La Habana, Cuba February 2017 Part 2 of 5 – Cuban Currency, Accommodations & Food

Other posts on this Cuba trip:

Habana, Cuba February 2017 Part 1 of 5 – Delta A319 First Class Atlanta, GA to Habana, Cuba

As stated in Part 1, any US citizen can, for the time being, travel to Cuba on US airlines on a $20, 30-day tourist visa.  But what happens once you get to this once forbidden and mysterious island?

Currency

Due to the ongoing embargo, US banks are barred from doing business in Cuba.  Credit and debit cards issued by US banks do not work there.  US residents must pay for everything in cash.

To complicate matters for us gringos Cuba has two currencies, the Cuban peso (CUP) and the Cuban convertible peso (CUC).  The CUC is the currency tourists use.  It is pegged to the US dollar.  The CUP is the currency Cubans primarily use.  A CUC is worth about 25 times as much as a CUP.

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One CUC.  The easy way to tell the difference between the bills is CUCs have monuments and CUPs have portraits.

Cuban money exchanges charge a 10% penalty on top of a 3% exchange fee when converting greenbacks to CUC.  One hundred US dollars equals 87 CUC.  Ugh!

The dollar is the only currency hit with the 10% penalty.  So take note (pun intended):  Avoid the penalty by converting your dollars to euros or other currency of choice before arriving in Cuba!

Waiting in line to exchange currency is a fact of life in La Habana whether at the airport or at one of the many currency exchanges in town.

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Converting foreign currency at HAV

Accommodations – Casa Particulars

Hotels in Havana can be expensive.  With one exception that I know of, hotels cannot be booked in the US on hotel booking sites or sites like Agoda or Booking.com.  The Sheraton Four Points hotel, the only US hotel currently operating in Cuba currently.   This hotel is bookable on the Starwood website in the US.  Starwood requires prepayment for these reservations.

In my view, the best option for La Habana accommodations is a ‘casa particular,’ which is housing provided by a Cuban citizen who is licensed by the government.  Websites such as havanacasaparticular.com allow viewing casas and booking online.  Payment must be made in CUC at the casa.

Book casas well in advance as demand seems to be high.  I was unable to book online and traveled to Cuba with no housing reservation.  I enquired at the information desk at the airport.  The lady directed me to a concierge at a small tourist hotel who then found a casa particular in the central district of Havana.

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A typical residential street in Central Havana

My casa particular was a very nice one-bedroom apartment.  The apartment was rented to me by Lysette and her husband who lived in the apartment across from it.

The casa consisted of a living room, kitchen, bedroom and private bath.20170217_132546 (1)20170217_132535

The kitchen was well equipped with stove, sink, refrigerator, assorted appliances, and cooking utensils. 20170217_132037_001

The casa could sleep three in the one bedroom.  It had air conditioning, cable TV, and a DVD player.20170217_132109

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The private bathroom with shower had plenty of hot water and a hair dryer20170217_13405020170217_132323 (1)

The neighborhood did not look like much at first glance.

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Street view from my casa particular

However it was very safe even late at night and was located near the Malecon, the Habana oceanfront esplanade, and the largest hospital in La Habana.

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The Malecon was two blocks away
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From my casa the hospital and its lobby with wifi is just around the corner.

All in all, I was pleased to pay $30/night for this casa particular.  It is possible to find them for even less.  Those who might be uncomfortable in the Central district of Habana could also find very reasonable accomodations in other areas such as the Vedado and Miramar districts.

Local food

I found the local food in La Habana was delicious and inexpensive.  Below are some of the meals I enjoyed.  All were between $5 -$10.  I ate at restaurants frequented mostly by tourists.  So had I gone to where mostly locals go costs would have been even less.

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Cuban breakfast
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$5 Chicken and rice at the restaurant below
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Chicken and rice at a restaurant across the street from my casa
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Fish and rice at a Vedado casa particular (below)

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Seafood chowder at this tourist restaurant was the most expensive at $12

You should not visit La Habana without trying the mojitos.

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$4 -$5 for a mojito at a tourist restaurant

One night I ventured out very late to try a walk up pizza place.

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This spot was popular with the locals.  The basic cheese pizza was comparable to a frozen one in the US.

I note that the February weather was excellent.  Warm days, cooler nights and low humidity.  The only rain was a few nighttime showers, and no mosquitos.

Overall Impression

Those looking for a “Weekend at Bernie’s” or Orlando-type experience should steer clear of La Habana, Cuba.  On the other hand, should you appreciate simple, inexpensive and safe travel experiences, I would recommend a trip to La Habana.   The biggest problem I have is that Cuba is too darn close.

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