Getting ready for your first trip to Cuba? This exciting country will surely be one of the most unique travel experiences of your life.
Patience is key when planning a holiday in Cuba due to the bevy of limitations you’ll encounter every step of the way. Unreliable internet, confusing visa policies, and multiple currencies are only a handful of obstacles you’ll face.
All the hoops and ladders make the journey even more special and you’ll soon realize Cuba has tons to offer for a truly memorable vacation.
Start with these six tips for the trip of a lifetime to this Caribbean country.
1. Acquire Your Cuban Tourist Card
Although citizens of most countries can travel to Cuba visa-free upwards of 30 or 60 days, nearly everyone will need a Cuban Tourist Card. This is extremely important to remember since entry to the country will be denied unless you have one.
If you’re forced to obtain the Cuban Tourist Card by yourself, online services like Easy Tourist Card allow you to purchase the correct one. Make sure you completely understand your country’s policies when traveling to Cuba.
2. Learn Cuba’s Two Currencies
First-time travelers to Cuba are greeted with a confusing surprise. The country has not one, but two official currencies and visitors are often in disarray about which one to use.
First, understand that most businesses only accept cash and credit cards issued by American banks will not work. Having enough cash for your trip is essential.
Tourists will typically use CUC (Cuban Convertible Peso) but locals use CUP (Cuban National Peso). You can only obtain CUC when you arrive in the country, and due to egregious fees, it’s recommended to bring euros to exchange instead of USD.
To make matters more confusing, most prices you see will be in CUP. Keep in mind that one CUC is equivalent to one USD and worth 25 CUP when purchasing items.
3. Stay in Casas Particulares
Ditch the swanky hotels and get an authentic experience by hanging with the locals in one of the country’s private homestays. Over-priced and closed off from the local vibe, Cuba’s hotels and resorts simply don’t give you a sense of the country’s rich culture.
That’s why casas particulares are the way to go when choosing your lodging for the duration of your trip. Save money, support the local communities, cook delicious Cuban meals, and receive insider advice you wouldn’t hear otherwise.
The concept of using spare rooms to welcome foreign visitors was fostered decades ago in Cuba and you’ll find an abundance of families providing warm hospitality.
A homemade dinner, hanging out in a traditional Cuban neighborhood, and for a quality price. What more could you ask for while you tour Cuba?
4. Learn Some Spanish Before Your Trip
You don’t have to worry about being a fluent speaker, but knowing several common words and phrases goes a long way while scooting across Cuba.
Although English is becoming more widespread in touristy areas, there will remain a language barrier in the rural parts of the country. If you take our advice and choose to stay in casas particulares, knowing a little Spanish makes everything flow easier.
Simple words and common phrases act as a natural icebreaker, and locals will appreciate the effort of attempting to speak in their language.
5. Enjoy Meals in Paladars
Cuba gained a nasty reputation as having tasteless cuisine due to its restrictive policies of privately-owned restaurants. With the restriction lifted in recent years, the island nation is undergoing a gastronomic revival and dining at paladars is now one of the top things to do in Cuba.
Chefs and restaurant owners have unlocked their suppressed talents to tantalize the taste buds of locals and worldly travelers. Creative menu combinations, bright-colored décor, and delightful ambiance have created a buzz on the Cuban foodie scene.
Reserve your meals in Cuba for the paladars and you’re in for a delicious treat during your trip.
6. Venture Outside of Havana
The colorful, maritime capital city of Cuba is the perfect place to get your first taste of the country. But after a few days exploring the city, it’s time to see the charming towns and natural beauty that decorate the rest of the country.
Walk along the colonial streets of Trinidad and feel like you’ve traveled back in time. Rolling hills dot the surrounding landscapes, and pristine beaches and cascading waterfalls are just a short ride away. Latin music fills the air as locals amble down cobblestone streets creating a relaxed atmosphere for everyone.
Soak up the country life in Viñales and marvel at limestone peaks and lush palm trees. The untouched landscapes here are a fantastic place to visit local tobacco farms, go horseback riding, and partake in serious hiking adventures.
Trinidad and Viñales only scratch the surface of the places to see in Cuba and you’ll have a much grander vacation exploring the countryside.