With the recent political changes I wasn't sure if I should still be doing a post on travel tips for Cuba but I figured, what the hell. For those of us still planning to find your way to this beautiful country, FindingSera will be right there with you.
Well, here it goes...
Once I got to Cuba I quickly realized that I was going to need my street smarts along with a few other things to get by out there. Here's a list of the Top 5 things I wish I would have known I needed before going to Cuba!
#1 - Know Spanish!
Duh right!? There's no way around it. If you want to be able to understand and not get cheated you're going to want to know the basics (at least). There are very few local Cubanos that speak fluent English here. With the primary language being Spanish, if you don't speak or understand it you'll find yourself at a disadvantage and honestly pretty frustrated.
The Spanish is a little different here but luckily close enough!
Click Here for helpful, Spanish phrases and Questions
#2 Know the difference between Cuban Currency/ Bring Enough Cash!!!
In Cuba they do NOT accept any form of U.S Dollars (No Cards, Cash, etc). For those who have done a little research you probably already know that before you enter into Cuba you will have wanted to convert your USD to Euros and then once in Cuba convert the Euros to CUC.
What is a CUC/CUP? Glad you asked!
CUC Pronounced (Say-You-Say) is the Cuban Convertible Peso used by tourists and most everyone in Cuba while CUP is Cuban Peso, which is worth less. You'll find that most things, especially in the tourist areas, are priced in CUC, which is identical to the USD but always double check, as CUP is worth far less than CUC. Places that accept CUP will always accept CUC as well.
1 CUC = 24 CUP ( I didn't even bother with CUP, to be honest)
CUC denominations are available in Cash &/or Coin.
Bring enough money to account for Taxis, Breakfast-Dinner, Drinks, Souvenirs, Bars, Clubs, and tipping!
If you're in a pinch & need more cash like I did In Vedado, Havana, there is a bank that will convert USD to CUC for a fee. Ex: $20 USD will be $17 CUC.
* Be wary of the people who come up to you offering to convert your money for you, while some may have good intentions, I'd stick with official currency exchanges to be safe!
*Triple check the change you receive to be sure you're not being handed Pesos when you should be receiving CUC
#3- Stick with small bills!
While it's okay to keep the occasional 10 or 20 CUC on you, I found it far more complicated to get change versus having broken down bills to begin with. The smaller the better. Also, the majority of taxi drivers or vendors will claim to not have change so something that is $6 or $7 quickly becomes $10.
4. The taxis are NOT cheap but DON'T be afraid to haggle.
The taxi cars range from the early 1950s up to the 1990s.
I know they're cute but the older retro cars you have been dying to take pictures in will cost more money.
If you're planning to move around Cuba then prepare to fork out some cash. Things aren't as close together there.
One thing I wish I'd known in advance was the taxi prices and that there is a tourist rate and a local rate on taxis and certain items. What is, usually, a $10 taxi ride will be $15-20 for trusting tourists. This was realized on my first day and it sobered me up real quick. While the majority of people here are nice and friendly but, like in any place there are those who want to take advantage so be mindful of that.
Haggling is a necessity if you want to keep prices reasonable or fair and if you're not okay with the final price, don't be afraid to say no. There are so many taxis around that can take you for less.
For my trip I did a lot of traveling by taxi , the prices are below.
Havana to Trinidad: 4 hours | $120 CUC
Trinidad to Vinales: 7.5 hours | $250 CUC
5 miles around Havana: 10 mins | $7 CUC
The more people you have in your group the better to lessen the cost.
****Side note: The driving here is similar to that of NY so be careful!
**** Walking, especially in more condensed cities is always a great choice to see and experience more of the city and culture.
#4- Wifi is a struggle, but not as much as you would think.
To access wifi you will need a wifi card that you purchase from a wifi card shop called Wifi Etesca. I found out where those were by asking the locals or tourists.
The Wifi cards should only be $1.50/ hr. no more , no less. 1 hr cards are the easiest to find but I did purchase a 5 hr card from our 1st Casa Particulares host for $7.50 (1.50x 5).
You can usually find the wifi spots in hotels, public parks or plazas and in rare cases, your Air B n B. Just look around for places where everyone is looking down at their phone.
Fun Fact!: The city of Trinidad has free wifi
If you've ever connected to Wifi Etesca in the past, you will be automatically connected when you enter the city.
Be patient, sometimes the wifi is slow & unreliable. It has required me turning off my wifi, clicking "Forget Network", restarting my phone, etc.
The worst luck I've had with Wifi was in Old Havana. FYI
#5- Don't forget the bug spray, Umbrella & Tissue!
While on this trip, if we'd not planned ahead for this we would have been upset! Our fragrance of choice was Princess by Vera Wang mixed with SPF 50 & 100 Deet bug spray. In Havana you may see a bunch of flies and the occasional mosquito but in more rural places near still water like Trinidad and Vinales the mosquitos will descend. They're fairly small but you'll definitely see them.
A good bug off lotion and bug spray is a good idea for mosquitos and ticks. The flies you'll just have to learn to get used to.
Tissue- Depending on how long you'll be there you'll want to pack a couple rolls of tissue or several Kleenex packs. You may have tissue in your Casa Particulares but in any establishment outside of that, not likely. If they do have it, they'll charge. I'm not too sure of the price because I packed my own tissue.
Umbrella- It's sunny, 90 degrees and then BAM! It starts raining outta nowhere. You'll want an umbrella! Make sure you buy it before hand because once in Cuba you'll have a tough time finding one.
*Bonus Tip* - HAVE FUN!
That's what vacation is all about right!? Exploration, fun and adventures you can tell your kids about when they're older! Get out of your comfort zone, mingle with the locals, try new foods and just enjoy the beautiful culture and country of Cuba!
I hope my tips have been helpful! If you have any questions or extra tips please don't hesitate to comment below!