A Frugal Shopaholics Travel Guide to Cuba Part 1

Let me start of this post and excuse my French....Fuck Spirit Airlines. But we will get to why I had to use such foul language for the airline in a second. Cuba was phenomenal. After visiting Iceland back in January we were on the hunt for another international trip but where there's great weather. After a couple options, we chose Cuba. We wanted plenty of time to explore so we planned for a 5 day, 4 night trip.

Getting to Cuba

After finding a few great deals online and going back and forth we decided to book with Spirit Airlines. Spirit is another no frills airline with cheap prices. There was a promo code at the time so we ended up getting our tickets for $215 RT, not bad right.We flew from BWI to HAV with a layover in FLL. NOTE: You can only fly into Cuba from certain airports so you will likely have a layover. We took so long to make up our minds we missed a flight on American Airlines for the same price, and boy was that a mistake. We learned NOT to drag our feet. 
Before you arrive in Havana you need to purchase a visa. You can't get into Cuba without it. The prices range from $50-100 depending on which airline you fly with. We ordered ours online beforehand through Airline Brokers, just to be safe. Thi ended up working in our favor with our travel issues (keep reading). 

Here is the issue with Spirit... if you haven't heard already they are trash and we learned the hard way. The day before our flight we are out enjoying Cinco de Mayo festivities when we received and email from Spirit at 9 pm with a voucher for $50 saying sorry. It didn't mention why they were sorry but after doing research we found out our 6 am flight from BWI to FLL was canceled. WHAT THE HELL?! Right! So we were scrambling calling Spirit and looking for flights on other airlines. We ended up on hold for 3 HOURS until we were able to get someone on the phone and demand that they book us a flight from DCA To FLL through JetBlue so we could still make our connecting flight to Havana. Which they did, after a little pushback. It was such a headache that I could deal without for sure. Tuesday evening, as our trip was coming to a close we got WIFI to check into our flight only to find out that one of the flights was CANCELED again. Thank God for our parents who were able to call Spirit and get them to book us on a completely different flight with American. 

The one flight we did take with Spirit was not that bad but the overall service was awful. That was the first and last time we will patron Spirit Airlines. In fact, we are done with the budget airlines altogether. 

Where to Stay
After booking our flight back it was time to team up with our friends who we were meeting up with to find an Airbnb for the low! Be careful when searching for Airbnb's in Cuba do your research and check out the reviews. That is key if you don't want to be scammed. We heard a couple horror stories from other US citizens while out and about in Cuba. We wanted the true Cuban experience so we opted to stay in a casa particular (private room, very similar to a bed and breakfast). Luckily, our friend Miranda had a link to a Casa in Old Havana that her friend stayed at last year when visiting. There are 3 main neighborhoods in Havana: Old Havana, Central Havana, and Vedado. Vedado is a busy mix of middle to upper-class houses and businesses. The homes are really nice in this area. However, I would recommend Old Havana because almost everything we did was in this area. We didn't have to take cabs that often because everything was walkable.

We stayed at HabitaciĆ³n ANDRESGRISEL.Our host was Andres. He and his family were so hospitable and caring. Their home was very clean and homey. Some may be weird about staying in someone's home that you don't know, but you still have your privacy each room has their own bathroom and set of keys so you can lock your door. Because I'm very anal and a germaphobe I would recommend you bring your own towel and wash cloth along with a flat sheet if you have room. Also, for a small fee, they will cook you breakfast each morning. He and his staff are very friendly and even helped us set up rides for locations that were a little further away. A good perk about staying with Andres was that we could buy wifi cards from him and we could connect at the Casa without going to a nearby hotel.
If you are visiting Cuba you should stay at Andres Grisel's Airbnb. He has multiple rooms that you can book through Airbnb if you are traveling with a group. Now, if you want to go the hotel route. There are a number of options: IBEROSTAR Parque Central, Hotel Sevilla, and Saratoga Havana (Beyonce stayed here) and Hotel Nacional de Cuba to name a few. 

Things to Know

WIFI is scarce in Cuba, but you can access the internet at a hotel and in the parks with a WIFI card. These cards are available for purchase at just about any hotel for 2 CUC per hour. The connection is not the greatest but it better than nothing. Take this time to disconnect and enjoy Cuba. 

As far as currency is concerned it's important to get all the money you'd like to spend out the ATM before you leave the US. Our cards do not work in Cuba and you don't want to run out of money while you are there. We were told by other friends who had already traveled to Cuba, that we should exchange our US Dollars for Euros or Canadian Dollars before we got to Cuba and then exchange those dollars to CUCs (Cuban Tourist Currency). There is an extra tax when converting USD to CUC so changing from Euros or CAD gets you the best rate. Everything is very cheap including food, drinks, and souvenirs; but it adds up. Budget about $100-150 per day. NOTE: 1 USD = 1 CUC

Food Safety
Christen and I possibly picked up some type of bug while in Cuba. It's important to only drink bottled water and be careful about the meats and fruit you consume. Please check out this link about the DO's & DON'Ts while in Cuba. Cuba Food & Water Safety

What to Pack

If you read the travel essentials post Christen did last month you already know what to pack for any trip. But we want to make sure you bring everything you need for an enjoyable trip to Cuba.

  • Toilet Tissue -There will most likely be tissue at wherever you are staying. But when you are out in public you have to pay for toilet tissue. So pack a roll or two in your suitcase. 
  • Toiletries- Hand Sanitizer, Antibacterial Wipes, Sunscreen, Insect Repellent, Feminine Hygiene Products, and Medication 
  • Comfortable Shoes- You are going to walk a lot, so pack shoes that you feel comfortable walking in. 
  • Beach Towel - If you plan to go to the beach bring a towel or sheet to lay out on 
  • Snacks - Pack some snack items that travel well. You may need them throughout your trip. 
  • Comfortable Shoes- You are going to walk a lot, so pack shoes that you feel comfortable walking in. 

There are no convenience stores that you can run to in case you forget something, so pack every little thing you may need. 

Whew... that was a mouthful. In part 2, we will share what we did, along with which restaurants and spots you should go to. Please comment with any questions you may have about Cuba. Check out a few photos from our trip. More to come in part 2.

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