Mir Visa Travel in Cuba, March 16 – April 1, 2019. Part III – Havana, the first days.

Mir Visa Travel in Cuba, March 16 – April 1, 2019. Part III – Havana, the first days.

We arrived in Havana at around 17h00 on a Sunday afternoon. The Airport building in Havana looked pretty small, poorly air-conditioned, not well-maintained and without Free Wi-Fi. 

However, despite the frightening information received on the Internet that currency exchange will become a nightmare, we easily managed not only to exchange Euro for CUC at an ATM (yes, yes, there are such currency exchange machines at the airport. Therefore, it was not necessary to go to kiosk for currency exchange), but also got money from ATMs with Visa and Master Cards. The queue was minimal, there were enough ATMs in departure and arrival zones and one can choose English at every ATM. Later when we were in Havana we had no problems with getting money from ATMs or exchanging convertible pesos into local ones at any bank.

While exchanging money at the Airport we were offered to take a taxi. Before the trip, we clarified with the locals that the cost of a taxi from the airport is fixed - 25 CUC. The enterprising taxi drivers tried to convince us to pay 30 CUC for a ride, but we did not give up, left the airport building and successfully found outside a taxi for 25 CUC which took us to the place of our residence…

Excursus: To begin with, the city of Havana consists of several parts. The main ones are Old Havana, Central Havana, Vedado, and Miramar. Locals warned us not to settle in in Old Havana. But we did everything our own way :-) and settled in in the heart of Old Havana in Street San Juan de Dias between streets Compostela and Habana.

Pros:

1) My co-travelers didn't have to travel far to salsa school. It was literally around the corner.

2) It was possible to walk in and around Old Havana, without wasting money for a taxi or other type of transport. All sights, bars, and discos were close. Coming back home at night time we were not afraid of being robbed. The police strictly keep order in the city.

At this point, if to say honestly, the pros end...

Contras:

1) terribly dirty streets:

- full garbage bins waiting to be emptied for several days

- homeless animals, always hungry and defecating right in the middle of the streets

- dirty water flowing down from the balconies on the heads of passers-by

- water flows in rivers down the street from leaky hoses of cars that bring water into houses (we learned from local residents that there is no central water supply in Old Havana, as well as in Trinidad. Water is delivered once a week and pumped into the water tanks situated under the house)

2) water pressure in houses in Old Havana is similar to a light drizzle and the temperature of the hot water is also similar to the temperature of light drizzle in African winter

3) there was no window in our room, no air circulation, no properly closing door to the bathroom and loose electrical outlets without an option for European plug. We were lucky to bring an Adapter. It is a flat 2-pin American electricity socket there.

4) not very good breakfast compared to breakfast for the same money in the province

Conclusion: choose accommodation in Vedado or Miramar to avoid many of the problems mentioned above.

Connection:

Coming from a country where everyone uses the Internet, we immediately began to resolve the issue with communication. Cuba is now moving forward in leaps and bounds. There are several opportunities to go online to chat with relatives abroad, and here, in general, everything depends on the thickness of your wallet.

  • Wi-Fi spot exists in almost every park. You can defend the queue at ETECSA office and buy a voucher for 1 CUC for 1 hour or without a queue to buy the same voucher from street dealers right in the park for 2 CUC for 1 hour.

We did not live in hotels, so I don’t know how it works in a hotel, but I think it’s very similar. The access card is most likely bought at the hotel lobby.

  • It seemed to us easier to buy a Sim card for each traveler. This can easily be done with a passport at any ETECSA office. The card itself costs 30 CUC. Additionally, you need to top up airtime and further exchange for data using the command *133# after receiving the Internet activation SMS. The cost of 1 GB - 10 CUC. Add a few CUC for telephone calls. Cubans like to phone and not to Whatsapp.

The Internet balance can be checked with the command *222*328#, and the bonus balance (for each 1 GB, 300 MB of bonus is given, which can be used at night from 12:00 to about 8 am) by dialing *222*266#

I also found a new way of purchasing SIM card online via Website: https://www.recargasacuba.com/linea-cubacel-sim-y-telefono , but have not tested it myself yet. Apparently, foreign purchasers simply need to choose an ETECSA office and specify some passport data. In Cuba, they need to go to this office, show their passport and pick up the SIM and/or handset.

This seems to be a lot of information for one post :-)  I will be back soon with some sightseeing in Havana. Stay connected and follow me @olgamirvisa on Instagram.

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