- Immigration randomly requests travel insurance. Luckily we had that ready and printed because we thought that was needed for the visa. Not sure what would have happened if we didn’t bring it, maybe just a warning.
- Be patient when landing. The process was long from landing to exiting the airport. If you ever went through secondary inspection in the US, consider that. We had to do a lot of back and forth, searching for our luggage on the wrong belt, went through 3 lines for customs (because our tandem bike cases look weird, etc.) That said, everyone calls you “mi amor”, “mi vida” -sweetie or darling for Spanish- and were really nice.
- Smoking. If you can’t stand people smoking nearby reconsider your destination. People love smoking in Cuba and they do it indoors, outdoors, everywhere.
- Change money at the airport. We decided to exchange 5-7 days budget worth of expenses. The exchange is the same everywhere and if you bring USD expect a 10% on top of the exchange rate. Try to get some Moneda Nacional around the city for emergencies, you will see later that not every business take CUCs. We learnt having all three USD, CUCs and Moneda Nacional was the best option. Often -maybe not allowed- Casas Particulares opted for receiving USDs a win-win for both.
- Bike assembling. Definitely do that at the place you are staying. Take a taxi which at this time cost around 30CUC. Cycling from the airport is not really worth doing and you wont have a really good time assembling your bike there either. Our tandem is not new or shiny but unavoidably it initiated many conversations. We normally deviate the talk when it comes to how much it cost because most wages are around 12usd, and some doctors earn 80usd per month. (We didn’t want to draw extra attention to ourselves and wanted to be sensitive to the wage gap.)
- Walking tours and concerts. We recommend doing research on concerts beforehand or being toured by a local. But you can also experience live music easily in old Habana, there’s live music everywhere all the time!
- Internet. We got an automatic message from our carrier as soon as we landed with the super high rate per minute talk, per message and per MB. Followed by “It adds up quickly so be careful”. Plan ahead to disconnect with everyone during your stay. You can buy internet cards sold by the hour for 1CUC and connect to Wifi provided by plazas and hotels. Pictures take long to load. You wont be able to connect to US banks online because of the embargo between the US and Cuba -not sure if other countries have this issue-. Share bank credentials with a loved one not in Cuba and give instructions through regular communication while traveling.
- Casas Particulares vs Airbnb vs Warmshowers. At this time there was only one Warmshower and ended up charging as a regular Casa Particular which defeated the purpose. We started with Airbnb to establish first contact with someone and kept going with Casas Particulares. Wherever we stayed we secured the next destination Casa Particular through the owner’s friend or relative. This way we secured a lower rate than just arriving without recommendation.
We had great experience with Jose and his family as you can see on the pictures. He lives and also hosts at Aguila 168B but also hosts at Aguacate 512 #105: