melanie in cuba

10 Rules for Cuba

Thinking about a trip to Cuba?  Bet you’re wondering about visas, drinking water, and internet  And did you know?   Your credit card and ATM cards will not work in Cuba – you need to bring ALL cash with you from home!

  1. WHAT CUBANS WANT: Travelers often ask what Cubans want.  From my 3 trips down to Havana and from my friends there, I would say Cubans want electronics of any kind, flash drives and portable memory sticks, clothing, makeup and toiletries (from condoms to toothpaste to shampoo), and sunblock!  (it is very expensive down there so pack ample for yourself plus some to spare to leave with  your hosts).   But most of all, they need cash. Just tip them liberally in CUCs.
  2. WATER:  Always drink bottled water.  Ice cubes in Havana bars are generally okay, but, most Cuban water does not sit well on American stomachs, so stick to bottles or filtered (often served in carafes in small frigs in Casa) for drinking AND brushing.  And pack immodium or alternative medicine just in case.
  3. ESPANOL?: Language problems can be intimidating so you might want to learn a little bit of Spanish because 60% of locals have only Spanish (and fewer Casa owners).   Helpful hints are to download offline translation apps for your phone and learn a few phrases with Babble.
  4. MOSQUITOS: I have been to Cuba in all seasons now, traveled from Pinar del Rios on the far west to Santiago on the east, up in the cayes on the north shore, and down through Bay of Pigs and Trinidad.  I have never had 1 bite.  But if you are irritated by small bugs, know that they are worse April-November, rainy season.  Bring repellent and wear it at night or by water.   Also wear long sleeves.   And forget the perfume.  While we’re talking about rainy season
  5. ELECTRIC: A few outlets are standard European double round socket but most are 110v with no ground, and many look like US outlets
  6. INTERNET: It is limited and slightly censored (I was blocked from!) but there are wifi hot spots. Cards can be purchased at Etecsa shops or at hotels like Ambos Mundos. Take your passport because sometimes they ask for it when buying a card.
  7. BANOS:   You’ll find plenty of public toilets around but they often charge you.  Bring your own TP – and don’t put TP in toilet when you’re done.  It goes in the small trash can.  There’s rarely soap so bring hand sanitizer.
  8. VISAs:  Your Visa will come from your airline (for an extra charge) and is typically purchased at the airport.  BUT you CAN order it online before you depart and even have it overnighted it your home – all this done online through Cuba Travel Services.   Visas cost $50 but each of the airlines put a different surcharge on it.   You’ll have to fill out an affidavit, swearing you are traveling with a cause.  Choose “In Support of the Cuban People” – but then make sure that you are truly supporting the locals by staying at AirBnBs or Casa Particulars, dining at paladares (restaurants run out of local homes), using local guides, and buying local handicrafts.
  9. THE CUBAN MANTRA:  Nothing will go as you plan.    Reservations will be canceled and shops closed without reason or prior notice.  Things will not work the way you think they should.  Many things will make no sense.   Nothing will go as you plan. (yes, I repeated that last one)
    • Take all the cash you will need for everything on your trip because American credit card do not work for purchases and debit cards do not work at ATMs.
    • There’s a fair debate about whether Americans should take USD or €.  Unlike any other currencies, USD gets a surcharge.  However, there is a cost for your time to get to bank and exchange money before you go. Also, if you keep all your money in USD, then you can bring any unused money home without a penalty to change € back into USD.   So it seems that the answer is:  if you are taking a lot of money, for purchases, large groups, or a long period of time, then it makes sense to get €.  Otherwise, I’d stick to USD.     If you run out of CUCs, you can use USD for  gratuities.  The locals actually like USD.
    • When you get to Cuba and try to exchange money, you may find long lines at the airport. Don’t worry – there are plenty of other places like banks and hotels, and the government controls the exchange so you’ll get the same rate everywhere you go.
    • There are 2 currencies (the CUC Cuban convertible peso for tourists ) and CUP (Cuban Peso)   24 local to 1 tourist
    • There are 3 CUC notes and 3 CUC coins that  have Che on them – these make a good souvenir!

Looks like you are headed to Cuba?  Then you might want to check out our YouTube channel with lots of video from How to pick a Casa Particular, to the Making of a Cuban Cigar, Soundtrack of the Streets, and much more. 

You may also be interested in our DIY Cuba.  We have packaged our research into a simple downloadable guide – everything you need to book your own trip to Cuba.   Go here for more info. 

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