I literally took thousands of photos during my two weeks in Havana.
Even though I am not that ‘into’ cars, all those classic antique cars driving around Havana, gives the city a super old time feel. When you mix in Colonial era buildings in various states of repair, you have one incredible visual experience!
This includes single informational posts like “The US President Ate Here“. These will cover each facebook photo album with small picture thumbnails that when clicked will show a larger view with fast and simple load times.
Google + – At Google I also have a personal page that includes collections of photos I have taken, including CUBA. This is a good spot to find thousands of other photos I have taken and posted from various spot in the US including, Las Vegas, Zion National Park and other National Parks & Monuments
Where The Videos Are
Youtube– I started with my favorite topic – beaches. This is the list of all the videos I took in Cuba. For an oddity check out #21 – The Santería Drum Ceremony as well as the malecon videos starting with #23.
1. The number one app you should have when to go to Cuba is a map appthat works when you are offline and not able to connect to the internet. Given the state of internet connections in Cuba, you will only rarely have access and then at a per hour rate and speed that is severely lacking.
I used two apps while in Cuba and I prefer the free “maps.me” map app. Be sure you download the Cuba map before you head off. You definitely also want to test it locally in offline mode.
When you are in offline mode, the app uses a GPS connection which will show your location on the map. You can also type in a destination and plot a route to get you there.
Be sure you also add your ‘local home’ spot on the map so you can find your way back to where you are staying.
It is easy to get ‘turned around’ and ‘lost’ in Cuba. This app will become your best friend, especially is you do not speak Spanish!
I also downloaded and used the free “HERE WeGo – Offline Maps & GPS” which shows where you are with less distracting details.
2. The 2nd most important app is a language translation app that also works in offline mode. This is especially helpful if you do not speak Spanish. It would also be helpful to communicate with other international travelers that you meet and do not speak either English or Spanish.
While the free ‘Google Translate’ app will let you download languages to use while offline, the app I used was called “Translate Offline: 7 languages” which cost me $3.99
In testing apps beforehand, I liked the feel and usage of this one. I used it extensively with my non-English speaking host.
3. Communications App – The reason this app may be important to you, might be confusing. But, you need to understand that cell phone towers in Cuba basically do not exist.
To make a local call on a landline is relatively cheap. However, to make a call to the US from Cuba will cost from $1 to $2 a minute, if you can find a place or a way to do it.
However, an internet access card will cost from $2 to $5 per hour. At pricey hotels you can buy them for $5, or you can stand in line for an hour and pay $2.
Once you have a card, you can more easily login and use the free “IMO” app to make a video call to the US and elsewhere. The Skype app is blocked, so this is a popular app used locally. You then just need to find a ‘hotspot’ and login.
These local hotspot access points can be found in most tourist hotel lobbies and large parks. Wherever you see groups of people huddled together staring at their phones, you will have found a spot to login.
I choose very wisely to book my stay in Cuba from Airbnb! For my entire 14 day stay, I went to one spot and plunked down there. I wanted to avoid the many hassles and wasted time of attempting to visit all the highlighted city in the Cuba all in one trip.
I was glad I did.
In addition to saving time and tribulations, I became quite comfortable roaming around the city on foot. The freedom of taking it ‘one day at a time’ is incredible. Going to bed when you are tired and getting up when wake up is the best.
With no planned itineraries for any day, I decided to go wherever I felt like it and to do whatever came up. Certainly this is not for everyone, but it worked out great for me.
On one particularly beautiful day, the weather was perfect so I walked to the Park Central and took the $5 CUC tourist bus to Playas Del Estes. I walked along the Santa Maria shoreline and waded in to cool off. Awesome!
The casa that I picked out from photos on Airbnb turned out to be one that other visitors called ‘a real find’.
In my previous research attempt to visit Cuba, I would have had to fly to some “gateway” country like Canada or Mexico and then fly discreetly to Cuba!
But now, traveling to Cuba from the US is getting to be very easy. There are currently a number of airlines that fly from all over the US to Havana.
If you are a frugal traveler like me (cheap), then the next thing you would need is a reasonably priced place to stay. But at my favorite hotel reservation site, there are currently only 29 properties listed for Cuba and 6 for Havana. The price would also run range from $1,372 to $4,788 for a 14 night stay. Clearly they have some catching up to do with the new rules.
At another reservation site the lowest priced property was a more reasonable $50 per night. But, in checking it on youtube, there was a video of the place. It looked like a storm had blown out a lot of windows which were replaced with plywood.
Airbnb to the rescue! For my 14 day stay, there were more than 300 places to stay. Success!
Rather than rely upon out dated information from travel sites, your first stop for actual information on US residents travel to Cuba should be the new Embassy in Cuba.
Once there you can check on the current viability of legal travel to Cuba for US citizens. As of this writing there still exists the requirement to select one of 12 reasons for your visit.
” The 12 categories of authorized travel to Cuba are: family visits; official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations; journalistic activity; professional research and professional meetings; educational activities; religious activities; public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions; support for the Cuban people; humanitarian projects; activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes; exportation, importation, or transmission of information or informational materials; and certain authorized export transactions.”
Once you select a category, just stick with it as your reason and no one should hassle you.
The Embassy also suggests that you register your trip under the free online Smart Traveler Enrollment Program or by calling them @ (53)(7)839-4100 or even stopping into the office. I suggest the STEP approach because you can do this easily prior to your visit.
If you don’t like surprises, then you would also want to take out the required travel insurance policy as soon as you book your trip. The cost is roughly 1% of trip travel cost and must include “medical evacuation by air, medical emergencies, and repatriation”. If you do not bring proof of that insurance with you, then you would need to buy it at the airport at whatever rate they may charge at that time.
If you buy the insurance within 15 day of booking your trip with a company like Travel Guard then you will also get good trip cancellation features. At this time, they say you must mail them an actual (simple) paper application with payment and a copy of their “Cuba Travel Certification” form. To get the policy amount you would go online and for some inexplicable reason, enter ‘Caribbean’ as your destination instead of Cuba.
However, no one ever wanted to see my insurance so you could always take a chance and buy it only if needed.
You will also want to verify the current value of products that you can bring back with you.
“up to $400 of merchandise acquired in Cuba for personal use, $100 of which may be alcohol or tobacco products”.
They are a great resource for obtaining actual and current US policy information. However, their video still inaccurately states that there are no commercial flights from the US to Cuba.
In fact, it is easy to book a flight with United, Spirit, Alaska, Delta, American Airlines, Frontier Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Silver Airways, Southwest Airlines or Sun Country Airlines from the US.
The required $25 departure fee should also be a part of the flight cost sparing you added time and hassle.
The US tourist VISA to Cuba is also an extra $50 which you can pay for in the US at the airline desk. If you are not renting a car, the taxi fare to Havana is $25. So exchange enough currency at the airport to get to town and save enough for your return trip.