It’s an exciting time for U.S citizens as the ban has recently been lifted allowing for travel to the beautiful island of Cuba! It is most popularly known for its vintage cars, old architecture and overall “back in time” feel, but the truth is there’s so much more to it than that.
Here are a few things you will NEED to be aware of for your trip to Cuba.
I should begin by saying my lover and I spent 5 days here and are fortunate enough to both speak Spanish fluently. This of course made it easier to navigate around and converse with locals to learn about the not so “touristy” things.
I can also say confidently, that by speaking the native language we got ripped of wayyyyyy less than non Spanish speakers. We literally witnessed other people being charged double the amount for rides, activities and other things than what we were quoted. Moral of the story, try to bring a Spanish friend if you plan to travel here.
Reason for Travel/Visa/Airline.
Cuba isn’t exactly open to travel for “tourism” yet so prior to your flight booking you will need to select 1 of 12 reasons describing why you are traveling here. We chose “Educational & Cultural Interactions” which was obviously fitting.
You will also need to purchase a temporary visa for Cuba which costs $50 per person. This can be bought at the airport with your airline when checking in. We flew JetBlue and had a great and comfortable flight which was only an hour since we flew out of Florida hahaha. They allow for one free carry on bag and charge for any check ins.
We both used a high quality travel back pack and I would highly recommend this if you plan to explore various places on the island as there is lots of walking and lugging around luggage would be annoying.
In Cuba you get taxed 20 percent when exchanging U.S dollars which can be done at a local Cuban Bank. I forewarn you though these are NOT like the banks in the states – especially the ones in Havana. The lines are terribly long just to get inside where you then get a number and have to wait in another long line so bring enough money to avoid this.
We personally exchanged our U.S dollars to Euros at the Orlando airport and exchanged them at a small bank near the ViaAzul Bus station once we arrived. You’ll need your passport in order to do this. If you exchange it at the Cuban airport you’ll get shitty rates so try to do it outside if possible. If you plan to travel for 5 days like us (and not spend the whole time in Havana) then don’t expect to get by with anything less than $500 US dollars (good for 2 people).
In Cuba they use two currencies CUC and CUP. CUC is what tourists use and CUP is what the locals use. Be careful to make sure when receiving change that you are getting back CUC. CUP isn’t really worth much and most places don’t take it since they can pretty much tell if you’re not from there.
This is where most of your money will be spent especially if you plan to see other parts of Cuba. The ride to get to Havana alone from the airport will cost you $25 CUC (which is pretty much the same value as US $). This is a standard rate and if they try to charge you any more you’re getting ripped off.
Once we landed we wanted to go straight to Viñales and I’ll be posting a separate blog about all the awesome things you can do there! You can either take a bus with the ViaAzul buses or ride in a “Collectivo” which is like Cuba’s version of Uber for better understanding. The buses are cheaper but not recommended as they make tons of stops and are super crowded. We rode in a Collectivo with 6 others (pictured above) in a station wagon style car.
Collectivos for Viñales can be found right in front of the Bus station and will cost you $20 CUC per person for the two hour ride there. Again if they try to charge more, you’re getting ripped off. I saw people getting charged $40 CUC per person! Lucky for you, I got your back ;). Other rides to places like Cayo Jutías beach (which will also be posted in a separate blog post) you can expect to pay $20 CUC per person from Viñales
In Cuba you can book housing ahead of time on Airbnb and these stays are called “Casas”. In Havana you have the option for hotels but these are going to cost you way more than if you book through a local. Aside from the higher cost, its much better to give back to the locals anyway as the money from hotels will just go to the government. The average Casa will cost you anywhere from $15 CUC – $30 a night.
You have the option to book an entire place or room. During our stay in Viñales we stood in a small room that included a private bathroom/shower and small fridge. They’ll ask you for your pass port and visa when checking in as they have to keep track of all visitors staying with them. I should also warn you now this is no where near a five star hotel experience so if you’re a luxury kinda traveler you should probably just stay in Havana. For minimalists like ourselves it’s just fine.
You also have the option to request breakfast, lunch and dinner from your host (usually around $5-8 CUC per person) and they are also great about arranging Collectivos to take you places.
Being that we are Vegan and don’t eat meat (which is the most expensive part of meals for Cubans), they dropped down the breakfast to $3 for us no problem – just be sure to tell them if you are Vegan/Vegetarian as well. In Havana we stood in an entire apartment all to ourselves and it only cost $28 CUC a night to give you an idea about what you can find.
Just like here in the States (or anywhere really) the price for food will vary depending on how fancy you want to eat. On average though a quick simple meal only cost you around $2-4 CUC per person which is super affordable.
Pictured above is an example of a nicer restaurant in Havana with a balcony view. We ordered Moro (cuban rice and beans), Tostones (fried plantains), a large salad and a bottle of Pelegrino for only $11 CUC. Not too shabby if you ask me.
The name of this place is called Centro Turio and they have 3 levels within it. The first level has To Go food like sandwichs and hamburgers and the second floor offers Italian food if I recall correctly. We’re on the third floor which is much more formal but still very affordable.
Say bye to it. In Havana there are more spots for you to find but even in the larger cities its scarce. If you do find a wifi spot, you still have to purchase a wifi card which costs $1.50 CUC for every hour and is not guaranteed to work. Keep in mind you’ll need your pass port to purchase a card.
We found that Whats App worked the best when we did get signal and the voice notes are best for communicating with loved ones since the calls and video chats do not work. I can’t find the card at the moment but when I do I’ll be sure to attach it in.
And there you have it – The most important things you need to know about traveling in Cuba. I know it was kinda long but honestly everything here is worth knowing about and I wish I had had a blog to tell me about it all! Be sure to check back in soon as I will be posting about activities and cool places to visit as well.
Also feel free to leave a comment to let me know if this was helpful 🙂
Til next time,
**all images and opinions are my own.