Although Cuba is undoubtedly a beautiful and interesting country, it’s also a slightly odd one when it comes to travelling there. It’s likely to be completely different to any other country you’ve visited before. That’s no bad thing, it’s great to be different, but it can mean that you’re not sure what to expect. Although my trip was only 2 weeks long, I feel I got a good grasp of the country and potential pitfalls whilst travelling around it. Here’s a list of Cuba travel tips that I picked up along the way, hopefully they’ll make your planning and actual trip a little snoother…
Organise a visa (tourist card) before you fly
Most countries will need a visa to visit Cuba, and the UK is one of them. As a standard holidaymaker, you’ll need a 30-day tourist card. You must buy this before you fly, if not you’ll be refused boarding in the UK. The easiest way to get hold of one is to visit the Cuban Embassy in London, although obviously this isn’t feasible for a lot of people. You can apply for a tourist card from the Cuban embassy via the post or use an online travel company such as The Travelvisa Company.
Make sure you keep the cards in pristine condition, no folding or bending, as otherwise this might be rejected at the Cuban border.
Independence Square, Havana
Take cash to exchange when you arrive in Cuba
There are two currencies in Cuba and visitors tend to use the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC). You can’t buy this outside if Cuba, so I’d advise you to take cash to change once you arrive in the country. Take some small sterling or Euro notes for tips when you first arrive in Cuba. You can use cards in hotels and major cities but it’s wise to carry cash at all times.
It’s expected that you’ll give a small tip following a meal, to a bellboy or to a driver. I’d encourage you to embrace this and give what you can; Cuban people are extremely friendly and helpful even though they’re likely paid a pittance for the long hours they work.
A laid-back local
Pack extra toiletries to give to the locals
In a similar vein, many Brits take toiletries and other gifts for hotel workers and local people. Again, I’d encourage you to do the same if you’re able to. The best things to take are probably soap and shampoo, which are expensive and can be difficult to get hold of for the locals. You may get Cuban ladies coming up to you in the street asking for soap; take some in your bag when you’re out and about.
Remember to pack toilet paper and hand sanitiser when travelling
When travelling between towns, your bus or taxi will likely stop at local restaurants or the Cuba equivalent of a service station. Be aware that’s it very unlikely these will have toilet paper, make sure you pack your own when on the move. I’d recommend hand sanitiser too.
Don’t leave your accommodation without plenty of bottled water
It goes without saying that you shouldn’t drink Cuban tap water. Make sure that you take bottled water with you when you leave your accommodation; there are very few supermarkets in Cuba and it isn’t easy to find somewhere to buy water like in other countries. Even in Havana, we struggled to find places to buy water from (we flew up for the day so couldn’t take this with us).
Don’t expect to be delighted by the food
Cuba is not renowned for its food, so don’t go expecting culinary delights. I had some delicious meals whilst there but these certainly weren’t comparable to the food you’ll find in Europe or South East Asia. Be sure to try Cuban speciality Ropa Vieja (shredded beef). The seafood is particularly good, as are exotic fruits such as papaya.
Enjoying a sunset dinner
Embrace the lack of wifi
Wifi is not widely available in Cuba, as this is regulated by the government. There is no free wifi anywhere, we didn’t even have this in our 5* resort. You can buy a government issued wifi card from hotels or internet cafes, which last for an hour. The cost varies; we paid around £1.50/hour. My advice would be to embrace the lack of wifi and go technology-free if you can, it’s refreshing for a change and will give you a taste of the real Cuba.
Get ready for a slower pace of life
Life in Cuba is pretty laid back and things don’t get done particularly quickly, whether that’s organising a taxi or serving your food. Embrace the slower pace of life and relax.
Enjoy your trip
Do your research and know what to expect before you go but most of all, enjoy your trip. Cuba is a beautiful, diverse and enchanting country with lots to offer.
Have you been to Cuba? Do you have any other travel tips?