Cuba Travel Tips
If you are planning a trip to Cuba, there are a few things that you will need to know before you board that plane. Cuba is not like most countries, there are things you NEED to know before you leave.
If you forget to pack something like toilet paper, you can’t just run down to the store and pick it up. No joke. You need to pack your own toilet paper.
Besides that, there are some important Cuba travel tips that you need to know about before arriving in the country.
These tips are perfect for anyone that is visiting Cuba. Because there is a lot to learn and know about traveling to Cuba before you go, especially if you are an American.
Everything is different down there. Traveling to Cuba is like traveling back in time.
Which is a unique travel experience. But you have to be prepared.
Here is everything you need to know about Cuba before you travel there.
Helpful Cuba Travel Tips To Enjoy Your Vacation
1. Understand The Cuban Currency
Most Important, if you are American, you should know that you are unable to access any American bank accounts or use credit and debit cards while you are in Cuba.
This means you have to plan ahead. Bring just the right amount of cash with you. The last thing you want to happen is to get stuck in Cuba without any cash.
However, you also don’t want to bring too much cash with you. So planning is key.
It is a good idea to travel with a money belt in Cuba. To keep all your cash safe.
The currency in Cuba is the Cuban Peso (CUP).
Cuba used to have two currencies including the local currency of the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC). But they got rid of that system.
Also, don’t rely on Credit Cards, Carry Cuban Pesos and no one takes USD or Euros.
2. Don’t Get Ripped Off
Of course one of the best Cuba travel tips is don’t get ripped off. Avoid bringing in American dollars if possible.
Whenever exchanging US dollars within Cuba you will be charged an extra 10% fee, on top of the 3% bank fee for exchanging your money.
So automatically you will lose 13%. YIKES!
If you are able to bring Sterling Pounds or Euros you will get a better exchange rate. You also won’t have to pay that extra 10% charge.
It is a good idea to exchange all US dollars for Pounds or Euros before leaving for Cuba.
Also, be sure to watch them when they are exchanging your currency. Make sure they give you the proper change.
I was unfortunate enough to be given the wrong change at the airport. I even caught them before I put my money in my wallet and they still wouldn’t do anything.
Make them count it twice before they hand it to you.
3. Can You Use An ATM In Cuba?
There are plenty of ATMs in Cuba. However, as I mentioned before if you have an American bank you are unable to use them unless you have an overseas account.
4. Prebook As Much As Possible
Since you have to rely fully on cash when you visit Cuba, it is a good idea to pre-book as much of your trip as you can ahead of time.
This will help you avoid carrying extra cash that you don’t need to be carrying around.
American credit cards will work for making bookings outside of Cuba. However, once you are in the country they will no longer work.
Booking with Airbnb ahead of time can help to save you the stress of bringing extra cash down for your vacation.
Viator and GetYourGuide used to work in Cuba, but as of late 2022 they suspended all tours in Cuba.
Price breakdown for when you visit Cuba.
- Accommodation- I recommend booking everything online through Airbnb before you arrive to Cuba, but Casa Particulares ( These are homestays more or less) cost around $15 – $35 a night. Hotels and resorts cost anywhere between $50 – $250
- Food and drink- You can get by super cheap in Cuba with the food, but don’t expect anything grand. You should be able to have breakfast for around $3 a day, lunch and dinner from around $8-20. Drinks are also super cheap in Cuba beers and mojitos are around $2 and their coffee is next to nothing.
- Transportation- If you are planning on visiting more than just Havanna, and I highly recommend you do. You will need to account for your transportation costs. Private taxis are an easy way to get around Cuba, but they are not the cheapest costing about $1 per Kilometer. You can also take Viazul Bus which is next to nothing (You can also pre-book this). If you are traveling far they do have flights within Cuba that can also be pre-booked or you can rent a car for about $85 a day plus the cost of fuel (Again this is hard if you only have an American credit card)
- Entertainment – Some of the more touristy things are going to cost you. For example, riding in an old classic car will be around $40 depending on how nice you want your car to be. There are some museums in Havana that are a trip to check out and will either be free or around $3. You can learn all about Cuba and Fidel Castro. They are not the highest-tech museums, but interesting to learn about their country from their perspective.
5. Don’t Expect Internet Access To Work Everywhere
Another Cuba travel tip is that internet access is hard to come by. If you are staying in a major hotel you should be able to access it from your lobby, but you are most likely not able to access it from your hotel room.
If you are staying in an Airbnb, most of your internet access will be in the public parks.
This is where it is accessible.
You will notice all of Cuban “parks” are full of people are sitting on their smartphones.
This is where you can have internet access. You will get used to not having it at the tip of your fingers, and you have to plan time for it.
Because of this, it is a smart idea to download Cuba google maps before you arrive to Cuba, so you can easily get around and won’t get lost.
6. You Need To Buy A “Time Card” For The Internet
Internet in the parks is not free. You have to buy internet cards to be able to access the internet in Cuba.
Much like prepaid cell minutes, but for the internet.
I highly recommend buying these time cards from retail stores.
There will be people trying to sell you them in the parks but are usually no longer valid.
Even if they have plastic wrap on them and haven’t been scratched off.
7. Internet Restrictions
Also, be aware that the internet is very limited and very slow. You will not be able to access everything that you are able to access back home.
Including banking information, if you are American. You can not use your credit cards and you can not access your bank accounts.
8. What About Tipping in Cuba
Before you visit Cuba it is a good idea to know about the tipping culture.
Tipping is very common in Cuba and is pretty much expected. It is a good idea to plan on leaving tips.
Not only for restaurants where the common tip is about 10%, but it is also a good idea to tip your tour guides, taxi drivers, and even your hotel staff or Casa Particulares.
Cuban’s need and want money.
Pro Cuba Travel Tips: Not only do Cubans need money, but more importantly they need basic goods.
When we were there we would leave behind unused tubes of toothpaste, razors and other toiletries that are hard to get down there as tips. These are almost more valuable than money.
We were also in contact with the owners of our Casa Particulares ahead of time and asked them what we could bring down for them.
We ended up bringing down all sorts of things from shower curtains to a blender.
This leads me to my next part…
9. Packing List For Cuba
Cuba is a rationed nation, it is hard to get basic supplies in Cuba that we are used to in the modern world so good Cuba travel tips is to be prepared.
It is a good idea to plan for this and bring everything that you might need for your trip. This includes your toilet paper 🧻 No Joke!
Unless you are staying at a fancy hotel they will not provide toilet paper, so you have to bring your own.
Casas particulares usually will not provide it and you will never see it in a public restroom.
It is also a good idea to double-check your packing list before you leave for Cuba. To ensure you don’t forget anything.
As I mentioned before. When we were there we planned ahead and brought down extra supplies for our hosts, since they are unable to access simple things.
We also brought down a lot of snacks from home. This is a great idea for anyone who has any special dietary needs or a picky eater.
The food is not the best in Cuba, so if you plan on staying awhile it is a good idea to bring your own food.
Also here is a list of things you might want to pack for your trip on top of your daily clothes
- Toilet Paper/Wipes
- Tooth Brush/Toothpaste
- Hand Soap/ Sanitizer
- First Aid Kit
- Water Bottle with Filter
- Bug Bands
- Portable Charger
- Spanish Phrase Book
- Any medications that you are currently taking
10. Lack of Everything
As I mentioned before, everything in Cuba is very limited. Besides rum, cigars and Cuban beers.
Don’t expect the comforts of home in Cuba. It is very much glorified camping unless you are staying at some of the nicer hotels.
You will realize just exactly what you need in life and what you don’t when you take your enter Cuba. This is part of what makes traveling here so beautiful.
11. Plan Your Trip Ahead Of Traveling To Cuba
Once you are in the country, these Cuba travel tips will help make your trip a little bit easier and smoother.
For instance, since the internet is hard to come by in Cuba. It is a good idea to plan for this ahead of time, which is why you will want to plan your Cuba Itinerary before you leave.
If there are any restaurants or places you would like to eat during your trip it is best to make note of them and mark there location.
I love using mapsme or google maps offline. These came in super handy in Cuba because we rarely had internet.
Cuba is a beautiful country. It is full of life and culture, it is hard not to fall in love with this country. Cuban Streets are a magical place, wandering down them is a must-do activity while you are there.
12. Pre-Book Popular Restaurants in Havana
As previously mentioned, pre-book any popular restaurants ahead of and make note of where they are. This can also help with knowing your budget a little better and prevent you from eating in terrible tourst trap restaurants.
I was shocked at out horrible the food in Cuba was. Cuban food in Florida is amazing, but Cuban food in Cuba is more like prison food.
13. Will My Cell Phone Work In Cuba?
No, even with an international plan your cell phone won’t work in Cuba. You can however get a tourist sim card ahead of time or when you land from the Cuban government.
14. Bring Toilet Paper With You Everywhere
Most bathrooms in Cuba are paperless, some you will even have to pay to access water to flush the toilet.
Bring your own toilet paper. In your airbnb, you will likely have a bum gun, but no toilet paper.
Any public toilet you will use will NOT have toilet paper. It is also common in Cuba to not have running water in their toilets. Usually, there will be a bucket and a water spout you are able to use to flush the toilets.
14. Be prepared for the long lines
For some reason when you visit Cuba, you will notice lines everywhere for everything for no apparent reason. It must be something to do with Fidel Castro and the communist party creating a sense of no urgency.
Nonetheless, be prepared to stand in line and wait.
15. Horrible Service
On top of waiting in line everywhere, be prepared for horrible service.
Almost anywhere outside the USA has subpar service, but Cuba is ridiculous. You just need to learn to slow down. Move at a different pace and you will be perfectly fine.
16. What Can You Take Home
Besides memories that will last a lifetime. Everyone loves souvenirs from their holiday. Here is a short list of what you are allowed to bring home
- Cuba Cigars- Yes! You are allowed to bring home Cuban cigars, but no more than 50.
- $800 worth of goods are duty-free
- Havanna Rum (2 litters)
For more information on what you can bring back to the USA check out the list for Cuban customs
Is Cuba Safe For Solo Women Travelers?
It is very common in Cuba for catcalling to be ok. It is hard to walk down the street without getting whistled at.
Especially if you have blonde hair. However, Cuban men for the most part are completely harmless and it is safe for solo women travelers.
They are not trying to be rude, it is just a part of their culture. Just ignore it and go on with your day. This is why it would be hard to date Cuban men.
Conclusions on Cuba Travel Tips
Traveling to Cuba is an eye-opening experience. It is like no other place on earth and has such a unique and interesting vibe to it. Everyone should travel to Cuba once in their life to see what it is like.
As I mentioned, it is like traveling back in time. So get out there and see what it has to offer.