30 Things You Must Know Before Travelling To Cuba
There are a lot of Cuba travel tips to know of before visiting this unique country for the first time.
Cuba was on our bucket list since we met and started our journey around the world a few years ago.
Although we travelled to many magnificent places, we never made it to Cuba, so this time we have decided that no matter what, we will explore this unique country.
Little did we know what to expect once we landed in Cuba, therefore, we highly recommend to read our guide.
There is a lot of Cuba travel tips for tourists travelling to the country.
We are covering the essential Cuba travel tips every traveller should know before visiting the country.
Here are our 30 Cuba travel tips for everyone travelling to the island :
1. Best time to travel to Cuba
The best time to visit Cuba is from towards the end of the year, starting early December up until April.
With the island hot tropical climate, the summer’s average temperature is 24 degrees, whereas during the winter months of January and February expect less than 15 degrees.
From May to October, you can expect a lot of rain as the island is in a wet season.
The peak tourist season runs from mid-December to mid-March so expect to pay top prices for accommodation, tours and more.
One of the first Cuba travel tips: visit the country during a shoulder season where you still have good weather but lower accommodation prices.
2. Know Cuba visa requirements
If you are planning to visit Cuba, chances are you need a visa to enter the country.
Only travellers from 18 countries can freely travel to Cuba without any visa. The rest of us will have to purchase a tourist card at the airport before check-in.
For American passport holders, this process is a bit trickier, and you can enter Cuba under specific categories.
3. You must have an outbound flight from Cuba
When travelling to Cuba, you must show an outbound flight. Otherwise, you won’t be able to board the plane.
We were coming to the island from Mexico and had to show our onward flight to Miami at the time of check-in.
There is no way around it, therefore, make sure that you have an onward flight. You can easily book your flight via Skyscanner here.
4. Print out all essential documents needed to enter Cuba
Other than your visa or tourist card, make sure to print out all crucial documents before travelling to Cuba.
Travel insurance, tour bookings, hotel reservations or any other important papers might become very handy to have.
We haven’t seen any internet cafes in Cuba, therefore having all documents with you might be the best option since wifi is almost nonexistent here.
We managed to travel the island with all info stored in our computers, but many Cuba travel tips sites recommend having everything in print.
5. Have appropriate travel insurance for Cuba
Make sure to purchase a suitable travel insurance coverage before travelling to Cuba.
We can’t stress enough how important it is to have travel insurance when going abroad.
Although we weren’t asked to provide proof of travel insurance at the airport, there is no guarantee that they won’t ask you.
Also, you don’t want to travel to an unknown destination without this kind of backup.
It’s best to be safe and get suitable travel insurance before your travels.
Please do not ignore any of these Cuba travel tips.
6. Book accommodation in Cuba well in advance
If you are planning to visit Cuba anytime soon, make sure to book your accommodation well in advance.
Many websites do not work in this country; therefore it might be very time-consuming walking from place to place and asking for prices.
7. Airbnb or Booking.com websites and apps don’t work in Cuba
The most common accommodation in Cuba is called Casa Particular which are rooms or apartments rented by locals for a daily fee.
Important Cuba travel tips: these type of accommodations are very cost effective and excellent if you are on a budget.
Many owners advertise their Casa Particular vacancy on Airbnb and for $25+ you can support the locals and sleep in a lovely room or apartment.
We rented two bedroom oceanfront apartment for as little as $35 a night.
The only way to book an Airbnb when you are already in Cuba is to go through a turbovpn app (may not be available on apple app store).
If you are planning to use Airbnb for the first time, here’s $54 discount off your first stay. Enjoy!
We also cover five essential tips for booking your first Airbnb here.
8. Decide how much cash you will need in Cuba
Take as much money to Cuba as you possibly can!
We travelled to Cuba from Mexico and withdrawn as much peso’s as we could. The money obviously still didn’t last too long.
We highly recommend that you take Euro or Pounds with you and exchange them once you land.
All American debit and credit cards do not work in Cuba.
We were able to use our Irish Visa and Canadian MasterCard to withdraw money from the ATM’s, even so, it was a nightmare as the ATM’s only gave so much cash at one time and had a mind of its own.
Our Cuba travel tips: do not take US dollars with you as you will be charged additional 10% on top of the exchange fee. It’s just not worth it.
9. Keep in mind that Cuba has two currencies
Here’s the current conversion rate from Euro to CUC and CUP in case you wonder:
CUP and CUC are the two currencies used in Cuba.
CUC – Convertible Peso is used mainly by tourists, and you can pay for almost everything with this currency.
CUP – The National Peso is used mainly by locals and to pay for public transportation.
When exchanging our Pesos, we weren’t even able to choose and were given the CUC currency.
10. What you need to know about ATM’s and CADECA’s in Cuba
The easiest way to take money out from your account with your bank card in Cuba is to go to CADECA.
CADECA’s are currency exchange places where you can also take money out with your card. You can find them at most hotels.
We were taking money out of our Irish debit card, and it took few seconds to get the money out.
Our Cuba travel tips: make sure to bring along your passport as otherwise, they won’t allow you to withdraw any money from your account.
Some ATM’s will accept your card, but it might take time to withdraw some cash.
It took us five attempts to finally be able to withdraw some money out of the ATM as it had low withdrawal limit. Eventually, our banks blocked the cards because of too many attempts.
11. Most places in Cuba don’t accept bank cards
Trying to pay for anything with your bank card can be a nightmare.
We booked a few day getaway to Varadero with tourist desk at the Hotel Nacional, and it took an hour to pay for it with a card.
The hotels do not have card machines, so your card gets imprinted on a paper, and the transaction is confirmed via phone call.
Let us tell you that the banks do not answer the phones! It will be much easier if you go to the nearest CADECA and take money out.
12. Inform your bank when you are going to Cuba
Don’t make the mistake of trying to withdraw cash and get declined just because you forgot to tell your bank that you are travelling to Cuba.
Different countries have different rules, and we were usually able to advise the bank via the bank app.
For Cuba however, our banks needed to be called and told the exact dates we would be here.
13. Everything you need to know about wifi in Cuba – Cuba wifi cards – Cuba wifi spots
There is no free wifi in Cuba, and that’s a fact.
The only way you can connect to the internet is by purchasing cards called ETECSA.
It is a small scratch card that will allow you to connect to a network at hotels and major hotspots around the big cities.
If you spot a group of people in the park or on the side of a street and looking at their phone screens, it means that there is a wifi hotspot.
Expect to pay anywhere from CUC 1.50 to CUC 5 for an hour of internet.
Our Cuba travel tips: the cards are valid as long as you have minutes on it so log out of internet as soon as you are finished.
Some hotels sell 5-hour cards, but usually, you have to be a hotel guest to purchase one.
Hotel Nacional, for example, sells their cards for CUC 5 per hour, valid only for 24hrs.
The wifi is very slow in Cuba so don’t expect to do any Skype calls or do any work.
14. There is no roaming service available in Cuba
As soon as you land you will notice that your phone has no cell phone service in Cuba and there is no way to get any coverage.
If you need to make an international phone call, it will have to be made from a phone centre, and the service is expensive.
15. Download Google maps before travelling to Cuba
Make sure to download google maps before you board the plane or get offline maps such as maps.me or galileo offline maps which allows you to use your phone’s GPS to show your location.
16. Your favourite US websites won’t load in Cuba
There is literally no USA website that will work in Cuba. Do your research well in advance and definitely before you get to Cuba.
We highly recommend booking accommodation and activities in advance to make your trip pleasant and less stressful.
Tripadvisor is great for arranging accommodation and sightseeing being it in Havana, Trinidad or Vinales.
17. Best way to book your tours in Cuba
The easiest way to explore Cuba is to book several tours before travelling to the country; this is usually also the most expensive way.
We arrived in Cuba with having organised nothing but Airbnb for the first week.
You can find local agencies in most of the major cities who can recommend and book a tour for you.
Most of the 3+ star hotels will have a travel desk where you can make a reservation even if you are not staying at that particular hotel.
We booked several tours, accommodations and transfers through different hotels and it is the easiest and fastest way to arrange your trip if you haven’t done so before arrival.
If you are looking for the best deal for the same tour, there is no need to shop around as most places will give you the same set price.
Keep in mind that you will need to have enough cash to pay for the activities/tours as they do not accept cards.
If you are planning to explore Cuba on you own, make sure to read our guide to ‘10 best things you should do in Cuba, Havana’.
18. Know how to get around Cuba
If you are planning to drive around Cuba and explore the entire island, the easiest way to travel between cities in Cuba is by bus.
You can book a bus transfer to your desired destination with one of many tourist desks at the nearest hotels.
We paid $25 for a bus transfer from Hotel Nacional in Havana to Dreams Hotel in Varadero.
Viazul is one of the most known bus companies that will take you to most cities in Cuba if travelling independently.
Our Cuba travel tips: if you intend to travel around Cuba via public bus, make sure to arrive at bus station well before departure as tickets sell out fast and there is no way to book them online.
19. Cost of a taxi from the airport to Havana city in Cuba
The distance from Havana Airport to the city centre is less than 20km (about 20 minutes drive), and it can cost on average CUC25-35.
We paid $35 to get from the airport to our Airbnb located next to the Hotel Nacional in a private vintage taxi.
There is also a money exchange place, so you can quickly change your money at Havana airport.
Taxis are also useful if you are looking to explore the city in style. They will usually make you a deal if you wish to hire a vintage taxi for few days to explore Cuba.
It will cost you about CUC 12-15 to get from the centre of Havana to Hotel Nacional in a vintage taxi.
20. It is easy to get around Havana by foot
Havana, like other major cities in Cuba, is walkable and if you are trying to budget your money, you can easily walk everywhere.
Travelling around Cuba is safe, and there is no better way to explore your surroundings and truly embrace the Cuban culture.
It will take you bit longer to get from point A to B, but you will have the opportunity to discover the cities.
21. Do your Cuba souvenir shopping before you get to the airport
If you are planning to get some souvenir shopping done, make sure to do it beforehand.
Havana airport, for example, is small and there are almost no shops where you could do some last minute shopping.
There is also just one bar/food counter, and the food isn’t by any definition healthy.
We highly suggest getting some snacks beforehand so you can have an alternative option.
Our Cuba travel tips: there is a lot of unique things to buy in Cuba and souvenirs you can only get here. Some of the best gifts from Cuba include Cuban cigars, Cuban rum, Habana 179 perfume and much more.
22. Be prepared to queue everywhere in Cuba
One of the most apparent Cuba travel tips we received:
‘No matter where you go, be ready to queue here.’
Whether you need to take money out of ATM or purchase some goods, nothing happens fast here so you might as well get used to waiting in lines here in Cuba.
23. Is it safe to drink tap water in Cuba?
We don’t recommend drinking tap water in Cuba.
Most Cubans will boil their water before consuming, but it might not be the best option for tourists.
We highly recommend that you stock up on bottled water.
On many occasions when at supermarkets, as soon as the water gets delivered, queues form, and the water disappears fast from the shelves.
Our Cuba travel tips: if you can’t find bottled water at a supermarket, go to the nearest petrol station shop as they usually are well stocked up with water.
24. Supermarkets in Cuba aren’t the same as back home
Buying grocery in Cuba might not be as easy as it seems. We rented an Airbnb in the hope of cooking our food, however, the nearest supermarket barely had any products in it.
You will usually find canned goods, some pasta and if you are lucky some bread.
There are however local street markets selling fruits and vegetables. Ask around, and you are guaranteed to find one near you.
If you want to avoid the stress of cooking your food, there’s a lot of restaurants to choose in Cuba.
25. What should you expect from restaurants in Cuba
There are many Cuban restaurants in Cuba, but due to its trade restrictions, the island lacks a distinctive cuisine.
We found few excellent restaurants, unfortunately, most of them were lacking many dishes on the menu and meals were rather bland.
We will make sure to share our best restaurants in Havana with you in a next blog post.
26. What to do when you get sick in Cuba
Our Cuba travel tips: if you are planning a trip to Cuba, make sure to stock up on your ‘go to’ medication in case you will need it.
Whether you often get headaches or upset stomach, make sure to have some medication in case you get sick.
I got flu in Cuba during a public holiday, and it was a nightmare to get any medication. The only thing we were able to find was a jar of honey, so my flu lasted about two weeks.
Not a great start to a holiday!
27. Make sure to carry some coins with you
If you need to use a public restroom at a restaurant, bar or anywhere else, you will most likely come across a ‘toilet lady’ sitting outside with a small tray where you put your coin for using the facility.
Higher end hotels don’t make you pay, but we came across many restaurants and bars that will require you to leave some money for the cleaning lady.
28. Don’t fall for the touts
We found that many Cubans will approach us trying to recommend restaurants or give directions.
Although some people are genuinely interested when asking ‘where are you from’, most will take you to their recommended bar or restaurant where they will charge a commission or expect payment from you.
Especially when you are wearing a watch, they will ask you ‘what time it is’ and try to start a conversation with you.
Our Cuba travel tips: avoid wearing a watch in large cities as you are guaranteed to be noticed.
29. Power plugs and voltage in Cuba
Cuba has 110v, and the power plugs look like this:
Many modern hotels will have a dual voltage plug with 220v available to you.
30. One of the things you should not do in Cuba
One of the most important Cuban travel tips we got from other travellers is not to forget to tip in Cuba.
The basic salary in Cuba is very low comparing to the cost of living therefore many Cubans rely on tips they receive from tourists to support their families.
We hope that you enjoyed our 30 Cuba travel tips and learned a few things before travelling to the destination.
Heading t Cuba soon? Make sure to read our ‘top 10 things to do in Havana, Cuba‘.
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