I recently took a 13- day trip over to Cuba. This was my first time visiting so I had little knowledge about how to best prepare myself or what expect. I think in general travelers tend to have more questions and uncertainties when it comes on to Cuba, so I decided to share a few basic tips here after being there for a close of 2 weeks. Cuba on a whole is becoming a more popular tourist destination so here are 10 things you need to know before traveling to Cuba.
1. Cuba Tourist Card
It doesn’t matter where you are from you will need to purchase a tourist card prior to entering the country. Costs vary depending on your nationality. You can purchase it at any Cuban embassy in your home country, from a travel agency, or even at the major connecting airports ; Panama, Mexico etc. Prices range between $15 to $50.
2. U.S Issued Cards & Mastercards
All U.S issued and Master debit or credit cards will not work nationwide, I strongly recommend travelers with U.S cards or Mastercards whether it be debit or credit to travel with cash for your time in Cuba. It is easier and it is a guarantee that it will be accepted. Everywhere accepts cash.
3. Money Exchange
Your best bet is to travel with Euros, Pounds, or Canadian dollars. Exchange rate for U.S dollars will have a 10% fee.
4. Wifi & Internet Access
Wifi access is available but only in some selected cities. Internet access is available. You can access the wifi/internet at the major hotels in the capital city, Havana. For all other accessible cities with regards to wifi connection, you can connect by locating the nation ’s monopolistic company ETECSA. You will need to purchase a “Nauta wifi” card to connect. You can purchase the card with a timeframe of 30 minutes or 1 hora. Prices range depending on your location. Purchasing wifi cards in cities outside of Havana will have a cheaper rate. A 1 hora wifi card in Havana is 6.50 CUC, you can buy them in smaller cities for 4.50 CUC.
N.B. You can use your wifi card multiple times if all your minutes were not all used up in your first attempt at connecting.
5. Cuba’s Double Currency
Cuba uses two different currencies. CUC primarily for tourists and CUP for the locals. 1CUC = 1USD and 1 CUP= 0.043 USD. Tourists can also purchase the local currency. However, you cannot change the foreign currencies straight into CUP’s. You will first need to convert into CUC and then from CUC to CUP. Most touristy spots will only accept the CUC’s. Street shops, local taxis, quick bicycle rides, fruit markets will accept CUP. A 10 CUC changed into CUP is usually good for a 12-day visit to Cuba.
N.B The Jose Marti airport and most likely all other airports will only convert from foreign currencies to CUC. CUP can be bought in the city centers.
6. Casa Particulars & Hotels
Cuba has no shortage with it comes on to lodging. I have been getting a lot of emails and messages asking where are good places to stay in selected cities. Here are some things you should know. Sites such as hostelworld.com , booking.com and hostelbookers.com will not work for Cuba. Your search result will be 0. This is because they are primarily hosted, hence, it doesn’t work.
For those wondering, there are hostels in Havana. You can find them on HostelClub.com and airbnb.com Also, tripadvisor.com will have options in case you would like to book in advance. If you have no advanced booking, finding Casas and hotels are usually really easy. Most tourist attractions are pretty small and you will have hosts greeting you each time you exist the bus service companies and airports asking if you would like somewhere to stay. In smaller towns like Trinidad, Viñales, Varadero you can literally walk around and hand pick a Casa that best suits your interest. Each Casa that is for tourist accommodation will have a special sign. Hotels are available as well.
7. Water & Food
The water is not recommended for intakes. You can purchase 1.5 litre bottles at any supermarket.
I have read a couple blogs stating that Cuban food is no good. To be quite fair, I enjoyed my meals there. I was quite stunned after reading the opposite. The food was well prepared and they were tasty. I had most of my meals prepped in the Casas I was staying and they were delicious. The dinners from the casas will have mostly Lobster, Fish, Shrimp, Chicken. They will cook your meal based on your preference and each meal is usually a full course. They are also usually cheaper than eating out at restaurants.
8. Group Transportation – VIAZUL
Cuba has only 1 bus company; Viazul. You will need to have your passport every time you need to purchase a ticket. Whilst, this is the only bus company for tourists, you also do have the free-will to travel along with the locals. The journey will seem longer, but it is way much cheaper whether it be with the train (only in selected cities) or with the local bus company.
Taxis are also available to take you across the country. If you are traveling in groups, taking taxis could be a cheaper way out for you.
9. Cuba is Completely Safe
I felt the safest while I was in Cuba. It is one of. . . if not, the safest country I have ever been to thus far. You will feel completely safe walking down the streets. In addition, you will need to be careful but usually, the locals are very friendly and are unlikely to do any harm. You will see cops from time to time patrolling in bigger cities just to make sure everything is under control.
10. You Will Love Cuba
The people are great. The beaches are great and the whole island feel will give you a true Cuban feel. It has an interesting culture, history and is filled with pure authenticity. Pack your bags, get some cash and go Explore CUBA!