After a hectic day in New York we woke up and headed out to Newark very early since we needed to get the Visa to Havana sorted at the airport. It was quite hard to figure out the Visa rules as a Swede traveling via America.
If we would’ve gone straight from Sweden/Europe there would have been no problems, but since we stopped in New York other visa rules applied. At Newark Airport we could purchase a Visa for about 100 dollars per person, and everything seemed okay. We were traveling directly from Newark to Havana with United Airlines in Business class. On this leg we also used Eurobonus points although this maybe isn’t the best use for them. Business with untied on short hauls are not really an experience and since it is not SAS own flight the taxes are much higher. The service was outstanding though.
After a nervous passing through immigration where Jäger disappeared in to a hearing room and then battening getting some cash which was less than easy we made it into our hotel. We were very confused regarding the currencies because on most travel forums you can read about a local and one for foreigners, we eventually found that it mostly seems like the one for foreigners is the one widely used, even by locals.
We stayed at Iberostar, right in the city center. It was as one of the best hotels in Cuba, but their hospitality needs improvement. We was met by a very arrogant lady in the check in desk and our every questions seemed to be to her uttermost inconvenience. We had also booked a room with one bed, but we got twin beds and she refused to change our room telling us we had made an error in our booking. The rooms was specified to have balcony, which they had not, it was a french balcony.
The standard of the hotel was not what was to be expected from a 5 star hotel. Our AC was leaking, a lot. Also the food was not good, but this would come to be generally for the whole of Cuba. The best thing about this hotel was the location and their bar. They had a really nice bar and lounge area in the lobby which we enjoyed every day.
Our first impression of Cuba was not very good, having just had a hurricane passing through it was dark and rainy. Also, not knowing much about the culture all the people loitering about and around the corners felt very insecure, which we later come to learn was totally false. Havana and Cuba seems to be one of the safest cities/countries I’ve been to.
Day 1 we went for a stroll in the nearby having to find a ATM for money, Havana was much more expensive than expected. Feeling insecure about the safety we went straight back to the hotel, we literally went around the square and the block closest to the hotel. When we got back I started to research arranged sightseeing tours since this seemed to be the safest way to get to see Cuba and we found a couple different ones. We decided to try the Strawberry free walking bar tour the same night, which would turn out to be the best decision we ever made. The meeting point was right next to our hotel. We were set into a group with two lovely ladies who had arrived with the cruise ship. The tour included visiting 5 bars, at each bar the great guide gave recommendations on which typical cuban drink to have at that particular spot. We also got a quick course in salsa and then the tour ended at a roof top bar. This tour really made us realize that Havana and the alleys within was not dangerous at all. We strongly recommend this tour for anyone who is going to Havana! The guides are great and it is free (!!), but do tip the guides at the end of the night if you’re happy, they deserve it!