD- but that of the 9 international currencies accepted in Cuba MXP's is uniquely given the worst rate by Cuban banks.
Oct 30, 2012 10:38 PM
Oct 31, 2012 1:46 AM
Oct 31, 2012 5:21 AM
Oct 31, 2012 6:29 AM
Oct 31, 2012 2:03 PM
Oct 31, 2012 6:59 PM
Oct 31, 2012 7:07 PM
14When I was detained they had a sheet they wanted to run through.
1) Where are you from
2) What is your occupation
3) Is this your first time in Cuba
4) Where do you plan on going in Cuba
5) What hotel are you staying at
6) Why are you traveling alone
7) What electronics do you have on you
8) How much cash do you have on you
9) Do you have credit cards on you and if so which ones
10) What day will you be leaving Cuba
11) Do you have anything that verifies the company you work for (I had my company ID)
12) Do you have receipts showing your hotel
13) Do you know anyone in Cuba
14) Did you meet anyone else on the plane
15) Are these all your bags
16) Which countries did you visit before Cuba
That's all I can remember. I don't really know why I was picked out but the next day the others that saw it happened had said they didn't know why either. They were worried because we were going to split a cab and government people had walked out and told them to leave without me. I had to answer these questions three different times. I didn't want to open my mouth too much but after a while I did enquirer as to why I had been held so long and was told their superior had told them to do so and they were waiting on his approval to let me go.
It's ok though I've been through security points in Africa worse than this. Just took a while. For all I know it's because they needed to use the internet to verify something hahaha
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