Where to begin… We LOVED Cuba. The romantic city of Havana not only brought back nostalgia but the joy of the human experience and life. Cell phones weren’t used and conversation and exploring the unknown city where of the upmost importance. There was never a dull moment and we were eager to see all we could see in the short amount of time we were there. We traveled with a group of 4 couples (including ourselves) which was super fun!
Before you go what to know:
- 1. You must enter the country with a visa. You can acquire a visa http://www.cubatravelservices.com. Trish picked educational for the blog and Ari picked journalism for her Art/Photography business.
- 2. Make sure you have enough cash to convert to CUC, which is Cuban currency. We departed from Charlotte International Airport where we took USD and exchanged for EUROS. When we arrived at the Jose’ Marti’ International Airport (HAV) we took our EUROS and exchanged for CUC. Why this process? If you bring American US dollars into Cuba they take 10 percent for exchange rate. This was easy process to follow. They DO NOT take any cards anywhere in Cuba. You need to get out all of the CUC you need for the trip. I would budget 150-200 per day. And get more out in case of emergency. It’s always better to have more than to run out while you’re there. You can exchange it back when leaving the airport.
3. We had a direct flight from Charlotte to Cuba, 2 hours 15 minutes.
- 4.The internet is spotty. The city has blackouts often. Get used to being off the grid, you might enjoy it. If you need wifi you can purchase prepaid cards in Cuba that you load into your phone for wifi, the best way is through their hotels. We paid for an international plan with Verizon, $10 each phone line plus $2.99 a minute, .50 cents to send text, .05 cents to receive text. The texting would be random, but we could 90% of the time receive and make calls.
5. Take carry-on’s. Our whole group of 8 each had a carry on suitcase and another bag. This way you don’t have to wait for your bags which we heard can take a long time.
CUBA DAY 1
We arrived at 11:30 am to Jose’ Marti’ Airport. Our whole crew (8 of us) all took carry on’s! Best thing we could have done because we were able to go right through customs. It is always a little nerve wracking entering a new country nobody has ever been to. We just took the time to follow the rules and listen to customs and we all made it through no problem. We exited the building to the outside to exchange our Euros for CUC and then headed to the taxi line. The taxi should only cost $37 CUC. 1 CUC = 1 USD.
We downloaded an offline map of Cuba with maps.Me then download the map of Havana. This is a must because street signs are few and far in between. Remember, especially when drinking, the ocean is North.
We Stayed in our first Airbnb called Casa Concordia. It was a beautiful apartment set right in the heart of Havana with Ocean views. We were greeted by the manager Manuel, who gave us pointers and set up our car services with YOEL. He also gave us a phone we used daily with maps and we also loaded minutes to have an emergency line back up and were able to call home. This is much cheaper than using Verizon or other carriers.
Our first tour was of the city, Havana from 3-7pm. We had two 1950’s cars, Chevorlet Belair, and the other car was a Plymouth. Imagine being set back in the 50’s with classic American cars rebuilt with Mercedes engines, mp3 players, and sub woofers to let you enjoy any music you prefer. The best part of our vacation was the private tours in the cars with YOEL and JULIO. Our first restaurant destination was Sloppy Joe’s.
Sloppy Joe’s Bar is a historic bar located in Havana, Cuba. The bar reopened in 2013 after being closed for 48 years.
The advent of Prohibition in the United States spurred it’s original owner, Jose Abeal Otero, to change the emphasis from food service to liquor service when American tourists would visit Havana for the nightlife, the gambling and the alcohol they could not obtain back home.
Sloppy Joe’s welcomed tourists for over four decades, and offered over 80 cocktails in addition to the bar’s own brand of 12-year-old rum. During the 1940’s and 1950’s it was a magnet for American celebrities as well as tourists wanting to mingle with them. It has been described by the Los Angeles Times as “one of the most famous bars in the world”.
Good rule of thumb in Cuba if they have an item that is the name of their restaurant bar, order it. The sloppy Joe was amazing, we ordered double. And be very patient with the service.
Then after Sloppy Joe’s we toured the fortress, Morro Castle (Spanish: Castillo de los Tres Reyes Magos del Morro), named after the three biblical Magi, is a fortress guarding the entrance to Havana bay in Havana, Cuba. The design was drawn up by the Italian engineer Juan Bautista Antonelli; originally under the control of Spain, the fortress was captured by the British in 1762, and was returned to the Spanish under treaty terms a year later.
The Morro fortress in Havana shares its name with structures in Santiago de Cuba and the Castillo de San Felipe del Morro in San Juan, Puerto Rico. In this case, the Spanish “morro” means a rock which is very visible from the sea and therefore serves as a navigational landmark. Perched on the promontory on the opposite side of the harbor from Old Havana, it can be viewed from miles around as it dominates the port entrance. Built initially in 1589 in response to raids on Havana harbor, el Morro protected the mouth of the harbor with a chain being strung out across the water to the fort at La Punta.
We enjoyed touring this site and sipping on pina colada’s with fresh coconut. We loved listening to the drivers and simply just enjoyed staring out the window, taking the city all in.
We finished our tour grabbing a drink at a famous bar which we cannot remember the name of!!! 😉
First night Dinner was at Casa Miglis. Great food, great music. Order Grandma’s Swedish meatballs.
Casa Miglis founder Michel Miglis came to Cuba 1996 to film an interview with Ernest Hemmingway’s shipper Gregorious Fuentes that in real life was the man that got the fish in the book “The Old Man and The Sea”.
Mr Miglis is a swedish film director/ music producer and from that first trip he fell in love with Cuba. Michel has done a lot of famous music videos in the island with world artists like: A-Teens, Dr Alban, Arash, Lumee Dee, Tatoo, Teddy Bears, Ceasars Palace. In Cuba Mr Miglis has been working a lot in the culture area. One of the biggest projects in Cuba is the “Cubaton” project including a lot of music productions and a full length movie released on the cinemas worldwide 2012/13. Mr Miglis father is from Greece, Rhodos and his family has a restaurant and Bar there since 1962. Casa Miglis is an old dream coming true that has been realized together with Michels Cuban family that he got true his marriage with his Cuban wife 2005.
One of the main goals with Restaurant Casa Miglis and its bar “Impala” is to create a meeting point for creative people and artists from all over the world.
Casa Miglis represents what Swedish people eat today and its menu is designed by the Swedish cook Jonas Anderson.
Interior of the restaurant: Andreas Hegert andreashegert.com
We were able to take a bike taxi to Sloppy Joe’s and to Casa Migel’s. We could of walked to Casa Migel’s if we wanted to! It should be around 5-10 CUC.
Day’s 2 and 3 itinerary are coming soon! Feel free to email us firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any Cuba questions or tips for us!