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Traveling to cuba 2022 – 2023

It’s a different feeling as soon as you step out of the airport… In the red soil of Fidel Castro, who led the war against poverty and corruption and seized power through the revolution, and ruled the country with communist ideas for 32 years without surrendering the imperialist forces.

There is a long line of taxis outside the airport. Most of the cars are very old. The taxi fare was between 20 and 30 CUC to our destination Old Havana. Got into one of the first taxis we saw and started our journey. Once outside the airport, we reach another world.

The views outside are reminiscent of the frame of the 1970s Premnaseer movie(Comparison to a Malayalam movie star’s film). Buildings over 100 years old, houses with external dilapidations that have not been repaired, roads full of cycle rickshaws, and old classic cars painted in many colors. Five decades ages buses, trucks, and large buildings evoke the old Spanish cultural style. The large buildings left behind due to age are thus a completely different experience to see in Havana.

We stayed in the main tourist area of Havana known as Old Havana. All of Havana’s major attractions are within walking distance from there. Old Havana is a wonder. Built by the Spanish in the 16th century, the city still stands tall. That too even if no repairs were done. The road between the buildings is barely wide enough for two cars to pass.

There are more than 500 such streets and more than 3000 buildings. Walking through these streets is a special experience. Walking in it is a feeling that you cannot get even if you go to another country in the world. Very old but clean streets with vintage cars parked on the side. Car repairers, vegetable cart vendors, and small restaurants. We walked most of the streets of Old Havana in four days.

What to know before going to Cuba 2023?

Best places to visit in Cuba (2022)(2023)

The main attractions here are History Museum, Revolution Museum, Cultural Museum, Central Park, Cuban Cigar Factory, and so on. Right next to Old Havana is Cuba’s new city area known as “New Havana”. Cuba’s new parliament building, large hotels, foreign shops, and the old Chinatown (which was opened to Cubans after the fiddle Chinese who were at war with China) are all in this area.

Then the famous Revolution Square. It was here that Fidel Castro gave his famous address to the people. It is a short distance from Havana. There are also classic car tours from Havana. There are beautiful vintage cars that are 50 years old and decorated in many colors, we can book a journey in them as per our requirements. They all go by touching this.

What you will love most about Cuba is the love of the people. The life of people here is related to tourism in one way or another. Therefore, tourists are loved and respected by all.
On every street, you’ll find one or two souvenir shops, shops selling paintings, and small restaurants with no canvassing or bothering people. Let’s go up and have a look if you like. They are only happy. Whatever you ask about, even if there is a language problem, he will tell you as much as possible.

One day at 10 o’clock in the night two people who met us on the road asked us for directions to a restaurant.

Visa Procedures in Cuba:
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Indians do not necessarily need a pre-issued Cuban visa. A Cuban tourist card is enough. Many online travel agencies sell it for $20 to $50. But some travel agents will not give them to Indian passport holders. Similarly, some airline companies do not allow Indian passport holders to board with tourist cards. They will say that they need a visa. So check with the airline before you go. (We went with Copa Airline. When we checked in in Santiago, Chile, they gave us a Cuban Tourist Card for $20 from their check-in desk).

Major Airports in Cuba:
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Havana International Airport. It can be said that the airport is similar to Thiruvananthapuram domestic airport in terms of facility. All those traveling with Indian passports will have a special reception at the airport. As soon as our passports are scanned at immigration we hear a sound – they put the passports aside and tell us to stand away from the queue. After some time, another officer will come and conduct the interview. Where did you come from, where are you going now, what is your job and why did you come to Cuba? They will ask how many days you will be here, do you know Spanish and everything. Proof of everything must be shown, every page of the passport, all visas and entry-exit stamps will be checked. Then when they are convinced they will give entry. The tourist card will also be stamped and returned. It must be returned at exit immigration when leaving the country.

(I have four Chinese visas in my passport and was asked the reason for that. Then the officer who came for questioning said “nothing to worry, this is routine checking”. All the officers are wearing masks. We are arriving in Havana on March 1st and this is the view at every single airport we have passed through in the last 10 days. We didn’t see it. Besides, the health department checked the temperature on the way out after the immigration. We also took down the address of our residence and then let us out.

Currency:
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Cuba has two currencies in circulation. CUP (Cuban Peso) and CUC (Cuban Convertible Peso). Of these, CUC is the most popular and preferred by tourists. One Cuban convertible peso is equal to one US dollar. But if you pay the US dollar as well as the United States, you will get 10 to 15% less Cuban pesos. This is set by the government. Therefore, there are people along the road who want to exchange US dollars for 5% less. Or you can exchange Euros or Canadian dollars. By doing so, the above-mentioned reduction will not be effective.

Currency exchanges are available at the airport and in major areas of Havana. Roadside agents are not enough. The matter of ATM is sad. International transaction ATMs are found only in banks and airports. Also, no cards of any kind will work. Cards issued in the United States. None of the bank’s cards that are routed through the US will work. And most of the shops do not have card-swapping machines. The law states that US dollars should not be accepted. However, most shops will accept US dollars. But they will give the balance in CUC and will reduce the conversion rate by 15%. Another thing to remember is don’t forget to change the CUC you have left at the airport to Euros or Dollars before you go back. It has no value and cannot be changed anywhere in the world outside of Cuba.

Cuba Language:
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Spanish is the official language and English is not used or taught here – due to the importance of tourism, people in tourist areas and shops know essential English words.

Transportation (Havana):
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Taxis are readily available at the airport and all other major locations. Most of the vehicles are 20 to 50 years old. There are also few Chinese new generation cars. Taxi travel is quite expensive. There are buses but most of them are very crowded. Also it will be very difficult to use without knowing the root and language. I used “maps.me” because Google Maps doesn’t work in Cuba.

Accommodation:
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If you go to booking.com and search for a hotel in Havana, you can give up your Cuba travel obsession right away. A total of 10 hotels will be found and unfair rates will be charged. There were generally no hotels in Cuba. There were only a handful of hotels owned by the government. Recently, after the government changed policies and allowed foreign investment in some areas, hotels started coming up. Most of those that have come up and are under construction are star hotels. AIRBNB is the best place to stay here. There are many AIRBNBs available with different rates and amenities. It is also the best way to learn about Cuban history and culture.

Internet & Phone:
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It’s only been a year since the phone internet came to Cuba. The possibility of getting internet in the roaming package in our existing sim is very less. Tourists can get a new phone connection in busy places where there are shops where you can get SIM cards from Cuba’s phone company, Empresa. But the service is sad, it takes 3-4 days to activate the line.
The other way is to buy internet cards that cost between 1 CUC and 2 CUC per card that can be used for one hour. You will find public hotspots in parks and public places, where you can connect to Wi-Fi and access the Internet using these cards. Net speed will be low and no video will be viewed.

Food & Nightlife:
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Food is a necessary expense. As mentioned above, there are mostly local restaurants. The staple local food is rice mixed with black beans and fish. Beef, pork and chicken dishes can be cooked and grilled. And so is pizza.

Nightlife is superb – Cuba is the cocktail capital of the world. Cocktails in many colors and flavors are a favorite here. Local and foreign beers and liquors are available in almost all restaurants. Most restaurants have a band, song and dance. Cuban songs are sung. All the band instruments are vintage. The income of singers is tip given by customers. They will also invite those who come to eat to join this band. All in all quite a special experience. Hospitality of restaurateurs and staff should be learned by the world. There are no words to say. We have never had such a good experience from any other country in the world.

Safety:
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What surprised us the most was the safety in Havana. There is no cheating, cheating, stealing, or extortion that is common in a poor country. (Except there are duplicate cigar sellers on most streets) We were walking through the narrow, isolated alleyways of Old Havana at 12 midnight. Even the people who were isolated there did not pay attention to us.
Safe to walk any street in Havana at any time, male or female, alone or in groups. Except in front of the bank, we never saw a single policeman during the day or night, even on the busy streets. It is hard to believe that this will happen in India even after almost 50 years. This was an unbelievable experience for us who have traveled to many developed countries. And the thing that surprised us the most on this trip.

The people we met during the four days in Havana. It is said that ” We are from Kerala, it is the first in India and the only place in India communist rule still prevails. What I understand from my conversations with them is that the Cuban people have no interest in getting behind communism and politics. With the arrival of mobile internet last year, a good number of people in Cuba have a clear understanding of the changes taking place elsewhere in the world and that they are far behind.

Fidel is adored and respected by the people. Che Guevara is also a tourism icon. (Souvenirs and Paintings are totally mesmerizing). Everyone loves America and Americans. They want to immigrate to America. But after Trump came in, he introduced travel restrictions and there was a decrease in tourism. The decline was also felt in the overall back-and-forth relationship. That’s why people don’t like Trump.

Everyone loves Indians. There is even an Indian restaurant in Havana. Every day when the night rolls around, when we are told that we are Indians, we are immediately asked two things “Ohhh Indiaaaa., you need Cigars?? you need Girls??” – The fact that our obsession with women has reached Cuba !!!!

After the Soviet Union, Cuba was the country with the most complete implementation of the communist system in the world. After coming to power, Fidel Castro seized and nationalized all the country’s institutions. After that, all businesses and industries were run directly by the government. No private institutions or ownerships were allowed.

With the ensuing American embargo and the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba, economically devastated, fell into poverty. Fiddle’s last reign saw a change in policy in order to survive and hold on to the eventual collapse. Cuba was willing to accommodate the changes by allowing liberalization and foreign investment. Raul Castro, who came to power in 2011, brought revolutionary changes in policies. People were allowed the right to run their own businesses in more than two hundred areas. The government leased the land and allowed them to cultivate on their own. Programs to attract massive foreign investment and special economic zones were sanctioned.
2014 rolled around and with the re-establishment of ties with the United States, tourism also saw a significant increase. – After 40 years, constitutional and economic changes were approved with over 90% of popular support in the 2019 referendum. Land ownership or the right to buy land was granted to the people. Areas of foreign investment have been expanded.

Nevertheless, Cuba achieved many things during the old regime. Everyone has a house to live in. These are given free by the government. (The house and facilities are sad, they are old Spanish buildings that are falling into disrepair). Everyone gets food. Even though rations had to be cut during the recession of the 1990s, food reached everyone in moderate quantities. Education is completely free. including university education. Study as much as you need. The literacy rate of people is 99%.

All treatment is free. (The condition of hospitals is bad. To get a bed, you have to carry towels and soap. But the treatment is world-class). Unemployment is just 3 percent. (But the salary is still 2000 to 4000 INR per month. That means most jobs are paid almost the same by the government. (Now after private jobs are allowed, a private taxi driver’s income is said to be 20-30 times more than a doctor’s salary in Cuba. Taxi drivers are now the richest people in Cuba)

In short, the gap between the haves and have-nots in Cuba during the old Castro regime was very small. It can be said that there was almost no. But the people did not have jobs or wages according to their skills. There is no opportunity to do something on your own or to prosper. Things are not like that today. Cuba is on the move. In an effort to make the world their own without looking back at the lost years.

Apart from Havana, other important tourist destinations in Cuba are Varadero, Vanales and Holguin. Before the Cuban Revolution, these areas were the Las Vegas of the Americans, with beautiful beaches and casinos. Americans come here to enjoy their leisure time. (No casinos now). No one planned this trip in advance. The trip was made via Cuba due to a visa problem in a pre-arranged country. That’s why we couldn’t go to any of those places.