Cuba is one of those destinations that many want to visit, but few plans to go. Despite the historic embargoes to the country, going there is easier than you think! But it’s important to know some information before traveling to Cuba. This will save your resources and prepare you to deal with the unique characteristics of this country. You don’t have to spoil the surprise! The Caribbean island’s fame doesn’t exist by chance: there are many incredible natural landscapes, a unique culture, and extroverted people. Still, Cuba suffers from shortages of basic necessities and clothes, and also electronics and cars. The eternal “land of Fidel” lives at its own pace and maintains some roots. So don’t travel unsuspecting: check out these guidelines on how to travel to Cuba!
1. Don’t pay in US dollars
Can Americans travel to Cuba? Yes, they can, but their currency is not welcome. In fact, the dollar has devalued around 15% in the country. Choose the Euro, Pound, or Canadian Dollar. Upon arrival in Cuba, you can exchange them for CUC, the Cuban convertible pesos. They are worth more than CUP (1 CUC = 22 CUP), which are the weights received by workers to purchase basic items, such as fruits and beans. The CUC is used for items considered a luxury, such as hygiene products – shampoo, brushes, and toothpaste, among others.
2. Take Cash In Hand
Although Cuba’s embargo is gradually losing its strength, money is still the most guaranteed way to conduct transactions in Cuba. At the airport, you exchange money without a problem. There are “convertible pesos,” CUCs, and Cuban pesos, or “national currency,” as they call it. This is everyday money you will need when traveling to Cuba, it’s useful for buying newspapers, magazines, books, and fruit in street markets.
3. Apply For A Visa
When asking yourself, “can I travel to Cuba,” the answer is yes, but only with a visa. When researching which flights to Cuba exist at the airport in your region, it is better to read the requirements to acquire your visa. This document, better known as Tarjeta Turística, can be made directly at the Embassy or Consulate of Cuba. You can follow a good part of the online bureaucratic process. It is not mandatory to appear in person at each stage. This document is requested immediately upon boarding, and if you do not have it in hand, the airline will not even let you board. The visa for Cuba gives the traveler the right to only enter the country and is valid for 30 days. If you need more time, you may be able to extend it for just another 30 days, upon payment of a new fee.
4. Don’t Leave Home Without Travel Insurance
Before traveling to Cuba, consider purchasing Travel insurance. You can do this in your own country from the Cuban state company ASISTUR, which is also responsible for assisting tourists in the country. The international vaccination card with proof of vaccination against yellow fever is another indispensable document. Tourists go through a (quick) screening at the airport where it is necessary to present this card. If you do not have proof of insurance purchase, the officers will require you to enter the country – which will certainly be much more expensive.
5. Set Aside A Small Part Of The Budget For Tips
If you have traveled to North America, you know that tips are essential, since a good part of the workers’ income comes from there. Traveling to Cuba is no different, and you need to be used to tipping all service providers. For waiters and taxi drivers, it is usually 15% or 20%. For those who carry your luggage, deliver CUC $ 1.00. Maids and tour bus drivers also receive CUC $ 1.00/day. For your guide/translator, give CUC $ 1.50/day.
6. Beware Of The Pleasantries That Cost Money
As in other tourist places around the world, traveling to Cuba also involves its “pranks” for tourists. If someone stops you on the street or the shore of Cuba beaches and starts some manual work, like a cartoon, a bracelet, or a painting, you can be sure that it is not a gift. The price will come in the end. Just thank, decline, and go your way.
7. Take Adapters For Your Electronics
Traveling to Cuba involves rescuing your childhood memories when recharging your cell phone or computer. Because the pins are double and round, similar to our old plugs. If you are carrying something of a straight pin or triple pin, invest in a universal adapter. All outlets are 220V, so be careful with your 110V devices!
8. Internet Access Is Not So Easy
Internet access in Cuba is still very limited, and hotels with free Wi-Fi are rare. When it does, it is not good, as is the case with the Hotel Nacional, considered one of Havana’s best. To access the internet, it is necessary to buy an access card from ETECSA, the country’s telecommunications company. This card most of the time gives access to 1 hour of internet and costs 1 CUC. That done, you need to put the code on your phone and connect it to one of the Wi-Fi points in the city you are in. It may seem strange, but it does not work as a 3G, only on the WiFi_ETECSA network. In hotels, this is the same scheme to follow.
9. Don’t Go In High Season
The period between May and June is a good choice for traveling to Cuba: a period of great heat, carnival, and harvest of tobacco. Between November and March are the most crowded months for tourists, as the Cuba weather is milder and less humid, making the tours more pleasant. Try to escape the months between July and November, as this is the hurricane season in the region.
10. Reserve A Good Amount For Cuban Cuisine
Traveling to Cuba can also be a little bit expensive, especially if you want to eat out regularly. The options range from “normal” restaurants, which are run by Cuban entrepreneurs or foreigners living in the country, and government restaurants run by the government. This is the case with the famous La Bodeguita del Medio and Floridita. A lot of cassava is eaten there, in addition to pork and beef, and meals in restaurants considered to be good are between 10 CUC and 15 CUC. Typical foods include Arroz Congris (rice with red beans cooked in the same pan), Ropa Vieja (based on pulled beef), and Chicharrones (also known as crackling).
Among the drinks, the highlights are Cuba-Libre, Daiquiri, Creme de Vie, Rum, Mojitos, and Bucanero, which is the local beer. In this unique country, seductive beauty shares space with decadence, revolutionary iconography, Cuba history kept in a jam. The facades, many in pieces, mix art deco, art nouveau, and baroque in the same alley. The impression is that everything there already comes, naturally, with an Instagram filter. And the weather in general, without heavy traffic, pollution, LED signs, excessive trade, violence, etc., makes everyday feel like Sunday. And the feeling of being there is, without a doubt, unlike anything you will feel anywhere else on the planet.