Best Cuba Travel Tips and Advice
Are you looking for Cuba travel tips and advice? Want some insider advice for traveling there before you board the plane?
Here are some useful tips that you might not know. These are perfect for anyone who has not been to Cuba before. 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. One that everyone should enjoy. However, traveling back in time does make for some interesting hurdles you are going to have to face while you are there.
Here is everything you need to know about Cuba before you travel there.
Before Traveling to Cuba
Understanding the Money
If you are American, you should know that you are unable to access any American bank accounts or credit 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.
Another thing you need to know about Cuba is they actually have two currencies. They have the Cuban Peso (CUP) and the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC).
For the most part, the CUC is for tourists and the CUP is for locals. The CUP is the currency handed out by their government and is used for such things as groceries, street food, local bus tickets, and convenience markets. It is rare that tourists will receive CUPs, unless you are able to exchange CUCs with a local.
When you are traveling to Cuba you will mainly have to worry about CUCs. This is what you will pay with for taxis, drinks, restaurants and any activities that you may want to do while you are there.
If you want to know how to tell the difference between the two currencies is CUPs have faces on them whereas CUCs have buildings. This way you won’t get confused with the money when you are down there.
Where to get CUCs?
Unfortunately, you are unable to get CUCs before you get to Cuba. So you will have to wait until you arrive in the country to obtain them. Once you are in Cuba you can exchange your currency for CUCs. You can exchange it at airports, banks, hotels, and resorts.
Beware though that if you are carrying American dollars you are likely to get ripped off. 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. Knowing it right there and then they still wouldn’t do anything.
Be sure to count it there with them, twice!
What About ATMs?
There are plenty of ATMs in Cuba. However, like I mentioned before if you have an American bank you are unable to use them.
If you have an overseas account or a friend with a bank account outside the US. It is a good idea to bring them along since they will have access to the ATMs. That way you won’t have to carry down so much cash with you.
Most of the ATMs only give out CUCs or tourist currencies.
So How Much Money Should You Bring?
This all depends on how you like to travel. It is easy to get through Cuba on a budget. Food and accommodation are not that expensive.
However, if you don’t want to bring a ton of cash with you to Cuba it is a good idea to prebook all your accommodations and tours online before you arrive in Cuba.
American credit cards will work for making bookings outside of Cuba. However, once you are in the country they will no longer work. Anything you want to pay for with a credit card try to book it online before you get to Cuba.
If you book all your accommodation and tours online before you get there. You will only have to worry about your food and transportation costs.
- 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 any 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 its history with communism. They are not the highest tech museums, but interesting to learn about their country from their perspective.
What About Tipping in Cuba?
Tipping is very common in Cuba and is pretty much expected. It is a good idea to plan on leaving tips. Not only for the 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.
When we went to Cuba, 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.
Which leads me to my next part…
What To Pack 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. It is a good idea to plan for this and bring everything down that you might need for your trip. This includes your toilet paper.
It is also a good idea to double-check your packing list before you leave for Cuba. To ensure you don’t forget anything.
Like 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
- Tooth Brush/Toothpaste
- Hand Soap/ Sanitizer
- First Aid Kit
- Water Bottle with Filter
- Bug Spray
- Portable Charger
- Spanish Phrase Book
- Any medications that you are currently taking
When Traveling Around in Cuba
Once you are in Cuba, there are some things that you should be aware of to help make your trip a little bit easier and smoother. For instance, the internet is hard to come by in Cuba. It is a good idea to plan for this ahead of time.
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 it is an offline map that you can download ahead of time. This came in super handy in Cuba because we rarely had internet.
What you need to know about the Internet!
The Internet is hard to come by in Cuba. 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 not staying in a major hotel or if you are not near a lobby you can access the only other way to access the internet is through parks.
When you are in Cuba you will notice “parks” where tons of people are sitting on their smartphones. This is because this is where they can access the internet. These are Cubas hotspots since the internet is usually not accessible from their homes.
Beware that you will also need to buy a “time card” before you can access 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 sometimes these are used and are no longer valid. Even if they have the plastic wrap on them and haven’t been scratched off.
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.
So plan for this before you leave the country, especially if there are any bills you are going to have to pay or tinder dates you had lined up.
What to Expect in Cuba
Cuba can be a magical place. It will feel like you have stepped back in time and never entered the 60’s, but not all of this can be a good thing.
There is some ugly side to Cuba, that you should beware of before you make the trip.
Here is some of my Cuba Travel Tips and Advice on how to handle the not so pretty.
1. Paperless/ Waterless bathrooms – I mentioned before that you should bring your own toilet paper. This is because most bathrooms are paperless. In your homestay, 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 with their toilets. Usually, there will be a bucket and a water spout you are able to use to flush the toilets.
2. Catcalling- 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. They are not trying to be rude, it is just a part of their culture. Just ignore it and go on with your day.
3. 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 trip to Cuba. This is part of what makes traveling here so beautiful.
4. Horrible service- Almost anywhere outside the USA has subpar service, but Cuba it is ridiculous. You just need to learn to slow down. Move at a different pace and you will be perfectly fine.
5. Cleanliness- Things in Cuba are not as clean as we are used to. You will also notice a lot of unfinished projects around the country. Roads and bridges that are half-finished and have been that way for 50 years. They have a very slow mindset there and are used to the way things are.
6. Trash- Cuba does not have the same thoughts as we do for trash collections and littering. Cubans are very used to littering and leaving garbage everywhere. It is heart-breaking because it is such a beautiful country. Everyone just throws there trash on the ground and doesn’t think twice about it. Be a part of the solution and not the problem. Try to only use garbage cans and don’t litter.
What Can You Take Home
Besides memories that will last a lifetime. Everyone loves souvenirs from their holiday. Here is a shortlist 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
Cuba is a beautiful country and unlike any other. Everything is different down there. Although some things might be worse off, the Cuban people are happy and love their country and lifestyle.
Try to respect when you travel there and be sure to go out and enjoy some Mojitos.