Escozul from Labiofam Laboratories
Considering the fact that Escozul or Escoazul is provided by the Cuban Labiofam Laboratory completely free from any charge, it is important to consider some important information to be able to successfully travel to the island.
1) Visa You have to request a visa at the Cuban consulate of your country; if you are a Chilean citizen, as I am, the consulate is located at 1346 Los Leones Avenue, Providencia, Santiago. The cost of the visa is US$ 15. If you state that you need it for medical reasons, take some medical exams or certificates with you. You need a passport that is valid for at least another 6 months from the current date when you request the visa.
2) Flight Tickets There are 4 airlines form Santiago to Cuba, the only one with direct flights is LAN, with an option departing Saturday 8:30 am and returning Sunday at 2:40 am.
LAN is the best option but a little more expensive than the rest, probably over US$1,000. Another airline is TACA (US$820, boarding fees included) (www.taca.com) with two stopovers, one in Lima and another in San José de Costa Rica and sometimes only one stopover in San José.
The other option is COPA AIRLINE; Price is around US$700 with one stopover in Panamá as far as I know. The cheapest one seems to be CUBANA AIRLINES (www.cubana.cu).
You can also travel from Buenos Aires and take a flight from there to La Havana, or look for a flight to San Jose, Panama or to the Dominican Republic and search for the best connections. Round trip prices won’t change much, though. You can also get a quote from www.cocha.cl, the cheapest travel agency and the one that would allow you to pay in installments.
3) Currency There are two types of currency in Cuba: CUP or Cuban peso and CUC convertible Cuban peso. Most places take CUC, especially from foreigners, but there are a few things you can only get with CUP such as fruit, public transportation, some food (pizzas y sandwiches). 1 CUC = 1 US$, but they take 10% out of the American dollar, so it is better to take Euros to change them there.
At the airport you should try to change just what you need for the cab, because they pay you less, around 1.23 CUC per EURO. You should change your money at the Money Exchange called CADECA, as they are the only official places. There one in Hotel Sevilla and the other one on Obispo Street. NEVER ACCEPT TO CHANGE MONEY on the street.
You should change 5 CUC to CUP, you get around 24 CUP per CUC. Not all the CADECAS change to CUP; you can do it at the one on Obispo Street.
4) Cabs and Transportation The cab ride from the airport is 20 CUC, the best is to share the ride with another traveler and the price is 25 CUC for 2, regardless of the fact that you are going to different places, for example if one goes to Old Havana and the other to Vedado.
In order to go LABIOFAM you need to get an ALMENDRON, an old type of cab, similar to an old van with capacity for 8 people. You find them at PLAZA DE LA FRATERNIDAD, a block and a half west from the Capitol. You only need to ask around how to get to the plaza and ask the almendron driver if he goes to Rancho de Boyeros.
This ride costs 20 CUP, and it takes a little longer than the ride to the airport, around 20 minutes.
If you go by cab, it should not cost you more than 25 CUC for a round trip and the cab driver should wait for you as long as it is needed (discuss the conditions in advance so that he won’t over charge you, 25 CUC for a round trip and 2 hours of his time to wait for you included).
It is not worthy though to go by cab, maybe on your way back you might want to do it, but don’t pay over 15 CUC. If you take a cab, choose the ones called Panataxi, a white Lada, as they are cheaper, but again, it’s not worthy.
5) Lodging If you are planning not to spend a lot of money, you should stay at the so called Casa Divisa, they are a type of hostels, authorized by the government and have a blue and while seal that shows that they are official. They generally provide air conditioning, private bathroom, a fridge and some also have a TV set.
One of them is Miriam Mirabal’s house, located in 19 Consulado Street between Carcel y Genios, right in the border of downtown Havana and Old Havana. It’s not one of the best but it has a refrigerator, which is very important.
One of the best houses is Martha Roche’s located on the same street, you can call for information at 053 7 8616905.
There are probably 5 Divisa houses and people are very nice, especially if they know you are travelling for medical reasons. They are all located a block away from the Malecon 3 blocks away from the Capitol and they have the best food in the area, the ‘Paladar de Enrique' (lobster costs 10 CUC).
Considering quality to rank them the best houses on the street are Martha Roche’s first, then Laura & Maylen’s (right next to Martha Roche’s, phone number 53+7+8616919; if you call, state that your trip is for medical reasons), then MIRIAM MIRABAL’s and ENRIQUE’s (the owner of the Paladar). They are all on the same street, one right next to the other; they are all at 25 a day, but doña Laura’s is the cheapest as she charges 20 CUC, if for medical reasons.
The best neighborhoods to stay in La Havana are Old Havana as everything is close, and Vedado as you’ll find better quality hostels even though farther away (cab distance).
One in Vedado that can be recommended is the one located at 408 21 street, between F & G streets, Vedado, phone number is 53+7+8325207. It offers separate entrance and a small apartment. The previous places are all in downtown Havana, this place is in an area that is half a block from Old Havana but is still close to everything.
6) Food If you want to try good food, you can go to Enrique’s on Consulado Street, to his Paladar. A Paladar is a privately run, government authorized restaurant. As he only has one table he offers an excellent quality for both service and food. The most expensive food is lobster at 10 CUC with rice, salad, beans or fresh fries. Shrimps are at 8 CUC, Fish 7, chicken 6, and pork 5. Their breakfast, at 3 CUC includes milk, fruit juice, fried eggs, coffee, bread and fruit.
There’s a State restaurant, located at El Prado Av., right in the corner and called El Prado’s corner (or something similar). Good prices but smaller servings than at Paladar de Enrique.
If you want to save Money, you can do as the locals do and eat somewhere on Obispo street, using CUP. For example a cheese and ham sandwich is 10 CUP, rice 15 CUP, pizzas 15 CUP. There are a few other places, but Obispo Street is the main one and then there’s a parallel street behind the Capitol, going north.
7) Labiofam Laboratories You should call Dr. Niudis Cruz in advance and send her all exams by mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, phone numbers: 683 0924, 6832151 and 6833188. You should ideally get there with all the exams, labs, and medical background. Write down all exams in a piece of paper, listing them according to date, and stating medical conclusions.
You should wear pants and take your passport with you, don’t take your camera with you. You will be called within 10 minutes and if the medicine is available you will receive it on the spot or the next day.
For this reason it is advisable that you stay in Cuba for 3 working days. You should carry a cooler with you or an insulating box with a cooling gel (you can buy them at sodimac) or cooling gel bags that you can buy at the drugstore.
The medication needs to be kept at a temperature between 2 & 8 Celsius degrees. The small bottles, 40 ml each are small and made of glass.
It’s Important to know that tourists are sometimes pestered by locals who would beg for money or offer to change CUP, but the only want to bribe you. They are easy to spot as they’ll start asking you questions and won’t leave. An easy way to get rid of them is telling them that you will call the police as they can go to jail for pestering foreigners. There’s a law that bans them from approaching tourists. Anyhow, there are many police officers and Old Havana in Cuba is not dangerous.
Don’t forget to keep 25 CUC as it is the boarding fee you need to pay to leave the Cuban airport.