Cuba has many laws and regulations that you normally wouldn’t be accustomed to. Just getting in and out of the country can prove to be a stressful experience. Here are the lessons I learned during my stay in Havana:
Converting Your Money:
In Cuba they have two currencies. One for tourists; the CUC (Cuban Convertible Peso). Then the national currency for locals; the CUP (Cuban Peso). Essentially, during your stay you will be paying a ‘tourist’ price on any purchase, this means nothing is cheap here so don’t expect bargains. $1 USD gets you just under $1 CUC. You can only exchange your money in Havana’s airport so don’t even look to find better exchange rates. $25 CUP then gets you $1 CUC. It takes a bit of figuring out at first.
The Wi-FI Situation:
Forget free Wi-Fi, it simply does not exist. You have to go visit an ETECSA store and buy a Wi-Fi card ($2 CUC per hour), and then to use the internet you have to go to a public space of Wi-Fi. This is usually a park or a hotel, and these are the only places you can access Wi-Fi. The internet is controlled and restricted by the government here so remember this when logging in. (Your roaming data will not work in Cuba).
Capped Taxi Fare from Airport:
Yes, the government capped the taxi fares from the airport to downtown at $25 CUC. Remember this because my taxi driver tried to charge me $30 CUC.
The Locals are Frendly…Too Friendly:
On my first day in Havana I had countless amounts of locals welcome me to their country, shake my hand, ask me where I’m from, then slowly walk me towards a bar…and then offer that I buy the beer. This will happen to you repeatedly in Havana. So be prepared to have a strong attitude and do not go along with the whole situation. I found that saying my flight was ‘tonight’ and that I had no money left would soon make them lose interest in me.
Black Market Cigars:
Avoid, avoid, avoid. If someone approaches you to buy cigars, chances are they are counterfeit products. The only way to buy legit Cuban cigars is to head to the Real Fabrica de Tabacos Partagas. A Cohiba cigar (my favourite and apparently Fidel’s favourite too) will set you back $15 CUC apiece.
Due to socialism in Cuba (NOT communism), you will not find any Michelin Star restaurants here. This is down to the fact they do not have all the ingredients it takes to prepare certain meals. Same goes for grocery shopping. Prepare to be downgraded from your usual expectations of the a la carte menu. Do some research before you go, especially if you have any special dietary requirements. (Tip: I often found the best food to be had been at the paladares, these unofficial private home cooking’s instead of the government-owned restaurants).
Airport Departure Tax:
Since May 2015, the airport departure tax is included in the cost of the airline, and the departure tax booths in the airports have been closed. Just in case anybody warns you about this tax, or in case you read about it in an out dated guidebook.