I have just returned from Cuba. I went armed with the usual travel book and I guess as always with travel I returned having had things work well and things work less than perfectly. I kept a journal and thought it might be useful to publish some of the things I wish I had know before I left.
More than anywhere I have travelled the guide book seemed to be out of date very quickly. Things in Cuba are always changing, restaurants and hotels come and go very quickly, what you can and cannot do seems to change on an almost daily basis. I guess the one overarching tip I could give about Cuba is: be flexible. Do not expect the plans you make before you go to happen, they might and that would be good but they might not.
- The famous “must do” restaurant / paladar La Guardia has closed. The building can still be seen and is worth a 10 minute wander but the restaurant is no more.
- People will stand outside closed restaurants / paladar (like La Guardia) and tell you you should go to an alternative restaurant, I tried a couple and neither of them were very good. In one case someone stood outside a restaurant that was open and told me it was closed so treat street recommendations with some caution.
- I would recommend an excellent Paladar Casa de Adela Calle F #503 e/ 23 y 21, Vedado. The food was simply the best meal I had in Cuba. I did cost $25 CUC for the food which I think was good value, do be careful though the drinks did seem a bit expensive – $19 CUC for 3 beers and a Mohito.
- I would also recommend an excellent Casse Particulares Its at Concordia 417. Daisy is lovely, the room is clean and comfortable and the shower was the best hot shower in Cuba. We paid $25 CUC a night. There is a shared balconied sitting room as well. Its just opposite where La Guardia used to be in Centro. See the photo below.
- Despite what people say tourists can get National Peso (as opposed to the tourist currency of Convertible Peso, CUC), and you can spend them. However the process is a bit hit and miss. I got National Peso by offering CUC in bread shops and take away pizza windows. It didn’t always work and I needed to use small notes ($1 CUC or $3 CUC) Spending them is easier, a small bread roll cost $1 National Peso, a loaf $9 but, I think tourists are not supposed to use them so sometime they will not be accepted, you can just try and then try again tomorrow. It is very difficult to find a bread shop that will accept CUC.
- Cycles cannot be hired in Havana, apparently too many were being stolen so they have just stopped, if you want to cycle you will need to get on a tour.
- Modern English films are shown with an English audio track and Spanish subtitles. You can pay in National Peso, I’ve not tried in CUC.
- If you can speak a little Spanish it will really help, once you get away from the big hotels then not everyone will know even a little English.
- Toilet Money. You will be expected to pay every time you go to the toilet, in bars, restaurants everywhere. If you want to try and avoid paying it is possible however you need to be very thick skinned, you will be shouted at. Women especially will almost certainly have to pay as its the only way of getting any paper. If you do pay then a small coin 5 or 10 cents CUC is enough.
- Havana can be windy and chilly at times. I went in March and the temperature was in the mid teens Celsius, but it was quite windy so if you feel the cold I would recommend a jumper or scarf for evening wear.
- Its very safe. I was advised not to walk down dark roads, sensible advice, but i can say that I always felt safe wandering around.
The room we stayed in on Concordia
and from the outside