Earlier this year, we were given news of an abolished travel ban and the announcement of direct flights. With this news, the mystique of Cuba became even more prevalent. President Trump then announced his plans to reverse Obama’s Cuba policies and impose stricter travel regulations. With this announcement, you may be looking to travel to Cuba before the travel regulations are in full effect. So, what do you need to know about Cuba? While there are a ton of articles about Cuba, I will address the questions that I often receive.
- If you are traveling from the U.S., it is wise to convert your U.S. Dollars to Canadian Dollars prior to leaving, since U.S. currency incurs an additional 10% penalty tax. I made the mistake of converting USD to Euros and ended up losing money anyway because the Euro is much stronger than the dollar. I found out, while in Cuba, that Canadian dollars would have been wiser. This is not meant to be a financial markets lesson, but either way exchange your money before you leave. P.S. your bank MAY do this at no charge.
- Cash is king in Cuba. While it was recently announced that Cuba could accept U.S. credit and debit cards, the country doesn’t necessarily have the infrastructure to do so. Most establishments do not accept cards. Carry enough cash to last you for your entire trip.
- How much cash do you need? Of course, that depends. Does your hotel/hostel provide breakfast? Are you going to spend modestly or lavishly? You can buy alcoholic beverages at 2 for $5, or you could spend $12 for one. You can buy a full meal for $10 or less or spend $40. Are you going to walk, take a cab, ride in an old car? Are you going on any excursions or day trips? Take these things into consideration. I took $300 for a weekend, and it lasted. I took a day trip, private tours, indulged in food and drinks, and bought souvenirs. This is completely up to you, but it is better to be safe than sorry. Take more than you need and exchange it back on your return – if needed.
- I will make this brief. I never felt unsafe during my time in Cuba. The locals are very nice and helpful. (Yes, they like Americans.) Of course, you should take precautions as you would anywhere in the world.
Things to Do
- Comida and Bebida! As with any country, eating and drinking are my favorites. Try an authentic Cuba Libre at any restaurant or bar. Drinks are SUPER cheap in Cuba. Go to El Floridita to try the best daquiri in the world – according to renowned author, Ernest Hemingway. Note: El Floridita is relatively expensive. Sloppy Joe’s is a historical spot that is certainly worth checking out. Dona Carmela is so good that Queen Bey ate there! Btw, my favorite dish in Cuba was ropa vieja and favorite drink was Guadapo (sugar cane juice). Try it with a little rum. 😊
- Ride in an old car, visit El Malecon at sunset, Castillo De Los Tres Reyes Del Morro, the Christ of Havana (similar to the one in Brazil), go dancing at the local clubs, go to any of the beaches, have fun!
- If you are only visiting Havana, take a day trip! In my opinion, you should spend time outside of any capitol city. While I thoroughly enjoyed Havana, there is so much more to see. I only had 3 days in Havana, so we decided to take a day trip to Vinales. It is absolutely gorgeous! You can take a tour of a cave, visit tobacco farms, and go horseback riding.
- Party with some locals!
Where to Stay
- Casa Particulares aka AirBnb: This is the cheapest option and a great way to immerse yourself in the local culture. I stayed in Old Havana and really enjoyed the area. It is the main tourist area and close to most of Havana’s attractions. El Vedado was also a very nice area to stay in and an easy taxi ride to Old Havana.
- Casa Particulares are not the only option of course. You can stay at hotels and resorts. Try the one that Beyonce stayed in. 😉
- Because Cuba is a communist country, access to the internet is restricted and controlled by the government. Wi-Fi is not the easiest, fastest, or most accessible in Cuba, but it is available. You can purchase an ETECSA card (La Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba) or a voucher from a hotel. I personally don’t recommend either because the connection is very inconsistent and slow. It’s expensive and most likely not worth it. I suggest making your time in Cuba a time to completely disconnect and enjoy. 😊
Have you traveled to Cuba? What were your favorite things about the island? If not, what is stopping you? Have more questions? Feel free to contact me!