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    How to organize a trip to Cuba

    Who I am
    Aina Prat Blasi
    @ainapratblasi
    SOURCES CONSULTED:

    wikipedia.org, lonelyplanet.com

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    Organize a trip a Cuba it's quite simple, but you have to consider a few things before you leave so you don't get caught unprepared once you're there. The country's recent past still permeates the present and, while the future seems to be approaching, on the other there are still the 50s signs, horse-drawn carts and classic Chevrolets whizzing around the island. Cuba had theembargo for many years (and still has it even if to a lesser extent) and many products that are part of our daily life cannot be found; just think that in Cuba shampoo, as well as many other hygiene products, are considered a luxury item! 



    Cuba it is a country full of contrasts and I was truly amazed to find it practically unchanged since my last trip to the island in 2003. Except for very few things (which I will tell you about), nothing seems to have changed! I think it is an absolute rarity on the global scene and the charm of Cuba is certainly linked to this too: it is a country where watches have really stood still for decades!

    But let's come to us, in this article I am talking about some tricks that will (at least I hope) simplify your life during your trip to Cuba. 

    Required documents

    To enter Cuba you must have the tourist card, practically a visa. In Spain it is issued on sight at the Cuban Embassy in Rome and the Cuban Consulate General in Milan against payment of 25 euros. The necessary data are personal data and flight operations. In addition to the tarjeta, you must also have health insurance that covers the entire duration of the trip. 


    Currency and payments

    A Cuba there are two types of currency: the Cuban peso (CUP) and convertible weight (CUC), both of which have no value outside the country. Tourists use CUCs and the change is really easy: 1 CUC equals 1 dollar (at the moment therefore also at 1 EURO). You can change more or less everywhere in CADECA banks and branches, but remember to recount everything in front of the counter as soon as you withdraw the money! Especially the exchange offices at the airport manage to "disappear" some banknotes despite having counted them in front of you. As for credit cards, you can only use them in luxury hotels and to have cash advance in the bank. The only card with which you can withdraw cash from ATMs is the VISA, but the best thing to do is to bring all the necessary cash directly from Spain. And if that's not enough, you'll go to the bank with your credit card. 


    When to go to Cuba

    Cuba has a tropical climate warm and sunny with two seasons: la dry season, which runs from November to April, and the rain season which runs from May to October. During the latter, sudden showers are the order of the day, but they last a few minutes and leave room for the sun in a very short time. They say September and October are the most dangerous months for Hurricanes, which however can occur at any time (especially between June and November). Frankly, with global warming I don't know if these statistics are still reliable.


    In general in Cuba it is always hot and even in the dry season the temperatures never drop below 20-25 degrees. 

    THEhigh season runs from mid-December to mid-March and in the months of July and August.

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    How to get around Cuba

    In Cuba in general the roads are not in excellent condition, the signage is almost non-existent as well as the lighting. Even the famous Autopista Nacional does not have reflectors and you will find yourself passing carts and people walking along the road. The situation is slightly better in the western part of the island (let's say up to Sancti Spiritus); after Santiago de Cuba the roads are mostly unpaved. All this to tell you that rent a car in Cuba not exactly a good idea (although I did it the first time I went there and walked around the island without any particular problems). My suggestion is to use the the Viazul bus company for foreign travelers, And long-distance taxi. Combining these two means of transport you will be able to get anywhere without spending a fortune. 


    Pullman Viazul

    This bus company serves most of the tourist resorts. The buses are modern, with air conditioning, and depart on time. On the site you will find all the routes and prices. In theory, tickets can also be bought online but the seats are almost always sold out (even if it's not true!). The best thing to do is go to theViazul bus station in Havana as soon as you arrive and buy tickets for the routes you need. On the day of departure, go to the station at least 30 minutes before. The sheet that they will have given you at the time of purchase is in fact only a reservation and must be converted into the actual tickets before departure. If you arrive at the last minute there is a very good chance that we have resold your seat.  


    The Viazul bus station in Havana is located at Avenida 26 y Zoologico, Nuovo Vedado

    These are some routes / fares:

    Havana-Vinales: 12 CUC

    Vinales-Cienfuegos: 32 CUC

    Santa Clara-Varadero: 11 CUC

    Long distance taxi 

    In every bus station (but also in the city center in general) you will be hunted by taxi drivers who will propose to take you anywhere. They usually drive American cars from the 50s and can carry up to 5 people plus the driver. By bargaining a minimum on the price you will be able to spend the right amount and take a little less time than the bus. The further advantage of the taxi is that it will leave you directly at the address of the house / hotel that you will give it and you can also negotiate stops in the places that interest you. 

    These are some indicative rates (the price is per person and refers to the month of June - in high season it is a little higher):

    Cienfuegos-Trinidad: 7 CUC per person

    Santa Clara-Varadero: 20 CUC per person

    Trinidad-Santa Clara (with gita to Topes de Collante included): 40 CUC per person


    Accomodation

    In Cuba you sleep in the so-called Casas Particulares, private houses whose owners rent rooms with private bathroom. They are very similar to the Bed & Breakfast and some are really nice. All are clean and comfortable enough, with air conditioning, fan and mini fridge in the room. Normally each house has 2-3 rooms for rent with 2-4 beds each and you pay per room (not per person). The average price is 30-35 CUC per room. Most casas particulares also offer breakfast (at a price of 5 CUC per person) and dinner (at a price of 10-15 CUC depending on the menu). 

    My advice is to book the houses before leaving, by contacting them by e-mail or through the website (when there is), especially if you leave in high season. If you can write in Spanish it's better, but English is fine too. To choose them you can see on the guides (Lonely Planet, Rough Guide, etc.), on the Cubacasas.net site and on Tripadvisor (many are reviewed). Airbnb has also recently been available in Cuba and you are able to book the casa particulares through their website, especially in Havana. 

    If you travel by bus, every time you arrive at the station you will find yourself in front of many jineteros (the brokers or intermediaries) who will try to take you to some houses to earn their commission. 

    The casas particulares, however, are many! If you can't find a place in a house, the owner himself will suggest an alternative (everyone knows each other!).

    A separate discussion must instead be made for Varadero; the casas particulares are there too, but the best thing is to go to a classic resort. The prices aren't crazy and having all inclusive for a few days never hurt anyone! 

    The places where I've been are these:

    • VINALES: Los Rivera House. Ms. Kenia Carriles Mendez. Calle 4ta, # 8 tra Primera y Limite. La Colchoneria neighborhood. Vicino to the Vivero de Viñales. Tel. 48-695590 Cell. + 53-54294506.
    • HUNDRED FIRES: Villa Lagarto Calle 35 e / 0 and Litoral # 4B, La Punta, Punta Gorda http://www.villalagarto.com/ (CONSIGLIATISSIMO!)
    • TRINIDAD: Casa Di Elio Ramos - Lino Perez # 159 | e / Frank País and Pedro Zerquera. Whats up + 39 3409216548
    • SANTA CLARA: Hostal el Bunquer de Oro - April 9 (San Miguel) # 6A s / Cuba and Villuenda mail: [email protected]
    • VARADERO: Blau Marina Varadero Resort http://www.marinavaraderoresort.com/

    Where to eat

    It can be said that this is the only aspect that has really changed from my previous trip to Cuba. When I was there in 2003 I ate exactly the same things for 3 weeks (chicken or fish, black beans, rice, avocado, potatoes). fried, mango and other tropical fruits). Restaurants practically did not exist and I had always dined in the casas particulares. Now the situation is completely different, the offer of restaurants is wide and the cuisine is a little more varied. In every city there are many nice restaurants with absolutely affordable prices. For a full meal you usually spend 10-15 CUC, up to 25-50 CUC in the most luxurious restaurants.

    There are still no supermarkets where you can buy snacks or the like (bring them from Spain in case), nor street food stalls (except for the stalls that sell excellent tropical fruit). 

    Internet

    Even from this point of view the situation has changed, since he didn't even take the phone we even switched to wi! It's not that easy to find, but with a little bit of effort you can stay connected to the world. There is a single provider (state of course) called ETECSA and, to use the wi, you have to buy their cards at a cost of 1,5-3 euros for 1 hour of navigation. In every city it will not be difficult for you to locate the wi point (usually found in the main squares and in luxury hotels): you will see dozens of alienated people staring at their mobile phones. In these points you will also be able to buy the cards from the kids who round up a bit (alternatively you have to go to the ETECSA offices). 

    What to bring to Cuba

    For a trip to Cuba it is certainly good not to forget to bring some things because you would have a lot of difficulty in finding them there. Between these:

    • shampoo, soap, etc ... everything you need for personal hygiene 
    • anti-mosquito spray (in Varadero and on the coast there are many)
    • medicines you usually take and travel "classics" (aspirin, anti-diarrheal, anti-emetics, lactic ferments, antibiotic, antihistamine, etc.)
    • sanitary napkins (in Cuba the internal ones are not found at all)
    • an adapter with an American socket (although in some cases you will find our socket - except in rare cases the current is 110 volts)
    • small soap bars, pencils, markers, small games to give to children 
    • sunscreen (in Cuba you get burned even when it's cloudy!) 
    • hat

    Safety 

    Cuba remains a safe country, especially when it comes to individual security. Tourist police are everywhere and tourists, in general, are considered sacred. However, since Cuba is a poor country and the saying “opportunity makes the thief” is true, do not leave anything of value in sight in casas particulares and hotels. When available, use the safety deposit box to store money, camera and other valuables. Lately they say that there have been some muggings against tourists in Havana Viieja, but I think these are rather isolated cases. What is certain is that Cubans try in every way to raise money from tourists and they do it by any means. Usually they start talking to you on the street, perhaps giving you compliments, to arrive (after 15-20 minutes) at the actual request for money. In the worst situation they try to scam you by proposing to exchange money for black or something like that. The important thing is not to give them rope and they will get tired immediately (also because if you stop to talk to all those who ask you will not be able to do 1 meter!).  

    Health insurance is required

     

    A Cuba our health coverage is not valid. My advice is to always take a classic medical-luggage insurance that can cover you during the trip. I am very happy with many insurance companies, a site that compares the policies of different companies and proposes the most convenient policy for that particular trip. To do this you will have to enter the data relating to your trip (country, duration, etc.) and they will send you an email with the best proposal that you can then buy directly online.

     
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