I forget how long ago I was in Cuba; it still lives with me everyday. With access to this enchanting island threatened, I thought the first reasonable thing to do would be to do my part in unearthing the beauty of Cuba that is largely unconsidered in the decision to reel back relations.
Cuba and its people are dripping in an authenticity that is incredibly magnetic. Cubans are resourceful in the purest sense, leaving no object to waste or time unlived. They are warm, watchful, smart and carry a heavy sense of humor. My heart remains in the colored walls of Trinidad, the crystal blue waters of Cayo Jutias and the majesty of la Valle de Viñales.
So often we are put off by the unknown; we disregard possibilities because we don't know enough about what lies on the other side. Cuba is largely a mystery to Americans, an assumption of the past. But the most prominent truth that lies below the surface is that Cuba's most prosperous days are ahead.
I pulled together a few tips and tricks for those who may have the same pull to Cuba that I have had since I was a wee toddler:
Currency: Cuba operates on a dual economy, resulting in 2 currencies -- the national peso (CUP) and the foreigner Convertible (CUC). When you exchange money, you'll get Covertibles at a 1:1 ratio to the US Dollar. However, there is a 10% fee plus a 3% tax that gets taken from US Dollars, so you'll wind up essentially getting 83% of what you bring in. The smarter thing to do is order Euro from your bank (there usually is no transaction fee) and transfer Euro into Convertibles. You'll get a higher exchange rate and make more in the end.
Clothing + Goods: Pack an extra duffel or suitcase with clothing, spices, coffee, anything really. Clothing is extremely expensive in Cuba, so bring everything that you don't wear or were planning to donate. Give it to the families you stay with or people you make friends with. This may be by
Internet: Wifi and phones in Cuba are provided through one company -- Etecsa. Throughout all the cities and towns, wifi is available in certain public parks (la Plaza). You have to buy a 1 hour wifi card from Etecsa or an authorized seller. They should cost 1 CUC, but different vendors might jack it up a bit. You'll never pay more than 3 CUC for 1 hour. The card has a code that you plug into your browser and voilà.
Local Transport: Take a colectivo when you can. It's the middle-ground priced group taxi. The Viazul bus books up super quick and if you're anything like me in my non-planning style, you usually miss the boat on reserving a ticket. At the Viazul station in La Habana, there are always a group of drivers standing outside that will put you in a colectivo on demand. Viñales is about 20 CUC one-way, Trinidad can be about 50 CUC one-day and Veradero is 60 CUC. Do your best to talk them down if you wish but it's pretty standard pricing.
Maps: Given that your phone / data won't work, you can download Maps.me for your navigation needs. Before you leave, download the map of Cuba and you'll be able to navigate wherever you are offline. You can save locations or spots so that they're already pinned when you're there. This was the most helpful tool in traveling around Cuba solo.