Hello, good people!
We just recently touched back down in Houston after a much-needed vacation to the beautiful Caribbean country of Cuba.
*deep heavy sigh*
We really enjoyed our trip and upon our return, we wanted to share a few things we’re sure our fellow U.S. travelers will appreciate knowing before traveling to Cuba.
If you’re looking for tips for U.S. residents traveling to Cuba, keep reading!
- You’ll need to buy a visa. We were able to do this ahead of time (which we advise). We flew on Southwest Airlines and they provided information on how to get the Cuban tourist visa through Cuba Travel Services. It was $100 all fees included and shipped quickly. Now… once you have your visa, be sure to keep up with it before and during your stay as it is your way back to the U.S. Val lost her visa on the trip. Thankfully, the lady in immigration allowed her to return, but we can’t promise all will be that lucky!
- Wi-Fi is scarce. Listen. Don’t expect to spend a lot of time on your phone. A lot of Cuba does not have Wi-Fi. If you need it though, there are ways. We stayed in Old Havana our first couple of nights. In order to get Wi-Fi, you’ll first need to buy a Wi-Fi card from ETECSA, Cuba’s telecommunications provider. Each card is $1 per every hour of Wi-Fi. Make sure you bring your passport with you because you’ll need it to purchase. Next, you must take the card to country’s designated Wi-Fi parks and log in. Note: the “park” is literally just an area where people line up and or congregate to get service. You’ll know you’re in the right spot when you see people talking, texting and facetiming.
- Bring cash. Credit cards won’t work for you, boo! Be sure to bring plenty of cash with you. You can get your money exchanged at the airport, which will probably be the most convenient option as the banks in Havana were almost always extremely busy. Associated fees include regular currency exchange fees plus a fee on top of that for exchanging U.S. money. And be sure to get lots of singles for tipping.
- Speaking of tipping…While the accepted minimum for tipping in the U.S. is anywhere from 15-20%, tipping in Cuba is less. A good rule of thumb is to tip at least 10%. If the service is exceptionally good, 15% is acceptable. Cubans don’t make that much compared to Americans, and for those in the service/tourism industry, tips help a great deal. You’ll be tipping everybody from your taxi driver to your waiter, so be sure to keep small change with you at all times.
- Cuba has two different kinds of currency. One is the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) which is what you will use as a tourist. One CUC is equal to one US dollar, so it makes paying in Cuba easy. Cubans also use another kind of currency – the CUP. You’re not likely to encounter this type of currency as it’s used only by locals. But we did get some CUP in change from a local selling fruit on the street. We just used it immediately to buy more fruit.
- Confirm taxi fare upfront. This is self-explanatory. If you need to maneuver throughout Cuba, taxis are a good alternative. We used them a lot during our stay. Just be sure to give your destination and confirm the price upfront to avoid unnecessary surprises.
- Learn Spanish. Listen, while 2 Girls Who Travel is able to get by during our trips to Mexico with our limited Spanish, that won’t cut it in Cuba. Cubans speak Spanish – this goes from locals to office staff and professionals. We admittedly had to use a bit of “sign language” during our trip when we couldn’t formulate the correct words. Bottom line: learn the language. Period!
- Local phones are a plus. American cell phones will not be able to call Cuban phone numbers. So, if your hotel or Airbnb host offers a local phone for your use during your stay, take it! Our Airbnb host in Havana let us use her phone and it came in handy. We were able to contact our driver, restaurants and it was an added level of comfort and security while we were out and about in Havana.
- Using the restroom. Many public restrooms in Cuba will a) not allow you to flush the toilet paper and b) have someone rationing/handing out toilet paper to you. We repeat, this IS NOT AMERICA! Abide by the rules and you’ll be fine. Often times the person tending to the restroom will have a tip jar. Tip at your discretion, but keep in mind, this person is in charge of keeping the restroom clean and tidy.
- Download a map beforehand. If you’re traveling where there is a possibility of poor internet connections, Maps.me is a lifesaver. The app is available for Android and Apple phones. The important detail to remember is that the map download has to occur before you get to your destination. It operates totally offline and has cool features like attractions, restaurants and landmarks with contact information. A definite must-have for finding your way around Havana!
We may not know what the future holds for U.S./Cuba travel and tourism, but we were extremely happy to visit this incredible country. Be on the lookout for next week’s blog where we’ll tell you the must-visit hot spots in Cuba!