27 Things to Know Before You Visit Cuba

Looking for Cuba travel tips? We’ve got you covered!

We know, it’s one of those destinations that you’re always telling yourself ‘one day I’ll visit Cuba’.

Insider tips on visiting Cuba.
Image by Dreamstime.com

Going to Cuba is on so many of our friends’ bucket lists yet very few of them seem to be close to getting there.

I’m not going to lie to you – Cuba­ is not an easy place to travel to. There are a handful of countries where you can fly direct to Havana from, so the hurdles go up immediately.

Can Americans go to Cuba?

Yes, you can now travel to Cuba from USA and fly to Havana direct from the States, but flights are hard to come by and will always be the most expensive option.

There are also quite a few rules about traveling to Cuba that put people off.

What’s more, there seems to be very little helpful Cuba information and everything you see seems to conflict with what you’ve just read before.

But since our recent trip to Cuba, we’ve become one of its best promoters.

It turns out that just like any other destination a little preparation is all you need before visiting Cuba to have the best time in this mysterious, beautiful country.

A car parked in front of a church

Below are our insider Cuba travel tips for getting yourself ready for an unforgettable journey

Money Tips for Cuba

1. Take cash with you

Even though things with the States are settling down now, it’s a good idea to take some hard currency on your trips to Cuba.

2. Take Euros or GBP Sterling.

These get the best exchange rate.

3. Don’t take foreign currency

They don’t know what to do with them. Don’t take American dollars, the exchange rate will be terrible plus you have to pay an extra fee every time.

4. Cuba has two currencies:

CUC (Cuban convertible peso or ‘Cuban dollar’) aligned to USD which tourists must use, and CUP (Cuban national peso) worth around 1 CUC = 22 CUP.

Non­Cubans shouldn’t have any CUPs on them – though people do.

As Cuba­/USA relations ease, the likelihood of the CUC disappearing and the CUP remaining is high. US dollars will also probably become more accepted too.

Cuba street life

5. You will find dual pricing in most places

And the CUP and CUC prices won’t match up. It’s important not to let this bother you!

6. Get a VISA card for Cuba

Due to it being an American company, MasterCard has never really worked in Cuba though with changes happening all the time, more and more American companies are working with Cuba now. VISA is usually ok. Usually!

7. Check to see if your bank has any American alliances

If it does, you might not be able to access your money regardless.

As US/Cuban relations improve, things will change.

A sign on top of a building

8. Where to get money in Cuba

Try to get money out of the ATM upstairs on level 1 of Havana International Airport.

Avoid using the bureau de change at the airport though. They’re known to give incorrect change and the rates aren’t as good.

Hotels and resorts usually have a bureau de change.

9. Every town will have two types of bank

Banco de Cuba, which are proper banks, or Cadeca, which is like a currency kiosk. The bank usually gives better rates.

10. Only one person at a time can be served in the bank

If you’re traveling with a friend or your partner, flip a coin to see who goes! Towns usually have ATMs too – though some smaller places like Viñales don’t.

sail boat on the beach

11. Tell your bank you’re going to Cuba

It’s a good idea to do this every time you leave your country anyway, but one of our top Cuba travel tips it that it’s even more important for this destination.

International calls are expensive and internet access is very limited.

If your bank thinks your cards are being used without your consent, they will cancel them on your behalf and leave you stranded.

people standing in front of a cathedral
Jim & Christina from MrandMrsRomance.com

Documentation Required for Travel to Cuba

12. Travel Insurance for Cuba

You need to have travel insurance to travel to Cuba. They do spot checks at Customs and if you can’t produce policy documentation, they make you buy insurance there.

person standing in front of a fruit stand

The credit card we use to buy flights has nominal travel insurance included. It doesn’t cover everything though but we took the gamble. We weren’t checked going into Cuba.

13. Print out any travel documents before you leave for Cuba

Tech is really hard to come by during travel in Cuba.

If you need any travel documents while you’re in Cuba or for your next destination, print them before flying to Havana.

14. Getting your Cuba Visa

Most nationalities require a visa for Cuba called a “Cuba Tourist Card” to enter.

How to get a visa for Cuba? You can either buy yours through your local Cuban embassy or before check­in at a Cubana Air desk.

Your airline may include the Cuba visa on the price of your flight tickets – but you’ll still need to collect the tourist card at the Cubana Air counter before you check in.

men sitting on steps

Packing Tips and Getting to Cuba

15. Travel as light as possible

When you fly to Cuba, if you can, go with cabin luggage only. We managed to and it was the best. We didn’t have to worry about losing our stuff or about it getting damaged.

We also saw other travelers struggling in and out of the tiny doorways of Cuban buildings and up tight staircases with their enormous bags, which looked like a nightmare.

16. Gifts and bartering in Cuba

men sitting on a bench

There’s a lot of talk about having pens to give to people in place of money. There is a barter system in Cuba, but not for pens.

Kids love to have pens but there won’t be a mad scramble if you produce a chewed up Biro.

We saw a man trade a bar of hotel soap for a cigar once, and there seems to be a shortage of tinned tuna in Cuba – it’s one of the most expensive things to eat there.

Otherwise, clothing with American brands on it is popular as is anything to do with baseball.

a car parked in front of a building

17. Flights to Cuba

Get to the airport three hours before takeoff for both flights to Cuba, coming and going.

Cubana Air likes its passengers checked in at least an hour earlier than any other airline. Planes are often over­booked, so it’s worth that extra hour for peace of mind.

18. Food in Cuba

people looking at a fruit stand

Due to restrictions in trade, Cuban food isn’t the best – though it’s not the worst either. It’s usually just a bit bland.

Take a little salt with you or – as our friend did – take a bottle of sauce with you. He took some Sriracha, which was almost all gone after two weeks!

food in a bowl

Technology in Cuba

A brown horse standing in front of a building

19. Galileo Offline Maps

The internet hasn’t really taken off in Cuba yet, but you can still use your smartphone to get around.

Galileo Offline Maps allows you to use your phone’s GPS to show where in the world you are. You can even set Galileo to record your movements so you can see where you went!

You can also upload maps from elsewhere into Galileo (see my next point).

You need to download maps onto the app first before you get to Cuba and go offline. This is a paid app but worth every penny.

20. Cuba Junky

A brilliant blog, which tells you a lot about the country. This guy also has maps of Cuba with each Casa Particulare – a type of homestay popular with tourists in Cuba – noted on the map.

You can upload these maps onto Galileo (see my previous note) and use your GPS to navigate around. Visit Cuba Junky for details.

21. Havana Good Time

Havana Good Time is a good app­-based guide to Havana that’s fairly current and will steer you clear of all the usual over­touristy spots.

A car parked in front of a building
A person smoking a blunt

Research & Preparation for Cuba Travel

22. Best time of year to visit Cuba

As with any destination, there are good and better times of year to visit Cuba. Between mid­ November and March is the cooler dry season – this is usually a busier time of year due to the lower temperatures and humidity level.

When to go to Cuba?

Between May and June is the wet season when things get a bit sweaty in Cuba but things happen like the tobacco is harvested and carnivale, which are one of the most popular highlights of the Cuban calendar.

July to early November is hurricane season, when things can get a bit windy.

23. Book your first night’s accommodation in Cuba

Not sure where to stay in Cuba?

Another one of our top Cuba travel tips it that it’s not a good idea to arrive in Cuba with no plan of where you want to sleep that night. Make sure your first night at least is covered.

Hotels in Cuba

city street

24. Book Cuba tours before you leave

As we’ve mentioned before, the internet is hard to come by in Cuba. Searching for Cuba tours and activities while you’re there will be difficult and costly.

We booked a small group tour with Cuban Adventures before we left and it proved to be the best decision.

25. Choose your tour based on itinerary

If you want to join a tour, you will need to think about how long you want to be traveling and create your list of places to visit in Cuba.

Don’t worry too much about promised services or extras. Most tours use the same agency for the tour guides.

men playing instruments on the street

26. Learn as much Spanish as you can

One of our helpful Cuba travel tips is to learn a little of the local language.

Even simple words and sentences will go a long way in Cuba. People love to talk to you and if you know a little of their lingo, they’ll be even friendlier.

It also helps if you’re staying in casa particulars so you can speak to your generous hosts.

27. Take salsa lessons

Everyone in Cuba knows how to salsa. Even if you just learn the basic steps, you won’t feel left out stood at the edge of the dance floor while everyone else is enjoying themselves.

You can take lessons in Cuba while you’re there, but by then it might be too late.

clear ocean water

The most important thing to remember to do while you’re in Cuba is to have fun.

Cuba is not a dangerous country, as many people think. Crime rates are not high. There is a lot of bureaucracy here though, which makes traveling hard.

Providing you use your common sense and behave with respect for the local culture, you’ll have the best time in Cuba.

Worried about recent changes for American Travelers to Cuba under the Trump administration? These new updates will give you handy tips and insights about travel to Cuba in 2017

More Cuba Travel Tips

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Have you already visited Cuba? If yes, share some your best Cuba travel tips in the comments!

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