Going to Cuba was our first long haul trip and our first time in America. Prior to our departure I penned down all the expectations and ideas I had of the country. Returning back to my home country, I then wrote what really goes down in Cuba. This is the real Cuba, as we saw it.
The last C in CUC stands for Convertibles and the P in CUP stands for Pesos. Cubans basically refer to their money as convertibles and pesos. We changed some of our money to convertibles as from day one and a small amount of Euro to pesos. We then ended up realising that we might as well have changed the whole sum to convertibles since this is the main currency in Cuba, used daily even by locals. Also, the best exchange place we found was by far the exchange booth at the airport. Banks in Cuba are so old fashioned and bureaucratic that it took us a solid two hours to exchange money.
Much like Italy, Cuban cuisine depends on the region you’re in. In general, we found food in Cuba much saltier than average. However, restaurants tend to cook more Mediterranean-like, and normally include a good variety of dishes on their menus. Even though eating out is a luxury to most Cubans, the prices are very low and you can have a decent dinner with just a few convertibles.
Packing the couscous, protein bars and other snacks was definitely a good idea. Snacks in Cuba are anything from bananas, dates, papayas… well basically fruit.
We visited Cuba in the month of April. The weather was hot, but bearable, not sticky and just a bit humid. As predicted, UV was not a big concern for us. We put on sunblock every morning before leaving the casa particular and topped it again in the middle of the day. All the casas particulares were equipped with air conditions or a fan so having a good night’s sleep was not an issue.
Cubans speak Spanish and we met only a few Cubans that actually speak English, this applies also to casa particulares hosts. From the four casas we went to, no one knew English.
When we landed in Cuba we knew just enough Spanish to get by our day to day needs, but at the end of our trip we had acquired enough skills to be able to make a complex conversation with locals about governments, politics and salaries. I believe that the language barrier won’t be a problem if you cannot understand a cosa in Spanish, but keep in mind that you’ll look more of a tourist and will be more susceptible to rip-offs.
5. Culture shock
We did pack our luggage with t-shirts, toiletries and food to give out to Cubans. Locals were so happy and grateful for this deed since their wages are very low.
I guess that my biggest confusion came about when we made it to la Havana. Bewilderment and disorientation were my first emotions and reactions towards the city of communism and it was a lot to take in. Ironically, after a few hours walking the streets, I fell in love with the city.
April is a warm month for Cuba. It might get cooler during the evening, but that’s about it, and we never took out our umbrella or rain coat out of the suitcase. I was glad we had more than a pair of trainers with us. The majority of the roads in Cuba are dusty and without any type of road surfacing, and an open type of shoes such as flip flops is not ideal.
7. Internet and Wi-Fi
This point was not added in the Expectations for Cuba blog post, but I think it’s an important point to mention. Internet is bought through cards and the cost is of 1.50 CUC per hour. Tourists may get access to internet (wi-fi) in Cuba after undergoing these five steps:
- Find an Etecsa office. Etecsa offices are not present in every village. We only met one in Viñales and one in la Habana.
- Prepare your passport and wait in line.
- Present your passport and buy the cards.
- Find a wi-fi spot – normally the main plaza of the village.
- Scratch the grey/silver part of the card to reveal the password for one hour worth of internet… and log in.
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