Away From The Bay: The Six Concrete Things I Learned Traveling to Cuba This Year
I traveled to Cuba on a whim. It was that sort of happenstance decision where I didn’t have a ton of time to make any concrete choices.
I got a call from one of my best friends in SF. She, in a excited spell of passion, shared that tickets were less than $300... round trip. (It almost seemed too simple so I didn’t even say yes right away.) Regardless, I needed time “to think about it.” During that decision process, she sent me a moodboard of the photos she wanted to take and list of places she wanted to see. I remember asking my boyfriend if there was any reason why I shouldn’t go. There wasn’t; I did a gut-check. Nothing felt funny nor out-of-place.
I moved some meetings, got a sub to cover a couple of my meditation classes, we did some research, found affordable places to stay and committed ten days out. Easily.
Cuba hasn’t ever really been an easy place to visit— historically and now more recently— so I definitely feel we lucked out during that small window where getting to Cuba was as simple as thinking about it, deciding yes, and pressing purchase.
Now, should you be afforded such an opportunity to travel to Cuba, let me save you sometime and tell you six things you should highly consider (and do) while you’re there.
- Spanish (Espanol), you guys. This is hella important. Some people speak English, but it’s by no means the language of the land. If you can, travel with someone who is fluent. Download a Spanish app or grab one of those helpful Spanish / English dictionaries. You’ll be happy you did.
Cuba is 100% cash. Like, US cards don’t even work there! And getting cash is a ridiculous process (massive lines). Credit cards aren’t accepted anywhere and ATMs almost never work. So cash it is! As in, take out what you need for the entire trip at the airport and change the money when you arrive in Cuba.
Internet (Wifi) is still pretty much non-existent on the island—so don’t plan on texting photos or posting to Instagram often. It is possible, yes, through purchasing a wifi (pronounced by Cubanos as “wee-fee”) card, which is similar to a calling card. With those, you are able to “connect” to the internet, but, alas, you can only do this in public parks. (You’ll see massive groups of people staring at their iPhones). Also, never pay more than $3 for an hour. is my pro-tip (barter if you have to!). Some hotels have places for you to connect but you’ll need to buy a Coke to hang out in the lobby and they only maybe get just one Instagram photo or email to load. Honestly, it’s way more frustrating than it is efficient; just send out a mass email and/or text to your work clients and friends basically saying “I’ve gone fishing, and I’ll be hard to reach for [x-amount of days].”
Cuba is super safe! Crime is almost nonexistent in Cuba. In fact, I heard that there are more police than civilians, and punishment for committing a crime is intense. Even our experience of going out late at night as two women—my traveling partner and I—we both felt safe.
Food service can be slow and meals can take a couple hours. Bring your own snacks. Also, I never once saw a grocery store. Never underestimate the comfort snacks bring in an unfamiliar place. Looking back, I wish I had stocked up on Goldfish and Lara Bars. We also were traveling vegetarians and so having snacks gave us less anxiety around finding suitable options for our dietary needs.
If there’s one nugget of wisdom I hope you walk away from this posting with is that you should, first and foremost, download a map of Havana before leaving the comforts of LTE connectivity. (And plug in all the places that you plan to go and their addresses.) There is not an easy way to know where you are going otherwise. Trust me.
Like so many other people in SF, I was actually in Cuba this year. I had been dreaming of going to the largest of the Caribbean islands for ten years and never knew exactly how (or when) I would find myself there. Cuba has always had the allure of a forbidden fruit and so when the moment presented itself on a gold platter, I took a bite. Even if the policy has changed, if there is a will, there is a way. And it’s so worth waiting for that aforementioned fruit to ripen before taking the bite and booking the round trip airfare.
Here's a list of the must-go-to places in Cuba while you have a chance:
FABRICA DE ARTE CUBANO
FABRICA DE ARTE CUBANO | Calle 26, La Habana, Cuba
EL DANDY | Calle Brasil/Teniente Rey 401 entre Villegas & Cristo
THE INGLATERRA HOTEL
THE ROOFTOP @ THE INGLATERRA HOTEL | 416 Paseo del Prado, Havana 10600 Cuba
HOTEL SARATOGA | Paseo de Martí, La Habana, Cuba
CLANDESTINA | 403, Villegas, La Habana, Cuba