Havana Great Vacation
I’ve traveled extensively through Mexico, and can’t wait to vacation in Cuba. The mystique of the country draws me like a moth to a flame.
And I want to go SOON!
Time Warp - The authenticity that is Cuba is due in large part to how dramatically different it is from the United States. Its isolation from the more modern world helped preserve the personality of the country. The locals are sincerely friendly to those who do venture in, and the crime rate is almost non-existent. It has a mix of Spanish and African roots, and is the largest, least commercialized, and most exciting island in the Caribbean. It is also one of the world's last bastions of communism with a fascinating modern history.
Cubans can be described as gregarious, loud, expressive, open, warm, generous, and extremely friendly people - kind of like an Italian, or a Spaniard, but with added spices. It's only a matter of time before American-imposed travel and trade barriers fall. No doubt millions will come to Cuba when flights from Miami resume. Clearly, the time to go is now. I want to dive in.
Tourists - American tourists still aren’t allowed to travel to Cuba solely for tourism. Instead, a visit needs to fit within one of 12 categories that the US government has deemed acceptable, such as visiting family, education or religious purposes. Unless you use one of a few well-known tricks, such as flying in from another country and asking them not to stamp your passport, you still can't vacation in Cuba.
I’ve read traveling in Cuba is different than most places, and you consider everything you do everywhere else (such as: don't carry much cash, use credit cards, etc.) and do the opposite. Cuba is pretty much a 100% cash economy, and its currency can't be purchased outside the country. The island operates a two-currency system – one for locals, Cuban pesos, and the other for tourists, Convertible Cuban pesos or CUC (pronounced ‘cook’). It's unlikely anyone will charge you or mention anything other than the CUC$, but be aware it's around 25 times the price of the local peso (be sure to check your change as the notes look similar). One CUC$ is equal to US$1. It's best to take a common currency like sterling or euro into the country and exchange it once you land. Don't take US dollars, as Cubans get charged extra to change this currency and they'll pass on that cost.
Conveniences - Consider a trip to Cuba a digital detox. There’s no unregulated internet access, so forget Instagram. Log off from Facebook. Even if you're prepared to pay for data roaming, it won't work here. Some (more luxurious) hotels offer wi-fi in the form of vouchers for 30 mins or an hour but they're expensive and the connection is slow. Occasionally you'll see an internet cafe but be prepared for working with 1995 level internet – and that sound you hear...that's dial up.
Aside from clothes, you should pack books for long bus journeys and make sure all your music is accessible offline. Pack snacks and any particular things you can't live without. One of the reasons Cuba is such a rewarding experience is that global brands haven't taken hold here, but its poorer economy means that there's no such thing as a convenience store. If you're hungry between meals, you're going to be hard pushed to find anything other than the odd bit of fruit. Ladies, tampons haven't arrived yet, so don't get caught short. Also, pack a basic first aid kit – while Cuba has one of the best state-run health services in the world, the nearest provider could be miles away.