M.Góral

I have read and heard about Cuba during many meetings with travelers long before leaving for my holiday. Opinions were diversed, some people have said they had a wonderful time there, others have admitted Cuba is an expensive country, and finally some people have complained about food as they could not stand rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner. However, all of those stories were connected with one point – a great fascination for a country that was closed to the world for such a long time. Many people are also convinced that this is the last moment to visit Cuba, before other changes will be implemented. Where is the truth? Well, in each of the heard opinion there is a grain of truth. Hearing divergent information, it was hard for me to prepare for this trip. But it is known that the point of view always depends on sitting place, i.e. in this case, it depends on the region in Cuba someone has visited. Traveling around Cuba, it was possible to fit the previously heard opinions in various places. I decided that I would share my thoughts with you as well, which can help you to plan this trip and spend the best time in Cuba, which is truly a wonderful country.

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1. When going to Cuba, you do not have to plan the exact accommodation for the whole trip. You can do it on the arrival to each city without worrying about sleeping under the open sky. At every bus station there are people who offer accommodation at great prices, especially when compared to the prices at www.casaparticular.com. The most expensive guest house in Cuba during my holiday turned out to be the first night in Havana, ordered via www.booking.com (but you are obliged to book a first night). All the other accommodations I have arranged at the station or from the taxi drivers and I was very happy about the possibility of living with Cubans, making it easier to get to know their culture or learn more about their life conditions.

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2. Cubans are very kind and open people, eager to contact with others. They often stop by on the street to talk to people and learn more about those who are visiting their country. It happened to me in Vinales, where walking from the town to the Mural de la Prehistoria, a man on a horse has stopped to exchange few words, of course in Spanish. While my knowledge of Spanish is 5%, luckily we have managed to understand each other. Another very nice situation has happened to me in Havana. It started to rain, when I was getting off the bus in Havana Vieja. As soon as the bus left, we have realized with my boyfriend that in such conditions it would be difficult to find a good room for the night. We have decided to ask for the recommendation of a taxi driver who, without straying, took us to a group of his colleagues, and then with one of them he escorted us to the guest’s house. When it turned out that there were no vacant rooms, they were all inquiring the neighbors until they found a room in Maria’s house, a nice elderly lady. Neither the taxi driver nor a colleague would call a tip for this “service” which would certainly be the case, for example, in Morocco.

Sometimes I get the impression that maybe the Cubans do not have all material goods, but they have values ​​that have long been forgotten in other countries because of their prosperity.

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3. You do not need to know 100% of Spanish, but the basic words will save you many misunderstandings. I used the duolingo application to learn the language before leaving my home, thanks to which I have mastered the building of sentences in the present tense, additionally I have equipped myself with a phrasebook with helpful vocabulary. Without a language, it would be difficult to communicate in particular situations regarding transport, accommodation or sightseeing.

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4. Some people wonder whether to add Varadero to their list or no. I think it is worth going there because of beautiful and wide beaches. But I would not sacrifice more than 2 days for this point, unless you plan a chill-out holiday on the beach and in local bars.

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5. There is a belief that you need to take all the necessary things to Cuba, because you will not buy anything inside the country. I do not quite agree with that, you will find a soap or shampoo in some stores (especially in larger cities), but unfortunately it will be twice as expensive as in your country. In addition, you will not have too much choice. When it comes to medicines, I think that in their pharmacies there are basic drugs (I did not use), most of them in the same bottles or packaging. I have prepared myself for this eventuality and had a supply of all cosmetics, but I forgot the lighter, so firing a cigar was a challenge. Practically, at no point did they want to sell us a lighter or matches. Perhaps it is actually a deficit product or they did not want to sell it to foreigners.

The number of available items in their shops is also limited. There are 3 ways to buy things in Cuba: local shops where you use “Russian book”, markets (large shop, known as expensive among locals), and black market where you can buy everything, but the price might be even 20 times higher.

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6. Rum, rum, rum. Cigars. Before you buy something on the local farm, check the prices in the store. By the way, I regret that I could not take more Havana Anejo with me.

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7. Transport will not cost you a fortune if you decide to travel by Viazul bus. Of course, the number of places is limited, so it is good to arrange a plan how to move between cities during the first day in Cuba, also arranging it according availability of tickets. Before leaving my home town, I gave up my intention of reaching Cayo Coco. Considering that the trip would be too long and too expensive, I preferred to visit other places that would allow me to get to know this beautiful country. Upon arrival, it turned out that you can get to Cayo St. Maria with Viazul coming from Trinidad. But having already another plan in my mind I have decided it will be better to do it next time. That’s why below I give you the timetable for buses in February 2018, which may allow you to more or less plan your trip. I also used shared taxi, known as collectivo – it’s not a bad option either.

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Busses and cars break down very often in Cuba. If it happens to you, just smile, you will see how quickly other people stop to give you a hand.

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You can also use horses, but only for small trips.

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8. “Eating in Cuba is expensive”. It’s a myth that I heard from several people before leaving. At the same time, I saw films of bloggers eating seafood, which were cheap. In fact, meals cost as much as in Europe, and I think you can find places where you pay 4 euro for chicken. For comparison, I recommend also to try local places, especially for lunch. Pizza for 5 Cuban CUP or a hamburger for 10 CUP will not be a sophisticated dish, but I would compare it to buying a lunch sandwich in the supermarket, which will certainly help to satisfy the basic hunger.

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Food in Cuba is very diverse, but what is more important it is fresh, without preservatives that are ubiquitous in America or Europe. It is not true that you will only get rice with beans, but the truth is that if you order meat then in 90% cases rice will be an additional ingredient of the meal. I think, however, that it is quite tasty, especially in the version with black beans. I have tried dishes with mutton, chicken, pork or seafood and I definitely recommend the simplest food – chicken. Most of the time it was the best option regarding the taste and stomach problems. Unfortunately, after each closer encounter with seafood, it ended with indigestion. Maybe it has resulted from poor preparation or lack of proper freshness. But if you want to give it a try, I’m sure you’ll get good shrimps in restaurant El Rintintin in Trinidad. Another place I liked was El Figaro restaurant in Havana. You should try a Ropa Vieja dish, which is a traditional stew.

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Pizza is not a bad option either. Give it a try, as it is very different, probably the main reason is different flour used for the dough.

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9. Cuba has two currencies – CUP for local inhabitants (banknotes with people) and CUC for tourists (banknotes with monuments). One CUC is approximately 25 CUP, be aware of the exchange rate to avoid misunderstanding (or overpaying) as in many local places you can pay with CUC and get a CUP as a change.

There is a vending machine at the airport that exchanges your money. On the plus side it gives you notes with small value, so you don’t have to worry what to do with 50 CUC every time you pay.

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10. The last point belongs to the visa. The decision is for you to make, but I just wanted to let you know that I felt a bit like a loser when it turned out that I paid almost $ 30-35 for a visa in Poland, and in Air Canada on the way from Toronto to Havana, the flight attendants distributed this document for free. An option to think about and an option to be confirmed with the crew before you end up without visa.