If you know me, you know I’m an absolute planner but after traveling around the world, I’ve come to love going on trips without much of an itinerary or having any travel tips. I did just enough research to make sure we got our visas, knew we wanted to visit Havana, spend some time out in the country side and arrange our accommodation through Airbnb. With just those minor details planned, I’m here to inform you of the travel tips I would recommend before visiting Cuba.
Our main goal was to make this trip as inexpensive as possible but still, have a great time and do everything we wanted to do. So, for that purpose, we decided to go pretty inexpensive on the accommodations. We’ve used Airbnb many times and decided that this would be the way to go while in Cuba.
Our Airbnb hosts in Havana were the best we’ve ever had. But I will say, this is the first time we’ve stayed in an Airbnb where the owners were present during our stay. They were so accommodating and they truly allowed Eric and I to fully emerge into their culture and understand how things were in Cuba for them.
Plus, most hotels in Cuba are owned by the government and we tried to do everything we could to not support government establishments.
If you’re interested in staying in the Vedado area and would like to stay with our amazing hosts, Oralia and her son, Carlos please visit their listing here: Carlos and Oralia house
Cuba has two different currencies:
Cuban Convertible Peso, known as a CUC and is the tourist currency
Cuban Peso, known as a CUP and is the local currency (you won’t use this currency)
You will notice that restaurants and shops will have different pricing structures for the locals and the tourist. I’ve heard from others that when you exchange currency to be careful that you don’t get the CUP (local currency) and to make sure you get the CUC.
U.S. visitors need the CUC, which is 1:1 with the U.S. dollar. The catch with this is that when you change U.S. dollars in Cuba, the Cuban government levies a penalty of 10% just because you are changing dollars. They will also levy a 3% financial transaction charge, totaling 13% being docked.
Simply put, this means, you’ll get $87 CUCs for every $100 you exchange.
This is what we recommend and what we did, go to your local bank before you leave and request however much money you think you’ll need for your trip. Exchange your money for euros and only take euros with you on the trip. Don’t wait until the last minute to do this, U.S. banks do not just have euros on hand. They will need to order them and it takes 5 business days to get them. It should save you a little more money but also helps to not support the government and gives you more money to help the Cuban people.
Another thing to note, you will not find ATMs that your U.S. accounts will work in. And you’ll have a hard time being able to use your credit cards in Cuba too. It is true that U.S. credit and debit cards can now be used in Cuba but the country itself doesn’t have the infrastructure to implement this currently.
For now, bring all the cash you think you will need and then some. Separate the cash into different places for safe keeping.
How much money do I bring?
We budgeted $200 a day for the both of us. This included breakfast, lunch, dinner, drinks, tours, excursions, etc. Everything except for our accommodation because we booked that ahead of time, through Airbnb.
I highly recommend packing only a carry on plus your small item (backpack, purse, etc.). The airport does not have the ability to unload luggage when it is raining. They are also on their own time. Before going to Cuba, I read lots of horror stories about people waiting 3+ hours for their luggage after they landed and went through customs. I honestly couldn’t understand how an airport couldn’t unload luggage in a timely manner until I walked off the runway and saw this airport.
Everyone working there is on island time, so be patient. And they do not have the equipment or staffing to handle the flights coming in and out.
You’ve been warned, only take a carry on! Check bags at your own risk.
Arrive at the airport 3+ hours ahead of time. And no, you did not read that wrong and I didn’t make a typo. You do not want to arrive any later than 3 hours prior to your flight. This is also true to you carry on bag people. Because it is an international flight you will have to go to the counter to print your ticket. This line is extremely long and once again, the workers are on island time and they do not have enough staff to check everyone into their flights. So, therefore, you must wait a very long time.
Once again, you’ve been warned!
Bring toilet paper with you wherever you go! You will either have to pay a bathroom attendant for toilet paper (and you only get 2 squares, at most) or the bathrooms will not have any toilet paper. Also, having hand sanitizer is a must.
Wi-Fi is hard to come by in Cuba and what we learned from our hosts is Wi-Fi only came available within the last 4 years. You can only access Wi-Fi in public areas, like parks, and in hotel lobbies. You must purchase a Wi-Fi card to access the internet. We found this to be more difficult than finding Wi-Fi. Hotels will only sell them to their guests, but we did find Hotel Nacional de Cuba will sell you a card even if you aren’t staying there but it was crazy expensive.
It was actually nice not having our phones and constantly updating our status. Sometimes it’s just nice to unplug and get away from everything involved with the internet.
If you are having trouble finding the areas where you can find Wi-Fi, just look for a large group of people with their heads deep into their phones.
Go ahead and download the MAPS.ME app before you arrive in Cuba, it is a life saver! This app allows you to use GPS when your phone is on airplane mode. You can also plan out your trip before you leave. You can bookmark where your hotel or Airbnb is located, bookmark museums or places you want to visit, or just restaurants and bars you’d like to enjoy. This app acts just like your maps app and can give you directions to anywhere you want to go. Seriously, do not forget to download this app.
It was also nice to have when we got in a cab or a bus and wanted to know how much longer until we arrived at our destination.
Your first night in Havana you will feel a little uneasy because of the lack of street lights. We simply used our cell phone lights to illuminate the streets as we headed home each night. We learned from our hosts that the crime in Cuba is pretty much obsolete because they will be sent straight to jail or even killed if they hurt each other, a tourist, or cause any crime.
Do not come to Cuba for the food. Your taste buds will be deeply disappointed. The meat that Cubans mainly consume is pork and chicken. Beef and lobster are controlled by the state and is illegal to sell outside of state owned hotels and restaurants. This also means that because they cannot consume beef and lobster, they don’t know how to properly prepare the items.
Since almost all restaurants are owned by the government and run by very underpaid employees, the food is particularly bland.
What to Pack
- Sunscreen: It is nearly impossible to find sunscreen in Cuba and you will need it!
- Bug spray: Another item you will need and will have a hard time finding. I recommend something with a lot of deet in it. These mosquitos are no joke in Cuba and with Zikka, you just don’t want to chance it.
- Comfortable shoes: You’ll be doing a lot of walking.
When you start to plan your trip to Cuban, keep in mind these travel tips. If you’ve already been, what would you add? Pin this post to your Pinterest to reference back when it’s your time to travel to Cuba.