My trip to Cuba was a 28 hour flight from SA, with only two flights coming in and leaving Cuba. I took an 8 hour flight to Madrid and had a 10-hour layover there, which I used to see a bit of the city. I then took another 10 hour flight directly to Cuba. I flew Iberia Airlines and it was safe and basic.
My visa application cost me about R280 and I had to go to the embassy in Hatfield to apply.
Their currency is the Cuban Peso. Cuba is a closed economy and locals have a different currency to tourists however the conversion is the same (1cuc = 1usd). You need to change your money at the airport because that will make your life easier because locating a bank or money exchange place is tricky.
Accommodation is relatively affordable and Airbnb has extended its services to Cuba. Getting there is a bit more expensive than what you’ll spend when you are there though. I don't think I spent more than $10 per day, excluding the odd souvenir.
I went in February and suffered a bit because I don’t do heat very well. Think of the Durban kind of weather, that’s Cuba. Sunscreen and water are your besties here and 1litre of water costs 1cuc.
I decided not to stay at a hotel, only because I wanted to have an authentic Cuban feel so I booked a room at one of the Casa’s (family owned homes that rent out their rooms).
It was probably my best and most emotionally fulfilling experience. I stayed there for 6 nights and had my own room and en-suite shower. I also had a hearty breakfast every single morning.
There is still telecommunications infrastructure development in Cuba so they sell “internet cards” for 1Cuban Peso (=1usd) that grants you 1 hour of internet access. You’ll have to ask the hotel or B&B to first give you their WiFi code (you need access to the WiFi line to use the internet prepaid card), optionally while walking around you can find your nearest WiFi Park where the WiFi line is free, but you still need an internet card.
To be honest the lack of access to the digital world was the best part of my trip. Knowing I could be present in the moment with no need to check social media or whatsapp was enlightening.
You need to locate one of these small kiosks to buy internet. They do run out of cards at times and in such cases, some nearby hotels sell them, even though it’s at double the price.
To fully enjoy Cuba you need to leave all your baggage and preconditioned ideas at the airport. It’s a place like no other. You will either LOVE or hate it, there's no middle ground. The people are content with the status quo. You will be exposed to the slumps and the “touristy” areas.
Try to visit one of the buildings and immerse yourself in the culture, the food and people. The random art displays and music. The dancing was better than how I had imagined it! Spanish people are passionate, carefree and the men will catcall you with no shame.
I am easily drawn to people and things that are broken because that’s where I find beauty and love. That’s what I loved about Cuba. I left my heart there. I’m not an extrovert and I don’t think I’ve ever done something that is all about me. Cuba defined and helped me rediscover things I love and hate about me, but I found myself in Cuba.
The vintage cars are REAL!!! The owners take so much pride in them. All of them are super clean...
Some are taxis but for the most part they use their cars for tourists to book for a drive around Cuba (1 hour, half day, full day). Most tourists just take pictures next to the cars and do not ride because those rides cost a small penny. Anything from R500 per hour, depending on the driver. It's all part of the experience though.
Visit a place called Restaurant Jibaro, it has a modern menu and great drinks, a gem I found in Old Havana
Vinalès is a two hour drive outside of main Havana. I spent the whole day there mixing with the locals and learning about the farming. I rode a horse for the first time, smoked my first cigar and had a taste of their rum.
A memory nestled in my heart!
You can follow Neo on social and see more of her pics via @NeoRadise