Getting ready for Cuba

[I’m already back for a month, but since there’s limited internet in Cuba I kept a written journal, which I am now digitizing :)]

The country of old timers, cigars and rum. A lot of rum! And of course the music, the dancing, playing dominos on the street, rice with black beans and the endless lines in front of the supermarkets, the bank to change money and to get WiFi cards can’t be missing in this quick Cuba summary 🙂 But before you can enjoy all of that, just a few tips in preparing for your trip to Cuba.

Getting ready – very last minute
A day before our flight some friends asked all kinds of questions like ‘did you arrange your visa?’, ‘you know there is no internet at Cuba right?’ and ‘did you bring enough money with you?’. A visa.. I read a visa wasn’t necessary and that you can buy it on the airport. Well, you can.. in theory. Only not when you’re plane takes off before the shop opens. Sh*t! Luckily I didn’t had to work the Friday before, so I could arrange last minute tourist cards (at 6:45 pm!) at a shady place somewhere in The Hague. I felt like a travel-rookie 🙂

No internet sounded perfect. Three weeks of quietness, go with the flow, see what Cuba brings us. But maybe it isn’t too bad to check some of the places we want to visit. So I got my notebook, checked some travel blogs and wrote down some names: Havana of course, Vinales with day trips to some beaches, Trinidad, Varadero, Cienfuegos, Santa Clara, Quantanamo and Baracao. That must be enough for 3 weeks I think. And I booked our first night at a casa particulares; the best and cheapest way to spend your nights in Cuba. And it came with taxi pick-up as well! Always appreciated after a long flight.

What the blogs I read didn’t say was that getting money in Cuba is not like any other country. That Friday, when my mom and sister came to The Hague to pick up our cat, my sister called a colleague that partly lives in Cuba to ask about renting a car. Since online they said they didn’t have a single car left. Weird. He confirmed it, he always rents his car already 2 or 3 months beforehand. And it is freakin’ expensive! So maybe better not to spend that kind of money on just transportation (like 100 dollars a day!).

He also gave another tip: you can’t use the ATM in Cuba with your debit card, only with your credit card. No worries, I got that one.. At least, I thought so. I didn’t use my pin code for forever and apparently the pin I wrote down, wasn’t the code for this card. Noooo! Luckily we brought enough cash to cover the basics, but with that money we could do nothing for fun, no fancy dining. We already thought of different ways to get money, before we decided to go to the bank to try to get money without the pin code. Lucky lucky us, it worked! She ripped us off by counting in US dollars instead of Euros – on which they count a 10% penalty.  Fun fact: With one attempt left, I woke up in the middle of the night with 4 numbers in my head. That had to be it! We didn’t dare to try it, but back home I asked for my pin again and it turned out to be that exact number 🙂

With all this behind us, with enough money in our pockets, we were ready to enjoy the country!

To sum up, with some extra free tips that can come in handy:
– The obvious: arrange your visa/tourist card in time to avoid extra last minute expenses
– Want a car? Make sure to book in 2 months beforehand
– Or just take taxi collectivos. Just slightly more expensive than the buses, but they pick you up at your casa and drop you at the next. And you don’t have to book the taxi collectivos one or more days up front (they run out of tickets quickly!)
– Make sure you have a credit card (with the right pin!) and/or enough cash
– Get some inspiration on places to go before entering Cuba
– Download or another map to be able to help the taxi drivers to find your casa :). As one of the taxi drivers said ‘This is the first time I have been navigated by a phone!’
– Take some basic Spanish lessons, or download an app to help you out. The English level is close to zero in Cuba.
– Travel light. The old timers don’t have much space for all the luggage! We just had hand luggage for 3 weeks and I didn’t even use all the clothes I brought 🙂

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