After 2 weeks in Mexico it’s time to move onto another country…
This country has always been one of the countries at the top of my “must see” list simply because it’s so unique and mysterious.
Of course Cuba has opened up a bit in the last 10 years but as I found out today, it’s still well, well behind in the scheme of things.
So, anyway, I checked out of my home for one night in Cancun and did the short walk to the nearby bus terminal where I caught my 72 peso ($5) bus back to the airport.
In total I had less than 24 hours in Cancun and, you know what, I’m cool with that.
My real destination awaited…
But first I had to get through a few hoops at the Cancun airport.
The checkin line for my flight was easily one of the longest I’ve been in on all my travels and it soon became apparent why.
Quite a few Cubans had made the trip over to Mexico to buy multiple big ticket items like flat screen TVs and other electronics.
So their checkins were taking longer what with all the multiple items being checked in.
No big deal though as I had given myself ample time before my flight. Even before I headed into the line I was met by someone from the airport selling the required Cuban visa. This being Cancun, I, of course was quoted in US dollars but paid in pesos. By the way, the visa is $25US or 500 pesos.
Alright, into the line I go…
A woman came through the line checking our documents ahead of time so I pulled out my flight itinerary, proof of onward travel and my passport with my entry visa to Mexico.
I knew about having proof of onward travel but I didn’t know I was supposed to get my entry visa stamped with an exit date before I checked in.
So, I she sent me from the line down the terminal to a little immigration office where 2 people sat behind desks.
The one woman, while still on her phone, motioned for me to come over. She took my visa and stamped it and I was outta there.
Bizarre need for an exit stamp at that point of the process since she didn’t check anything at all, but, whatever.
Back to the line that never moves…
Finally got to the front counter and after a few checks I was given a boarding pass.
With all the time it took to checkin I barely had time to get to the gate as they started boarding a good 45 minutes before our flight time.
I tried to call my Mom using whatever was left of my Mexican sim card, but, alas, she wasn’t home. At least she’s got a nice message on her answering machine from me.
We landed in Havana just over an hour later and now the real fun began.
CUC and CUP currency exchange
There are a few currency exchange booths around the airport but I was told to go upstairs to the departures area to find one without a crazy lineup.
Sure enough as I exited the airport I saw a huge line at one of the other currency exchange booths so heading upstairs was definately the way to go.
Anyway, I exchanged my remaining Mexican pesos for some CUC and also a few CUP.
CUC (or kook) is the currency mostly used for touristy stuff. In fact, if you were staying at a nice hotel and eating at restaurants, this would be the only currency you would ever use.
The CUP (or peso) is the currency everyday Cubans use for their needs. Little stores, food stalls and public transit all use the peso.
Confused yet? Oh, it gets better…
The CUC is directly tied in to the US dollar which means 100 CUC is the equivalent to 100 US dollars. Now, one CUC is equal to 24 CUP which means basically one CUP is the equivalent to 5 cents.
Got all that? Yeah, me neither and I’m actually here in Cuba trying to figure it all out.
Taking a bus from Havana airport
I had spent quite a bit of time looking up this possibility online and I gotta be honest, it was hard to find good information about it.
I’m hoping by adding my two cents to it, it will be easier for other people travelling to Havana.
Okay, so unlike most airports, there is actually no direct transit taking you from the airport to downtown Havana.
What the means is people are pretty much forced to take a taxi at a cost of 25CUC which is the equivalent to $25 US dollars. Now, considering that fare is the same as what a Cuban makes in one month, you can see that that taxi ride is exorbitantly high.
But, there is another way…
And this way only costs – wait for it…
Yup, only 5 cents!
Of course there’s a little work involved but it’s totally doable because I just did it today!
Like I said earlier, the public transit here in Havana uses the peso and a ride costs 1 peso which is the equivalent to 5 cents.
The hard part is figuring out how to get to the bus cause, naturally, it doesn’t come to the airport terminal.
No, you have to walk.
For about 20 minutes you have to walk from where you land at Terminal 3 about 1.5km to where Terminal 2 is. Then it’s a little more to go til you hit the major roadway where the bus comes and picks you up.
If you have an offline maps app (I use maps.me) this trek will be alot easier.
Basically exit the airport and head to your left. You’ll find a small road with hardly any traffic and chances are you’ll be the only one walking it. Don’t worry though, you’re on the right path.
There’s a white wall with blue vertical lines separating the partitions running all the way along the airport. You can’t miss it. Keep that wall to your right hand side and just keep walking until you hit Terminal 2.
Once at Terminal 2 you’ll see a roadway just outside of it to the left. Head there but don’t fist pump quite yet.
This isn’t the road you want. You gotta walk this road about 500m to where it intersects the main highway.
This is the road!
Cross the road to the far side because the bus you want will be heading in that direction (coming from your right).
I waited about 20 minutes for the bus (P12 or P16), paid my 1 CUP (make sure you ask for some CUP at the currency exchange because they’ll only give you CUC), and boarded the bus.
Naturally I was the only foreigner.
The bus was only about half full at this point as I guess this stop was near the beginning of the bus route.
I was able to find a sweet spot to put my big backpack down so it was out of everyone’s way. The spot is not behind the driver but on the other side. After the front seats there is a spot where the wheel well is and that’s where you can rest your stuff while the bus travels.
Trust me, you’ll want to have your backpack out of the way as it won’t be very long before that bus get jam packed full of people.
Like, seriously, so full that they had trouble closing the front doors a couple of times.
Which led to the biggest challenge of all for me with this method.
How the hell do I get me and my stuff off the bus?
My stop was near the Plaza de Revolution and by the time we arrived there (I was watching on my offline maps) the bus was so full with more people pouring on that I couldn’t get my big bag outta there.
Hmmm, this adventure was gonna go sour if I’d have to go all the way to the final stop in Old Havana where I’d have to walk 30 minutes to get back to where I shoulda gotten off.
As we went to the next stop I decided to just force my way off the bus. I made it (barely) and still had to do an extra 10 minute walk to make up for the missed stop.
Now, I knew heading into this bus adventure what I had in store for me. I knew the walk would be long and that the bus would be crowded. I never thought that it would be hard to get off the actual bus though.
I actually was on the fence for awhile as to whether I should do the bus thing or just save myself the hassle and pay the 25 bucks for the taxi.
Ultimately I decided to do it this way for a couple of reasons. One, I crave these kind of adventures and this certainly was one but also I wanted to do it so that if someone out there wanted to do it in the future they’ve got some more in depth info on how to do it.
So, if you’re reading this and you plan on taking the bus from the Havana airport, I hope this helped ya!
Home sweet home
Unlike other countries where hostels are everywhere, here in Cuba it’s all about the casa particulares which is basically a hybrid between a hostel and a homestay.
Locals open up their house to visitors with usually an area or a couple of rooms dedicated to just us visitors.
I checked into Enzo’s Backpackers around 7pm and after being given a shot of rum, Enzo went through the ins and outs of Havana.
His apartment is actually on the 10th floor and the apartment for us is one floor below. My hope coming here was to meet a bunch of people and kind of travel through the different cities in Cuba over the next couple of weeks.
Well, that may have been ambitious…
There’s only 6 of us staying here and half of them are annoying Finnish girls and the other half are on there way out the next morning.
So, yeah, guess I’m on my own.
Of course I haven’t really planned anything coming in Cuba and now that I’m here my reliance on the internet is put to the test as it’s very hard to come by.
Oh well, I’ll figure it out somehow.
Getting lost late at night
Here in Havana the best way to get around is to do what the locals do – hail down a passive collective taxi.
A collective taxi either fits 5 people or 10 people depending on what kind of vehicle it is and will keep picking up people hailing it until it’s full.
For 10 pesos (about 40 cents) they follow a specific route and take you to different parts of the city.
Around 8:30 I caught one on its way to Vedado which is where all the nightlife is.
I figure it was a good idea to explore and find something to eat.
We got dropped off right in the middle of craziness. So many locals just milling around on the streets that it was actually a bit of sensory overload.
I walked around for a bit but ultimately decided to just head back to my area of town.
I grabbed a collective taxi from where we had been dropped off and started back. Unfortunately my GPS wasn’t updating my location quick enough on my little map on my phone and I ended up overshooting where I should have been dropped off.
And when I say overshooting, I mean overshooting – like 3km too far.
So, here I was, on a dimly lit street in the middle of nowhere at 10pm trying to flag down passing cars to head back to where I should have been dropped off.
For 20 minutes I stood there with some local as we both tried to hail down moving cars.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, a car picked us up and this time I was vigilant on following my map on the phone.
I ended up back at my casa particulare around 11pm and my first official meal in Cuba ended up being a crappy hoagie I got at the little corner store next door.
So, yeah, there you have it – my first day in Cuba!
Let’s see what tomorrow brings…