To see Cuba before it changes it’s attitude towards capitalism, we decided to go there early 2017.
The preparation to find a hotel or even B&B – that would fit our expectations – wasn’t that easy. First of all we started to talk to friends who visited Cuba before. They spoke about their All-Inclusive experiences and ways to find your way around without a tour operator. One of the most important hints was to choose a Casa Particular instead of booking a room in one of the hotels. The reason for this is, that most of the hotels are overbooking: When you do arrive and they don’t have a room available they will sent you to a Casa Particular anyway. Hotel rooms are also quite expensive compared with the average income of a Cuban.
We made up our minds and started to find the best places for us to stay because we decided not to do a round-trip to see all of the touristic places. Our decision was to stay for a week in Habana and then travel to colonial Trinidad from where we can explore the surrounding area.
The next step was: Finding an airline, which services Habana from Europe without a transfer/stop. There are Condor and Air Berlin, both flying from DUS and MUC non-stop to HAV. Condor we didn’t take into consideration because of our experiences regarding the service they do provide. We flew several times with them from FRA to LAS in Business class and thought that the money we’ve spent was not worth it. Economy class was even worse. Seating is very tight. Air Berlin is almost the same in regard of flight quality: Tight seating, bad service and most of the times they are both delayed.
Recalling my good experiences we did have with Delta Airlines we contacted KLM to get an offer for our trip from DUS or AMS to HAV. Because we contacted them early we found a very good price for two Business class tickets for a non-stop connection from AMS to HAV.
The last step in preparation is getting a visa. When you book a package (flight, hotel, excursions, etc.) through an agency they provide the Visa for Cuba. When you travel individually you have to apply for one at the Cuban Embassy in Berlin or in Bonn. The costs are 25 EUR/person. This visa is a piece of paper that is not glued to your passport. Therefore you have to pay
Arrival in Havana
The estimated flight time was 10 hours 30 minutes. Fortunate enough it was only a ten hours flight. The plane took off at 10:30 and we arrived in Habana at 15:oo hours local time. We went to the Caribbean islands Trinidad/Tobago before and the first sight of the international airport was very similar: Bright sunshine, light colors and workers not rushing around – too hot to hurry. As a result we had to wait for over 90 minutes to get our luggage. When we finally held it in our hands, we had to realize that one tag was missing so we could not clear customs. Waiting in line and than been told that we have to go back to get the suitcase x-rayed again was no fun after such a long journey. My advice: Pay attention to a missing tag and get permission to clear customs before you wait in line to exit the airport.
When we went into the arrival hall we were expecting a taxi driver waiting for us to bring us into Habana, because we paid in advance to the guesthouse host for it. We did this on purpose knowing that fares can vary depending on the driver. Because of the fact that we did not speak Spanish fluently we tried at the airport to grab the attention of an English-speaking woman to help us to find a taxi. She said that the driver might not have waited for us regarding the delay in getting our luggage. She negotiated the fare which came out identically to the one we did prepay already. The Cuban taxi driver was very cool: While driving he moved his body constantly to the rhythm of the music playing. We thought that this is a great welcome and this is Cuba as we expected it. After a 45 minutes ride we arrived at the Casa Particular “Zenia Habana” located at Virtudes y Blanko. An address we would have never found without our driver because the correct address was Virtudes at the corner Galliano. Roads have often two names: The old “Before the Revolution” and the “Past the Revolution” name. Our first impression of the houses and roads of Habana was: They are in an astonishing bad constitution. Asphalt pavement was only on the main roads and the sidewalks – some in concrete but mostly hardened sand – were damaged, dirty and dog poop all over.