However, a trip to Cuba can be quite an adventure, so we’ve put together a list of all the things we learnt from our own trip, helping you to arrive prepared. So without any further ado, here are some of the most important things you need to know before visiting Cuba.
1) Money in Cuba
You cannot get Cuban currency outside of the country, and as cards aren’t accepted in many places outside of the big hotels (and American Express isn’t accepted anywhere!) you’ll need to bring your spending money with you.
I recommend taking your Pounds or Euros with you and changing some at the airport and some at the hotel. These won’t give you the best rates though, so if you want the best possible return then head to a bank or a cadeca in the larger cities, but expect long queues.
Cash point machines are unreliable in Cuba, so don’t rely on getting cash out when you’re in the country; you’ll need to bring your local currency with you and change it that way.
Just to make things a little more confusing, Cuba actually has two currencies. The main currency is the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC), which is what you’ll be given when you get your currency changed up, and what most tourists are expected to use during their stay. The secondary currency is called the Cuban Peso (CUP), which is used by locals to buy food and goods. It is totally legal for tourists to use CUP, but unless you go to smaller places off the tourist path that the locals frequent they’re likely to expect payment in CUC.
2) WiFi in Cuba
WiFi does exist, but even so, getting access to the Internet in Cuba can be very hit and miss. Even in the country’s capital WiFi is only really found in the hotels, which is why you’ll always see groups of locals hanging around outside on their phones! You have to buy prepaid cards to go online, and these cost on average £2 for just one or two hours of access. And if you choose to pay to go online, don’t expect a great service. There are usually just a few public spaces in the hotel where you can access the WiFi and quality is very poor. You’ll be able to check a quick email or two or possibly read a few messages on Facebook, but you’ll struggle to upload much to Instagram and don’t expect to stream any video!
3) Toilets in Cuba
When it comes to toilets in Cuba here’s what you need to know – always carry tissues with you. Outside of hotels hardly any toilets will have any toilet paper, so it’s good to always be prepared for this. A lot of places will have a bathroom assistant guarding by the entrance, whose job is to provide you with paper for a small fee. Whether you take the paper or not, it’s kind of expected to leave a small tip, so be sure to keep hold of some change – one CUC notes are great for these situations. Ladies – also be sure to take sanitary goods with you unless you want to go retro and use some old fashioned towels that we stopped stocking in the UK about 20 years ago!
4) Eating in Cuba
Cuba does have some tasty food and as the paladars gain popularity the quality of Cuban dishes is improving, but due to restricted access to some ingredients a lot of time when you order you’ll find your waiter will explain they’ve run out, so be prepared to eat a lot of the mainstays of Cuban meals, which is pork, chicken, beans and rice. Potatoes are one of the things that are hard to come by, but don’t let that dishearten you as we discovered that Cubans use a number of different vegetables to create potato-esque delicacies. I discovered that yuca (cassava) root is pretty darn tasty and I also fell in love with plantain crisps! I’d also advise only drinking bottled water in Cuba and always ask for drinks without ice or you’ll end up in a similar situation to us (see below).
5) Medication and first aid kits
Pharmacies are hard to come by (and if you’re lucky enough to find one, most likely closed!) so be sure to take a decent first aid kit with you that includes painkillers, plasters, stoppers and starters. We both came down with stomach bugs and weren’t prepared, which mean we had a few days of feeling worse for wear unnecessarily. If you’re on prescription meds be sure to take enough to cover your entire trip and a few days extra in case of any issues and delays.
6) Beware of scams
Cuba is actually a very safe country, but like most places that attract tourists there are always going to be scams. The most common are people on the streets who try to befriend you. They’ll follow you along, asking where you’re from etc, but their ultimate goal will be to get you into a specific restaurant or try to sell you black market cigars etc.
The other regular ploy is to recommend places to visit and then ask for money in return for their advice. Don’t be afraid to just say no and keep walking, they’ll eventually give up and move on.
Have you been to Cuba before? What was your experience like? If you have any useful tips to add to our list then please leave them in the comments below!