Cuba is a fascinating place for anyone to visit, but its lack of connectivity to the rest of world due to political realities makes it somewhat of a challenging place to visit. If you are planning a trip to Cuba here’s everything you need to know:
- Do whatever you can to not check bags on the plane. Once you arrive in Cuba you could be stuck waiting for awhile while they find a truck to unload the suitcases from the plane.
- Don’t bother staying in a hotel. They are overpriced and even the fancy ones are in poor condition. Arrange to stay in a private apartment through Airbnb or Booking.com
- Classic cars are not a cliché. Most of the cars on the road are American or Soviet cars from the 1950’s and somehow are still on the road. When you land at the Havana airport, don’t feel pressured to take only a classic car as you will have plenty of opportunity to take on later.
- On that note, if you are wondering how much a taxi costs to the city, as of December 2017 it is 25 CUC.
- Cuba has an odd money system as they use 2 sets of currency at the same time. The primary currency for tourists are Cuban convertible notes called CUC and each one is roughly equivalent to 1 USD. At the same time they have a Cuban Peso 25 Cuban Pesos equal a single CUC. Money exchangers only give out CUC and the rate for non-US currency is whatever the current USD exchange rate is minus a 3% commission. Exchanges from USD to CUC incur a 10% tax in addition to a 3% commission so 100 USD will only get 87 CUC.
- Internet in Cuba is unrestricted; however, that is the only good thing about it. Internet is only available in Wifi hotspots and access is obtained by purchasing blocks of time on a prepaid card. The internet is very slow and not really fast enough for a video call.
- Just because there is no internet doesn’t mean that you need to forgo Google Maps. Before you depart for Cuba, download the offline maps of Havana and any other city you will be visiting. You will not have walking directions, but at least you will be able to find yourself by GPS anywhere you need.
- On the same note, if you don’t speak Spanish download the offline language pack for Spanish in the Google translate app.
- Cuba is not really an economy of abundance. There are lots of little shops which sell things like water, beer and soft drinks, but they run out of things. Don’t count on a shop having what you need: buy before you run out. If possible bring water with you into Cuba, so at least you have a head start.
- If you like sugary soft drinks, Coca-Cola is not readily available as Coke is restricted by the embargo from setting up operations in Cuba. There are stores with Coke imported from Mexico, but be prepared to pay more.
- Toilet paper is a convenience that is not freely available even in supposedly high end hotels. It would be wise to travel with tissues or toilet paper in a backpack.
- While visiting Old Havana or Havana Viejo as it is called, make sure to go a couple streets off the main tourist sites to see how real Cubans live. It is nothing at all like the clean manicured streets and squares.
- While most guides don’t mention it, there are some amazing beaches right near Havana. You can take a taxi for 15 CUC each way to Santa Maria which is just a 25 minute ride from Havana. This beach has lifeguards, convenience stores and chairs for rent
- Cuba is very safe and even in the poor areas there are plenty of police. You should be as cautious as you would be in any major city.
- When you leave Cuba, be careful what you try to bring in your carryon. Cuban security is more restrictive than most countries and even cigarette lighters are not allowed. They also restrict anything that can be construed to be a weapon like a mini-baseball bat, pots and sticks. When in doubt, just check it.
Cuba is an amazing country and you will definitely enjoy your time there. If you have any questions, feel free to get in touch with us!