This place has been on our bucket list for a while and we both have always wanted to see closely what communism looks like. When the US travel restrictions to Cuba were lifted I thought that I shouldn’t miss the next opportunity to travel to Cuba and see it from up close before all the crowds of tourists change it’s landscape. The rules were reversed in 2017 but Americans are still allowed to visit the country under a certain visa category and are very welcomed by all the Cuban people. This is the first time we @lovetravelingboys had the chance to visit the island together.
As first timers in Cuba we have learned some things that we consider very important and made this Cuba travel guide to help our readers. If you plan to travel to this fascinating and unique country you should definitely know about it too.
CUBA TRAVEL TIPS
1 – Wifi – Don’t count on it!
Internet in Cuba is very limited, for sure it was one of the most challenging places to find connection, more difficult than any other place we have visited in the world. It can be really hard to travel with limited internet, it was complicated in the beginning to go places we have never been before without google maps. If you have an international plan you can pay $2 dollars for each megabyte. Be ready for the very slow internet speed. If you choose not to pay for hundreds or even more for your next phone bill, you can choose to pre pay for the internet which was around $1.50 per hour. You have to buy this internet card, then you go to one of the internet spots that you can find in public areas. By the way there are no signs for the spots, you have to ask people or just look around. If you see a lot of people standing in a corner using their phone, that’s the spot! The internet speed usually is good. It’s very annoying to have to go to a spot but that’s the one and only wifi you will find in Cuba and it ended up being very helpful.
2 – Cuba has two currencies
If you see two different bills with the same value you are not crazy. It happens because Cuba has two different currencies, one for tourists (CUC Cuban Convertible Peso) and one for locals (CUP Cuban Peso Nacional). Both have different exchange rates so be aware when you receive change or even exchange money to don’t get scammed because the CUC is about 25 times more valuable than the CUP. So how to identify CUC vs CUP? The tourist currency CUC has always monuments on its bills while the CUP has people. That’s the easiest way we found to identify the two different currencies.
3 – American debit and credit cards are not accepted ANYWHERE
In Cuba, CASH money is king! Always have it with you, especially if your card is issued by an American bank because it wont work anywhere. For cards issued in different countries that are not the US, you should research and make sure, but don’t be too optimistic because simply there is not much infrastructure in Cuba to make payments with cards.
4 – How do I get Cuban money?
You can take American dollars and exchange it for for CUC at the airports and pay a 10% tax + 3% fee . I know 13% is a lot but the good news are that the 10% tax are not charged for other currencies, only the American dollar. Also as long as it is not a US debit card, you can use debit cards to exchange money at Cadecas (currency exchange places).
5 – Havana is walkable and safe
First of all we felt safe in Havana and the most beautiful parts of the city are flat and walkable, so there is no reason for you not to do that unless you physically can’t do it. Leave the vintage cars behind and go see it. Don’t miss the opportunity to walk on the streets of Central Havana, you will get a much better sense of what the city is about when wandering. Old Havana also is a great area to walk and explore.
5 – Take lots of snacks with you
It can be hard to find some things in Cuba simply because they are not available, including snacks. So always be prepared and have some snacks with you because you will need it.
6 – Hand sanitizer is your best friend
We found that many places for some reason had no water in the bathrooms. I don’t know if that is because we were out of luck when we were there or if they just have a limited amount of water. So always take some portable hand sanitizer on you, it will make your life in Cuba much cleaner. Also sometimes you might not find toilet paper so if you can take some with you is ideal.
7 – The food in Havana
We totally recommend you to choose the places you gonna eat without high expectations. Remember that due to trade restrictions Cuba is not a culinary paradise, you can find good food here and there, but not everywhere because is hard for the people that live there to find some ingredients. In general the cuban food is delicious but you not gonna find it everywhere you go.
8 – Booking a room
Since most of places have no access to internet, the best way to book a room is thru recommendations, talk to people and ask for places to stay. You can also find places on Airbnb which is awesome and makes life easier. Remember, if you are American, you are limited to stay in what they call “casas particulares” which is a family house and you can find those on Airbnb too.
9 – Should I buy a tour in advance?
Honestly it depends on what kind of traveler you are. We like to go to places, talk to people and feel it. We rarely pre book our tours but Cuba can be a little harder than other places we visited before because of its internet limitation. So if you speak zero Spanish or don’t feel comfortable exploring and talking to strangers we recommend you to book your tours in advance. Remember that you can find tourism agencies in Cuba for a fraction of the price so it’s up to you. You can do either way.
10 – Do I need health insurance?
Least, but not less important, health insurance is mandatory. Make sure you have a proof of health insurance upon arrival. Another good idea is to print the document since you might not be able to access the internet.
We hope you enjoyed our Cuba Travel Guide. 🙂