|Me (back-facing, right) wandering the streets of Havana.|
I highly recommend that if you get the chance to go that you do so. If you're American and can go now, I am also envious of your alcohol and tobacco allotment--I'll explain a bit later on.
Some of the photos in this post were taken by my girlfriend (included the above).
The Internet and Mobile PhonesAt least for tourists, access to the Internet was rather easy to come by but on the flip side it was not cheap. No free Wi-Fi was readily available wherever we stopped as being that the market was in control by the state, so too were all the goodies.
|The Veradero airport left much to be desired too. Also this is how the West protests.|
|Typical 1-hour access card. (Source)|
I had no trouble accessing any Western media outlets and nor did I run into trouble viewing my favourite websites. Connecting to my home computer via SSH did not create any troubles either. However, knowing the state that Cuba is, I would not be surprised if my actions were monitored the whole time I was signed in. Having said that, my name was never attached to that code that I purchased either so in some ways I was anonymous.
I did not investigate any further what sort of setup there was but the access points were from Huawei (much like a lot of equipment I saw in Cuba).
The price may seem expensive but it is nowhere near as bad as trying to use your mobile phone. Upon my landing in Veradero, I was sent a text by my carrier, informing me that calls would be $3-4 CAD per minute and that all outgoing texts would cost me $1.50 CAD. But then the data cost came up: $20 CAD per MB--to put that into context, an Ubuntu ISO would cost me $19,500 CAD just to download.
So yeah. Stick with using the Wi-Fi there.
CurrencyCuba has two currencies: the Cuban Peso and the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC). The Peso in itself is really meant for the locals and cannot be converted to CUCs or any other currency, but CUCs themselves can be converted to Pesos (for nationals only) or a foreign currency--including American Dollars. When we were there, we were informed that the Peso would be retired in favour of the CUC much to the delight of Cuban residents--CUCs have incredible buying power there.
|You'll need cash to buy hand-made goods.|
Before leaving the country, it's considered best practice to load up on whatever your local currency may be--assuming you have a reserve currency like a Euro, US Dollar, Canadian Dollar, or Pound Sterling. At the hotel, you can bring up your money to the front desk and they will record how much money, your name, and what hotel room you had in a ledger. The exchange itself would be whatever the CUC translates into from your currency plus a fee of a few percentage points--no more than 5% I believe. This is the easiest way to do this.
However, if you end up being away from your hotel, acquiring CUCs requires you to go to a Cuban state bank branch. Upon your arrival, you will wait in line and will require your passport to retrieve any cash. They'll record your passport number in a ledger alongside your name and the amount you took out, plus the aforementioned fee.
|All of these prices are in CUCs and are more or less equal to the US dollar.|
One other thing: credit cards. If you have a credit union-derived credit card in Canada, it will work--this goes the same for most banks from my country as well. If your credit card is from an American-based network like Capital One or Chase for example, it won't. This is likely to change soon under the new relationship we're seeing between the United States and Cuba.
Alcohol and tobaccoAlcohol is dirt-cheap in Cuba. How cheap? Well, a 750 mL bottle of Havana Club 7-Year Old costs $34 CAD for me in Vancouver, but was just 8 CUC (or like mentioned before, $8 USD) at the grocery store we went to in Veradero. Earlier, when I mentioned that I was jealous of the alcohol allotment that Americans were getting, I was not kidding about it. You can get a serious amount of decent rum for the $100 limit that is being set.
|Having mojitos at the same hotel Jimmy Carter once stayed at|
Foreign liquor as you might not be surprised are not cheap and seem to match the prices here at home.
|Cristal and Bucanero beer.|
|One of many cigars I picked up.|
Other thingsThere were a few other things I can remark on that were interesting.
|The stage it was sitting on was of even worse quality.|
|The "reader" made it look like a Japanese manga. I did not look at it.|
|The airport's only highlight was literally this.|
ClosingI'll close off with this:
|The water is nice and warm too.|
If you get the opportunity to visit Cuba, go. You will not have a bad time and you will want to come back.