Cuba is a super exciting and appealing travel destination to many, especially now that it is very easy to reach from the US! While enticing and topping all of the 2017 travel lists, Cuba is certainly not a pristine Caribbean beach destination. A successful trip to Cuba takes a good bit of planning, an openness to trying new things, and a lot of patience. If you are planning a trip to Cuba, read my posts The Ins And Outs Of Traveling To Cuba From The US and I Finally Made It To Havana, Cuba, and be sure to follow these ten tips!
1. First, bring cash. Second, bring MORE cash (UDS, Euros, or Pounds) than you think that you will need. Neither US credit cards nor US debit cards work in Cuba, and many travelers from other countries have trouble, too. If you do run out of money, you will need to go through Western Union to get money through the US, which will also involve a visit to the US Embassy to pick up your wire… Also, brand-name cigars, while cheaper than elsewhere, are by no means cheap. Plan accordingly.
2. A month before you leave, call the airline that you are flying and confirm (a) whether a health insurance policy is included in your ticket; (b) if the cost of a Cuban Visa is included in your ticket; and (c) whether or not the Cuban Visa cost is included in your ticket, whether you can buy a Cuba Visa at the US airport on the date of your departure. Both a Cuban Visa and valid health insurance (non-US) are legally required for entry into Cuba.
3. If you are set on staying in a hotel in Cuba and not an Airbnb, call the hotel directly for rates. Rates are ridiculously high online, and you can almost always get a better rate calling the hotel directly. Don’t worry, they speak English.
4. Call popular restaurants and make reservations for dinner before you leave home (meaning the US). In a recent departure from common practice, popular Havana restaurants now book up in advance (and sometimes weeks in advance). Almost all popular restaurants have at least someone who speaks English to take your reservation. Online reservations are practically not-exist.
5. Bring snacks, and potentially alcohol. Restaurant food in Cuba is still evolving (to put it nicely) and on-the-go snacks that are common to many of us (chips, candy, organic granola bars) are nowhere to be found! Seriously, nowhere. If you are a picky eater, or planning to eat on the run, bring some snacks from home. Same with beer and wine if you are in to that sort of thing. Of course Cuban rum is delicious, but quality wine and craft beer are very elusive.
6. On the same note, bring any and all toiletries that you will need. Grocery and convenience stores are not exactly a “thing” in Havana and they few that exist are few and far between and keep very odd hours. If you are in need of toiletries, you will not be able to find upscale Western brands and will probably have to overpay at a fancy hotel. Bring sunscreen and aloe, too.
7. Calculate the cost of taxis into your budget. Havana is surprisingly large and while Havana is very safe and walkable, it is nice and easy to take a cab across the city. Unlike most things in Havana, taxis are expensive and cost between 10 and 15 dollars for two people to get from Vedado to Havana Vieja. This can eat into your budget very quickly. Be warned.
8. Carry both toilet paper and hand sanitizer with you everywhere. Seriously. Nothing else needs to be said here.
9. Bring a camera and a backup. Havana is terribly interesting and one of the most photogenic places I have ever visited.
10. Be prepared to wait, a lot. Havana is still getting used to the large influx of American visitors. Be prepared to wait longer than you would in the US.
BONUS – if you get lost or have a question, just ask a local. Havanans are some of the nicest people that I have ever encountered abroad and are more than willing to assist visitors. While not everyone speaks English, those working in the tourist industry do and a surprising many others do, as well (at least a bit). In any case, I can almost guaranty that they will try to work with you!