Going to Cuba. Help me avoid landing in a jail cell.
June 9, 2016 10:34 AM   Subscribe

Ok, that was a little dramatic. But seriously, This is my first time on the "sunny island for shady people" so I'm soliciting the wisdom of Metafiler to help me make the most of it.

I'll be in Cuba for 2 weeks and I could not be more excited. The country has fascinated me ever since I first listened to the saucy sounds of Buena Vista Social Club nearly 15 years ago. It was always on my wish list but as a U.S. citizen (I have two other nationalities but I rarely travel with those passports) it had been mostly off-limits to me. Now with the thawing of relations between Washington and Havana the times they are a changin'.

I'll be staying in Havana -- while hopefully Havana good time. I'm open to short day trips nearby, but mostly looking to soak up the city. I would love to hear your recommendations for destinations, accommodations, food, drink, money matters (I'm going as a U.S. citizen and bringing only cash), or anything else you wish you had known before going.

posted by lecorbeau to Travel & Transportation around Cuba (10 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know if "shady people" is supposed to refer to the Cuban people, but that's how I interpreted your quote. So, I would suggest you not use that quote again.

My friend visited Cuba about 20 years ago, and she was overwelmed by the warmth and friendliness of the people she met there.
posted by blueberry at 11:15 AM on June 9, 2016 [19 favorites]

Yeah, not Cuba.

"The [French] Riviera isn't only a sunny place for shady people."

W. Somerset Maugham... Strictly Personal, p. 156 (Doubleday, 1941)
posted by Mister Bijou at 11:20 AM on June 9, 2016 [5 favorites]

Do you speak/read Spanish? In general, when my son and I went in October, we enjoyed wandering around Havana. Part of the joy is seeing the historical layers of this gorgeous city: the colonial past, the Art Deco early 20th c, the renovations happening now.

We wandered through the Museo de la Revolución with great enjoyment. If you read Spanish, you'll get more out of the angle that it presents on Cuban/U.S. histories. The "old" center of Havana is a very dense city center (narrow streets) with a number of small plazas and public spaces. It's fun to wander around in the evening.

Of course make sure to spend some time on the Malecón.

Take a lot of cash and be ready to spend on taxis. Havana is bigger and more spread out than I expected and to see as much as possible, you'll want wheels.
posted by correcaminos at 11:45 AM on June 9, 2016

Also: feel free to memail me if you want more info.
posted by correcaminos at 11:47 AM on June 9, 2016

I haven't been to Cuba, but I just watched my favorite travel blogger go there and she has some short, informative info in these three videos about packing (what to bring, money, etc.), how to get in the country without a hitch and getting a tourist visa, and then takes you around some of the things she did in Cuba. Maybe it would be helpful!

posted by buttonedup at 11:51 AM on June 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

A close friend (US/American) was just there recently as part of her Masters program; I could summarize some of what she told me but better if you just Memail me and I can see about putting the two of you in touch. She is a fluent Spanish speaker and works in social policy, and I think she'd have a lot of useful insight.
posted by nightrecordings at 11:51 AM on June 9, 2016

Money tip- Exchange your USD to Canadian Dollars before you go down and then exchange CAD in to Convertible Pesos once you get there. If you are exchanging USD in Cuba there will be an extra 10% fee taken and that will really add up. Convertible pesos are the currency you want to be using as most places won't accept USD and if you tip in it it will difficult and costly for Cubans to exchange it back to currency for themselves. This was the case when I was there a few years ago. Also I'm pretty sure that US credit cards don't work so yeah, take lots of cash.

Also general advice for any big city but doubly important here - just take as much cash as you will need with you each day when you go out. Leave the wad in a safe in your room or at front desk. Don't carry your passport around with you, leave that safely behind too. Carry minimal valuables around with you. Pick pocketing in busy areas can happen.
posted by Fred Wesley at 1:20 PM on June 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Apologies, the phrase was taken straight from my guidebook and is attributed to Somerset Maugham in reference to Havana of the 1950's when it was a den of sin for (mostly) Western tourists looking to escape puritanism.

Don't shoot the messenger.
posted by lecorbeau at 1:25 PM on June 9, 2016

Best answer: There are plenty of previouslies on Ask for this - my comments on those after a couple of trips to Havana are here and here.

tl;dr: Just walk. Given enough stamina, I think I could walk every single street of Havana one after another and never get bored.
posted by penguin pie at 2:00 PM on June 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

When I read "Going to Cuba - help me avoid landing in a jail cell" - I read that as you are going to Cuba as an American citizen, but it sounded as if you were doing it through the "back door." Most travel to Cuba legally for American citizens require that you get a travel visa and have an itinerary that is approved and follows all the legal stipulations for people to people interactions. It's not legal to go to Cuba as an American citizen to "just hang out." So is that what you mean by avoid landing in a jail cell? Plenty of American choose to ignore the legal way of doing it and go in through Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean.
posted by HeyAllie at 2:04 PM on June 9, 2016

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