If you’re looking for Cuba tips or want to know what it’s like to travel around, we’ve compiled a list of 29 things you need to know before you go.
When we visited in June 2018, we had a lot of questions, read a load of blogs about it and after reading a lot of contradicting information, we were slightly confused about what to expect.
Was Cuba going to be safe? What about the money situation? And the random toiletries thing? Is Cuba actually as romantic as those Instagrammers make it look?
After travelling around the country for two weeks, here’s an honest blog about what we learnt of the misconceptions about Cuba.
29 Cuba tips you need to know
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Out of the 60 countries we’ve visited around the world, Cuba is actually one of the safest. Our first Cuba tip isn’t because of the reason why you think it is. It’s not entirely because the people are nice, it’s because the government has a strict law that if anything happens to a tourist, they will crack down on the offender that it’s really not worth it for them to go near you.Meeting other friendly tourists in Cuba’s Trinidad.
This law actually made it a bit of a relief to be honest but don’t think you’re invincible. I personally wouldn’t take a big camera out at night time regardless of what country I’m in.
There’s so many doctors in Cuba who earn like $30 a month that most people become taxi drivers because they can make that off a tourist in like 10 minutes. The health care system is actually pretty amazing and renowned in Cuba. But, you won’t find any homeless people around because the government houses everyone. Mind you, they might get somewhere to live but whether that house is literally falling down is another matter.We also noticed that Cuban’s LOVE to drink. You only have to go to the beach in Varadero to see how much they drink. But we rarely saw anyone drunk and there are no drugs and crime rarely happens at all in the country.
Even coca-cola is banned in the country (North Korea is the only other country who’s banned it as well) so safety is definitely on your side in Cuba.Cuba has its very own version of Coke as Coca-Cola is banned.
I felt much safer in Cuba than I did in our previous destination of LA for sure.
2. Bring print outs before you arrive
Because there is a lack of modern technology in Cuba, we recommend you print out all of your flight details. Always carry a few copies of your passport photo page and you absolutely must bring a print out of your travel insurance with you as you might be asked to present it at customs (it’s mandatory).
3. Hiring a car in Cuba
Our next Cuba tips is that you can actually hire your own car to go on a road trip around the country. The number plates start with the letter T so the locals know which is a great idea and you’ll see a fair few around.
If you’re looking to hire a car, it’s quite expensive. But the roads are super safe and easy to drive around and it’s something we definitely would do if we were to go back again.
At Miami airport getting our tourist card visa as we checked in for the flight.
The Cuba tips everyone wants to know is always about flying into Cuba. We flew from LA to Havana via Miami with American Airlines and we met a lot of Americans on the flight who frequently visit Cuba (a lot of them had girlfriends over there apparently).
We were unsure about the visa process as we were coming from America but it turns out if you fly with American Airlines like we did, you pick up the visa from the boarding gate in Miami.American school buses in Cuba.
You do have to pay more than double the price at USD$100 for the visa (if you’re travelling from other countries, it can cost just USD$25).
All you need to do is tick a box that you’re coming to Cuban as a tourist. This applies for Americans as well so I’m not sure why anyone still thinks American people can’t visit. That process was way easier than some of the other countries I’ve been to.Hanging out in Trinidad, Cuba
We also saw a fair few Americans on cruise ships in Havana especially but it wasn’t like American people had overrun the country or anything. Most of the Americans we saw were older people on tours or mainly single guys travelling to meet their Cuban girlfriends.If you’re wondering about the whole visa process, check out this post which will give you everything you need to know about travelling to Cuba from most countries around the world.
5. Can you bring a drone into Cuba?
As we landed into the country we felt really lucky as an American next to us told us how the lines to get through customs can be huge and there weren’t any at all. But when we had to put our hand luggage through a scanner, they opened up the drone and took it away from us including Steve’s passport.
We were told to sit by other tourists who had been waiting for their items for nine hours already. There’s also loads of people working at the airport who don’t look like they do very much.
In the three hours we had to wait to find out what was going on with Steve’s passport, the glammed up staff (I’m talking the hottest airport staff you’ve ever seen in micro mini skirts worn with fish nets!) just stood around chatting.In the end Steve was ready to ditch the drone until I had to calm him down. Turns out drones are totally illegal in Cuba so we had to pay something like $50 as a holding fee whilst they kept it at the airport during our visit.
You should have seen what it was like picking it back up when we were leaving Cuba. Steve went off with the guard to pay them. Meanwhile I got it out to make sure it wasn’t damaged but I accidentally turned it on.
I had all of customs screaming at me to turn it off, but as I’m always under strict instructions by Steve not to touch the drone because I always break everything, Steve wasn’t around and I had no idea what I was doing.
After a few minutes of people screaming at me and huge panic sets in, I somehow managed to turn it off. Steve came back and had no idea of the trauma I’ve just been through!
Lesson learnt. One of our main Cuba tips include the following… Never bring a drone into Cuba, OK?
6. Time of the year to visit
We visited at the end of May-June, which was during the wet season. We were worried how wet it was going to be but luckily we hardly saw any rain at all.
It was super hot though but places like Varadero were really quiet so maybe we had missed out on the hoards of tourists who visit in high season which is between December – April.
If there’s a Cuba tips we wished we found on the internet was that someone had visited Cuba during the wet season and still saw sunshine, better still, beach weather too!
7. Make sure you have an outward flight
A massive Cuba tip is to make sure you have an outward flight out of Cuba. We even needed outward flights from USA and Cuba didn’t count so we had to buy flights on the spot to our next destination which wasn’t fun.
8. What’s the deal with money in Cuba?
We read there aren’t any ATMs in Cuba and that’s not the case at all (we saw them in Havana and Varadero). Although, I must say we didn’t use them because we were told to bring either UK or Euros with us before arriving into the country. You won’t be able to change up any USD at all.
But how on earth do you know how much money to bring to Cuba? You won’t be able to pay on card anywhere so I’d bring more than you need and just change up at the bank as and when you need to.
I have heard that apparently the ATMs have a case of swallowing up your card but they just looked like normal ATMs to me. Something to point out if you’re worried you’ll need more money with you. Just make sure you have a Visa debit card as they don’t accept anything else.Because we work in Aussie dollars, we had to convert to USD (because we were coming from The States), then to UK pounds, then when we arrived into Cuba we went to the bank in Havana and converted it to Cuban CUCs and Pesos. We used both currencies whilst we were there.
You don’t need many peso’s but they are particularly good when you go to the local cafes to grab a slice of pizza. You’ll mainly use CUCs which is the tourist currency in Cuba for everything like collectivo cabs, accom and all tourist restaurants.
When we arrived we just changed up $50 worth at the airport to get us to our airbnb. Don’t change up much money at the airport as the rate is always really bad no matter where you are in the world.
9. Will I get hassled in Cuba?
We read the hassle was so bad in Cuba that we nearly didn’t go there. To be honest, it wasn’t actually that bad at all. I’ve seen much much worse in other countries like India or worse when I went to Angkor Wat in Cambodia… now that was a whole other level.
Havana was fine for people hassling us – we just got asked if we wanted to buy cigars or wifi cards and of course the mention about going to a special night at the Buena Vista Social Club.But we’ve learnt with our travels is to actually just keep on walking. I never actually say anything back to these people because as soon as they know you speak Spanish or English, it’s like a green light for them to keep hassling. So we pretend we don’t understand what they are saying most of the time and just smile and carrying on walking.
Trinidad was particularly bad for the hassle. Non stop we had people asking us to come and drink Mojitos, cigars, horse back tours, and so on.
We got a bit of hassle in Vinales and barely anything at all in Varadero.
10. Is there wifi in Cuba?
We read loads of blog stating there’s no wifi in Cuba which is not the case at all. When we arrived into Havana we came to a park completely jammed packed full of people surfing the net on their phones. We couldn’t believe it.You just need to buy one of these wifi cards from someone selling them at the park.
You just need to buy an ESTSCA wifi card, scratch off the back to reveal a code and log in. You can use it in wifi hotspots which are usually parks and easily buy these off dudes in the park who look a bit shifty. It’s like you’re drug dealing for wifi cards! They charge double at $2 for 1 hour which you can log off and use again at a later date.
If you go to an actual ESTSCA shop, they cost just $1 but be prepared to wait a long time as Cuban people are never in a hurry and lines will be going round the block. In Trinidad people sit in the square glued to their phones on the internet.
But the wifi in Havana is super fast, and best to use in the morning as there’s not as many people around. The only casa we stayed in Cuba that had wifi was in Varadero but we had to pay $1 an hour to use it.
11. Download Maps Me
If there’s one thing you will miss on your phone whilst in Cuba, it’s Google Maps. Finding places or restaurants etc will become a bit of a pain while you try an navigate where to go using your Lonely Planet map.
We recommend downloading Maps Me, a free downloadable map app onto our phone. Just make sure you download the Cuban maps before you arrive into the country and you’ll be able to use it internet free where ever you are in the world.
12. Should I be worried about the scams in Cuba?
We were worried we wouldn’t be able to trust anyone in Cuba and to be honest we rarely found anyone we could. Cuba is probably the one country we travelled to that we couldn’t even trust the people who ran our accommodation. This isn’t something to worry about really as you probably won’t notice it. They are nice people to your face but at the end of the day people will try and make as much money out of you as possible.
When we first arrived in Cuba, our airbnb host told us the bus wouldn’t be worth catching up to Varadero and told us we should get a collectivo (it’s basically a mate of theirs will drive you and a few other tourists who are going to the same place in their car).
When the collectivo driver arrived, we said to him the agreed rate and he decided to up the rate. It was here that our airbnb host just wiped his hands of us and wouldn’t state the agreed rate like he had told us. I realised there and then that this was more than likely the start of more things to come.
By the end of the trip I had worked it out. The younger generation weren’t particularly nice at all, but I don’t blame them. Cuba is a country that most people would leave in a heart beat if they had the money to. It’s got zero resources and everyone is living on next to nothing.We found older Cuban people were incredibly nice and sincere. I wish my Spanish was better so I could have chatted to them about what the revolution was like and how the country has changed over the years.
Not all of the younger generation were awful, we had some lovely people help us out in Trinidad and people seemed much more genuine in Vinales which is a long stretch.
13. Do I need to speak Spanish to go to Cuba?
14. What should female tourists wear in Cuba?
To be honest the women in Cuba are so incredibly beautiful, everyone looks like a model, and they tend to wear a lot of skin tight outfits too. Don’t worry about having to cover up in Cuba unlike in countries like India because you can wear whatever you like. I’d just recommend wearing light weight clothes because it can get quite hot there.
15. Cuba is a photographers dream but…
Cuba (especially Havana) is literally a photographer’s dream. You’ll be snapping the amazingly beautiful falling down buildings and you’ll see some cracking portraits, but be mindful.
We were especially conscious in Trinidad that we didn’t want to act like we were in a zoo. I felt sorry for Cubans who looked clearly peed off for people coming up to them taking photos one too many times.Hoards of tourists fill the streets in Trinidad.
Some Cubans of course were more than happy to have their photo taken (those women smoking the cigars in Havana will clearly ask you for money) but just be mindful about flashing your big swanky camera around.
16. The toiletries situation in Cuba
We read a lot about the toiletries situation in Cuba because being a communist country they don’t have access to basic things we wouldn’t even think about. We noticed the supermarkets sold very random items in bulk, like an aisle full of washing powder and random pink pasta sauce. But a lot of the aisles were always empty as well.
I remember meeting another tourist who said he arrived into the country quite late at night and spent three hours trying to find someone who sold water. FYI don’t drink the tap water in Cuba.There are Western shops in Cuba.
Before we came to Cuba, we debated about bringing some toiletries with us to give out but to be honest, we didn’t get asked once.
Everyone wore branded logo clothing and carried around a big speaker blasting out their favourite music which was a big thing. And of course, having an amazing sound system in your car in Cuba is a given of course.
17. Do you need to plan your whole trip before you arrive into Cuba?
We didn’t plan a thing before we arrived in Cuba apart from our first three nights in Havana which we found on airbnb. Our host organised our pick up from the airport too which was good because our driver was really nice and waited for three hours whilst we sorted our drone situation out.
Ask your accom to send a driver for you because you could be charged a lot for a 10-20 minute drive. We paid $30 for our driver which is a lot for Cubans but he waited for a long time for us so we wanted to say thank you as well.We thought we’d meet some fellow travellers that would inspire us to check out some of the same places they went to (nothing like good old travelling chat), but we didn’t meet a lot of people.
We also knew about the classic first timers route Havana – Varadero – Trinidad – Vinales which is what we ended up doing. If we were bothered to sit on buses for longer periods of time, we would have ventured more east of the island to Holguin, La Bocoa and Santiago Di Cuba.Heading up to the beautiful La Guarida restaurant in Havana.
One thing we really loved about Cuba was being able to travel like we used to. Gone were the planned trips, being dependant on iPhone’s and having everything mapped out. We loved just jumping in a cab once we got to an area and driving around trying to find a casa to stay in using our trusted Lonely Planet.
Some of the time we used wifi to book a casa on airbnb but we loved just being in the moment again. We also asked our casa hosts to call up accom we found in Lonely Planet and book ahead for us.
18. What are the tourists like in Cuba?
We honestly had no idea what to expect about the tourists in Cuba, we wondered if it would be full of young Americans on their Spring break style parties or whether we’d meet some cool travellers or oldies on their tours.
We mainly saw the classic two week package holiday tourists in Havana who stood out a mile as they tried to adapt into the culture whilst they looked a bit on the uncomfortable side.
The majority of people we came across were either Russian, Italian, German or Canadian. We met a couple of Aussies and Brits at the end of our trip in Vinales but we didn’t meet any other travellers.
A lot of people were spending their holidays one week in Mexico and one week in Cuba. FYI – you can get super cheap flights between Cancun and Cuba which we were going to do but we ended up back in Mexico six months later anyway.
We also didn’t see any single travellers in Cuba at all which I think if you’re looking to travel to alone, it might be a bit challenging because their isn’t any hostels to meet others.
19. What is the top thing to do in Havana?
Havana is like marmite – some people love it, and some absolutely hate it. We actually liked Havana as it’s such a great city to photograph.
For us, the best thing to do in Havana is go on a self guided walking tour you can find in the Lonely Planet and photograph your way around the city. We also loved the Teatro De La Habana and El Capitolio next door. These two buildings sit side by side and are absolutely beautiful.
2o. What beaches can I visit in Cuba on a budget?
We struggled to find beaches to visit in Cuba that had casas instead of all inclusive resorts. We spent a few days in Varadero which we enjoyed and a day checking out La Boca and Playa Ancon near Trinidad. La Boca was very run down although we didn’t see another person in sight and Playa Ancon had a lot of seaweed on the beach.
As a side note, Varadero had water as blue and as clear as the Maldives. When we visited Mexico six months later, their Caribbean waters weren’t a patch on the waters Cuba had.
We also considered checking out the Bay of Pigs as well but we were glad we spent a few days in Varadero because it had the best beach.
We also spent the day visiting the beach near to Vinales which was beautiful but everyone got completely mulled by the sandflies. The next few days we were in itching hell.
21. Mossie repellent for the Cuban Beaches
As we mentioned above, make sure you bring some strong mossie repellent. We recommend Bushmans as the best we’ve used anywhere in the world. The final beach we went to killed us with sandflies. We were both in so much pain for a solid two days afterwards.
22. The 1950s cars & tours in Cuba
You’ll be surprised to hear that actually not everyone drives 1950’s cars in Cuba. The majority of the sparkly clean cars are purely for tourism reasons and you’ll see most people drive normal cars over there.In terms of going on a tour, we went on one and paid $25 (supposedly down from $50) which seemed to be the norm from what we read on other blogs. It wasn’t really a tour, more of a drive down around town with a few cheesy photo stops. You can just pick the car you want to be driven around in by the El Capitolio building.
23. Is the food in Cuba really bad?
We had read the food in Cuba was terrible and we can confirm it’s true! We both got sick and my SIBO was off the charts from eating pizza and too many salty cheese dishes.We did eat at La Guarida which is a famous, beautiful restaurant in Havana which was awesome.
I loved the pictures on the walls of all of the famous people who have dined there from Beyonce, Rhianna, Jack Nicholson and more and it was obviously our most expensive meal but a main dish wasn’t more than $17.
Otherwise Trinidad had great food but Trinidad felt like a tourist town so you’d hope the food would be OK.
Veradero had the cheapest food and we paid like $2 for a meal there. The food mind you was terrible but I’d prefer to pay as little as possible knowing that the food would be bad anyway.
24. Should we even visit Vinales?
To be honest we very nearly didn’t go to Vinales. We thought it would actually be quite boring and the only thing we heard about was the horse riding. But we ended up spending our final few days in Vinales and absolutely loved it. It was the best part of our trip as you can visit caves, cigar farms and beaches as well as the awesome horse riding tours.
25. Forget the Mojitos
In our heads we thought we’d be sipping on mojitos in a romantic setting but the reality is the mojitos weren’t great at all. But, I got hooked on the pina coladas – they were brilliant!
We also went to check out Hemingway’s bar called El Floridita in Havana which we literally spent half a second in before leaving. Hemingway’s La Floridita bar was so unbelivably touristy. We walked in, took this picture and left.
It was jammed packed full of tourists and nothing felt authentic about it in the slightest. The only plus is there’s aircon in their, something that’s a bit of a luxury in Cuba.
26. How difficult is it to get around Cuba?
We got a collective to Varadero and sacked that idea off after our driver tried to get more money off us.We then took the tourist bus called Viazel to every destination afterwards which was pleasantly very good. The roads are also really good in Cuba (much better than in LA!) and the drivers aren’t mental so they drive at a decent pace. The seats are comfortable and recline on the Western style coaches with aircon.
Just wear trousers and a jumper for the bus as they blast the aircon. All the tourists were wearing shorts and tees and didn’t look too happy after 6 hours on the bus.
Getting around tips
One thing to note is, If you’re heading to Vinales after Trinidad, there’s no direct bus. We had to get the bus to Havana, hope to God it would arrive in time and that the bus would be full for the bus to Vinales. We were very lucky that day.
Make sure you book your next bus as soon as you arrive in the destination. They can book up a good day in advance.
You can also hire a car in Cuba which I would have done so looking back on it. It would have been much more of an adventure but I read a blog that said their car cost $80 a day which is loads for Cuba.
27. How expensive is Cuba to visit?
Did you know Cuba is actually the cheapest and largest island in The Caribbean? You can easily eat for $1-$2 at the local places but here’s a few Cuba tips for you, a lot of the restaurants have a menu for tourists and one for the locals so prices vary.
When we arrived into Havana, we met some lovely American guys who said they couldn’t believe how expensive Cuba is. They were paying out $40 a meal and I’m not sure where they ate but they knew they were getting ripped off throughout their entire trip.
Trinidad was probably the most expensive place to eat in probably because it’s a small town and one that seems to rely a lot on tourism. We found Varadero to be the cheapest because we were staying in a casa where the locals would stay and not out at one of the awful resorts on the other side of town.
The casa’s we stayed in (airbnb’s) ranged from $15- $40 a night. It just depends if you’re willing to shop around and wing it when you arrive at the town.
The bus costs $20 from Trinidad to Havana then $12 from Havana – Vinales.
We couldn’t believe how we paid $40 for a 30 minute return cab ride to visit a waterfall outside of Trinidad. We tried to bargain down to loads of cabbies but none of them would budge.
28. What is the first timers route actually like?
We spent two weeks travelling from Havana – Varadero – Trinidad – Vinales. You can find out what we did right here, what we would have differently and whether we recommend it as a route you should do as well.
29. Is Cuba actually worth visiting?
In 2013 during our last trip around the world, we were travelling around South America and had talked about visiting Cuba but we decided not to because we were desperate to get over to Africa.
So on this trip, we actually planned most of our travels around Cuba.
To be honest, it was only a few weeks before we went to Cuba that we started to read other blogs about it.
We read so many conflicting reviews about Cuba, some said they hated it, others said how amazing it was, that we just didn’t know who to believe or whether it was worth visiting. But we knew if we didn’t go then we’d always regret it which is why we’re bringing you our Cuba tips.
We were hoping Cuba to be a vibrant country, with loads of culture, music and lovely people.
We actually only saw one amazing band playing outside of an empty restaurant one night and that was it apart from the a few bands playing at popular tourist restaurants. We expected to see bands playing everywhere.This amazing band playing their hearts out to an empty restaurant in Havana.
I definitely wouldn’t say Cuba is a vibrant country, if anything I left there feeling really sorry for everyone. Getting on a plane just 100 miles away back to Miami was a weird feeling of how a country like Cuba just feels like it’s been forgotten about in the world. It’s a bizarre thing to comprehend.
There were things that I loved about Cuba. I loved that it made me feel like we were travelling six years ago, with just using a Lonely Planet, having no real plans and being able to wing it most of the time. It gave me the sense of adventure again which we had noticeably missed during this trip and it also brought us much closer together. As much as we had mixed feelings about Cuba, we will always look back on it and remember how much fun we had together as a couple there. As sad as it is to say, we loved spending time being able to connect with each other on a much better level without modern technology and the internet getting in the way.
If you think Cuba will dramatically change anytime soon (if the embargo is ever lifted), we doubt anything will change quickly. One can only imagine it would take years to change the country dramatically.
One thing we can guarantee is that there’s no other country in the world like Cuba. It’s a country that will have you leaving with way more questions than you had when you arrived. But one thing is for sure, it’s a country we feel we’ll need to go back to understand it a lot more.
Hope our Cuba tips helped you prepare for your trip to this country which is like no other.
27 Cuba tips you need to know
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