Cuba has always been on my bucket list, but never did I imagine I would get the opportunity to actually travel there. Cuba is not an easy place to travel to, but with a little preparation you’ll have the best time in this beautiful country. Before you start packing your suitcase and jet off to Cuba, here are twelve things you need to know.
You need to apply for a Visa
The process is simple, and most airlines will send you an email with a direct link. You have the option of picking it up at the Cubana Air counter before your flight or it can be shipped directly to your house.
Pack a power converter
Don’t forget an adapter some buildings still use the round prong power outlet.
You need travel insurance
They didn’t ask us for proof of insurance but it is required.
Major lack of condiments
Listen to Beyoncé and put some hot sauce in your bag! Due to the restrictions of trade, the food can lack some flavor, and many of the condiments we are used to finding in the states aren’t available in Cuba. Don’t forget condiments and snacks for in-between meals.
Know the different between Cuban Peso and Cuban Convertible Peso
CUP is the currency used by the locals, while the CUC pronounced “cook” is what you will be using. Make sure when you get change that they are giving you the right currency; you can only use CUP to take local transportation or to buy fruits and vegetables from the vendors.
Wi-Fi is a novelty in Cuba
Prepare to disconnect and enjoy your trip without the distractions that come with constantly being on social media. You are able to buy a prepaid card at most hotels that has a code on the back. You can use this card with any of your devices, just make sure to turn off your Wi-Fi when you aren’t using it. For ten dollars (CUC) you get five hours of Wi-Fi inside hotels, coffee shops, and several outdoor Wi-Fi points.
Bring way more cash than you think you need!
My best friend and I thought we had brought enough cash but we were wrong. We waited in line for 45 min only to find out that credit cards and ATM cards issued in the US don’t work in Cuba. Thank God we met Eddie, Maz, and Omar while waiting in line, we love you guys thank you for helping us out with that loan! Bring more cash then you think you need, budget around 100-120 CUC a day.
Cuba charges a 10% tax when exchanging US dollars to CUCs
Money can be exchanged at the airport, but expect to wait in long lines. Hotels have Cadeca (currency exchange house); you’ll get pretty goods rates there. I recommend you bring Euros from the U.S. to convert; the exchange rate is much better than the dollar.
Stay in Old Havana
We used Airbnb to book our stay in a Casa Particular or B&B in Old Havana. If you can, stay in a Casa Particular to help the family’s local business. Old Havana is the perfect location because it’s convenient and you can explore by foot.
Once you find a taxi driver you like get his card!
Taxi drivers will try to hustle you and charge you higher prices. Our neighbors recommended Jose, who was the best taxi driver in town. Jose knew our cell phones didn’t work in Cuba so he would set up a place and time to pick us up at the end of the night. He offered fair prices and got us home safe every single night. Once you find a taxi driver you trust, hold on to him! You can also take the “Co-co” taxi or a “Bici-Taxi” if you are going short distance, it’ll cost you around 8 CUC.
Brush up on your Spanish
Almost everyone speaks English in Cuba but they appreciate the effort if you try and speak Spanish. The moment they knew we spoke Spanish they lowered our prices and treated us like family.
Bring a carry-on only!
The airports aren’t prepared for the large number of tourist flying into Havana. Waiting for you luggage can be a real nightmare and you can wait up to two hours. Also, don’t forget to pack comfortable shoes, sunscreen, Kleenex, and mosquito repellent.
Remember to stay hydrated, download a map of Cuba, don’t be afraid to ask for help, and take lots of pictures!