Cuba Libre: Trinidad

From Havana to Trinidad
The 8 hour bus ride to Trinidad was pretty uneventful, as the road is pretty flat and straight. We passed a lot of farm land and occasionally parts of the southern coast. There were just two notable sites along the way: Playa Giron (a.k.a. the Bay of Pigs), which Castro and Kennedy made famous in 1961, and Cienfuegos, where tourists can enjoy a little of the beach and a bit of the outdoors. I had initially planned on stopping through Cienfuegos after Trinidad, but my plans quickly changed after the events that night.

My first casa particular
I arrived in Trinidad at 2:30 as planned and was eager to experience my first casa particular. Peter and Frank were staying at a casa near the Plaza Mayor, and there should have been someone waiting for me at the terminal, but I instead found my way to the casa on my own by foot. Margarita and her husband Roberto greeted me warmly and showed me my lovely room set in a courtyard. The room was spacious with its own bathroom with a hot water shower. There was a kitchen just for guests that was separate from the kitchen for the family. The resident dog (a part German shepherd) served as our guard at night. This being my first taste of a casa particular, I must say I was spoiled. Not all casas resemble mine, nor do they have such nice, accommodating and helpful hosts. Casas particulares can only (by law) host two separate guests in two rooms. The families that host them pay a steep tax, but get paid in convertibles rather than the local national currency (which is 20 times less expensive).
The Plaza Mayor
Peter and Frank were out and about, exploring the steam train that took them to the Valle de los Ingenios, an hour east of Trinidad. I left them a note and took off toward the old part of the city, which is situated around Plaza Mayor. Trinidad as a colonial city is pretty cute, with cobblestone streets and colorful homes. It reminded me of a more colorful version on Barichara, a small town in Colombia. Aside from the church and some mildly informative museums and towers with nice vistas of the city and its surroundings, there’s not much to speak of in terms of things to do (other than shopping).

Almost immediately I spotted Peter’s recognizable backpack and we were promptly reunited at the Museo de la Lucha Contra Banditos. I accompanied the two of them as they did some last minute souvenir and gift shopping in town. Frank bought some a really cool fish carved from a bull’s horn, and Peter bought a cool Afro-Cuban mask made out of wood.

Lobster dinner in an unofficial (illegal) paladar
We returned to the casa and readied for dinner at an unofficial paladar that they had made a reservation at for our last dinner together. By the time we made it to the paladar, Frank and I were pretty buzzed, as I had brought with me what I had left of our stash of Havana Club rum from Habana. We each ordered the lobster dinner and enjoyed our unofficial paladar meal tremendously.


Live music
After dinner we went to the open stage by the Plaza Mayor to listen to live music. After one kind of dreary set, Frank discovered the official Casa de la Musica, which was situated just above where we were sitting. We sat down at a table and watched as a band set up for their concert. When they finished with the sound check I overheard that they wouldn’t begin playing until midnight, but confirmed with one of the band members (the cutest one, mind you) to make sure of their start time. He and I started talking, and I asked him as many questions I could think of to keep him conversing. His band had traveled from Santiago to Trinidad just for this concert, and would be leaving the next morning (Saturday) at 9:30. The band’s name is “Suena Cubano” and they’ve actually played abroad in Mexico (all over the country for two months) and Italy (Milan for a few weeks). I was excited to hear them play, but we returned to the open stage for an hour, where an Afro-Cuban band and dance team played to pass the time. Meanwhile, Peter, Frank, and I drank several “canchanchara’s,” a local drink that is made of lime, vodka, and honey – quite tasty!

Midnight was almost upon us and we returned to the casa, where I talked some more with the band member. I learned his name was Odernis and he has been playing with Suena Cubano for six of its eight years of existence. He plays the guiro, which is a percussive instrument made of a dried gourd. There are 12 members in the band, and they play mainly salsa and son music. He told me his band traveled a great deal around the country and hoped to travel abroad even more. (I told him that, as a travel writer, I would try my best to promote him and his band). He said that only a few Cubans are allowed to travel – mainly just doctors, business professionals, artists, and musicians. The host country must sponsor their visit, pay for their travel expenses, along with their accommodations and food, and explain the request.

Suena Cubano singing “Cuidado, Cuidado”

The music started soon after, and the band was stellar. It turns out Odernis plays the guiro and also raps for certain numbers. I must say I was immediately smitten by him, as he was not only an attractive Afro-Cuban that could dance, but he honestly looks like a smaller version of Kobe Bryant! (Even Frank and Peter agreed that if they were women they would dig him!). The band played several different numbers – most fast, some slow, but almost all of them were danceable. The locals outnumbered the tourists here about 4:1.

Odernis (a.k.a. Mini Kobe Bryant) rapping a modern salsa tune

The cave disco
When 1:30 rolled around (and the band was still going strong), Peter and Frank wanted to make sure we got to experience one more thing: a cave disco on top of the hill past the ruins. While most discos resemble caves, I’ve actually never heard of one that is housed in an actual cave! We snuck out of the concert (and in my mind I hoped we would return in time to say goodbye to Odernis), and made our way to the cave disco.

Had I been by myself, there is no question that I would neither have found nor wanted to find the cave disco. The place sits on top of the hill and to get there you have to walk 10 minutes in the dark and uphill. It’s a pretty scary sight as you make your way there because the abandoned ruin glows up top like a haunted house. We made our way to the top with no problem and were surprised to find several other locals and tourists enjoying the club scene inside. The entire club is inside the mountain – even the bathrooms are tucked into smaller caves inside. The dance floor is sizeable, and it has an enormous ceiling. There were two bars – one on the dance floor level and another near the entrance, and three levels (a patio, a seating area, and the bar/dance floor).

Frank singing to Bob Marley in the cave disco

Needless to say, we had a blast. The music was a mixture of Latin and American club tunes, and the locals outnumbered the tourist here 3:1. I even snapped a shot of Frank and a gay Cuban clubber! I had read that gay/homosexuals were sometimes imprisoned, but was pleased to discover liberal Cubans enjoying the Trinidad nightlife.

Change of plans
We were sufficiently tired by 2:30, and made our way back to the Casa de la Musica to see if he band was still playing. To my dismay, the band had not only finished their set, but already packed up their gear and left! I think it was at that point that I reformed my itin
erary to try to find Suena Cubano and Odernis again. Instead of visiting Cienfuegos, Santa Clara, and Matanzas, I would head to Santiago de Cuba and Baracoa.

For a complete listing of my Cuba Libre posts, please click HERE or skip straight to the good stuff —

Cuba Libre: Havana – Part 2

Having spent only two days in Havana and entirely in the old part of the city and only having two more days before hitting the road to Trinidad to meet up with the boys, I still had a lot of ground to cover.

The beach
Havana is full of great seaside and beach. If the outer part of Havana (where we stayed) called Miramar and Playa don’t strike your fancy, you can opt for taking a short bus or cab ride to Playa del Este. When I finally felt well enough to leave my suite, I took a quick dip in the ocean with my swimming goggles to see if there were some fishies to see. A local free diver helped me into the water and we toured the seas together. He pointed out some tiny squids, pufferfish, and some other things I just didn’t understand (is “pupu” a fish?). There was plenty of life just off the coast of the hotel, so I imagine the diving is probably pretty decent all over.

The art
We went into town that afternoon and browsed the Cuba’s most prized art museum, the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes. The Cuban art circa the Revolution was by far the most interesting, but we only browsed the second floor and got a bit bored, so we left. We did miss out on the third floor, which we just learned houses the Wilfredo Lam collection (oops!), but there is another smaller museum in Havana that is dedicated to Lam’s works called the Centro Wilfredo Lam.

The Vedado district
It is easy to get to Vedado, the most modern as well as the wealthier part of Havana, by foot via the back streets of central Habana and the Malecón. Just turn left when you spot the grand Hotel Nacional de Cuba, which sits on a hill with a grand view of the sea. It was a great place to snap a photo by a huge Cuban flag, and just to rest our feet. The Vedado really lights up at night with salsa clubs, bars, and discotecas starting at 10 p.m.

Live music
Lora and I decided to watch some live music in Miramar at a well-known joint called “La Casa de la Música.” There is one of these in every major city in Cuba. Our hotel concierge said one of the better Cuban bands led by Adalberto Alvares was playing that night, and because of his popularity he insisted that we be at the box office by 10 p.m. to get the tickets. Lora’s guidebook confirmed this advice, as it said concerts started at 10, so we left the hotel at 8:30 and split a quick dinner at a paladar a few blocks away called Paladar Los Cactus, which happened to be owned by a man who knew quite well my new crush, Che Guevara. (I’m not kidding!) The main dining room had a whole collection of letters from Che, as well as Che photos and a few Che artifacts. It almost seems as if Che is more revered than Fidel, but I’m thinking this has a lot to do with the fact that Che died. I can only speculate what will happen when Fidel passes. There will likely be a mixture of mourning for a great hero, yet a celebration and call for change to commence.


We made it to “La Casa de la Musica” at 10 p.m. only to discover that the box office didn’t open until 11 p.m. We had a Bucanero beer (me – this became my drink of choice) and mojito (Lora – did you know mojitos came from Cuba?) and were the first to buy tickets and get seats inside. We clearly assumed the band would start playing no later than midnight, but found out the band would play for just one hour from 1-2 a.m. When 1 a.m. finally did roll around, some salsa dancing had already been had by Cubano couples near the stage. “Adalberto Alvares” is not just one guy, nor is it really one specific guy; it’s a full Cuban salsa band complete with a dozen players including four percussion players, three brass players, four singers, and a lone female pianist. The music ranged from rap to belting salsa, but it was distinctly Cuban with a Latin and Caribbean style. The band itself was pretty awesome and, yes, worth the wait, but the long three-hour wait was excruciating, and we had hoped at least that the band would play for longer than an hour. The music was promptly over at 2 and we were promptly pooped and went to bed.

Castillo de la Real Fuerza
Lora’s final evening was supposed to have been our big evening out on the town, soaking in the Vedado nightlife. We had every intention to do this, but Lora quickly found herself out of cash and we were both sort of low on energy. We made a grand attempt though: we left the Melia at 8 p.m. and then were shuttled over to the Castillo de la Real Fuerza, a 16th century fortress – the oldest in Havana and the oldest surviving one of its kind in the hemisphere, to watch the ceremonial setting off of the cannon.

Lora’s book said we could see the events take place from the Malecón, but our shuttle brought us directly to the fort (across the canal). As one would expect (we were in Habana, after all, where everything is three times as expensive), the entrance fee to see the ceremony cost 8 convertible! We weren’t too keen on the price. Nevertheless, we obliged.


Luckily, the proceedings were really quite interesting! Soldiers wore colonial garb (complete with white wigs) and marched to the fortress that faced Habana Vieja. A man with a torch emerged from the barracks with a lighted torch and marched to the cannon as he sang/chanted. There was a lot of build-up to the setting off of the cannon, but finally there was a huge, startling explosion and the ball was set off, landing somewhere in the canal (I hope!). We had about 30 minutes following the ceremony to browse the fortress. I lost Lora in the small chapel, but managed to find a cool collection of Che artifacts in a nearby museum and listened for a while to some street music before boarding the bus back to the city.

The last supper
We were dropped off in the Vedado. Lora and I walked several blocks, intent of having dinner at El Gringo Viejo. The food was quite good (I had no idea chicken could taste good with olives and mushrooms!), but when we were done, Lora realized her sunburn (she had tanned by the pool during my long two-day recover) was quite bad and she was experiencing fatigue and pain. We had saved all that energy to see the Habana nightlife and pretty much came up empty. I didn’t really care that much, but I could tell Lora was bummed. I think she had expected some serious energy to the nightlife, but we quickly learned that some nights are just not meant to be. Our week in Habana really turned out to be a relaxed resort vacation with brief spurts of sightseeing, but for the most part, we probably could have been staying anywhere as long as it had a pool. It’s just as well – Habana was fun while it lasted, but I was glad to hit the road to Trinidad to meet the boys the following morning.

For a complete listing of my Cuba Libre posts, please click HERE or skip straight to the good stuff —

Cuba Libre: Being sick and discovering “Cash Cab” in Cuba

[Though this might look like the U.S. Capitol, it is actually Havana’s Capitolio. The strange resemblance makes even stranger sense when you get to the “Cash Cab” comparison at the end of this post.]

Peter and Frank planned to leave for Trinidad on Monday, leaving Lora and I in Havana. They had hoped for a noonish start to their day and planned on renting a car for the remainder of their stay. (Road trip in Cuba? Yes, please! I tried my best to convince Lora to hit the road with the boys, but she was nearly out of cash, had somehow forgotten her ATM and credit cards in Canada, and therefore was relying on the three of us to fund the remainder of her trip).

The boys dilly-dallied for a good two hours by having lunch and weighing the pros and cons to Cuba’s expensive car rental rate, which would come to a whopping $75 per day. By the time they decided to go for it, the car rental guy informed them there were no more cars available. So, that evening, Lora and Frank went to see the famous cabaret show at the Tropicana. They paid nearly U.S.$100 each for three hours of entertainment. Peter and I were less interested in seeing scantily clad women wearing chandeliers on their heads, so we walked to a delightful little paladar called La Cocina de Lilliam in the Embassy district and splurged on a delicious three course meal with red wine.

This paladar was a pleasant contrast to the crowded yet intimate La Guarida in town. La Cocina was set in the side courtyard of a large, lavish house. There were waterfalls and fountains spread about the courtyard as well as plenty of green plants and birdcages with cockatiel and parakeets. Peter and I had a really nice conversation about traveling and other things that time seemed to float by undetected. Somehow we didn’t get home until midnight. Soon after, Lora and Frank returned from their cabaret date. After a nightcap of Cuba Libres, smoking a bit more of our Cuban cigars, and listening to the ocean on the patio, we retired at 1 or so.

It is never a good sign waking up pre-dawn with with a cold sweat, headache, and stomachache. The only time I felt this ill was when I ate a sweet (but apparently foul) mango in India and found myself on the toilet for two full days. My body felt weak, and I felt tired and gross.

Peter and Frank left early in the morning for Trinidad, but I couldn’t get out of bed. I slept almost all of Tuesday. Lora still made the most of her day, visiting la Plaza de la Revolución (with an enormous monument for pre-revolutionary figure José Martí) by cab and walking around our Miramar/Playa neighborhood. She found a cinema just a few blocks away and decided to have a quick dinner and catch an 8:30 movie (for just a dollar!). To her surprise and dismay, she was the only one interested in viewing this film and was turned away by the cinema attendant. Had I gone with her I think she would have been able to see it. So Lora was home by 9 p.m. and we watched a film on TV (I slept through most of it) and made it an early night. I didn’t eat anything all day.

My mysterious illness was a doozy (Pete and I think the lamb at La Cocina could have been the culprit), but I felt quite lucky to be in a 5 star hotel. I mean, things could have been much worse! I could have been like my friend Brody in the middle of rural Laos, who had to visit the village doctor to get hooked up to an IV and take an anti-vomit shot in the butt. If my situation had been more dire, I could have found myself in a Cuban hospital without travel insurance and maybe even lacking cash for medical care.

In the end, I think this sickness just made me appreciate the important things in life – like friends and a warm, comfortable bed. While I would have enjoyed seeing more of Havana, staying at the Melia Habana and with Lora was so comforting. In addition, as I am usually a solo traveler, I could have easily been much more depressed all by my lonesome and staying in some tiny casa particular.

The following morning I felt well enough to sit up and watch some TV, where I discovered my new favorite game show. Since I don’t have cable nor any real interest to watch TV here in Hawaii, leave it to my travels and stay in a 5 star hotel in Cuba (of all places) to hook me onto “Cash Cab” on the Discovery Channel. What a perfect and delightful premise and show! I watched 3 whole hours (that’s 6 episodes) of Cash Cab. It is utterly ironic how I stumbled upon this particular show in Cuba, though, for the contrast between the high-paced capitalist capital of New York City (the setting of Cash Cab) and my current environs couldn’t be more stark.

My excitement over this kind of game show just reaffirmed my Western upbringing. As I watched contestants win over $1,000 during a short cab ride (which is more than twice as much a Cuban citizen makes in a year), I wondered what Cubans thought of such a show. I was, however, watching it in English, so I imagine only educated and wealthy Cubans could actually comprehend the nature of the show. Regardless, the show’s premise is both perfect for the intended Western audience and quite jarring for Cubans (along with being a disgusting display of capitalism at work).

For a complete listing of my Cuba Libre posts, please click HERE or skip straight to the good stuff —

Cuba Libre: Havana – Part One

The old part of Havana (Habana Vieja, they call it) reminded me a great deal of Cartagena with its fairly well-preserved colonial and often brightly colored buildings. In just our first two days in Havana, however, I was most astounded by the Cuban people. Lora’s guidebook says that the locals earn on average U.S.$25 a month and that, in some cases, even doctors double shift as waiters by night. The people are extremely friendly and accommodating, helpful and vibrant.

On our first day in Habana Vieja (the old part of the city) passed just one restaurant that appeared affordable for locals called El Restaurante Bucanero, where everything – even lobster pizza – was less than $5 and mini mojitos and Cuba libres were just $1.

Another surprise for me was browsing the books in the Plaza de Armas. Nearly all of them were histories, biographies, or autobiographies of Che or Fidel, collections of poetry by famed pre-revolutionary José Martí or Nicolas Guillen, or a mish-mash of Revolutionary cartoons. Sprinkled throughout the racks were Lenin, Marx, and Malcom X books. I saw a Spanish version of the Communist Manifesto.

Frank found some good old-fashioned, hand-rolled Cuban cigars and I purchased my own for $5. It’s the smallest one and the most mild, but boy did it pack a punch. I slowly made my way through the mini-cigar for a solid week, though it was common to find “caballeros” (Cuban gentlemen) dressed in their finest suit and smoking an enormous stogie. At the end of the first day of our Habana exploration, we discovered La Floridita, the bar that Hemingway made famous.

The following day was full of rain – from when we woke up until 5 p.m. it was a constant and miserable kind of drizzle. Despite the poor weather, we made a very full day of it, as it was the perfect day to stay inside by visiting the Museo de la Revolución and watching a ballet at the Gran Teatro.

Lora and I spent a good 3 hours browsing the very odd propaganda-filled, revolutionary museum, which is housed in the old Presidential Palace. Some things I learned: Che Guevara is really hot; so is Fidel Castro but less so; the Revolution and overthrow of Batista is a really fascinating story; Fidel doesn’t hate America, he hates the capitalist nature of American society and the holier-than-thou mentality of the U.S. administration.

The museum lacks modern updates, so bringing my camera in (for an extra $2) to take photos of the displays and interior of the “palace” was pretty useless. Nearly everything was displayed in glass cases, and most of the Revolutionary artifacts were copied photos. There were some seemingly worthless items on display as well, such as spoons used by second commanders or patches worn by soldiers, but other items like Fidel, Raul, and Che’s attire or letters were rather interesting to see.

In all, I see the Cuban Revolution that culminated with Castro & company’s march into Habana as an awfully great feat of determination and heroism. In school in America we learn about Fidel in a completely different way, so I’m grateful to have learned both sides of the same story. To be perfectly frank, I don’t blame Fidel one bit for his hard feelings toward the U.S. I also think Fidel did a bold, noble, and heroic thing freeing Cuba from a criminal like Batista.

However, I still don’t understand what drew Fidel to Communist ideals, nor what made him stick to such extreme socialism beyond the Revolution into today. Fidel is a brilliant lawyer, one who would have clearly recognized how socialism couldn’t possibly solve the problems that his nation faces today. While Cuba’s health care, organic farming, and education are some of the best in the world, the reflection cast is not the same. I walked through the crumbling city of Havana, witnessed with my own eyes how families are packed into shared apartments, and heard personal accounts where citizens rely on monetary deliveries from overseas to survive. There is something dearly wrong with the Cuban system: a sound quality of life is nearly impossible or certainly not easy to achieve.

Following our museum visit, Lora and I had a local beer (Bucanero Fuerte – which has a whopping 5.4% of alcohol… I was happily buzzed) at Hotel Inglaterra, a $1 mojito at the Bucanero Bar just down the street by the Capitolio, and then a Floridita daiquiri a few more blocks away (at that same bar that Hemingway made famous in the 60’s). Between these pub stops, Lora and I procured four tickets to see a performance of the National Ballet of Cuba at the Gran Teatro, a 200 year-old architectural gem. The ballet itself was only average, but well worth the $10 ticket.


We were sufficiently hungry by the time the ballet was over, so we headed to the eclectic yet delicious paladar (privately-owned restaurant), La Guarida, which was made famous by the Cuban film “Fresa y Chocolate.” These paladares are pretty much the way to go if you want to get the authentic Cuban dining experience, so I intend to have many while I’m here. While there are a few paladares that are actually legal, there are many others that are not government-approved. They can only be legal if the private home that houses the restaurant pays a heavy tax to provide meals for tourists.

I have a feeling La Guarida is the real deal. Not only was it on the third floor of a dilapidated residential building in Centro Habana, the marble stairs leading up to them were steep and precarious. Then, of course, was the interior of the restaurant. There was a small sitting room and then three small rooms that seat up to twelve in each (most paladares are not allowed to host more than twelve, so this one likely pays higher taxes to be host more people each night). The kitchen spits out healthy meals from a room smaller than my bedroom. We were seated at a table in a room with a mish-mash of Christian, film, and art paraphernalia. Instead of sitting one to a side of the table, Lora and I sat on one side together, tightly squeezed in.

We really splurged on dinner. Between the four of us, we ordered a bottle of Italian Rioja, two appetizers (eggplant caviar and chicken in spinach crepes), a main course each (I had a delicious grouper; Lora had pork medallions; Frank had swordfish; Peter had chicken curry), followed by a yummy “three chocolates” dessert. The bill came to about $30 each (pricey!), but really worth it considering the atmosphere, company, and unique experience.

We capped off the evening with a brisk and slippery walk along the Malecón, which was pretty barren with locals. The waves would crash up off the wall and onto the promenade making it very difficult to walk down, but it was worth the experience, and something that I couldn’t have done had I been traveling on my own. We passed by the U.S. “Special Interests” building, which is the only thing resembling an Embassy here in Cuba.

For a complete listing of my Cuba Libre posts, please click HERE or skip straight to the good stuff —

Cuba Libre: High-end hotels and money in Havana

So the Melia Habana Resort. We were not aware such luxurious resorts were available for just $50 a night! Had I not come with Lora there would be no chance to stay in such a place. Regardless, we pretty much decided to stay in Havana for the entire week.

We arrived at 1 p.m. and were already pretty spent from such early wake-up time, so Lora and I spent the day tanning and resting the immense pool. At around 5:30 p.m. a synchronized swimming team came by to practice in the pool. We took that as our cue to prep for dinner, which we had in the hotel’s Italian restaurant. There are a network restaurants in the basement, all situated around the waterfalls and pleasant, lagoon-like courtyard. There’s also a cigar room, which we intended to try out at some point during our stay.

Lora and I collectively paid an extra $10 per night for a view of the ocean and were quite pleased with it. Our “twin” beds were actually double beds. We had a little patio, along with couches in our tiny lounge space. Our marble bathroom even had a badet (that weird toilet you use to wipe your butt). I was eager to see what kinds of television programs were available on TV, and was quite surprised to discover half of our 40 channels were American. I got excited when I flipped past a Spanish-dubbed episode of “Alias.” (I also watched “Alias” in Spanish when I was in Villa de Leyva, Colombia – go Sydney Bristow!). About ten channels are in English. There are also French and Chinese stations. I paused briefly when I saw an advertisement of some sort that depicted the Cuban flag in chains and locked by the United States flag. Interesting…

I do not want to be misleading, however. The Melia Habana is one of the nicest hotels in the city, and we were fortunate to score a great package deal. If you are not vacationing in Cuba and do not plan your trip through a travel agent, you will likely find yourself in a casa particular, which I will describe in a later post. For a general differentiation between hotels and casas particulares, please read the “Where to stay” section of my Travel Guide to Cuba.

Now, a word on changing money in Cuba. I was warned that there are two currencies here in Cuba and that one is practically useless to tourists. This is indeed true: tourists use “convertibles” (or CUC); locals use “pesos” (or Nationales). I was SHOCKED to find that the conversion from convertible to Western currencies QUITE steep here (not in our favor, either) – particularly at the Melia hotel in which we stayed, where I’ve exchanged $400 Canadian dollars for $280 convertibles. When I researched it online before my departure, it seemed the convertible was roughly equal to the U.S. dollar, but upon arrival, one will find the conversion is very askew! One convertible is 80 U.S. cents – and 70 Canadian cents here at the Melia. I was much better off (as I had suspected) spending my Canadian money first before my U.S. dollars, as the Cuba-Canada money conversion is far more favorable.

I have a feeling the Melia hotel (or the Cuban government) is raking in a significant amount for exchange transactions. Exchanging money is an unfortunate but necessary for most travelers. Whether they do it at the bank, via an ATM, or through a hotel, the conversion is the same. This is a very frightening thought, and I still don’t fully understand how Cuba runs on a dual currency, but the reality is that Cuba is finding a way to reap the benefits of being under-commercialized and anti-capitalist. Exchanging money with a vendor or independent changer on the street is pretty much unheard of (because it is extremely illegal) and also not reliable for tourists. On the bright side, at least they accept U.S. dollars, as Cuba could (as it should if it were fully adhering to the embargo) not allow the exchange of U.S. currency at all.

I brought a total of $1000 U.S. dollars to Cuba, and basically resolved to spend $40 convertibles (about U.S.$48) a day while traveling with Lora, Peter, and Frank, and $80 (U.S.$96) when I’m on my own. As I said before, this means Cuba is NOT a cheap travel destination by any means! I had been so used to traveling in developing countries for less than $50 a day, and while that had been my initial goal, I spent roughly on average U.S.$25 per day for bus transport and U.S.$25 for accommodations at casas particulares each night, which already comes to $50 a day. Add food and other expenses, and it is easy to find yourself over budget and out of cash.

For a complete listing of my Cuba Libre posts, please click HERE.