The Ultimate Cuba Travel Guide
If you need to get away, and I mean really disconnect from your lifestyle, consider a trip to Cuba. Despite what you’ve heard, Cuba is a safe and beautiful country. And a fairly inexpensive get-away compared to most overseas excursions.
My friends and I stayed for 4 nights and 5 days, right outside of La Habana and each day was magical. We toured the Old and New Havana, learning the history pre and post-revolution. We dined at some of the most delicious restaurants, I’d recommend Paladar Cafe Laurent the food was some of the best we tried during our stay. The same day we walked through the Museo De Bellas Artes, a museum dedicated to Cuban arts.
We explored The Viñales, the valleys of Cuba, housing most of the Los Campesinos or farmers and home to some of the world’s largest Tobacco fields. Here we were taught to roll cigars, explored the Pinar Del Rio, went caving, bull riding and took in the beautiful mountainous landscapes.
A trip to the Carribean would not be complete without a beach visit, The Playas Del Este was beautiful. We didn’t get as much time as hoped here, but the experience wasn’t too far from your typical beach trip.
We also got a taste of Cuban night life. My friends and I walked the Malecon– a long wall surrounding the city of La Habana. The wall is where locals fish and hang out. Young people will collect at night with reggaeton music and dancing. And the last day we danced at a Cuban International nightclub. The perfect end to an unforgettable trip.
I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world, but there a few things you should know before taking this trip as a tourist and an American. Here’s a guide to 9 things you should know before your trip to Cuba.
1.Cuba is Safe
Whenever I would tell a family member or friend I was going to Cuba the reaction was always “Why Cuba? It’s not safe” or some other doubtful expression. What I learned is that we develop perceptions and ideas of other people and places based on the media and hearsay. Before any trip do your research read Airbnb reviews, watch documentaries, simply google ‘is “insert country” safe?’ We do not want to miss out on opportunities because of the single stories we are told. My friends and I were able to walk the streets at night without any worries. Cuba is safer than the United States. The people are friendly and very welcoming.
2. There Is No Toilet Paper
If you are going to use the restroom at a restaurant or other public facility in Cuba make sure you bring your own toilet paper or wet ones. There will be a bathroom assistant there to hand you a tiny piece of toilet paper, but you are expected to leave a tip. If you’re anything like me, I pee almost everywhere I go, so I made sure to carry a pack of wipes in my book bag.
3. WiFi is Not Easily Accessible
When you step foot off the plane, you must make the decision to turn on your data roaming from your carrier and accrue the extra charges or disconnect from the world. Cuba does not have WiFi at their fingertips the way Americans do. I learned a lot speaking to the young people there. While they do enjoy Instagram and Facebook their lives are not consumed by it. To use WiFi in Cuba you must purchase a WiFi card for 3 CUCs, the card allows up to one hour of WiFi time and you must be in a WiFi park or hotel alley to access it. While a little scary at first when I got off the plan alone, it was very liberating to just live in the moment. There was so much to see and experience in Cuba, so to be honest, I didn’t miss it.
4. Tourism is Cuba’s Main Source of Income
Knowing this is important, maybe the most important piece listed. I’d recommend you do some research on the history of Cuba to first understand their economic state. Cuba and the Cameraman is a great documentary to understand the history and lifestyle of the people. Understand that the average Cuban makes 30 CUCs a month. This is about $30 a month. Cubans need tourism to earn a decent income. You should know this because you will have the opportunity to give, and you should, especially when you request a free service (ex: asking for toilet paper or taking a photo of a local or their home).
Tourism is the main source of income, so there is entertainment, art, tourism, taxis, markets, service everywhere you go. Tourists are treated especially well because of this, so if you’re on a budget pick and choose your requests wisely. Price points are relatively inexpensive, but tips, tourists attractions and markets add up quick because they are everywhere!
5. Have a Spanish Dictionary
Cubans working in the tourist industry typically speak 2-3 languages, so they are great sources to practice your Spanish and to of course communicate in English. When you’re out and about you will come across taxi drivers and Cuban residents who know very little English. Id recommend carrying a Spanish dictionary with you, so there’s no miscommunication. This may seem obvious, but with all the other large details of traveling abroad, this may slip your mind.
6. Bring Snacks & Necessities
Unlike America, Cuba does not have gas stations and drugs stores on every corner for a refreshing drink, snack or simply to pick up some Tylenol if you have a headache. A travel size first aid kit will do and your favorite snacks light enough to go in your luggage or carry on.
7. Go Through a Travel Agency or Airbnb
For the best experience, you’ll want a local giving you recommendations and helping to plan out your days. There are travel agencies you can go through that will house you and plan out your activities. A more cost-effective route is an Airbnb. Read the reviews to find out how involved the host is with your trip. We went through Airbnb and our hosts sent taxis to and from the airport, had breakfast prepared each morning, gave us a list of restaurants and nightlife options, sent tour guides to our home, etc. Without a native on your side, it will be very difficult to navigate the country on your own, especially without overpaying.
8. Don’t Be Naive
Although Cuba is full of kind-hearted people, you have to be careful with those who try to get over on tourists. Taxis will try to over-charge, markets will attempt to sell broken or damaged items, women holding babies will attempt to manipulate you into giving them money. While you want to come into Cuba with an open heart, be ready to stand up for what you know. If you negotiated a $5 Taxi ride and at the end of the trip the driver says $7 don’t give in. Be prepared to speak up and negotiate. Cubans in this industry know how to talk fast and there are a lot of salespeople, so be wise and bold.
9. Exchange Currency
Make sure to exchange your USD to Euros and then CUCs for the lowest exchange rate. This can be done at the airport or a local bank. Banks cannot exchange coins, so always get an even exchange when you go. If you have any questions about it feel free to let me know below.
10. Stray Cats And Dogs Everywhere
In America just about every home has a cat or dog that they treat almost like a human being. In Cuba be prepared to see these animals everywhere. They often look hungry, deformed and sometimes sickly. When I first arrived in Cuba I noticed immediately how many cats and dogs were roaming the city of Havana. I chopped it up to be that considering the average Cuban makes about $30 a month, there is not enough to go around for pets too. Don’t be alarmed by the animals, they don’t bother you.
Overall, I’d highly recommend Cuba. The people are humble, kind and will teach you a lot. For me, that was the most fundamental part of the experience.Here are some of my favorite moments from the trip:
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