Viva la Habana! part 1

2009 April 25, Saturday

25 March 2009

We flew Mexicana from Cancun, which was just around 1 hour.  Mexicana had the most legroom I’ve ever seen in economy class.  After arriving at José Martí Airport, we soon found out Cubans are very proud of their country and they warmly welcome tourists.  They would smile happily upon hearing you like Cuba or will tell you, “Enjoy my country!”.  Cuba is pretty safe on the whole.  You don’t get the feeling of being preyed on by touts or cheats etc.  Cubans are generally nice people.  They are generous with information and directions even if you do not take up their offer of their services or wares the peddlers are trying to sell you.  

In Cuba, don’t expect to be able to use your ATM cards to withdraw cash.  For there is no such thing as CIRRUS, PLUS etc.  You can use your credit card to get cash or change your money at banks or at CADECA casas de cambio (money exchange bureau).  Bear in mind that an 11% charge on top of the exhange rate will be charged.  20% if you are exchanging from cash in US dollars but no charge with other currencies.  Credit cards are not commonly accepted.  And if it is, there’s an 11% charge on top of the tab.

The Cuban Peso is for the locals only.  Tourists will have to use the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC).  1 CUC is approximately 1.10USD.  

There are many hotels within Havana.  But they are mostly full during high season.  Between January and April.  Which was when we were there.  If you can’t get any rooms in hotels, you may want to consider the casa particulares.  They are actually rooms rented out to tourists by regular home owners.  They are registered with the government so it is  very safe.  You actually have to register with your passport with them.  Rooms are very reasonably priced.  In Havana it is usually between 25-40CUC per room.  Some even provide breakfast for a few more CUCs per person.

Taxis are all over the place.  Some are obvious taxis with the sign and “uniform” look.  And others look just like any other car.  I personally think some of them are privately owned cars and not licensed taxis and are out to earn some money.  It doesn’t matter anyway because virtually no taxi run by meter in Cuba.  You’ll just have to agree on a price before hopping on.  

There are many places to eat.  But we really loved eating at the paladars.  Paladars are home-run restaurants that offer meals at reasonable prices.  And we found them better than standard restaurants.  Some of which are located in places you’ll never ever guess a restaurant would exist.

So much for now.  Till I have more notes to share as I post more pictures.  Hope you’ll like them.  🙂

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