As you may know we returned last week from an almost 3-week stay in Cuba. My five-year old and I went officially (with visas from the US Govt). I found a round-trip on Jet Blue from Fort Lauderdale to Santa Clara for $99 each way (now there’s an airfare war and you can fly for even much less).
We arrived in Santa Clara in less than an hour on Jet Blue (good airline). It’s a very small airport and easy to navigate. We were through customs and immigration in no time. There is one money exchange outside – I exchanged $800US for 697 cuc. There are 2 currencies in Cuba – one for Cubans (Cuban Peso – cup) and one for others (Peso Convertible – cuc). The exchange rate is not very good for Americans.
We took a taxi to our Airbnb Casa Azul for 20cuc. There are many houses with rooms to rent called casa particulares. The average rate is about 18-30 cuc per night, with breakfast for about 5 cuc. I think the best way is to book Airbnb so you can use a credit card and get credit card points.
It was a nice, big, old house close to the center of town. The separate room had a full bed, a twin bed, mini-frig with drinks for sale, a TV, A/C and an ensuite full bath. They even have a little swimming pool – perfect for kids in the hot Cuban sun.
Our hosts Laura and Julio were amazing. They have three kids and my daughter loved playing with them and splashing around in the pool. We shared lots of stories about life and being Airbnb hosts.
We all went into town to the town square – we took a moto bike – here the cheapest ways to travel are by horse cart or motorcycle cart. Taxis are expensive and best for longer distances. We sat in the town square where our kids played – they have little cars you can rent cheaply for a spin.
They showed me how to buy a wifi card – 3 cuc (1 hr of time) from men or 2 cuc in store (the store was closed) . Internet is usually only available in town squares here. Sometimes too many people can’t get on and it is always very slow – don’t expect to download anything except maybe email.
I bought a data plan from AT&T as I usually do for other countries but couldn’t get it to work.
They took us to a restaurant and it was really good – Ellie had pasta with queso and I had grilled pork with rice and beans, a few green beans and potato chips – fantastic. I thought would be too hot in the restaurant but they have fans everywhere. They say it is best to drink bottled water but if you use ice then that kind of defeats the purpose. We had lots of good food for about 13 cuc.
We walked back to the house, maybe a 10 minute walk. Be careful – streets and sidewalks are not perfect and street lighting is bad, but hosts say its very safe.
Sat 8 Oct.
Our host offered breakfast for added cost – 5 cuc. I brought some gluten free cereal so I ate that. Ellie had a blast playing with their kids.
We arranged for a day tour of Santa Clara – personal guide on a motor taxi (for 10 cuc) to take us around. It was so hot – they say it is even hotter in August (don’t come in August 😳) It was so hot Ellie cried – we took her back and asked if Ellie could play with her kids for a couple hours. Much more fun for her.
I went off with the guide. Che Guevara is famous here so he took me all around to monuments and memorials to Che. I bought a few handmade crafts (dominos are a great locally made gift) and the guide took me to a restaurant El Molino . It’s a fantastic place for food and for families — and a good price at 6 cuc for a buffet of paradilla, meats, salads, fruits, desserts, etc. They have fun things for kids – a bouncy house, a little playground and many animals (like a little zoo in back).
Ellie had the best time with the family. We relaxed on the front porch – again learning about the Cuban people and our hosts in particular. They prepared a great meal – two kinds of pork (most popular meat here)… platanos, beans and rice and fresh avocado from their tree. Sooo delicious!!!
A very strong storm came through and the thunder was so loud, Ellie and I were scared. They said it was typical 😳 – glad we weren’t here for the hurricane.
We had a good night’s sleep with air conditioning – don’t get a house without A/C.
Sun 9 Oct.
Our hosts invited us to join them at the market. Everyone goes to the market on Sunday morning to buy food for the week. It was the craziest thing I’ve ever seen. It’s next to the baseball stadium in Santa Clara. Vendors from all over bring their vegetables, meats and fruits for sale. There was even someone selling furniture.
They had lots of activities for children – pony rides, little amusement park rides and lots of treats for sale – all at a minimal cost (especially if a Cuban is paying – with my money).
Everything a Cuban needs is cheap, especially food. Typical local foods – all kinds of pork, rice, beans, fried plantains, guava, papaya – all so fresh! If you are in Santa Clara on a Sunday, I think the best thing to see is the market – don’t miss it! And if you want a great place to stay (with great Cuban people) stay at Casa Azul with Julio and Laura!
Get to Cuba now and don’t forget to read my travel tips article before you go!