Havana, Cuba

The flight from Cancun to Havana was no longer than forty five minutes. From the plane you could see Cuba's red earth with farmers plowing their grounds with horse and cart. Once landed, it took over an hour for our luggage to come rolling into our arms. As if that was not long enough, there was also a huge queue at the money exchanging office from the airport. Communism at its finest. Welcome to Cuba!

A long queue at the currency exchange office at the airport of Havana.

A long queue at the currency exchange office at the airport of Havana.

In Cuba, there are two currencies. One for the tourists and one for the locals. The tourist currency is not exchangeable anywhere in the world, besides Cuba: the CUC or Cuban Convertible Pesos.

The standard rule is that one dollar equals one CUC. But Cubans are still not really best friends with the Americans, and therefore there are all kinds of appraisals and additional costs if you want to exchange dollars for CUC.
The cheapest rate you can get is with euros, Canadian dollars or Swiss francs.
When this tedious job was finally done I had to find a taxi that would take me to my hostel.

“40 CUC, good price.”

Forty dollars for a ride of twenty minutes in a poor country like Cuba I found quite expensive, but fortunately it didn’t take long before he cut his price significantly: 15 CUC.

A little later I found out that normally, tourists always pay these exuberant prices. No wonder they ask so much…

My first accommodation I had booked through Hostelworld. Normally, this is not possible since Cuba still has no (or very limited) internet. And thus, locals can’t put up their accommodations.

My hostel only cost 5 CUC per night and offered a nice breakfast for 1 CUC extra.

It was a little outside the center, but in about half an hour walking, you woud be smack in the middle of the old center. For less than five euros a night you couldn’t complain of course!

Since it was pretty far from the tourist area you could find incredibly cheap food as well.

In front of the hostel (or officially the Casa Particularis of Magnolia and her husband) was a small bakery with delicious bread.
Each roll costs a local pesos, and if you know that one CUC contains 25 local pesos, you’ll pay about four cents per roll.
Complicated, but that’s the way it is. It’s always a good idea to have some of the local currency as well, since then you’ll get much better prices for a lot of stuff.

In the hostel I was very warmly welcomed by Magnolia and once I was in my room, I immediately started talking to a friendly Swede, Matthias, and a moment later by another Swedish; Sanna.

My second day in Havana started with a delicious breakfast for only one dollar. Eggs, bread, coffee, fresh orange juice, fruit, … Dirt cheap and delicious!

The well known Malécon of Havana.

The well known Malécon of Havana.

Once I could not stuff one more bite into my stomach, I walked along the Malécon to the old city of Havana. Next to me hundreds (much more than I thought!) Old-timers honked hoping that they could pick me up, drive me around and earn a pretty penny doing so.

Dozens of fishermen stood the walls along the embankment, providing fish for their families for when they would go back.

In the distance I could see a huge castle looming, the El Morro fort. The closer I got to this fort, the closer I came to Habanna Vieja, Old Havana.

This district was particularly popular among tourists and that was quite logical. The cozy streets are full of Cuban charm and you are never far away from a noisy bar with live music and mojitos with loads of rum.

The old buildings, the patched Chevrolets and underfed horses stood in stark contrast to the somewhat dirtier streets just outside the old city center. But honestly, that’s just what I liked about Havana!

Cubans don’t try to hide anything and are not shy to stare at you or ask you for a refreshing ice cream, some extra milk or just some money.

The heat in Havana was perfect. The temperature was just right and the humidity was very bearable. May really is the perfect time to visit this bustling capital from the communist Cuba.

One thing that I noticed was that I didn’t see that many propaganda along the roads. Only a few slogans of Che or Fidel, and some pictures of them on buildings and billboards.

Perhaps I will find more of them later on!

Overview of Old Havana or Habana Vieja.

Overview of Old Havana or Habana Vieja.

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Hi, I'm Sam Van den Haute. The last three years I've been traveling the world almost constantly. Heading out for an adventure and visiting the most beautiful places are what I love to do! Let me inspire you with great stories, beautiful pictures and handy tips from my adventures and travels. On my facebook page and instagram account you'll get to see the latest updates and photos to inspire you for your next vacation.
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