Travel to Cuba has become increasingly common and popular, especially since the US lifted the restrictions on traveling to Cuba. For those that have already visited the country, it is easy to determine why so many people make the trip year after year. If it is your first time visiting, however, and you want to enjoy as much of the local hospitality and as many of the features as possible, then there are certain steps and specific guides you should follow.
At the very least, ensure that you have your visa before you arrive and when you are ready to leave, be prepared to change currency when you land, and don’t expect to be able to easily communicate with the outside world. One of the great pleasures of Cuba is that it feels like you are stepping right back into a bygone era, but this does mean that you will struggle to access Internet at all, while mobile phone coverage can be patchy once you are outside the major cities and the big resorts.
Visas, Passports, And Health Insurance
There are a number of requirements that you must meet when travelling to Cuba, as there are when travelling to any foreign clime. Although travel restrictions have been eased from the US, restrictions do still exist. The US Treasury gives 12 viable reasons to travel to the country, but tourism and sightseeing are not among these reasons. As such, travel from the US into Cuba is still challenging, for those that want to risk it.
For everybody else, it is obviously necessary to have a passport and you will also need health insurance. Every visitor also requires a Cuban visitor visa. You will need to present this visa on your arrival, and you will also need it when you are ready to board your plane to return home, so ensure that you don’t lose it.
You may be asked for proof of your health insurance, but it is rare for this to happen. Happily, Cuba’s medical system is actually surprisingly good, but the infrastructure isn’t really there so it may require a lot of travel to get to a hospital or other healthcare facility. Take a first aid kit, ensure you have filled and refilled prescriptions before you go, and consider steering clear of the water.
Cuban currency is not a globally traded currency, which means that you cannot exchange cash before you arrive in the country. What’s more, while credit cards are allegedly accepted, you will struggle to find anywhere that really accepts them.
There are other money considerations to take into account, too. Exchanging US dollars attracts an additional 10% exchange fee, while US issued credit cards are not accepted, and while ATMs are available and occasionally have cash in the major cities, they are much less prevalent outside of the big cities. Take cash, forget travellers cheques, and take more money than you think you will need.
When you do exchange cash, you will be given cucs, which are essentially tourist Pesos, as well as Cuban Pesos, which are meant for locals. Since the lifting of travel restrictions, it is possible to spend US dollars in some places, and major hotels and resorts are more likely to accept credit cards than smaller shops and destinations. Also be prepared to tip for just about everything, including when you travel by the incredible 1950s American classic cars. If you want to tip when you have stayed in a Casa Particulares, or a private residence, then you can leave items like toothpaste and even sanitary products, because these are very difficult to get hold of in Cuba.
Facilities And Utilities
In the same way that it can prove very difficult to access your money while in Cuba, it can be equally difficult to find Internet access. WiFi hotspots are virtually non-existent and, while hotels and resorts do offer access by the hour, it costs a lot of money and quality is poor. Internet cafes are also available in Havana and other towns and cities, but you will hear the sound of a dialup connection, and you shouldn’t expect to get much done during the time that you book online.
Surprisingly, however, mobile phone access is better than Internet access. Obviously, you won’t be able to use Internet based apps or GPS, and GPS systems are actually not allowed in the country. However, you shouldn’t have any problems sending or receiving texts or making and receiving phone calls via your mobile.
You should check with your mobile operator before you travel, to determine costs, and it is always a good idea to let your mobile company know that you are travelling abroad because it can prevent problems when you arrive and need to make a call.
Be aware that Cuba is still a communist country, and while a lot of services have been opened up so that private restaurants and private residences are now able to offer service to visitors, there may still be a shortage of some facilities and utilities. If you stay in a major hotel or resort then you are less likely to notice power outages that are forced in order to ensure that the power will last.
A few years ago, the only type of restaurants available were state-owned. However, private restaurants and cafes now exist, and they offer a much more varied selection of food and drinks as has typically been offered in the country. This is a good thing, because Cuban food has always been considered a little bland, but fresh food and the addition of a little experimentation has gone a long way to improving this situation.
Casas Particulares offer a viable, arguably more authentic, and more affordable alternative to hotels. You stay in a room, apartment, or house, belonging to a private resident. You may also be able to pay extra for breakfast and other amenities and features, and if you want a more authentic experience then staying with a local Cuban family is your best option.
Try And Book As Much As Possible In Advance
The fact that some restrictions on private businesses and accommodation have been lifted does not mean that the country is as open and free as most people are used to. As such, some services may still be unavailable and, some services like car rental, may require booking months in advance.
To avoid disappointment, you should consider booking as many activities and attractions as possible before you leave. In the past, booking a hotel has not guaranteed that you will be given the room you booked, but this has become much less of a problem.
Cuba is an incredible country, and it offers exceptional holiday and visiting opportunities. There are some factors that you need to overcome before and during your stay, but it is well worth the effort, and as long as you are aware of these potential limitations then you shouldn’t have any problems during your Cuban stay.
The Cuba Centre offers affordable Cuba visas for travellers to the Caribbean Island. Enjoy incredible weather, sandy beaches, and an authentic experience that feels like it is right out of the 1950s.