Days spent: 6
Transportation taken: Planes = 2, Buses = 4, Taxis = 6, Boats = 0
Number of places we stayed: 3
Final daily budget: $96
Wildlife spotted: Nada
- Cristal beer
- Bucanero Fuerza beer
- Mojito mixed drink (Tom's favorite)
- Buena Vista mixed drink (Amber's favorite)
- Taverna La Muralla homemade brew - Obscura, Negra, Clara
Tours taken: only self-guided walking tours that were in the Lonely Planet book
Most Touristy Activity:The bus tour of Vinales while Amber recovered from her illness
Least Touristy Activity:Riding the local bus to Playas del Este - in true San Francisco fashion, Tom yelled "back door!" to get off the bus
Amber's favorite memory: Taking the time to take photos while walking around Havana
Tom's favorite memory:Visiting Coppelia, the ice cream place
- Rubber thingy that protects my eye socket on my camera - can't find a replacement anywhere!
Quick Facts for the Traveler
Currency:There are 2 currencies in Cuba, a tourist currency and the everyday currency of the populace. The tourist currency called "CUCs" are about $1CUC to $1US when we visited. The everyday currency of the people (simply in "pesos") was about 25 pesos to 1 CUC. Not only is this confusing but the actual money looked similar! Basically touristy things are priced in CUCs, namely food at restaurants, casa particulars (home-stays) and hotels, taxis and tourist buses, shops in the tourist areas, etc. Everything else for the locals is priced in pesos. When you exchange money at a money-changer, you get CUCs but it is worthwhile to change some CUCs into pesos so you can try the local food, buses, etc.
Accommodations:There are no hostels in Cuba so for budget accommodations you are limited to casa particulars (home-stays). Basically created after the collapse of the Soviet Union as a way to help revive the Cuba economy, casa particulars are private residents who agree to open one room of their house to tourists. The proprietors are heavily regulated and have to pay a hefty tax (about 100 CUCs) to the government per month whether or not they are able to rent out their rooms. Each night cost about 20-25 CUCs for the room (not per person) so you can see where some proprietors are desperate to make sure their rooms are filled at least several times per month. However, with the average Cuban salary being about $15 US a month, you can see where it pays to make some money in CUCs by renting out a room in your house! The good thing about the regulation for the tourist is that the rooms have to have air conditioning, a refrigerator, etc. and are fairly often inspected so you know consistently what you'll get for your 25 CUC per night. Not only is it the cheapest way to stay in Cuba, but you'll also get access to the people as well which exposes you to information and culture you might not get access to by staying in a typical (and expensive!) hotel.
Food: As we mentioned, it is very hard to find good food in Cuba. Restaurants are government run for the most part so you can guess how tasty those are! There are some exceptions, but the food was pricey (about the same as you'd pay in the US) and not very good at the few restaurants we tried. And of course you are only eating with other tourists as Cubans cannot afford to eat at the restaurants. In general, what you are eating is usually fairly fresh as imports are limited but at the same time, the food quality wasn't really up to par as there just wasn't the variety present that you are used to.
Again, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba did try to revive the economy a bit by allowing paladares, or people to run small restaurants from their home. These are supposed to be limited to 12-person restaurants but some chose to ignore the government regulations and have expanded to be much larger. We ate pizza at one paladar in the Eastern Beach area right outside of Havana and it was one of our few decent meals!
However, if you have a few of the local pesos in your hand, you can get fairly decent street food for cheap, like Tom here.
The other good thing we tried are bocadilos or little ice cream sandwiches.
Finally, peso pizzas were also a popular street food but the sauce was not something I ever tasted before, it was super-sweet!