Cuba: Things to Know Before You Go

Mitch and I went to Cuba for a few days and I thought I would compile a list, that I hope is helpful, with advice for anyone traveling to Cuba! If you have any questions don’t hesitate :)

VISAS

  • If you are Canadian or part of the EU, you do not need to apply for a visa before flying to Cuba (I am not sure about other countries and don’t want to provide any inaccurate information)
    • On the flight you will be provided with a visa & a declaration form
    • The visa asks for you name, date of birth, passport number etc. and has two identical sides to it. You need to fill out both sides and keep one until the end of your trip. Once you are exiting Cuba, you return the visa

CURRENCY

  • There are two currencies in Cuba, pesos and the CUC (equivalent to $1USD)
    • As a tourist you will only use CUCs
    • Most places in Cuba only accept cash, and there is an additional fee if you pay in USD. My recommendation would be to take out cash in your home country and exchange it at the airport in Cuba once you arrive
    • If you buy anything on the streets, make sure you are receiving CUCs back as many places do not accept pesos (pesos are used by locals mainly for food or small purchases)
    • There are ATMs that are accessible in many places if you need to take out cash once in Cuba
    • You can exchange any leftover CUC at the airport once you have passed security

PLUGS & VOLTAGE

  • The plugs are the same as in Canada & the US, but the voltage varies

INTERNET & DATA PLANS

  • There is very little internet around Cuba and usage is very regulated
    • You will need to purchase an internet card which provides you with 1 hour of internet (costs between 2 – 4CUC depending on where you purchase it )
    • There are wi-fi hot spots where you can log on (you will see crowds of people on certain sidewalks and will automatically know that it is a wi-fi hotspot)
    • Internet cards can be purchased at most hotels
  • Purchasing a data plan for Cuba is very expensive, I looked into it with both my Canadian SIM card & French one and did not find a suitable option
  • Therefore, do the majority of your research before heading to Cuba and print out any reservations you may need

SECURITY

  • Cuba is extremely safe, to the point that I would feel comfortable walking around alone at night (and I am definitely a scardy cat haha)
  • However, there are a lot of scams to be weary of
    • Especially when we were in Havana, there were a lot of people trying to scam us out of our money. In Cuba people have very low salaries, and so they are trying to supplement their incomes, and tourists are a great way to do that. Here are some examples we experienced:
    • I wanted to buy street food, but since we had just arrived in Cuba the smallest bill I had was a 20. Most street food is around 2 CUC and the vendor didn’t have change. I said no worries I’ll come back later once I have change, but his friend offered to change it for me, so I thought sure that is so nice! Once he came back after 5 minutes, he asked me for 10 CUC for changing it (he asked this as he was holding my money) and I was caught by surprise and didn’t really know how to say no. So, I ended up paying 12 CUC for a 2 CUC coconut ball
    • Another time, Mitch and I were walking around and this guy struck up a conversation with us and again seemed super friendly. He asked us where we were going and I told him where we were heading, he then walked us over to our destination and requested money for taking us there
    • We experienced this a lot in Havana, but not at all in Vinales or Varadero (more on where to visit in my next blog post)
    • Also make sure you buy cigars either from a cigar shop in Havana or a Tobacco Farm (i.e in Vinales) because people will try and sell you counterfeit cigars on the street

HOW TO GET AROUND

  • Mitch and I went during the 9 day mourning period, and so not as much transit was running. We mainly ended up using taxis from one place to another, which was quite expensive (comparable to prices in the US & Canada)
  • The bus that goes between cities is called Viazul, but it only departs from certain destinations a few times a day , so make sure you are aware of those times otherwise you could spend hours waiting!
  • We landed in Varadero, but were staying in Havana which was 1.5 hours away
    • We looked into taking a Viazul bus but it only leaves from the centre of Varadero (there is no station at the airport) 3 times a day and the times did not coincide with our arrival
    • If you have organized a vacation package then transportation would be provided for you, but we booked everything ourselves so we ended up having to take a taxi to get from Varadero to Havana
    • A taxi from Varadero to Havana costs between 80 – 100CUC
    • A taxi from Varadero airport to a hotel in Varadero costs between 30 – 40CUC
  •  The majority of the cars on the road in Cuba are old, but people take extremely great care of their cars (but don’t be surprised if the radio or air conditioning isn’t working)
  • Always make sure that you know the bus times, because often times if you ask locals they will try and convince you that the buses aren’t running so that they can recommend a taxi or drive you and make some money
  • There are also various tour companies popping up in Cuba, but we didn’t use any of them so I can’t speak to them

LANGUAGE

  • While everyone in Cuba speaks Spanish, many people speak English so even if you don’t speak Spanish, it shouldn’t be difficult to communicate
    • Cuba is a very educated country (education is free and accessible) and therefore many people speak multiple languages

WATER

  • Only drink bottled water, they should provide you some at the hotel, and all restaurants serve bottled water
    • Because I am always terrified of getting sick, I even kept a bottle of water by the sink to brush my teeth with haha

FOOD

  • Street food is really good in Havana and only costs around 2CUC (but make sure you have exact change to avoid getting scammed!!)
  • Typical Cuban food includes: rice, beans, sweet potatoes, chicken, beef, shrimp, & lobster
  • More restaurants have been opening up since the government has been giving people more business licenses over the past 2 years. The best places to eat are Paladars, which are restaurants in people’s home
  • It was surprisingly difficult finding good places to eat in Havana, but one of our taxi drivers recommended a Paladar called Dona Carmela, which was good!
  • Of course if you are staying at a resort chances are most of your meals are covered. We stayed in an all-inclusive in Varadero on our last night and the food was exactly what you would expect from an all-inclusive
  • The BEST meal we had was actually in Vinales in a restaurant called Finca Agroecologica. It was family style and delicious! I think they brought us over 15 different dishes and it was less than 15CUC per person!

CLOTHING

  • You can wear whatever you want in Cuba and feel comfortable
  • It is really humid there so I recommend having light and breezy clothes and just a thin jacket for the evening if you are going during the winter months
  • I would recommend comfortable shoes and sandals (I didn’t bring a single pair of heels, and I’m usually in heels haha)

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