World travellers share 11 tips about visiting Cuba

Posted: 15-Sep-16 10:38

When it comes to a Cuban holiday there are several things to keep in mind before you arrive. From transportation to currency, Internet service to lodging, a travel couple shares their secrets about visiting the island. They divulge what to pack and what to expect while spending time travelling around Cuba.

World travellers share 11 tips about visiting Cuba

Long considered an off-limits destination for U.S. travellers, Cuba is now welcoming a record number of foreign visitors eager to experience the sights and sounds of the Caribbean nation. Spurred by their own recent travels to Cuba, a Canadian couple penned some personal tips on visiting the country, based on their own experience.

Oksana and Max St John spend their days travelling the world, now sharing their thoughts on Cuba as published on their blog drinkteatravel.com. The couple provides eleven tips, ranging from lodging to overcoming the language barrier, paired with a few photographs documenting their travels.

Eleven tips for travelling to Cuba

  1. Staying at a casa particular

    To save money and learn more about Cuban culture and traditions it’s recommended that visitors stay in a casa particular over a hotel. Also referred to as a bed and breakfast, guests rent out a room in a private home, usually a double room with AC, hot water and a separate toilet. Sometimes you can find one with a small living room or kitchen. Typically the article suggests casa particular rates are around $35 per night in Havana or Varadero and $20 to $25 per night in other Cuban cities. If you need help finding a casa in another city you can always ask your original host. One extra tip the writers suggest is knowing how to read a Cuban address. Commonly the address is the street the building is on, followed by the two streets it is between.

    Hostals are casas with more than one to two rooms. The authors note while hostels, or dormitory-style rooms, are commonly found in other parts of the world you likely won’t find more than one or two of them in Havana, and none are located outside of the capitol city.

  2. Places to eat

    The authors recommend eating in paladars, family-run restaurants, or in the casas. They found breakfast in casas to cost around $3 to $5 and dinner $7 to $10 per person, a great deal as they declared these meals to be the best ones they had in Cuba, far superior to state-run restaurants. One photograph depicts a meal of coconut fish they dined on in their Baracoa casa.

  3. Cuban transportation

    While there are vintage American cars that provide transportation in Havana the authors declare that currently -although this information is not completly right- there is only one bus company that provides tourists with transportation around the country. Viazul buses connect major Cuban towns and cities but tickets are limited and expensive. While bus tickets can be purchased in person a few days in advance they recommend booking online at least one week before you head to the island.

    The authors point out you can’t just buy a Viazul bus ticket within a few hours of the time you need one. This will only put your name on a waiting list and you’ll have to see if any of the previously booked travellers fail to show up.

  4. The currency

    It’s important to understand the currency too, for most American-issued credit cards can’t be used in Cuba and ATM machines are few and far between. For this reason travellers are advised to bring cash. Travellers use Cuban CUCs, which can be converted from other foreign currency. Keep in mind, though, that U.S. dollars often incur a high exchange fee, which is why the authors suggest bringing Euros, British Pounds or Canadian Dollars.

  5. Packing your essentials

    You’ll also want to bring along any essentials you may need on the holiday, such as sunscreen, shampoo and conditioner. Also don’t forget your bathing suit if you think you’ll want one while in Cuba. While items such as these can sometimes be found in resorts it’s more common for them to be expensive and difficult to track down. A photograph depicts mostly bare shelves the bloggers found in the snack section of one local supermarket.

  6. Packing a power converter

    As for what else to pack you’ll want to include a power converter. While modern electronics such as laptops and phone chargers may be fine, the authors point out that electric sockets throughout Cuba are not standardized. While one place may have 110V sockets the next location may have 220V. If you’re packing items such as an electric razor, hair dryer or hair straightener a power converter will likely come in handy.

  7. Internet service

    It’s true that travellers to Cuba should prepare for limited Internet service as you won’t find it available for free and public Wi-Fi isn’t available everywhere you go. To get online you will need an ETESCA Internet card and need to locate a public hot spot. While the article doesn’t mention this, some larger hotels in Cuba also have Wi-Fi.

    Regardless, the service isn’t cheap, sometime costing $2 CUC per hour, and you’ll often have to stand in a long line to purchase a card at one of the ETESCA offices. The authors found travellers are able to purchase up to three cards at a time but need to have a passport handy.

    With limited service in mind it’s advised that travellers download an offline map of the country from Maps. Me before arriving in Cuba. This will help with directions while you’re in the country, plus help you find restaurants, casas, bars and supermarkets.

  8. Customer service

    As far as customer service the authors say that most locals that travellers interact with outside of casas particulares and paladars will be those working at state-run hotels, restaurants or tour companies. The writers incorrectly suggest these workers are all unhappy and unhelpful in their positions. In fact, most Cubans welcome foreign travellers and are more than happy to help them learn more about local culture.

  9. Travel disruptions

    Just like the observation of poor customer service the authors also suggest that most travellers will have disruptions along the way. While this isn’t necessarily always the case it probably doesn’t hurt to be flexible as sometimes things like ATMs are out of operation and buses are sold out. It helps to be patient and willing to change your plans when necessary.

  10. Making limited plans

    With this in mind it is possible to go to Cuba without planning out every detail of your stay. While you may find it more expensive and difficult to try and plan as you go it can be done. For the adventurous Cuba provides taxis to take you around, restaurants where reservations are not necessary and sometimes casas that can be booked on the spot.

  11. Brushing up on your Spanish

    It will help, though, if you brush up on your Spanish before your visit. While most Cubans who work in the tourism industry speak some English it’s not likely you’ll find a local outside of the resorts who speaks anything but Spanish. Learning just a few Spanish words and phrases can help when shopping, planning tours and finding activities.

Travel becoming easier

Altogether the bloggers divulge following these tips will make for a more pleasant experience in navigating the country. It should be noted that travel to Cuba continues to become easier with the addition of cruise ships, private jets and commercial airlines headed directly to the country from the United States. Cuba has welcomed record numbers of foreign travellers, many of which are Americans, since restrictions began to ease for U.S. citizens nearly two years ago.


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