After exiting the airport, we saw the massive line for the currency exchange and thought we’d be smarter than everyone by going back inside to the one near departures. Unfortunately, that one doesn’t accept Mexican Pesos, so we had to get in the line with everyone else.
I gave my money to the Aussie and asked her to exchange it while I waited with our bags and tried to barter with the taxi attendant. While waiting in baggage claim, I asked a German & Polish pair of girls if they wanted to share a taxi with us into town, to split the cost. The taxi guy told us the prices were set by the government, but I wasn’t happy with that answer and kept bargaining. He even told me that the buses we saw are only for employees. All of this information is a COMPLETE lie. We wound up paying 35 CUC ($35 US equivalent) for a taxi ride for 4 people into the city center. Don’t pay more than 25 CUC, but the bus is only like 3 pesos each (roughly $0.10 cents US). Awesome. We found out all of this info at dinner from a guy who sat next to us. More on that in a bit.
The girls we shared the taxi with had no plans and no real info for La Habana, and I had the name/address of a hostel, so we all decided to go there. Unfortunately, they were full, so we wound up in a homestay (Casa Particular) nearby. I was really shocked to find out that it’s $25 CUC (1 CUC=$1 US exactly) for a room for the night. The German/Pole didn’t mind sharing the room with 1 big bed, and the room with 2 beds was left for me and the Aussie. We checked in with our nice hosts, dropped our bags, and went to find some cheap dinner where locals eat.
This guy who had been following us around “helping” us came with us to the restaurant and was waiting outside, but we put together that he was probably going to expect some money for his help, which we had no intention of giving. Luckily, by the time we ate and talked with the nice guy next to us, the guy outside gave up and was no longer there. Dodged a bullet.
The four of us went back to the house and just hung out in the living room/on their awesome balcony, talking about plans for Cuba. The 2 new friends we had picked up were planning to leave tomorrow for Trinidad, Cuba, which is a few hours away, but we were planning to spend the 5 days in La Habana, since I had a short amount of time to work with, and thought we’d just stay there for that whole time, then the Aussie could do whatever she wanted after I left.
I stayed up pretty late just drinking Cuba in and being excited about being there, then we all got up for breakfast at 8am before the girls left for Trinidad. They said that, if we decided to come down there, we could hang out, and they left us the address of where they’d be before heading out.
I spent the day walking around the city and saw nearly everything you could find in any of the tourist brochures, avoided numerous scams, and still fell into a few. I will warn you that anyone you ask for directions thinks you will give them money for the information, and I will warn you that anyone who starts walking with you while talking is leading you into a trap. Plant your feet. I wound up having to buy a mojito (I don’t even drink alcohol) that some guy ordered when I wasn’t paying attention. Just be careful and pay lots of attention.
After walking around, seeing the film crew for the new Fast & The Furious movie (not kidding), exchanging money at the bank, and struggling to ask for how to find cheap restaurants where locals eat (not expensive tourist places), we felt like we had seen everything the city had to offer, when we returned late that night. We decided to tell our hosts that we wanted to change our plans and head down to Trinidad the next day, rather than staying the whole 5 nights. We thought that would be simple, but the husband was super unhappy about it. They obviously were excited to have a room rented for 5 days, plus thinking we’d buy breakfast every morning, and he kept saying that we had already signed the registration book/he had already notified immigration that we were there. I finally asked, “What would immigration say we need to do to change? People change plans all the time.” Surprise, they told him it was no big deal, when he called, but they kept 20% of our booking fee for their “troubles” in filling out the book for our stay. It’s about 2 sentences.
Anyway, after dinner (same spot as the night before, and their rice & beans is great but needs hot sauce) the wife was nice enough to give us tons of info on how to get to Trinidad with the buses the locals use, so we could save a bunch of money. That’s always good, and it will make up for losing 20% of our remaining 3 nights’ booking. From the house to the main bus station, we would need 2 buses, which are 1 peso each (about $0.04 cents US per person, per bus), and the wife was so sweet that she gave us 4 pesos for it.
I will add that nearly person I met who found out that I was from the US said something about how much s/he loves Obama. No joke. I even saw people wearing Obama shirts.
Also, I took a TON of pictures, but here’s the gist of the info: you should expect to pay $25/night for a room, which is good to split among 2 or 3 people. There are a limited number of hostels, but I only knew how to find 1, so I’m not totally sure of the prices. Local buses are 1 peso each. Restaurants where locals eat are about $1 for a plate of food; restaurants where tourists eat are $10-12 for a plate of food. If you flag down a taxi (not the yellow ones), don’t pay more than $1/1 CUC for a ride in the city. For the yellow taxis, multiply the price by 8 or 10, because they’re for tourists, and the drivers speak a little English.
If you can speak Spanish (and if you aren’t white, no joke) you can expect to spend a lot less by pretending to be from somewhere that’s not a world superpower. Say you’re from Mexico, South America…anywhere that’s not Europe, USA, Canada, Australia and you can see the prices drop. It’s not a joke. Look for where the locals are, then shop there, eat there, and ride those buses for maybe 10% of the price tourists are paying.
Next post: journey to Trinidad, Cuba.