Our recent trip to Havana was filled with a sense that this once favorite American destination will return to its former glory once some travel related kinks are ironed out. We departed from Ft. Lauderdale taking a Jet Blue flight and purchasing the required tourist Visa by simply checking off one of the 12 reasons for visiting Cuba (ours was to support the Cuban people). The flight was quick and smooth, landing approximately 1 hour after takeoff. However, it took an additional hour to retrieve our luggage (presumably due to a single baggage handler). For exchanging money, I would recommend bringing euros or Canadian currency rather than the U.S. dollar that currently carries a 10% surcharge. If you plan to use a credit card, it must be International because neither American Express nor VISA credit cards issued by U.S. banks are accepted. We opted not to stay at one of the Government run hotels but rather selected from airbnb, a converted palace in Vendado (https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/6153074) sandwiched between architectural gems and downtrodden buildings, representing the economic paradox of the City. A similar sentiment holds true for the colorful bounty of classic 1950’s American cars seen throughout Havana. Food continues to be in relative scarce supply and it is not uncommon for a restaurant to reduce its selection of menu items within several hours after opening. Our favorite dining experience was El del Frente, located at 303 O’Reilly Street (http://www.alamesacuba.com/es/la-habana/restaurant/el-del-frente/).
Yet despite language barriers and economic shortcomings, I was most impressed by how proud the Cuban people are. They are very friendly, hard working people with positive energy who seemed genuinely happy to have us visit their country. If you plan to visit Havana in the near future, I recommend bringing the following:
- A case of small bottles of water or water purifier (such as a SteriPEN). We had mojitos and forgot to avoid the ice cubes, but fortunately did not encounter any GI problems.
- Over the counter remedies (such as Advil, PeptoBismol, etc) since there are no Walmart or Target stores.
- Liquid wipes or toilet paper.
- Candy to give out to the Cuban children. They very much appreciate this gesture.
- Be sure to check out the local artists. Our favorite was Martalena (https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g147271-d6556508-Reviews-Estudio_de_Pintura_Martalena-Havana_Ciudad_de_la_Habana_Province_Cuba.html)
- Make sure to get back to the Havana airport at least 3 hours in advance as you will need it!