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Emily: When I learned about America’s more relaxed policy towards travel to Cuba, I jumped at the opportunity!
Cuba has a lot to offer. My friends and I were drawn to the classic cars, the Art Deco architecture, and, of course, the friendly people! We also love music and dance, which is one of Cuba’s specialties! Rick Steves recently produced an excellent video on Cuba that’s fun and informative.
The US and Cuba reached an agreement for direct flights. Flight availability to Cuba from various US airports and search engines is ALWAYS changing, so be sure to try multiple search engines and cities, if possible. Readers have reported that some flights to Cuba from the US may be opening up. When I went to Cuba in December 2015, flights were not scheduled yet. My friends and I flew via Cancun, and continued our journey to Havana.
Note: Regulations surrounding US travel to Cuba are always changing, so make sure you check the current rules before planning your trip. There are limited opportunities to use miles & points, but you can save some money. I’ll show you how later in this series!
My travel partners included many of the same friends who accompanied me to Croatia!
Robbie (pink hair) is a professional dance instructor who teaches salsa, kizomba, and bachata. Sarita is also a dance teacher, as well as a graphic designer. Gissell teaches fitness classes and loves rock climbing.
On this trip, I went with 3 new friends – Diana, a local art teacher, Chelsea, who manages a hostel, and Antonio, who works in IT design. Traveling as a group of 7 was fun, but definitely challenging at times! We had a great time together, and can’t wait to return!
Viva Cuba! Trip Report Index:
- Part 1 – Viva Cuba! – Introduction & Planning
- Part 2 – Viva Cuba! – The Basics: Visa Requirements
- Part 3 – Viva Cuba! – The Basics: Cash Planning
- Part 4 – Viva Cuba! – The Basics: Internet
- Part 5 – Viva Cuba! – Flights to Cuba
- Part 6 – Viva Cuba! – Where to Stay & How to Book
- Part 7 – Viva Cuba! – Where to Stay: Casa Particular Overview
- Part 8 – Viva Cuba! – Where to Eat
- Part 9 – Viva Cuba! – The Best (Cheap) Food & Drink Options
- Part 10 – Viva Cuba! – What to Do in Havana Part 1
- Part 11 – Viva Cuba! – What to Do in Havana Part 2
- Part 12 – Viva Cuba! – What to Do – Day Beach Trips from Havana
- Part 13 – Viva Cuba! – Return Flights to the US
- Part 14 – Viva Cuba! – Conclusion & Blog Giveaway
The Basics – Internet
Internet is available in Cuba, but you have to go to big hotels or public squares to access it. I learned to detach from my electronic devices, and it was the best decision I could have made. It taught me the importance of relationships with others, and how we often get distracted by what’s going on with our phones!
One of our reader, Karen (thanks!), pointed out the cheapest & easiest internet options:
“[You can pay] 3Cuc an hour ($3 an hour) for a WiFi card at any of the WiFi parks located all over Havana. You walk by the parks and there will be tons of guys selling WiFi cards. 2 Cuc an hour if you buy it from the internet shop. You can use the exact same cards to use the WiFi at any of the fancy hotels (or right outside of them). How to find a WiFi spot? You’ll notice people sitting around on their phones and tablets, there’s WiFi available there. The WiFi isn’t the fastest and some sites (like Yelp) are blocked, you can’t work from home from Havana but getting online isn’t hard at all. I do agree that it’s often nice to disconnect.”
The Fastest Internet Is at Big Hotels
I ended up needing the internet twice, so I went to the Hotel Nacional (this was before I received Karen’s sage advice above). It was the most beautiful hotel in Havana! It was built in 1930, so it only enjoyed ~30 years of US tourism before the US embargo with Cuba.
It was fast, but pricey at $7 per hour. The one redeeming factor was that I didn’t have to use the full hour all at once. I was able to use it for 20 minutes, and then come back to use the rest at a later time!
Other Hotels Might Not Be Reliable
My friend Chelsea went to a smaller hotel, and the speed was frustratingly slow.
It took her nearly 30 minutes to send an email because of the poor loading speed!
I wouldn’t recommend places like this, and think it’s worth paying extra at the larger hotels for faster service (unless you’re used to dial up speeds!)
Get the Locals’ Internet Cards!
I had heard about getting internet cards from my houseparents. They are cheap at 2 CUCs ($2) per card, and they give you free wireless access at the Wi-Fi zones around town. The Wi-Fi zones are in streets, plazas, and other main areas around town.
I hailed a taxi and asked the driver where to find internet cards. He knew exactly where to take us.
Our driver, Alejandro, parked his car and came inside with us to ensure that we found what we were looking for.
The store employee was out to lunch, and would return in 20 minutes. Alejandro waited with me and my friend Sarita. We chatted about how he’s planning to move to Miami, where his brother currently lives. He was so excited!
Once the employee came back, Alejandro explained to her what we needed. We received our 2 internet cards, no problem!
Our cab driver was pleased to help us get our cards! We posed with a picture and then said our goodbyes. This kind of exchange was very typical in Cuba. My friends and I made friendships wherever we went. People wanted our email addresses to write us emails, and a few of them stayed in touch! I loved how much more caring, patient, and relationship oriented the island is compared to the US.
It’s impossible to get Wi-Fi or any other internet access in casa particulars. If you need to do work, consider staying at a hotel, but realize that you might miss out on a more authentic Cuban experience.
I learned to turn off my phone and curb my Wi-Fi usage, and it felt SO good! I reconnected with my friends and the people around me, and I learned to appreciate the moment!
If you DO need to use the internet, try to buy in internet card from a local and use it near the hotel or in the public squares.