The largest island in the Caribbean, Cuba feeds itself with the energy of every aspect of its culture: music, dance, history, classic cars and of course Che Guevara. From the first moment you step off the plane, till the moment you take off, you will enjoy a unique experience and this is for sure.
But before traveling to Cuba you should know a few things:
- You need a visa
The formalities for obtaining it are not that difficult. If you travel through an agency, they will take care of that, or you can go to the Cuban Embassy with plane tickets, passport, insurance will get a Tarjeta Turistica.
- You must have medical insurance
Medical insurance is mandatory for Cuba.
- Inform your bank of you departure
Your bank may consider your transactions in Cuba fraudulent transactions and block your card. Better inform them in advance.
- Travel with as little baggage as you can
A backpack will be enough. This is to avoid logistical problems that may arise and believe me they will appear. Remember that at the airport in Havana there is a single conveyor belt for luggage. You may wait for hours to retrieve your luggage. That’s if you’re lucky to find it.
- When you visit Cuba
You can visit it any time of the year. Prices are not very different, but you have to consider several aspects:
- between November and March, it is the cool season. It is also the busiest time of year. Temperature and humidity are easy to bear
- between May and June it is the season of high and unbearable humidity, but at that time Cuba collects tobacco and there are many carnivals.
- between July and November, it is the hurricanes season. The wind will blow hard.
- You should go with an open mind and be ready for any situation.
Things will not work in Cuba as in other European/American countries. You should be ready for any situation and be patient.
- Forget about internet
Now, in Cuba, there are a few places chosen by the State that will benefit from wi-fi. All hotels have internet access. You can buy a 1-hour card for 2 Euro but do not expect a high speed.
- Where to stay in Cuba
If you don t stay in a 5-star hotel, you have to prepare yourself for the experience. The accommodation at 2 or 3-star hotel is not that good.
In Cuba is very common to get accommodation in local houses, called “Casas Particular”. People rent rooms in their homes for tourists and sometimes the conditions are far better than they are in hotels. Not to mention the authentic experience near a Cuban.
- Cash, cash…maybe I wasn’t clear enough…cash
Cuba is fueled by cash. Although you can find places to use the credit card, especially in luxury hotels, the fees will be very high.
- Take Euro with you
You can exchange almost any currency but you have to consider that if you take dollars the exchange will be a commissioned with 10% of the amount. The fee does not apply for Euro exchange rate or other currencies.
- Cuba has two currencies
CUP (Cuban national peso) their national currency. Cubans receive their salary in CUP.
CUC (Cuban convertible peso) convertible currency. Especially for tourists.
In most places, both currencies are accepted, but there is a huge difference between them.
1 CUC = 25 CUP
- Learn to differentiate between currencies CUP / CUC
On CUP banknotes are printed with important Cuban representative people.
On CUC banknotes are printed with important building and marked with the word convertible.
- Where to exchange money
You tend to exchange money in the airport, on arrival. Expect huge queues. If you really need pesos you can try to exchange in the arrivals terminal.
But the best way to exchange money is in banks, exchange offices called CADECAS and hotels.
Parity used was about 1 CUP = 1 EURO
Keep in mind that ingredients are hard to find, so food in Cuba is not great but I can’t say it is bad either.
I haven’t eaten well at the hotel, but in restaurants food was good.
- Download offline maps
There are few signs on the roads so you’ll need to guide yourself and an offline map will be useful
- Try to learn a few Spanish words
In many places in Cuba, people don’t speak English, so it can be useful to know a few Spanish words.
At least download an offline dictionary.
- Renting a car in Cuba
You must be patient to be able to rent a car in Cuba. There are two renting companies which are state owned. Even if there are hundreds of offices, they don’t have sufficient cars or the willingness to help.
- How to drive in Cuba
Don’t drive at night. There are many bicycles, carts and other hard to see vehicles. Public lighting is almost non-existent.
Inform yourself before driving in Cuba. This is not as easy as it looks.
- You must rent a classic car
Ca classical car can be rented by the hour and a driver is included. Prices are between 25 Euro – 35 Euro/ hour. Or you can get a taxi because there are many vintage taxis available.
- Cuba is safe
But you must pay attention to the little tricks. Cubans are trying to make some money off the tourists. At a first glance, everything looks very dangerous but the truth is that people are very friendly and helpful.