14 Things We Learned From Visiting Cuba

Cuba

Kim, Lucas and I recently got back from our final trip of 2015 to Cuba

Cuba has long been a place that I’ve wanted to visit. I can’t say that I knew much about the island besides the fact that old American cars from the 1950s are still in use and Cubans are also really into music (and baseball)!

Visiting Cuba during the winter holidays made it a very busy time to be there. Our trip went smoothly besides having a hard time finding a car to get us to our second destination. Prior to this, we already decided to cut out one stop we planned so it ended up only affecting us in a minor way.

Here are 14 things we learned about Cuba during our trip…

  1. Cubans are some of the friendliest and most welcoming people. Staying in people’s homes instead of hotels was a great way to get a better understanding of the  country.
  2. Casa Particulars are the original Airbnb. While the tourism infrastructure isn’t strong and there aren’t enough hotel rooms to go around, a great place to stay is at a Casa Particular. Casa’s are typically a room (with a private bathroom) in a family’s home. It’s definitely an interesting way to stay and good way to get a glimpse into local life.
  3. Just because Americans haven’t been able to visit Cuba for 50+ years, it still has a tourism industry. The island is visited by many including Canadians and Europeans, especially Germans.
  4. Cuba’s becoming even more popular for Europeans these days. According to one of our casa owners, they want to get here before Americans ruin or change the island. (I found this funny to hear since this is why many Americans want to go now!)
  5. Getting around can be slow and don’t expect your driver to show up on time. We didn’t get to try out the local inter-city buses since they don’t seem to run frequently.  The couple of rides we wanted to take were also sold out days in advance.
  6. Bottled water can be much harder to find than rum or beer. Many market refrigerators were close to empty but the liquor shelves seemed to always be full or were getting restocked. (If you’d like cold bottled water, all I’ll say is Good Luck!)
  7. Visiting most museums/ attractions are really cheap. Many charge just a $1-2 entry fee with the most expensive one we visited being $8.
  8. While I couldn’t stop admiring and photographing the old American cars, taking a ride in one is another story. The cars are definitely not the most comfortable. You’ll probably be in for a bouncy experience. In addition to old American cars there were many old European cars. We found some of these especially uncomfortable due to the gas fumes.
  9. The Beatles are popular in Cuba. There’s a Lennon Park & Yellow Submarine Bar in Havana and in Trinidad there’s a bar called Yesterday with Beatles statues out front.
  10. Things aren’t as cheap as you’d expect them to be. For example, a big bottle of water usually goes for $1.50. Dishes in a decent restaurant can go for $10-15.
  11. Ham and cheese sandwiches are very popular. I’m not a fan so I didn’t try one of these sandwiches but I saw them for sale as well as people eating them all over.
  12. I think that Cuba’s cola, TuKola is tastier than Coke. Or it’s pretty similar in taste to Mexican Coke.
  13. Cubans seem to be really excited to see Americans. When asked where we were from, most seemed to be a bit surprised but excited when we said the United States. Some said how they’d love to visit too.
  14. Water pressure in showers is pretty terrible. One casa had a really good shower. Two were ok at best. Our last place was horrendous- the first night it worked ok but the final night not more than a thin stream of water came out!

BonusHere’s a tip from an almost 4-year old. (This has nothing to really do with Cuba.) During our visit, Lucas learned that a bug is a type of car (VW Beatle).

I’ll be sharing more about our trip to Cuba in future posts. Keep checking back to find out more about this fascinating island.

8 thoughts on “14 Things We Learned From Visiting Cuba

  1. Now I have to ask: what type of customs and immigration documentation was required departing from the US, entering Cuba, departing Cuba and entering the US on your return? Clearances, visas, travel documents, etc.? Did you clear US Immigration and Customs in Canada before flying back to NYC? Any hints or suggestions towards making the air travel easier? Thanks —

  2. Does either of you speak Spanish? If not, how well does the country’s tourist trade (including the houses you stayed at) deal with the English (or German)-only speakers?

    What travel books and websites did you find the most helpful in setting up your trip?

    THANKS!

  3. Rich A- We flew from Canada to Cuba. I have a post coming soon which answers your questions from last week.

    bluecat- I can get by with basics, my wife understands and is better than me. We stayed at four different properties. At one, the couple spoke English very well. English is not widely spoken in Cuba but I wouldn’t use that as a reason not to visit. I’ll share some of the resources that we used to plan our trip in an upcoming post.

  4. Did you rent a car with or without driver and how much did you pay per day and what cities did you visit? Have read about Viazul as a good method of transportation to cities throughout the island – can you confirm? Thank you.

  5. Frank L- We did not rent a car or a driver for our entire trip. We hired a driver for each trip as needed. We visited Havana, Trinidad, Valle de los Ingenios and Cienfuegos. We never hired a driver for a full day so the cost of a trip varied (but were not cheap). It didn’t help that we were in Cuba during a very busy time of year. For examples, we paid around $110 to go from Havana to Trinidad. I think it usually should cost $75. Viazul seemed fine and we met another family using it. When trying to buy bus tickets, the bus was already sold out & that was two days in advance!

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