Cuba is a beautiful country, filled with friendly locals that are usually more than happy to talk to visitors and show them some of the incredible sights and attractions of the area. However, there are some factors that you need to be aware of before you travel. Understanding how and when you can change currency, what items you need to take with you, and ensuring that you have the correct visa to travel and enter the country means that you will have a more enjoyable and less stressful stay.
1 – Don’t Expect To Change Money Before You Travel
The Cuban Peso is not an internationally traded currency which means that you should consider everything that you would normally plan for holiday currencies and then, essentially, do the opposite. Take cash out with you, don’t worry too much about taking a debit or credit card, and you might as well forget about using traveler's cheques. Hotels and some exchange offices will change your money, but the rates can vary wildly from one to another.
2 – Cash Machines Are Scarce and Rarely Work
Another factor to consider when it comes to changing and accessing the money is that cash machines are rare, and even when you find one, you will need to be lucky if you want to withdraw money. Machines are rarely filled, and the queues can be considered when a cash machine does have money in it. Try to ensure that you take enough cash with you for your holiday and forget about traveler's cheques because you won’t be able to cash them away from the airport, in most cases.
3 – Internet Access Is Expensive… And Slow
The Internet has yet to take Cuba by storm. In fact, apart from hotels and a few select Wi-Fi hotspots in popular areas, you are unlikely to find any access to note. Hotel access costs a premium, and if you do find a local hotspot, it is likely to be very busy. In all cases, access is slow. Internet cafes can be found in some towns but these tend to rely on dial-up connections and, again, cost a lot of money. You should prepare yourself for an Internet detox trip.
4 – Be Prepared To Tip… Often
It is commonplace to tip for almost every service in Cuba. Whether you are getting a cab, buying a drink, or having your bags carried for you, it is customary to give a $1CUC tip. Carry a pile of $1 notes, keep them separate from the rest of your notes, and don’t be afraid to tip. The recipient will be grateful, and they may remember you the next time you want the service they offer.
5 – Make Sure You Have a Visitor Visa
You need to have a visitor visa or holiday card when you visit Cuba. These are valid for 30 days initially but can be extended once you are in the country. While some holiday companies, tour operators, and even airline companies provide visas as part of the holiday package, this isn’t always the case. Make sure that you definitely receive a visa and, if in any doubt, use a reputable Cuba visa company to get yours before you start packing. On a similar note, you should expect stringent border checks. This is not uncommon, so don’t feel vilified or picked on.
6 – Take Tampons with You
Obviously, this won’t affect everybody that travels to the country, but Tampons are not yet available and other sanitary towels are pretty poor quality. Take a stash with you and, if you want to be courteous, leave those that you don’t require behind. Cuba even operates something of a barter system for certain objects and you may be able to barter tampons for anything ranging from fruit to cigars.
7 – Print All Documents and Guides You Need Before You Travel
A poor Internet connection means that you will struggle to download any guides or use maps or other apps that require an Internet connection or GPS connection. Download and print any maps and paper guides that you need before you travel, otherwise, you may find yourself lost and without a means of finding a route or local amenities. Even if you are staying in Havana, where there are a few Internet hotspots, and you don’t intend to travel, consider printing translation guides, guides to the local sites, and maps of the local area that include numerous routes back to your hotel.
8 – Transfer Your Music from the Cloud onto a Device
If you rely on ebook readers and mp3 players that store your libraries online, then download these directly to your device or to another form of storage. If you store anything on the cloud and need access to it, then you are going to be disappointed. Bus journeys can be long and challenging, and having music and a book can help you get through them, so it is a good idea to invest in some good reading and good music in time for your trip.
9 – Learn Some Basic Spanish Words
The Cuban people are very friendly and are willing to talk to just about any visitor on a host of topics. They are especially appreciative of those that have taken the time to learn at least some of the basics of their language. Learn some simple Spanish phrases, and learn how to ask simple questions in Spanish and you will enjoy a more amicable and friendlier stay. This will also help when shopping, visiting local markets, or just trying to book in and out of your hotel.
10 – Ensure You Visit Havana
There are many places to visit in Cuba, and one of the regions you absolutely must take the time to visit is Havana. There are places to eat, places to shop, and there are bars and clubs. You can take salsa lessons, try local cigars, and if you are looking for any items like disposable nappies then your very best bet to find these is in Havana itself. If you only intend to visit Havana once during your stay, try to leave it until nearer the end of your trip so that you are in full Cuba mode before you visit.