11 Days in Havana
Author: John McBay
Date of Trip: December 2016
Havana is a BIG city with over two million people, 30 miles from east to west and 13 miles north to south. But, most of the interesting stuff is in the area to the west of Havana harbor for 10 miles or so and within a mile or so of the coast.
Havana Vieja. By far, the most interesting part of Havana is Havana Vieja (Old Havana – the historic district). Less than one mile north to south and east to west. Vieja extends from Havana harbor to Paseo de Marti (Prado). This whole area is walkable and contains many of the most historic and interesting sights in Havana. The streets are narrow and much of the architecture is from the 19th century and earlier. If you have limited time in Havana, make sure to explore this part of Havana.
Centro. The district (neighborhood) to the west of Vieja is Centro. There are few reasons to visit Centro except by cab to visit a particular attraction, such as a restaurant or the Partagas cigar factory (worth the trip). See the finest cigars in the world rolled by hand.
Vedado. The district to the west of Centro is Vedado. This area contains many beautiful (and sometimes crumbling) houses and embassies. Portions reminded us of Ardsley Park in Savannah. Cementario Colon is an amazing cemetery. All travel here will have to be by cab.
Miramar. Continuing west, Miramar is notable for The Marina Hemingway, Club Habana (formerly the Biltmore Yacht Club) and Fusterlandia (a small town – Jaimanitas – and art studio covered in mosaic tile by Jose Fuster, a disciple of Gaudi). There are also sections of Miramar that have beautiful houses. All travel here will have to be by cab. These attractions are all about 10 miles west of Vieja.
You can’t use American bank issued credit or debit cards in Cuba because of the American trade embargo.
All transactions by tourists in Cuba are in Cuban pesos (CUC$). In this document any references to $ will be referring to CUC$. Ie 10$ = 10 CUC$ = 10 pesos. Cubans will usually refer to the currency amount as pesos.
A Cuban $ is approximately equal to a US dollar, depending on the current conversion rates (December 2016).
You obtain CUC’s by converting some other currency to CUC$ in Cuba. You can not obtain Cuban currency in the US.
If you take American dollars to Cuba and convert them, you lose more than 10% on the transaction. This is a “tax” that the Cuban government imposes on the conversion of US dollars.
You are better off buying Euros in the US and then converting them in Cuba to Cuban currency. In the long run you will save several percent over converting from dollars into CUC$.
Shop around and try to get the most favorable rate. Currency exchange is a crazy business. Exchange rates are all over the place. First try your local bank and see if they can get Euros for you. Triple A (AAA) can also obtain Euros.
To give you an idea of the crazy world of currency conversion; when we returned from Cuba we brought back 610 Euros that I wanted converted back to dollars. I called a popular currency exchange. They would give me $547. I went to a Chase bank and they gave me $595. That’s a 10% difference.
When you arrive in Cuba with Euros, the best place to convert them is at a bank. As of early December 2016, I was able to get about 103 CUC$ for 100 Euros in a bank.
I only used a currency exchange once while we were in Havana and that was at the airport. I only exchanged enough Euros to pay the taxi and have enough left over for dinner. I am not sure how good the exchange rate was.
Hotels will change Euros for you but it will cost you 5+% more than the official exchange rate.