I used to dream of taking a girls trip and when everyone started taking trips to Cuba, I thought, that would be such a dope destination to hit with my girls. I initially planned to go with my cousin and his wife and friends in 2016 but unfortunately, due to a schedule conflict I wasn’t able to make it. However, four months ago one of my homegirls I met via IG said, “let’s take a trip to Cuba,” and next thing you know I had created a group chat. Within days flights were booked, and within weeks air bnb booked and plans made! We don’t play around…okurrrt! v
WHAT ABOUT THE BAN?
I purchased my plane ticket and booked my lodging prior to the ban being put in place. The ban is to stop travel under the category: “people to people.” Americans are still allowed to fly to Cuba but can no longer cruise there. I was still able to travel under any one of the following twelve categories: 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. Here is an article with further detail on the new restrictions.
I chose “support for the Cuban people” and my friends and I brought clothes and toiletry items to donate. You can google places near wherever you will be staying or take your donations to a nearby church. Here is a list of critical items you can purchase to donate.
WAS IT EXPENSIVE?
I would say, no. I bought roundtrip, nonstop flight from Tampa to Cuba for $350 with Southwest Airlines. My flight included two checked bags, one carry-on, and one personal item. I packed all my things in one check bag then I carried another checked bag of items to donate. I used a bag I no longer needed so that I could just donate that as well.
You will need to purchase a Visa in order to travel and that is when you select your reason for visiting. I purchased my Visa at the airport and it was $75 although my emails said it would be $50. You may be able to save a few dollars by purchasing it ahead of time if you can. You can still travel to Cuba under the same category as me.
WHERE DID YOU STAY?
The air bnb we stayed at was a casa particular and it was less than $100/night. There are so many options to choose from here. We were very close to Old Havana and a lot of other major places. The location was definitely ideal and there were restaurants in walking distance.
I took four years of Spanish in high school and I actually remember a lot. However, one of my friend’s best friend came along as well and she speaks Spanish. She did most of the talking, but every now and then when she was not available I was able to communicate with others on my own. I believe it would be best to have some basic Spanish but it is not necessary. All of the restaurants I went to had their menus in Spanish and English.
Most of the cab drivers know how to transact (aka more than likely overcharge) with you in English. I would suggest always negotiating the price of your cabs because we were being overcharged and we realized how bad it was when we were catching a cab with our tour guide one day. After that, we always asked their price then offered less and if they don’t want to budge just let them know you will find another one. At that point, they may budge or you may just have to find another one and that won’t be hard because there are plenty. We sometimes went as far as saying nevermind we will just call the taxi guy that we know and then pretend to make a call. Do what you must to save those CUCs.
HOW WAS THE FOOD??
So my number one issue with being in Cuba was, la comida! We ate a variety of places and some were recommended by the locals. The food simply lacked flavor and wasn’t appetizing at all. I know I can be a picky eater and some of you know that but, I will say this was a general consensus amongst all the ladies I traveled with. I ended up eating “salads” every day which consisted of cabbage, lettuce, carrots, beans, and cucumber. We met a couple from Arizona while scuba diving and they recommended a restaurant named, Il Rustico, a brick oven pizzeria. We visited Il Rustico, our last full day in Cuba and were ecstatic to finally find food with FLAVOR!
In addition to food, water was also an issue. The local bottled water, Ciego Montero brand, is available everywhere. I had the first bottle of it and noticed that my stomach did not respond well to it because I am used to drinking spring water. I eventually discovered Acqua Panna at one of the more upscale restaurants we went to and realized how rare it was when trying to find more. I only came across it two more times during my five-day stay and purchased as much as I could carry in hand which was only four glass bottles at a time.
WHAT WERE THE PEOPLE LIKE?
I actually did not have a whole lot of interactions with locals except for the different experiences we booked via air bnb. Our hosts for our air bnb were very nice and they made sure we had what we needed. We also did a tour with a young man named Abel and we became friends with him. We got to learn about him and met some of his family on a trip to the beach. He hung out with us a few times and got us much lower prices for taxis! I would highly recommend booking a tour with him here. We also took a salsa dancing class for beginners here and it was AMAZING. I am now ready to go salsa dancing! Our final experience was scuba diving here in one of the most beautiful beaches I have seen thus far.
As for other locals, they would ask if we were Americans and there was a lot of cat-calling from men. I would just ignore them and keep it moving. There are some people who would try to come up and ask for money just because they “knew” we were American, I would politely say no. I had my friends share their location on their iPhones using “Find my Friends” because it doesn’t hurt to take precautions. I also stayed with my group at all times and never wandered, but I also never felt unsafe at any time.
MAJOR TIPS FOR VISITING CUBA
A few things to note before traveling to Cuba:
- Pack toilet paper! In Cuba, you are not able to flush toilet paper because their plumbing system was not built for that. You must place it in the trash, otherwise, you will clog the toilet. Toilet paper is more of a luxury item in Cuba. The toilet paper provided in our air bnb was super thin and made from recycled paper. I packed my own. Also, be sure to carry some toilet paper/wipes/hand sanitizer with you at all times because some places don’t have toilet paper, running water or flushing toilets.
- I suggest packing just a carry-on and personal size bag because it took over two hours to retrieve our bags and the airport is very small.
- I recommend bringing some dry food items and possibly even cooking while there if having good food is essential to you like it is to me.