Coming to Cuba, one of the last two remaining truly communist states, I expected there to be propaganda posters and pictures of Che all over the place.
Instead we were greeted by very large, very capitalistic adverts for the local Cuban beer and Lucky Strike cigarettes. Apparently tobacco is still a perfectly hip thing here and neither advertising nor consumption are restricted.
Going through Cuban Passport Control was confusing. First off, it’s not very well organized. There are random queues for different things. Like if you are going to the VIP Lounge there’s a faster queue for you. Why is there a VIP Lounge in the baggage claim you may ask? Your guess is as good as mine.
We finally found a queue that seemed to be moving. And finally got to the counter. I got an unfriendly guy who just stared at me and didn’t say anything. I handed him my passport and he commanded me to take off my glasses and hat so they could take my picture. Then he asked for my travel insurance. I didn’t know I needed travel insurance (nor did my Mom) so he just pointed to a yellow desk at the back of the room.
We went to the yellow desk a bit confused. There was no one at the yellow desk. We asked two people if it is the right desk and they said yes and just to wait there.
Finally after about 20 minutes, my Mom went to a little office to ask again. They finally radioed the yellow desk lady to come out from the back room.
Yellow desk lady was very friendly and helped us get our travel insurance. It costs $3 CUC ($3 USD) per day and covered basically everything one could need. We paid with Mexican Pesos to avoid the 10% penalty they charge on US dollars so it worked out to be M$550 each ($30 USD). Still not too bad. Cheaper than if we had bought it from a company in the US.
So finally now we could go through passport control. Since the lines had died down while we were getting our travel insurance, most of the passport desks were now closed. I finally located one that was open and got an equally unfriendly lady. But she let me into the country! Yay!
Next we had to go through security to have our bags x-rayed and go through metal detectors. That was rather painless.
Finally we went to the baggage claim to collect our bags.
Because I brought a big backpack which I transport in an airporter bag, I took the airline tag off my bag, folded it up and threw away the tag.
Next we went to the exit from here. Apparently I needed my airline tag to exit so the customs lady sent us back. I had to big my tag out of the trash.
On our second attempt to leave customs, we were informed that we needed a customs form which no one had given us. So I went back to security to get one. After filling it out – they ask if you brought any porn into the country haha – we finally had everything we need to exit.
On our third attempt to exit we are informed that we are at the wrong exit door for our airline and need to exit from the opposite side of the building.
We walked to the other side of the building and are finally allowed to exit. It was exciting to have someone holding a sign with my name on it.
Our taxi driver led us outside where we met up with an Australian couple sharing our taxi with us. I felt bad that they had to wait through our whole customs debacle.
But unfortunately their wait wasn’t over yet. We had to go wait in the currency conversion queue since Americans aren’t able to use ATMs or credit cards in Cuba. That took another hour. Only 2/3 windows were open despite the huge line. And Window #1 guy decided to take his break.
Cuba has two different currencies. The CUC which is equal in value to $1 USD and the CUP which is equal to 26.5 CUC.
The currency which seemed to most hold its value is the MXN or GBP. Euros were trading at about a 4% loss and the USD was trading at about a 10% loss. This loss occurs in both directions of trade, so make sure only to exchange the money you absolutely need.
Pictures from Havana