10 Tips to Make Your Cuba Trip Hassle-Free
For Americans, Cuba has always been an exotic destination. Since the U.S. eased the 5-decade long trade embargo in 2016, more and more Americans are making their way to this Caribbean gem. However, just because it’s a bit easier to get there now, does not mean it will be stress-free. After my recent trip there, I decided to put together a list that will ensure your trip to Cuba to be fun, cultural, and enchanting.
The below tips come from personal experience and I hope you find them helpful!
1. Book an Airbnb
Hotels in Havana are super expensive, ranging on average $400 per night. An Airbnb on the other hand, will range around $60 at night. That to me, is a no-brainer. Staying at an Airbnb will also allow you to submerge yourself into the culture and really bring the Cuban experience to life. Booking an Airbnb in Old Havana is the best option, as you will be walking distance from all of the major attractions and restaurants.
2. Travel Light
Avoid the trouble and just pack the necessary carry-on.
a. Retrieving your luggage at the Cuban airport is not the easiest process in the world.
b. Your airlines will also charge you for checked bags (unless you have their respective credit card or Premier status).
c. In Havana, the cars are smaller and the buildings have several flights of narrow stairs. This makes it difficult to carry several bags.
3. Exchange USD to EUR Prior to Traveling
Cuba has two currencies, one for tourists (CUC) and one for locals (Moneda Nacional).
Let me break it down….
The Cuban government has a 13% penalty on US dollars, making the exchange rate $.87 to 1 CUC (as of 5/31/17). The best way to get around this is to order Euros through your bank and exchange them to Cuban pesos once you arrive to Cuba. The best place to exchange money is at Hotel Nacional in Havana. The airport will give you a 1 to 1 exchange for EUR. Hotel Nacional gave us €1.05 to 1 CUC exchange.
Important Note! American bank issued cards are not accepted anywhere in Cuba, so make sure to take plenty of cash.
4. Research Restaurants While in the U.S.
The access to Wi-Fi is very limited in Cuba. Do all of your research in the States. Look-up the restaurants you want to eat at and make a list with the addresses.
The truth is, you don’t want to get adventurous with food. Some of the restaurants are not that great, or have very limited supplies. TripAdvisor is a great source to read people’s reviews. I personally loved Café El Dandy for breakfast, Restaurant Van-Van for lunch, and La Giraldilla Restaurant for dinner.
Important note! Make sure to pre-download the Cuba map in Google Maps before your trip.
5. Expect U.S. Prices in Havana
Apart from being extremely cultural and enchanting, Havana was expensive. I spent the same amount of money there as I did in San Francisco, California. Try to walk wherever you can to avoid spending money on taxis. If you take day trips, negotiate the prices with the drivers.
6. Ask Friends Who Have Traveled to Cuba to Recommend a Driver
Having an exceptional driver increases the chances of having a great experience. We had the same driver for most of our trip and he served as both our personal guide and our transportation. We got a lot of insight from local living as well as avoiding tourist traps (I have a great recommendation if anyone is interested).
7. Space Out Long Trips
We made two long trips in two consecutive days. Don’t make the same mistake we made. While going to Viñales and Varadero was worth both trips, we would have loved to space these 2+ hour trips separately. If you plan to stay in Havana, either plan to spend the night in Viñales and Varadero, or space the trips out.
8. Make it a Priority to Go to Varadero
We almost didn’t make it to Varadero because it seemed so far (2h 30m from Havana). But thank God, we did. Varadero was one of the most beautiful beaches we have ever seen. A true Caribbean paradise with infinite miles of white sand beaches and shallow crystal clear water.
9. Do Not Drink Tap Water
As in any Caribbean or third world country, tap water is not potable and you should avoid drinking it. Trust me, being sick on vacation is not fun. Be careful with juices and any food containing water. Always ask if they are made with bottled water.
10. Look-Up Your Terminal Before Heading to the Airport
If you happen to be close of running out of money before your departure, this piece of advice is important. We made the mistake of not looking for our terminal of departure before taking the cab to the airport. We assumed that the “All American Airlines” terminal had to be where our flight was departing from. Well to our surprise, it wasn’t. We had to take another cab to the correct terminal (which you cannot walk).
Apparently when US flights started flying into Cuba, the terminal couldn’t hold the demand, so they had to break them out into different terminals. Don’t let this happen to you and lookup your departing terminal in advance.Overall, my trip to Cuba was amazing!
I’m sure these tips will help you make yours incredible.
Now go book that Cuba trip and have a blast!
Thanks for reading!