Tips from News Channel 8 for visiting Cuba

There are no Starbucks or Hilton Hotels or Home Depot stores. Cuba is about has different from the U.S. as it gets. News Channel 8 reporter Peter Bernard recently spent eight days in Cuba, mostly in Havana. Here are his tips for visiting the island nation.

Don’t rent a car in Cuba. In Havana, many roads are torn up, requiring drivers to navigate huge ditches. There are different types of taxis. Negotiate the rate before a trip begins. You’ll pay with Cuban pesos.

Take a ride or walk along the waterfront. You can save money by staying at a private home. Just know it may not have air conditioning. (Peter stayed at a hotel in La Habana Vieja, or Old Havana. His room had a window air conditioner and hot water. He was told not to drink water out of the tap.)

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There is a glaring absence of advertising throughout the country. Be sure to see the Plaza de la Revolucion. Here, there is huge artwork of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. Cubans said this is where Castro addressed the nation.

Havana travelers will see beautiful buildings, including the National Capitol Building. Other places were once beautiful but have surrendered to decay after years of neglect.

Cubans buy bread from a man pushing a cart. Travelers will get most of their meals in paladares, which are private restaurants. They’re safe and yummy. Cubans earn $15-20 per month so if you leave a 10 percent tip for a meal that is enough. Almost every restaurant had musicians who entertained. Give them a dollar or two if you like the music.

Be sure to stop by the “American Interest Section,” which will revert back to the American Embassy later this month if all goes according to plan. Cuban guards keep people off the sidewalk on all sides of the building.

The island nation’s 13 percent tax and fees stings a bit. You get 87 cents per American dollar. (Peter’s eight-day trip for two people cost about $5,500. That included Cuban health insurance, charter airfare, hotel lodging and some meals.) American credit cards are not accepted. Use cash – for everything.

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