Airbnb: Havana’s Casa Blanca, 27 – 31 August 2015

According to an article that I read online, Cuba is Airbnb’s fastest growing market. Serendipitously, when I made the decision to go visit Cuba, I chanced upon the article, and so, I checked out Airbnb’s site for Cuba. I was immediately attracted to Casa Blanca. The idea of being able to gaze upon the sea from the balcony appealed to me. Casa Blanca also just looked beautiful in the pictures.

I would say that it was a wonderful trip, and it was as advertised. Sometimes, pictures can be deceiving, but not in this case. Communications with the host, Yosvany, was always quick. I was arriving into Havana late (10.30 pm), so he arranged for my airport transfer. And when I arrived, I was given a welcome drink. I was also very happy with my room, which had a double bed, mini-fridge, ensuite bathroom, and a working A/C unit. The room went for $40 a night, not inclusive of breakfast.

Location-wise, it is between Old Havana and Vedada (sorta like fancy new Havana), so it was walking distance between the two of them. It faces the Malecon, a seawall, where Cubans hang out in the evenings, and particularly, on weekends. It is a nice little spot generally, especially if you can walk some 15 minutes to Old Havana.

Casa Blanca serves breakfast for 3 CUC, and they offer bread, eggs, jam, coffee/tea, fruit, and juice. I didn’t take up the option during my stay, but it looked delicious. They also serve dinner for 12 CUC, but once again, I did not take up the option. The mini-fridge is also stocked with drinks like water, beer, soda that got slightly above prices of a mini mart, but comparable to a low-end restaurant (e.g. 500 ml bottle = 1 CUC).

While Yosvany wasn’t there, his family was there. They are very gracious and hospitable hosts, and I got a lot of travel information from them. An example: I also arranged for an airport transfer with Yosvany’s sister, and one of their guesthouse staff (?) actually got up at 5.45 am, and stood at the balcony to ensure that my taxi arrived at 6 am. I am under the impression that Cubans are not a huge fan of the early mornings (me neither), so that’s saying something.

I’d highly recommend staying with them.

Here are the links to Yosvany’s guesthouse:

Casa Blanca

Casa Blanca

If you have never used Airbnb prior to this, I’d be grateful if you use my link. That would give you $20 off your first booking, and I will get $20 as well.

Here are some of my pictures of Casa Blanca




Cuba, Havana – Colombia, Bogota, 31 August 2015

HavanaMy funky airport transfer

My compliments to Casa Blanca. I arranged for an airport transfer the evening before with the host’s sister, and lo and behold, in the morning, at 5.45 am, I could hear one of the guesthouse’s staff stirring in the living room area. When I got out of my room, he was standing at the balcony staring for a taxi to arrive. That’s dedication right there! (and I get a sense that Cubans don’t like waking up early …. Me neither)

This airport transfer was a little more funky than the one that I took from the airport. From the airport, it was just a regular tourist cab (read: boring new car). The airport transfer to Jose Marti International Airport is an Old Chevy. The driver definitely takes pride in his car. Things like the speedometer stopped working long ago, but the dashboard was still shiny, and well, his car is definitely better maintained than my twelve year old car. The ride to the airport was painless.

Jose Marti International Airport duty free offers all the stuff that you want as souvenirs, cigars, rum etc. if you didn’t do enough shopping while you were in Havana. I didn’t get anything, but if you forgot someone, no reason to panic. They also have an airport lounge – Salon VIP lounge. I am not sure what will get you in there. In any case, I just sat in the main terminal, which has a café serving snacks and more Cuban coffee.

Today is another travel day: HAV – PTY – BOG. I do love how punctual Copa Airlines generally is. The transfer was painless, and anxiety-free, and the flights were lovely. I was given a very substantial and tasty breakfast box on the flight from HAV – PTY.

El Dorado International Airport


Arriving at El Dorado International Airport was a bit of a nightmare, mostly because of the immigration line, which went round the block a few times over. I think it was mostly just the case of bad timing, because when it was finally my turn one hour later, the immigration officers were really efficient, despite the fact that I haven’t filled out any immigration forms. It took less than three minutes to clear immigration. On a bright note, they do offer free wifi, so while you are standing in line, you can always amuse yourself with the interwebs.

Money changing

There is a money-changer at the baggage claim area, and that’s generally where everyone (including myself) stops at, instead of outside the terminal. That is generally not a good idea, mostly because of the wait times. For some reason or other, they require quite a lot of information, e.g. passport, where you are staying, signatures and fingerprints, regardless of the amount that you are paying. This winds up taking quite a while, when there’s a line of people changing money. There are plenty of money-changers outside the secured area.

The rate I got from the money-changer at baggage claim wasn’t great, but it wasn’t terrible either. I got it for 1 USD = 2750 COP. The real rate for the day was 1 USD = 3000 COP, but factoring in that that is never the bank rate, I thought that was ok. The money-changers outside the baggage claim area offered 1 USD = 2760 COP.

Getting to and from El Dorado Airport

Taxi: According to Wikitravel, you should locate a taxi counter, and get them to print out the official taxi rates, and make the taxi driver commit to that. Well, you probably should follow that advice. I made a pretty big mistake there. The moment I got out of the terminal, I was like lamb to the slaughter. And after a ‘guide’ pointed me to an authorized taxi, and told me the rate would be 30000 COP, he asked for a tip. -.- Sigh. Well, I didn’t give him one, mostly because I really didn’t have any change on me.

The ride to Usaquen was long, and traffic a complete madhouse. Bogota traffic is pretty insane. I don’t envy those who have to battle traffic on a daily basis. When I arrived at my hotel, the driver asked me for 40000 COP. At this point, I was too tired to argue over what amounts to 3 USD, so I just let this one go.

Bus: The city of Bogota has quite an awesome bus system. I did not take this option from the airport, but I will be taking this option back to the airport. I am not sure if they have a counter where they sell those contact transit smart cards (2000 COP), but yeah, you need one of those to board most of the express buses. The local minibuses do take cash. Rides around the city are 1800 COP.

After all the traveling for the day, I pretty much just called it a day at the Hampton Inn Usaquen, and decided to catch up on work in my hotel room.


Airport transfer, Havana: 25 CUC

Airport transfer, Bogota: 14.50 USD

Dinner: 6 USD

Accommodations: 25 USD + 4000 Hilton points

Total: 70 USD

Bogota, Colombia

Hampton Inn Usaquen – just joined the Hilton portfolio in late-August 2015

Cuba: Round and round Havana we go, 30 August 2015

After talking to one of the staff at the guesthouse, I found out where the ferry to Casa Blanca is – it is near Plaza de San Francisco de Asis, and after getting lost again, it is this little shack that is beyond Russian Orthodox church, beyond the Museum of Rum.

HavanaFerry to Casa Blanca

I have yet to visit the Plaza Vieja and so, I took the opportunity to walk down Brasil, towards Plaza Vieja for some breakfast. The Plaza Vieja is a very nice tourist square, if somewhat out of place amongst Havana’s general state of disrepair. I settled at Café Escorial, which also roasts its own beans, and had a bocadito (sandwich) especial, which had cheese, ham, and chorizo (2 CUC) and a Café con leche (1.25 CUC). Havana is not a morning city, so at around 10 am, it was still waking up. There are also some nice-looking Casa Particuliares around the square, if you are looking for convenience.

HavanaPlaza Vieja

After my leisurely breakfast, I headed towards Plaza de San Francisco de Asis, which also features the Church of St. Francisco. It is a very impressive building, and of all the churches I went by this trip, probably the most well-maintained of the lot. After some bumbling around, I finally found the rather non-descript ferry terminal, which has frequent crossings between Havana Vieja and Casa Blanca. Unfortunately, I was not allowed to make the crossing – apparently, laptops are not allowed on the ferry. It was too late for me to make the journey back to my guesthouse to do a laptop dump to make the ferry-train combo in time, so time for plan B.

I strolled around Old Havana a little bit more. There is a Cuba Post beyond Hotel Valencia, if you are walking along Oficios from Plaza de San Francisco de Asis. I turned up Obispo, and wound up getting a canoli-type pastry at Santo Domingo Bread and Pastry (0.35 CUC). They seemed very popular (not to mention cheap). You probably could get a filling sandwich or pizza-type dish for less than 1 CUC here.

I walked towards Central Park, and boarded one of those Hop On Hop Off buses (5 CUC), which goes as far as the beach. It was nice to see other non-walkable parts of Havana. Some of the spots include the Revolution Square, which is one of the strangest places in Havana, with some revolutionary monument in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by government buildings. Some of the cooler sites include the cemetery. As we pulled into the beach area of Havana, that was when our bus broke down in front of Hotel Panorama. After some twenty minutes, and a lot of effort on the part of the bus driver, we were finally on the way again. But apparently, disaster doesn’t strike once, but twice. As we went past the cemetery, going uphill with a full load, I think you can guess what happens. We stop dead, right in front of the entrance of the fire station, right at the moment that an ambulance was attempting to exit. Of course. Well, there was another Hop On Hop Off bus behind us, so the smarter ones got off, and hopped onto that one. I stuck around that bus, hoping it would re-start, but that did not happen. 20 minutes into sitting on an empty, open-top, stationery bus, it starts to rain.

While on the bus back to Hotel Ingleterre, I spotted a lot of cool graffiti on Prado, so after getting off the bus, I wanted to turn back to take some photos of these graffiti. While walking down the Prado, I heard some music coming from a building, and so decided to head towards it. They had some live band playing Cuban music. It seemed like some sort of private party, so after listening to a few sets, I left.

HavanaLive Music on PradoHavana

Graffiti on the Prado

It started to pour in earnest, so I sought shelter at Café Prado 12, which offered a daily special for 7.50 CUC, which was a nice pork dish, with rice, a little side salad, and fried plantains. The daily special also came with a fruit dessert It is a nicely situated building with a great view of the Prado and the Malecon. They were rather sneaky, and put in a 10% service charge. But by this point, I couldn’t care less.


Daily special at Cafe Prado 21


Breakfast: Café con leche (1.25 CUC), Bocadito (2 CUC)

Snack: Canoli (0.35 CUC)

Bus: 5 CUC

Lunch/dinner: 7.50 CUC + 2 CUC (water)

Accommodations: 40 USD

Total: ~58 USD

Cuba: Hershey (not!), 29 August 2015

The power cut out sometime in the middle of the night, so the casa particuliares was without power when I woke up. I ventured out for breakfast at around 9 am, and the grand plan for the day was to travel to the other side of Havana to Casa Blanca station for the Hershey tram.

The morning started off auspiciously enough: I walked by the Malecon, turned up the Prado, and headed down to Obispo for the ubiquitous tourist cafes (I needed to break a $20), and ended up at the café portion of La Mina, initially attracted by the prospect of French Toast for 0.70 CUC. Well, they didn’t have that, and their espresso machine was still broken from yesterday, so I wound up with a chocolate custard (0.70 CUC) and an orange soda (1.50 CUC). Also, along the way, I discovered that my DSLR died. Bummer. Iphoneography time.


Seen on the Prado

After getting some change for my 20 CUC, I walked towards the malecon in search of the ferry terminal for the crossing to the other side of Havana. Well, after walking up and down the malecon for a bit, I couldn’t find the ferry terminal. Bummer! Plans busted, I just decided to head back to town for more café con leche. I walked up O’Reilly this time, and spotted Café O’Reilly on 203 O’Reilly. It is a nice little coffee spot with affordable coffee. They roast their beans on premise, and also sell coffee by the pound. If you are feeling peckish, they also offer sandwiches, ranging from butter (0.50 CUC) to sandwiches with the works (ham, chorizo, cheese, etc., 4 CUC). As far as coffees go, they also offer quite a range, from your basis espresso (1 CUC), to liqueur coffees (~3 CUC) to iced coffees (~2.50 CUC). They do serve quite a full range of drinks, so your usual water, soda, cocktails. So far, this appears to one of the few establishments that serve iced coffee – something to consider in the Cuban heat. Some of the iced coffees sound suspiciously like frappuccinos. I wound up with a couple of café con leches (1.25 CUC). Havana

Cafe O’Reilly

By around 1 pm, I was ready for some substantial food. After walking around Obispo and surveying my options, I wound up at Europa, a cheap tourist café with a live band, and live dancing. It is a very cheap option, but you get what you pay for (i.e. the food is so-so). I had a grilled pork (3 CUC) with a side of rice and beans (0.45 CUC) and water (0.85 CUC). It is a very busy place, so I assume that the food is all pre-made, and they simply roll them out to diners as they come in. My pork chops were lukewarm, as were my rice and beans. They tasted ok, but I would have preferred it if my food were hot. Nevertheless, it is hard to argue with a meal that costs 4.30 CUC in total, with live music and dancing in the background. Service is rather slow, because it does get very busy.


Live music at Europa

In the evening, tourist-shamed by the guesthouse staff (for wanting to sit around and read), I dragged my blistered feet to Vedado, the fancy part of Havana, where there are fancier hotels, like the Hotel Nacional (where celebrities stay), Hotel Havana Libre. Basically, the high-rise hotels. It is a nice stroll from the guesthouse on the Malecon, probably about 15 minutes or so. There is another wifi park on that street, quite a surreal picture, as you see people sitting on the streets with their laptops and cellphones, trying to get connected. After walking around some, and not quite wanting to shell out at the fancy hotels for a cocktail, I turned back on the Malecon. The Malecon on a Saturday is quite a nice spot. Families, couples, individuals are just hanging out. Some are fishing, some are just enjoying each other’s company. There are also many little pockets of public space, where street performers set up shop, and play music, put up magic shows for the public. Some of the installation art on the Malecon is also quite interesting – the one beside my guesthouse is actually a slide for kids as well. It’s quite a nice stroll, and a nice spot for people watching.

HavanaMelacon on a Saturday


Breakfast: Chocolate custard (0.70 CUC) and soda (1.50 CUC)

Coffee: 2 café con leches (2.50 CUC), 1 bottle of carbonated mineral water (3 CUC)

Lunch: Grilled pork (3 CUC), rice and beans (0.45 CUC), water (0.85 CUC)

Accommodations: 40 USD

Total: 52 USD

Cuba: Havana, 28 August 2015

I had plans today of visiting the Museum of Revolution, and visiting one key church, before spending the rest of my day working. Well, after getting up, I had to be registered to the guesthouse, and while registering me, Maite gave me a bunch of suggestions of what to do on my first day.

The Casa Blanca is located between Old Havana and Vedado (up and coming area in Havana), making it an ideal spot for walking to different sites. Maite suggested that I walked to the Neptuno, and following it, I should hit the Central Park, and a bunch of tourist sites.

The Central Park area is definitely touristy. They had those shiny 1950s retro cabs that you associate with Havana, and some fancy hotels including the Hotel Ingleterre. The Capitol Building is also on this stretch. Some other tourist-y things you can do include horse cab rides, and they also have one of those double-deck tourist buses (5 CUC), which promises to bring you to the different tourist sites in Havana, with explanation.

After walking around the Central Park area, I turned down Obispo, a pedestrian street with shops, cafes, etc. There are many little food stands offering food and drinks for a bargain. Here I got myself a pork sandwich (Pan Lechon, 0.50 CUC), and ate it standing on the sidewalk. There are some cool buildings, with equally cool shops on this walking street, but at the same time, these buildings are also quite lived in. For instance, opposite an elegant building, there was laundry hanging out of the balconies. The Johnson drug store also looked very old school. At the end of Obispo, is the Plaza de Armas. I thought it was kinda cool that the shaded square at Plaza de Armas was flanked by little book stands. It was too warm for me to brave a tour of the fortifications, so I just turned back, and settled at a tourist café La Lluvia de Oro for lunch and libations.

Although it is a tourist cafe, La Lluvia de Oro is quite affordable. Main plates hover around or under 10 CUC. I got a Cuban sandwich (4 CUC), which is a sandwich with ham, cheese, and pork. It was substantial – it took me a while to finish it. I also had a café con leche (coffee with milk, 1.50 CUC), which was excellent. It is a nice spot to sit for a while, and get out of the heat. While I was resting at Oro for lunch, they also appear to have a live music gig, as they were setting music up.

Given the unbearable mid-day heat, it suddenly seems like a stroke of genius to just spend my mid-days working on various reading and writing projects, so I made my way down to La Mina. Along the way, I also popped into a bookstore, got some postcards and stamps (0.75 CUC). La Mina has a group of traveling musicians playing some classics from Buena Vista Social Club. I was actually there for more coffee (1 CUC – 1.75 CUC), but their espresso machine is down, so Cuba Libre it is (3 CUC). It has a great view of Plaza de Armas, and with some live music in the background, it was a nice way to spend a couple of hours.

At around 2.30 or so, I finally recovered enough from the heat to make the short walk to Plaza de Cathedral. It seems like I am out of luck. I had planned to see the Cathedral, but the Cathedral, along with the Capitol building, is undergoing extensive restoration works. The Plaza de Cathedral is a nice little spot with some (fancy-looking) restaurants and cafes, and is less crowded than the Plaza de Armas, if you need a place to hang out.

After striking out, I decided to make my way back to my guesthouse for a bit of rest before the rest of the evening. I took a 30-minute walk along the Malecon, taking in some of the sights. There is an amusement part of sorts, with ferris rides and the usual carnival stuff at the beginning of the Malecon (low numbers). The Malecon is quite a mixed bag. There are buildings falling apart, buildings being restored, sidewalk cafes/restaurants interspersed along the way, and some random installation art. It is quite a nice stroll, when you don’t have to deal with traffic.

Some nice Germans staying at the guesthouse invited me out for dinner with them, as they had a recommendation for a nice restaurant. I figured why not? So I headed to Castropol on the Malecon with them. Castropol serves a bunch of seafood, and they also have a bakery of sorts in their premises. The upper level has A/C if you are looking to get away from the heat. Their entrée prices are highly reasonable for the quality of the food involved. Non-seafood mains are under 10 CUC, while seafood mains are close to 10 CUC, with the most expensive dishes topping out at 15 CUC. I had a grilled fish and shrimp with Bechamel sauce (8.90 CUC), rice and beans (2 CUC) and a sparkling water (2 CUC). The grilled fish (they offer a selection) was excellent, but the shrimp was somewhat forgettable. My dinner companions had a fish roll (tuna wrapped in snapper) and shrimp with lobster sauce. We were all very happy with our selections.

After dinner, we decided to walk around to look for a music club. Another doofus move on my part (never travel with me – shit happens). I read the Guardian article on Havana wrongly, and led us to a rhumba club on San Miguel, when my original intention was to go to a Jazz club. Oh well.

The walk was not completely fruitless – it did give insight into a slice of life. Havana is a very interesting place at night. Lighting is fairly limited, so there are many dark alleys. A lot of the motor traffic also disappears at night. Under normal circumstances at any other city in the world, you probably wouldn’t venture down these alleyways. But Havana felt very safe at night. There were people walking on the streets. So we walked a couple of those dark alleys.


Grand Theater and Capitol Building

HavanaHotel Ingleterre


Breakfast sandwich: 0.50 CUC

Lunch: 4.00 CUC

Coffee: 1.50 CUC

Water: 2 CUC

Cuba Libre: 3 CUC

Postcards + stamps: 5.50 CUC

Dinner: 13 CUC

Accommodations: 40 USD

Total: 70 USD

Another travel day: SJO, Costa Rica – PTY, Panama – HAV, Cuba, 27 August 2015

After the debacle at LAX, I still had quite a few obstacles ahead of me today – well, mostly locating all the different counters to print my various boarding passes for my onward travel, and getting a Cuban Tourist Card.

Challenge #1: Boarding pass from SJO to PTY

My award ticket was booked with Delta, and the kind agent at LAX booked me into a flight from LAX to SJO on Delta. But, the next segment of my flight is on Copa, a non-Delta partner, so I had to find a counter to print my Copa Airlines boarding pass to Panama City. I spotted the Copa Club at the SJO airport (near gate 4, beside the food court), and decided to try my luck, given that none of the information counters were open at this point (I arrived before 7 am). The kind ladies at the reception at Copa Club were both somewhat amused by my predicament, but at the same time, also very helpful. After a couple of minutes, I had my boarding pass, with a bulkhead seat to boot!

VIP Lounge Costa Rica/Copa Club SJO

After getting my boarding pass, my next mission was to try and find a Priority Pass lounge to relax, grab some food, the works. I used the Priority Pass app, and there is only one lounge at SJO – VIP Lounge Costa Rica. I walked around a bit trying to locate it, and that was when I realized what a doofus I am – the Copa Club and the VIP Lounge Costa Rica share the same premises. I am going to blame this on the red-eye!

Despite reviews of the premises being small, I thought that the size of the VIP Lounge Costa Rica was somewhat proportionate to the size of SJO airport. There were probably about five group sofas, a bunch of couple seating areas, and a dozen tables with four chairs. It should easily accommodate over fifty people.

The free breakfast spread was continental. So, there were two choices of cereal, bread, and some pastries. There was drip coffee, a selection of tea, and three juices. I thought it was ok. If you want a more substantial breakfast (e.g. eggs cooked to order), and premium drinks, they have a paid option. I didn’t ask for the menu, so I have no idea how much that costs.

The wifi speed was also quite ok, and slightly faster than the free wifi in the main terminal. I stuck around until 45 minutes before my flight’s departure time.

On the way to my boarding gate, I also checked out the Santamaria VIP lounge. I didn’t get to go in as I do not have access to it, but for those who hold AMEX platinum, you can access it with your platinum card. It seems to have tarmac views.

VIP Lounge San Jose Costa Rica SJOBreakfast at VIP Lounge San Jose Costa Rica SJO

Copa Airlines

I have had some serious luck with Copa Airlines – I am 3-for-3 on bulkhead seats so far, so count me biased towards Copa Airlines. In all seriousness, Copa Airlines tends to get very under-rated in those fantasy air travel blogs, because they do not have fancy premium classes. However, it is a very solid option for economy class. There is decent legroom, and in the short one hour flight from San Jose to Panama City, they served a complementary roast beef and cheese croissant, and complementary drinks as well. Very efficient operation.

In my flight from Panama City to Havana, I had a similar experience. We flew a newer B737-800, with in-flight entertainment system installed. I did not use it (except for flight info), but they had a fairly decent selection of recent movies and TV shows. In any case, the offering would definitely suffice for many of the short-haul flights, which Panama operates. Food was once again awesome. In the short 2.5 hour flight, they served dinner, which started almost immediately after the seatbelt signs were off after take-off. The whole affair took less than half an hour, and I finished every last bit of my chicken and rice dish (the other option was pasta).

Challenge #2: Boarding pass from PTY to HAV

After arriving in Panama City, I really did not want to go through immigration and security and all that fun stuff, to check-in and get my boarding pass for Havana. A very kind security guy directed me to the information counter that is near gate 21. There is also another one between gates 24 and 25. So if you are connecting at Tocumen International Airport, and need some boarding passes printed, head over there. The agents are pretty helpful.

Tocumen International Airport

Getting around:

Tocumen International Airport is a pretty compact airport with a simple layout. So there should be little reason for anxiety when trying to figure out transit logistics. The information counter is wedged between gate 20 and gate 21, which is located right smack in the middle of the airport.

One point to note: if you are departing for a United States destination, give yourself extra time, as they have heightened security procedures.


The Tocumen International Airport has a Priority Pass lounge, but it is landside. I figured it is really not worth my effort to exit the airport and go through the whole immigration/security hoopla, so I just wandered around the airport. They do have a Club Copa Lounge near gate 20, and an American Airlines lounge near the high number gates (~30). I didn’t visit either of them.


I had a 7 hour layover at Tocumen International Airport. This is my third time here. I previously transited here twice, going to and from Lima. Since my last visit some four years ago, they now provide 2 hours of free wifi a day. Thankfully, I have a number of devices, so I just went from device to device to tap the free wifi. Signal strength varies greatly, so if you are getting zilch, consider moving to another part of the airport.

I wouldn’t say that the airport is swimming in power plugs, but they are usually located at the pillars, so power availability is decent. The default plug is the US three-pin plug.

Food & Drinks:

There are plenty of little stands selling food like sandwiches, or international fast food like Domino’s, Quizno’s, Cinnabon. They also have a food court that is on the upper level. Based on my short survey, it appears that the food court has the cheapest food, even though some of the little mobile stands sell the exact same food, e.g. a 2-piece meal at a mobile Chester’s Chicken stand is $12, while a 2-piece meal at the food court’s Chester’s Chicken is $8.50.

Challenge #3: Getting a Cuban Tourist Card at the Departure Gate

Initially, I asked about this at the information desk. I was informed that I could get this at the departure gate. I didn’t hear any announcements or offerings for it. In any case, about 15 minutes before boarding, I decided to ask the gate agent about it. He took out a little folder, and asked me for $20. I handed 20 USD over, and had a Cuban tourist card in my possession.

Arriving in Havana

Total time for runway taxi, immigration, currency exchange: 20 minutes

This is some serious efficiency. I got into the airport at around 2230, and was out, with CUC in hand. Granted, I only had carry-on baggage. Despite the Business Insider article about the interns having problems arriving in Havana, my arrival and immigration clearance was a breeze. I was third person in line at the immigration counter, there were no questions asked, passport was stamped pronto, and I was done.

As I was arriving this late in the evening, I asked my Airbnb guesthouse to arrange for an airport pick up (25CUC). I was met the moment I exited, and the nice ladies of Cubanacan travel told me I could exchange some currency at the counters outside the airport. They also gave me some maps of Cuba and Havana. I returned the map of Cuba as I was just staying in Havana for this trip.

Currency exchange

There are two currency exchange counters outside the airport. They are located on both the left and the right side of the arrivals exit. As I was just here on a short trip, I decided against trying to figure out the best exchange rates, and just rolled with cards that I was dealt with.

According to the exchange rates, the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) is tied to the USD. However, there is a tax on USD exchanges (10%). The exchange rate I got for my USD was around 1 USD to 0.86 CUC. I had to pay the taxi driver at the guesthouse, and it was close to midnight at this point, so …

Travel tip: Unless you are planning on spending like Richie Rich, try to ask for smaller denominations. I was given a bunch of 20 CUCs, and was given lots of dirty looks in the city, when I tried to break the 20 CUC. Even the tourist establishments operating in the CUC economy might give you dirty looks when you pay with a 20 CUC bill for a 5 CUC meal.

Travel into Havana from the Airport

I took a taxi (25CUC), which seems to be the standard rate. The Jose Marti International Airport has a site, and on the site, it states that they do not have buses. However, a cheaper option is to take the bus to a terminal near the airport, and then, take a taxi to the airport. I won’t be taking this option, so I am not sure how much you can save. I guess you can always try to taxi pool or something.

Convertible PesosJose Marti International Airport


Lunch and Dinner at Tocumen: 20 USD

Taxi: 25 CUC

Accommodations: 40 USD

Total: 85 USD

Hola!: Cuba, Colombia, Panama, 26 Aug – 09 Sep 2015

I’ve been hoarding my miles for some time now, and given the constant devaluation of miles, it appears that my dream of a round-the-world reward ticket is out the window. Never fear – that just means I’ll be exploring my neighbors! As a poor graduate student, I’ve also recently jumped onto the sweet bandwagon that’s called miles and points, and putting all my monthly expenditure (yes, that includes rent!) into my credit cards to get some sign-up bonuses. This is definitely paying for quite a bit of my trip! Well, because it’s an award flight, the itinerary is quite sucky. But hey, I get to travel for (almost) free – can’t complain!

26-27 August: Seattle – Los Angeles – Mexico City – Panama City

27 August: Panama City- Havana

28 August: Havana, Cuba

29 August: Havana, Cuba

30 August: Havana, Cuba

31 August: Havana – Panama City – Bogota

01 September: Bogota, Colombia

02 September: Bogota, Colombia

03 September: Bogota, Colombia

04 September: Bogota – Panama City

05 September: Panama City, Panama

06 September: Panama City, Panama

07 September: Panama City, Panama

08 September: Panama City, Panama

09 September: Panama City – Atlanta – San Francisco – Seattle