I’m currently sitting at an airport now, awaiting my flight to Ft. Lauderdale. I had full intentions of writing this blog last night, but the day got away from me.
Back to Cuba business. I initially wanted to go into extreme detail, but I’m going to have to sum up this stuff since there was a lot going on.
Where: Our next step was deciding what parts of Cuba we were traveling to. There are four girls, and we each had our activities/ wants out of the trip. Now, we all love to travel, some have been more places than others. Out of the four of us, Caitlin is the real world traveler, she’s backpacked through 61 different countries (alone) and has seen the most beautiful parts of the world so her desires for Cuba are to experience it like a true local. She isn’t concerned about the popular tourist spots, nor spending a lot of time on the road getting from point A to point B.
That being said, we did our research and decided upon three areas. Havana, Vinales, and Varadero. Caitlin was more interested in Havana and Viñales, as opposed to Varadero (which is known for its beaches). Varadero was also adding a lot of driving time to our trip. Check out this map.
As you can see, Varadero is far east . Not so bad of a drive from Havana, but about a 4 1/2 to 6 hour drive from Vinales. We went back and forth about possibly skipping Varadero and just experiencing the beach “Playa del Este” in Havana, but ultimately took it to a group vote and decided for it. Havana, Vinales, and Varadero it is then.
Stay: Caitlin took care of the search for our stay for Vinales and Havana, and I took care of Varadero. She booked us a homestay for Havana. We’ll be staying with a family who will house and feed us, and essentially be our personal concierge. I’m truly looking forward to this, as the best way to explore a new city is to follow the guide of locals themselves. She booked an Airbnb for vinales, and I did the same for Varadero. Ultimately, we’re spending roughly $150 each for stay for the entire week. For cost comparison, the hotels and resorts alone in Varadero ran about $900 for the dates we were looking into.
Transportation: There was much debate on this topic. The options were public transportation or car rental. Taxis within the city wouldn’t be an issue, it was the bus/ shuttle from one city to the next that was the problem. It added so much time to the drive and there is NO AC. We wanted to rent a car, and while this would have been ideal, in my opinion we would need AT LEAST a small SUV to fit us 4 girls and our luggage. The car rental rates in Cuba are RIDICULOUS, and there was no availability for an SUV. However, there was argument that we could fit us into an economy car.
We ultimately decided on public transportation. It’s the most cost efficient. We’ll just have to deal with the inconveniences that come with it. There are plenty of times our group doesn’t see eye to eye on certain situations, the beauty of it is that we are all willing to compromise. We argue our valid points and ultimately make a group decision.
Currency: We found we would lose $13 for every $100 if we exchanged our USD to Cuban pesos, so we decided to change it here in the U.S. to euros first. At least that was our intention. Note, most banks require at least two business days to process these type of transactions, and some banks will only do it at certain branches. We learned this the hard way, lol. I got lucky with Wells Fargo. I intended on exchanging $600 USD to euros, but they only had $453 worth in the bank. Hey, that’s better than nothing. The rest of the girls had no luck, so they’ll just be taking the hit.
Visas: Thanks to our lovely president, there are some restrictions when it comes to travel to Cuba. You cannot visit Cuba for just travel and leisure. You have to select one of the following 11 reasons:
-Official business of the U.S. Government, foreign governments, and certain -intergovernmental organizations
-Professional research or meetings
-Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic/other competitions and exhibitions
-Support for the Cuban people
-Activities of private foundations, research, or educational institutes
-Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information material
Naturally, I chose journalistic activities. It’s perfect since I’ll be documenting the whole trip via this blog. The VISA was $50, and I bought it upon check in via my airline.
Getting to the airport: Last but not least, the trip to the airport. If you have someone to take you, you’re golden. If not, your two options would be to park at the airport or take an Uber or Lyft. I weighed the cost of the two. An Uber costs me $32 each way. $64 total. (Which, by the way, I was able to schedule in advance.) The cheapest lot I can park my car at is $11/ night. $66 total. However, I have to take into account this lot is a shuttle ride away from my terminal, whereas an Uber would drop me off right in front. Uber it is. If you’re checking bags in, arrive to the airport at least 1 1/2 hours before, 2 hours if it’s an international flight. If you’re not, you can get away with 45 minutes as long as you check in online beforehand.
As you can see, all these little costs add up, so it is extremely important to save wherever you can. I don’t anticipate spending the full $600 in Cuba, as it is very cheap once you get there. I would think $400-$500 but better safe than sorry. Alright, that about covers all the prep work for this trip. I’m currently in Ft. Lauderdale waiting for my direct flight to Havana. I land 4 hours before the other gals so I’ll take a taxi to the Airbnb and do a little exploring on my own. There is absolutely no cell service there, so until I purchase a WiFi card, I’m shit out of luck. Lol see y’all on the other side.