The complete 101 on traveling to Cuba

Posted: 26-May-16 15:30

If you're like one of the many Americans considering a trip to Cuba in the near future, there are several things you need to know before you go. A recent American news article offers some tips on everything from currency to accommodations, dining out to what to pack, with a complete 101 on traveling to the island nation.

The complete 101 on traveling to Cuba

As millions of new travellers flood into Cuba this year, the travel industry predicts a high percentage of them to be Americans. A recently printed Fox News Travel article points out research showing that 18-percent of U.S. travellers have a good chance of considering a trip to Cuba in the near future. With immediate travellers in mind, the article runs down its version of “Cuba travel 101: What you need to know before going this summer”. The article by Eileen Ogintz details everything from travel regulations to souvenirs.

To begin with, Ogintz writes that Americans need cash not plastic. She explains that most places cannot accept American credit cards and Cuba operates with CUC and Cuban Pesos. The author says you can exchange dollars, pounds or euros for CUC but you’ll get a better exchange rate if you don’t have dollars.

She continues with information about lodging. Because she explains hotels are limited, more costly and sometimes booked well in advance, the author recommends a casa particular. Ogintz says you can sometimes book one for just $30 per night through Cubacasas.net or Airbnb. Here she reminds to check for air conditioning but not to expect the Internet.

The writer goes on to explain that Americans, even with the relaxed travel regulations as of late, still have to commit to “people-to-people” itineraries for eight hours per day, yet she admits it’s not clear how the U.S. government is checking to make sure this happens. According to Ogintz while you can plan out your own education experience it’s not easy, especially if you cannot understand Spanish. She points out tour companies can help, as well as not-for-profits like InsightCuba.

One option is a cruise. Fathom Adonia is the only one that currently has approval to sail from the U.S. to Cuba, though more are expected soon. There are also non-American cruise lines such as Celestyal Cruises, beginning in Jamaica, that can help set up people-to-people engagements. Ogintz writes that when you take a cruise you don’t have to worry about setting everything up but you also are limited in how much time you can spend in each place you visit.

If you do plan to travel on your own the writer suggests not driving yourself but hiring a car. She admits Cuba roads do not have lights and you sometimes have to share the road with pedestrians, wild pigs and donkey carts. She also says it can save you money to hire a car, but you need to agree to a price before setting out.

Other recommendations the author offers including carrying a copy of travel insurance with you and making sure you have a tourist card in your travel package, which is required when you fly into Cuba. Also, before you go check with your cell phone provider to see if you’ll have service. You can pre-buy services from Cubacel, the state-run phone company. Also, she adds, you’ll want to download an offline app that works with your phone’s GPS, like Maps.me, because there is no Internet.

Other tips from the author include learning some Spanish phrases before you go, plus bringing along all the essentials like bandages, shampoo and razors, which are hard to find. Also pack sunscreen and insect repellent for the same reason. In addition, she says, bring snorkel gear with you if you think you’ll want it, plus extra money for tipping tour guides, servers and musicians.

As for what to wear, the writer says it’s hot and humid in Cuba so bring casual, breathable clothing and consider purchasing a straw hat. She recommends boat shoes or running shoes, for the streets are uneven and dusty.

When eating out, the writer suggests calling ahead because the restaurants often fill up after 8pm. She promotes trying out the newer, private restaurants over the government-run ones because she found the service and food better in the private restaurants. One item she particularly enjoyed was grilled lobster tail, less than $15 at El Figaro in Havana.

Before you head home, the author offers a final tip regarding souvenirs. She points out you can legally bring back just $100 worth of cigars so be sure to hang on to your receipts for customs.


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