The original plan was to fly from Frankfurt via Toronto, where I’d meet a friend from London and then take the last flight that day to Havana. Whilst we don’t like to plan out trips too much and prefer to see how it goes once we’re there, missing our flight to Havana and having to spend a night in Toronto was not quite what we had in mind. But Toronto was cool, so if you also happen to have a layover there, I’d recommend using one or two days to explore.
We eventually made it to Havana, where we spent two nights (one full day). We took a walking tour around the city and our guide explained everyday life in 2018 Cuba.
What took me by the most surprise is that the average salary in Cuba is around 20 CUC per month (17 EUR/ 15 GBP). Once each household has used up its basic government supplied food consisting of 6 eggs and a small amount of sugar, flour, oil and powdered milk for the month, they can then go to the ‘ideal supermarket’, which is extremely basic and only sells the previously mentioned products, to top up. Cuba also has other supermarkets with a wider supply of goods but they were pretty low on stock. Some of these supermarkets do stock brands including Coca Cola & Heineken, however the prices are just too expensive for the locals when you have a monthly income of 20 CUC. To put this into perspective a can of coke costs around 2 CUC which, if you are earning 20 CUC per month, is 10% of your salary. So let’s say you take home 3,000 EUR/ GBP per month, a can of coke would cost you 300 EUR/ GBP!
Besides a bit of culture shock, Havana is a beautiful city, and much bigger than I expected! Full of culture and an interesting history, it’s a city worth visiting.
‘Casa particular’ means ‘private house’ in Spanish. These are extremely popular in Cuba and much cheaper than hotels as you literally stay in a room in people’s houses. Your host provides you with breakfast and give you tips for your holiday. Whilst you shouldn’t expect anything too luxurious, I loved staying in the casas as it gives you a real feel of Cuban culture. We stayed here in Havana and our host arranged our next accommodation in Viñales with a friend of hers and booked us a taxi too!
We spent two nights in Viñales and loved it there! No longer in the city, we went on a horse ride (arranged by the lady from our casa particular) which included seeing how organic Cuban cigars, coffee and rum are made, and visiting a lake.
We cycled down (a very steep) hill to the Cueba del Indio cave on our second day. We already had sore bums from the horse riding and it was so hot (which I am not complaining about- just saying). After a sweaty 8km cycle, we didn’t quite fancy the uphill bike ride back to our casa, especially after being disappointed by the caves, so we ended up cabbing it back. Yes, with our bikes…
The Cuban people are some of the friendliest people I have ever met. They are very welcoming, always happy to help and like to say hello to passers by on the street. Out of a population of 11 million people, 6 million are police (mainly plain clothes), and my friend and I felt extremely safe walking around Cuba- day or night.
After an 8 hour busy journey from Viñales to Trinidad we went to the closest WiFi spot (internet is limited in Cuba, you have to buy an internet card and go to the WiFi spot to get a connection) where we coincidentally met Davis who helped us out with stuff to do around the city and took us to a restaurant with the best food that I had in Cuba. You may have heard that the food in Cuba isn’t great- it’s true, but if you make it to Trinidad, go to Monte y Mar restaurant.
Trinidad, was my favourite place in Cuba. We had thought about going to Cienfuegos and Playa Larga but didn’t want to lose anymore days spent on a bus. We stayed in a casa in the city for two nights and then a hotel directly on the beach for four nights, but still got a taxi back into the city in the evenings. We took salsa classes and saw a lot of live salsa bands at La casa de la música, el Rincón de la salsa and Canchanchara.
I also went on the Escambray Mountains & Caburní waterfalls tour, which was really good. I already knew a bit about how coffee was made from the horse ride in Viñales but there was a lot more to see and learn, and swimming in the clear lake at the bottom of the waterfalls was amazing!
Spanish in Cuba
If there was ever a time to brush up on your Spanish, this is it. The younger Cuban people speak English, the older people not so much. Being able to speak Spanish helped us with getting around and everyday life in the casas. The locals do have a thick Cuban accent, but even a tiny bit of Spanish would make a huge difference to your trip.
Good to know
- You don’t need to arrange a visa in advance, the airline (well at least Air Canada) give you a visa on the plane, free of charge
- You can only get the local currency (CUC) in Cuba
- Cuba is quite expensive for what you get (apart from the rum)
- You can do 2 weeks in Cuba for around 1,500 GBP/ 1,700 EUR (flights, accommodation & spending money)
- Don’t go with high expectations for the food. It’s not terrible but not amazing.
Would I recommend Cuba?
Yes, yes and yes! This is one of the best holidays I’ve ever been on. I loved the beautiful landscapes, the dancing culture and most of all how friendly the locals are. I’ve heard others who go to Cuba say they were often asked for shower gel, shampoo etc. Whilst no one asked me for anything at all, I did bring a few extra toiletries with me and the locals were extremely grateful for when offered.