Not exactly Mexico, but only a 2 hour flight away, Cuba is definitely worth the visit if you’re in Mexico. Havana, the country’s capital, has been stuck in time since the USA block in 1959 but this may all change soon with the US’s relaxation of restrictions. Visit before it’s too late.
For Aussies, the quickest and most direct way to get to Cuba is via Mexico (preferably whilst visiting Mexico). Interjet and Aeromexico fly direct daily with Cubana airlines flying there Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Cubana is usually the cheapest, but be warned, they aren’t the best. Expect dodgy toilets, seats that are falling apart and an archaic russian fleet. When we flew them, people even clapped when we landed…..
Arrival into Havana’s airport can be a bit of a shock. The place is kitted out with lovely yellow walls and red trimming and you’ll most likely be questioned by officials before you even make it through immigration. Just take it in your stride.
Taxis from the airport are easy to come by, expect to pay about 20-25 CUC per car. What the CUC is a CUC? Cuba has two currencies, the CUC (Cuban convertible peso – 1 CUC roughly equals 1 USD) which is the tourist currency and the CUP (Cuban Peso) which is for locals. For the locals the CUP is used for all basic necessities and the CUC is for luxury items. The only time a you need CUPs as a tourist is if you want to shop at local markets or buy peso pizza off the street. In our four days there we didn’t need or use any CUPs. You do need to make sure you take some money over with you though as you can’t rely on ATMs working for you. You can’t get CUCs until you are in Cuba so take Mexican pesos as you will get a horrible exchange rate on USD. You can exchange money at the airport and also in town at banks. Don’t exchange too much though as you can’t exchange it back once you’ve left the country.
Accommodation options range from 5 star, overpriced resorts and hotels (usually government owned) to casas particulares which tend to be more affordable and offer better value. We recommend a cute B&B in the burbs called La Rosa D’Ortega, about 10 minutes out of Havana centro. It’s a beautiful old house in perfect nic and one of the few B&B accommodations to have a pool (perfect after a hot and steamy day exploring Havana). Staff there are very friendly, the rooms roomy and neat plus a decent but simple breakfast is included in the rate (around $80US for a double or $60US for a single). One thing to remember though is that you wont have internet unless you stay at one of the overpriced hotels and even then you’ll have to pay a ridiculous fee to access it. We enjoyed not having internet though, it meant we actually focused on relaxing and enjoying ourselves rather than checking facey.
There are two kinds of taxis in Havana. The yellow cabs which cost around 7 CUCs per trip and the old work horses which cost around 10 CUCs per trip. The old cars are fun to cruise around in and they also have the extra seat in the front, perfect if you’re a party of 5 like we were. Hail them off the street and negotiate a price. Keep in mind that these are old cars and the locals work hard to keep them running.
WANDER THE HISTORICAL CENTRE
Old Havana is the original city of Havana. Many of the buildings here had fallen into ruin in the latter half of the 20th century, but in recent times the government has invested money from tourism into restoring the area. It’s a pretty place to explore.
A favourite amongst the locals, this beach is less touristy, the water blue and clear, and when we were there, we were entertained by an awesome crab. What more could you want?
FABRICA DE ARTE CUBANO
Fabrica de Arte Cubano (Cuban Art Factory) is the place where all the cool hipster kids and artists hang. It’s a night club and art space housed in an old oil factory and we thought it was pretty awesome. After lining up for about 30 minutes we were given entry with a “ration card” which was used to record all the drinks we had (we were to pay at the end). We wandered from room to room listening to live music, admiring art and jewelery and then ended up at a space at the end of the building. As we were sipping our cocktails and chatting the lights dimmed and we found ourselves in the middle of an art performance inspired by Pink Floyd. Men in silver paint and hard hats moved giant bricks around, invading personal space and creating a sense of drama.
While Cuba isn’t exactly known for it’s food, there are still some gems to be found. A Paladar (home restaurant where all the best food is) is your best bet. We asked a cycle taxi to take us to their favourite place. We were taken down a few side streets and ended up at a small home with about five tables. We feasted on lobster, beans and rice for about 12CUCs each and it was bloody yum!
For something fancier, try Elite in the suburb of Miramar. We dined in an odd spot which felt like a carport but the food and service were great.
NEED TO KNOW
- Don’t be afraid to stay out of the tourist zone. You’ll get a better view of Havana and also more bang for your buck.
- Don’t expect your cards to work in the ATMs, take enough Mexican pesos with you to last the trip and exchange them when you arrive. But don’t exchange it all at once.
- There are some scammers around, trying to sell you fake cigars, drugs and even sexy shows. Don’t fall for it, they’ll most likely take your money and leave you with nothing.
- Havana’s a very safe place so enjoy yourself!