I didn’t find Cuba to be the easiest place to travel.
Although things are changing fast, you can’t just walk into a grocery store and buy anything you want. Restaurants can also suffer from a scarcity of ingredients and there is often a severe lack of customer service.
Communications are difficult, the internet is not yet readily available, and travel info is at a premium.
The attitude towards tourists ranges from “Oh yay wow you’re here and we’re so excited to see you!” to “Ugh, it’s your fault prices are rising so I’m going to take advantage of your wealth as much as I possibly can.”
So after spending 37 days in Cuba I feel like I have some advice to offer that will make your trip easier and more enjoyable! Read my Cuba travel tips and learn from my experiences for a great trip!
Before you go:
1. Check your visa requirements. Right now, British, EU citizens, Americans, and Australians can stay 30 days. Canadians can stay for 90 days, and all of these can be extended for the same amount of time again. But double check before you go because things are changing. Don’t just rely on some chick on a blog to tell you what’s required!
2. Brush up on your Spanish! In Havana it’s not so necessary but elsewhere it helps immensely, and anyway it never hurts to speak a bit of the local language, even if you don’t actually have to!
3. Pack light, in a backpack rather than a suitcase if you can. The roads and sidewalks are often not smooth enough to roll a suitcase along, and having minimal stuff to lug around will open up more cheap transportation options to you.
4. Consider what’s available in Cuba (or not available, usually). Some things you should think about taking are:
- Water purification – bottled water is not always easy to find, and when you do it’s expensive! I took tablets and was so glad I had them, but they sort of disintegrated in the heat so I had to scrape them out of the blister packs and was never sure I was getting it all. Maybe think about drops or a Lifestraw or Steripen instead.
- Snacks – you can buy snacks in Cuba, but they’re not always easy to find and often expensive.
- Drink crystals – if you like to add some flavour to your water.
- Vitamins, if you’re going to be there a while. I didn’t always feel like I was getting adequate nutrition.
- Mosquito repellent (and always carry with you!) – in a pinch you might find some at a fancy hotel .
- Sunscreen – also possibly available at a fancy hotel, but I wouldn’t count on it.
- Contact lens solution
- Tampons or sanitary pads
- Tissues & wet wipes
- Hand sanitizer
- Dental floss
- Any medication or over-the-counter drugs you might need.
- Good walking/hiking shoes
- Notebook and pen
- Guidebook – I met people who really wished they had one, because they couldn’t just rely on the internet for information and maps!
- Things to give away: pens/pencils, notebooks, soap/lotion/shampoo, clothing. The Cubans will take anything at all that you want to give them. If you’re visiting a particular person or organization, try to find out what they need before you go.
5. Pre-load your credit cards so you can avoid super-high cash advance interest rates when you withdraw from them. Plan your access to money carefully and make sure you have cash as backup, preferably in Canadian dollars, British pounds, or Euros.
6. Download a web browser other than Chrome onto your phone or device. I was never able to get Chrome to work in Cuba. Plan on minimal internet use while in the country.
7. Print any Viazul bus or plane tickets you’ve pre-booked. You probably won’t find anywhere to do this in Cuba.
9. Grow a thick skin, especially if you’re a solo female. The hustlers will love you and so will the men! Ignoring them works best.
In the country:
10. Change money at the airport, but you’ll have to wait in line for it! I’ve heard there’s an ATM just inside the terminal that might work.
11. Cuba has two currencies, but you’ll mostly just use one, the CUC. Change a little bit of your CUC into CUP, but don’t overdo it. You probably won’t use it as much as you think. Depending on how you travel, I recommend a maximum of 5 CUC/week/person.
12. Don’t pay more than 25 CUC for a taxi to/from the airport.
13. Take a couple of salsa classes. It’ll set you up well for your nights out!
14. Always get a card from your casa particular so you can find it again. Take a picture of the card on your phone.
15. If you like the casa particular you’re in, ask the owner to call ahead and book a good one for you in your next destination. They’ll also do it if you have a recommendation for one, and can arrange a pickup from the bus station (for a fee!).
16. Anyone who finds you on the street and takes you to a casa particular or a restaurant is getting a commission. Politely decline anyone who offers you such services, unless you want to pay that commission.
17. Look for posh hotels to sit in and use internet. Sometimes they have their own network, sometimes it’s a public one from the street nearby, but either way it works from the same card. And it’s better than sitting on the street and sometimes it’s even air conditioned!
18. In a restaurant it’s a good idea to make a second and even a third menu choice. Availability of ingredients fluctuates so often restaurants are out of some items, and service is not always good. You could end up waiting 20 minutes before the waiter comes back to take your order only to find that they don’t have your second choice either.
19. If you have a chance to buy cookies or snacks, do it. You don’t know when the chance might come again. It’s always unpredictable as to what a store might have on its shelves, when the store might be open, and even if you can find a store at all! Fresh fruit is usually easy to find.
20. Get to the bus station early. I recommend being there an hour before the scheduled departure.
21. Don’t take too long at bus stops, and make sure someone on the bus will check that you’re back when it leaves.
22. Always take your passport when doing anything to do with money, buses, internet cards, and official sights. Sometimes you need it, sometimes you don’t.
23. Be patient. Allow yourself plenty of time for meals or anything official or money related. Things happen on Cuba time and there often isn’t much sense of customer service.
24. Be flexible. Things don’t necessarily work all the time in Cuba. You might not be able to get where you want to go, or you might have to find another way. Breathe deep and deal with it.
25. Stick to your guns. If someone tells you that you can’t take that public bus or that they don’t have internet cards, be persistent. The bus is going and you can be on it, and those people aren’t lining up outside the ETECSA office for nothing. It’ll happen.
26. Don’t get sucked in. Friendly locals will take you out for drinks and you’ll be the one paying, sometimes a lot. Use your common sense and ask how much things cost before agreeing to anything.
27. Don’t be too cheap. Some Cubans who are in business for themselves are doing very well, but the average Cuban who works for the government makes about 20 CUC a month, so consider what they have vs. what you do. Tip accordingly.
28. Go with the flow and enjoy yourself!
Have you been to Cuba? Do you have any Cuba travel tips of your own to add? If you have questions feel free to ask – either in the comments or email me!