Excellent choice on going to Havana – it’s pretty spectacular and very distinct… Though you can sense the winds of change in the air – in a few years, you get the feeling that there is going to be a lot more American money flowing in… Get there before the McDonald’s opens.
Not 100% sure where your interests and goals are, but a couple of quick tips…
- Bring cash. Your American cards will not work. A safe bet is that in Havana meals will cost between $6-10. Drinks will cost about $1.50 for a domestic beer up to about $4 for a fancier rum drink. A cab ride from the airport to anywhere in Havana will be $25. Entrance to museums is about $6-8. All prices that you encounter will be given in CUCs, which is just Cuban funny money. There’s a currency counter in the departure area at the airport, of all places, so you have to exit and go back in. Alternatively, there are, counters at major hotels like the Hotel National (which you should go visit for a drink and a look around, if nothing else). Should go without saying, but don’t trust anyone who says they can get you a better exchange rate. It’s a tightly regulated market.
- There is no free wi-fi, and unless you contact your wireless carrier, you won’t get any kind of roaming support, as far as I know. Paid wi-fi in nicer hotels or in public parks full of Cubans on their Androids.
- Cuba is really safe. I never felt threatened. Never felt anything less than safe wandering around, day or night, and I was staying in a native Cuban neighborhood, not the tourist district. Some people are just super friendly and will chat you up without wanting anything. Some other people will chat you up and then hit you up for charity. There is real poverty, but people are generally respectful. Don’t be afraid to wander, take in the street life, graffiti, explore… There’s the old town area which is scenic and clean and geared toward tourists more than locals… And there’s the more rundown areas which are pretty in their own ways – and totally safe.
- Definitely spring for a ride in a classic car around Havana. Best deals are in the area around Central Park. You can negotiate. I paid about $30 for three people for an hour.
- The main tourist district runs along Calle Obispo. You’ll know it when you see La Floridita which is an old drinking hole of Ernest Hemingway. Good boozy drinks, good music, but large crowds. There’s an Infotur office nearby that can help you arrange shared taxis to other cities outside of Havana or answer any general questions you have. And it’s a free service, which rocks.