Travel to Cuba
In the northern part of the far-flung areas where the Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, and the Atlantic Ocean meet, there lies the small country of Cuba. Cuba, officially named as the Republic of Cuba, is surrounded by water. Which is why Cuba is one of the most beautiful beach destinations in the world.
Havana is the capital city of Cuba. There are a lot of beautiful cities in Cuba that you can visit even if you are on a budget.
Still considered as a part of Latin America, there’s a high chance that you could stumble upon Hispanic cultures and practices in Cuba. This is especially evident when the date of your travel coincides with the festivities in the country. If your timing is just right, you’re not only going to be able to see the beautiful beaches of Cuba, but you’ll also see how colorful the culture is in Cuba.
If you are planning on getting the most out of Cuba’s shorelines, the weather will be the least of all your problems. Cuba enjoys a sub-tropical climate with cool winds. This just means that the sun is up for you to enjoy the beaches, but the winds are not that humid for you to be sweaty.
Visa Requirements for Cuba
Getting a visa for Cuba is a fairly simple process. A Cuba visa is also known as a tourist card in the country and is needed for most nationalities. This will allow you to stay in Cuba for thirty days and it’s valid for a single entry only.
All you have to do is to send your application to the consulate either in person or by post. All visitors should provide their trip details such as itinerary and accommodation as a part of the visa application process. Travel insurance for Cuba is also needed. If, however, you don’t have one, you would have to buy one when you arrive in Cuba.
To start your application for a Cuba visa and for more information on how to get a visa for Cuba, find your nearest Cuban consulate on this website.
Important Cultural Information
Cubans are very sociable and friendly. Tourists love their good sense of humor. They are also very kind to strangers and would offer help along the way. When communicating with the locals, it’s essential to know that they are very direct and straightforward. Their verbal communication is very open and can sometimes be considered on the border of bluntness. Greetings are very important in Cuba. They value respect and politeness over anything else. Hence, when meeting a local in Cuba, it would be nice if you show everyone a simple greeting. A “hello” will be more than enough to show that you have good manners.
In most formal situations, a handshake should be acceptable. Men locals usually shake hands and hug their friends when greeting them; women, on the other hand, kiss one cheek.
Because Cuba is considered to be a sub-tropical country, Cubans dress very comfortably and casually. Suits are not usually worn by men. It’s safe to say that you can wear whatever you want when you are in Cuba. Make sure you’re comfortable with it to avoid a series of hot flushes. For religion, Cubans are considered to be more open and lenient compared to other countries. The most prevalent religions in the country are Catholic and African.
Banking & Money in Cuba
Cuba has two widely accepted currencies. This is because of their dual economy. The situation might be quite confusing for tourists but in most Cuba destinations, the money is the Peso Convertible (CUC). If you are going on trips to Cuba, this is the main currency that you should use.
On the other hand, there is the Peso Cubano (CUP). This is the national currency of Cuba and is used mostly by locals at places like local stores.
When you are exchanging your currency, it’s crucial to note that exchange houses in Cuba do not accept all kinds of currency. The only accepted currencies for exchange are the following:
- British Pound
- Canadian Dollar
- Swiss Franc
- Japanese Yen
- USA Dollar
- Mexican Peso
- Danish Krone
- Norway Krone
- Sweden Krona
CUCs can be exchanged in CADECA, which is the official exchange house in Cuba. A CADECA is located at the airport so you can have your money exchanged right away.
Most international credit and debit cards like Visa and Mastercard are accepted in Cuba. However, for local shops, the merchants only accept payment in cash.
To use ATMs in Cuba, you should have a valid PIN. Most travel destinations in Cuba, such as Havana and Varadero, have available ATMs.
Medical Emergency Information
The main emergency contact number in Cuba is 106, this will get you in touch with the police and for all emergency queries.
More specific emergency contact:
- Ambulance – 104
- Fire – 105
- Directory assistance – 113
To be safe, you should have travel insurance for Cuba. Make sure to get good travel insurance for Cuba beforehand. Compare options with both WorldNomads and SafetyWing.
Wi-Fi and Internet in Cuba
Since Cuba is considered to be a tourist place, you shouldn’t worry about getting mobile signal reception. The internet in Cuba may not be as fast compared to other first world countries, but it can definitely suffice. Internet in most tourist places like Havana is pretty fast compared to other places in Cuba.
It’s a bit more tricky to get your own internet connection. You will need to buy a NAUTA internet card and find an ETESCA Wi-Fi hotspot. The NAUTA internet card is only sold at limited places. You can get it from ETESCA offices, hotels, and at the Park or Main square. Each area would have its pros and cons. Like with the price of the internet card, it is way cheaper when you buy it from ETESCA offices, but it’s quite tasking to do so. With hotels, on the other hand, it’s more convenient to buy an NAUTA internet card but it may cost a lot more.
After purchasing your internet card, you will have to scratch it off and find an ETESCA hotspot place. You’ll usually find one in parks or main squares, outside ETESCA offices, hotels, and at the airport.
For SIM cards for mobile phones, it’s easy to get one at the airport, gas stations, newsstands, and grocery stores. Make sure to set-up a VPN (like ExpressVPN) before using public Wi-Fi spots.
Arrival in Cuba
Because of its location, there are only two ways on how you can get to Cuba. One is through the air, and the other is by boat.
Most international flights come to José Martí International. The airport is conveniently located from its capital city of Havana. The airport houses Cuba’s leading airlines which are Cubana de Aviación, Aero Caribbean and Aerogaviota. If you are looking for cheap vacations to Cuba, then you should take a look at the prices of these three airlines. They offer the most affordable way of getting to Cuba.
Other airlines that travel to and from Cuba are American Airlines, Air France, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines, KLM, and Interjet, to name a few.
You can also search for flights to Cuba on Expedia.
There are no regular ferries or boats to Cuba from foreign ports, although some cruise liners do visit.
Areas of Cuba
Havana and Western Cuba
Havana is probably one of the best places to visit in Cuba. The capital city is also the most popular destination in the country. With stunning architecture that spans for about four centuries, Havana houses the diverse culture in its area. There’s also the Old Havana or the Habana Vieja that you can visit to see how much change there has been compared to the city itself. You can also visit the Vedado district, Museo Ernest Hemingway, and the Parque Histórico Militar Morro-Cabaña complex. Located in Western Cuba is also the Sierra del Rosario, Pinar del Rio, Valle de Viñales (go hiking in Vinales) and Isla de la Juventud.
Central Western Cuba
The places that are around Western Cuba is Varadero, Matanzas, Peninsula de Zapata, and Cienfuegos. From Havana to Varadero, your beach tours certainly won’t end there. Enjoy the famously known Bay of Pigs in Central Western Cuba. It’s also in this place that you can find water sport activities such as sport-fishing, party cruises, and scuba diving. In the Matanzas area, there’s a thriving piece of Afro-Cuban musical culture. You’ll get to see how the Cubans workshop their Santeria religion.
If you want to see a different side of Cuba, then you should definitely visit Central Cuba. Here you can find the unique flora and fauna. It’s not uncommon to spot flamingos at Jardines del Ray, and sharks at Jardines de la Reina. See the beach and the mountains marry in this part of Cuba.
East Central Cuba
This is probably the area in Cuba wherein tourists do not usually go to. If you want this kind of adventure, then you should definitely not miss visiting the East Central portion of Cuba. Hike until your heart is contented in the mountains of Pinares de Mayari. This is also where the Pico Turquino, which is Cuba’s highest mountain, is located.
If you are looking for a place that has a little bit of everything, then this is where you should be. Take some time to dive into the Cuban culture and history in this area. However, you can also be one with the nature.
Transportation in Cuba
For some Cuba travel tips, you should know that the most used transportation in the country is a taxi. However, not all taxis are alike. Car taxis are available in Cuba, but you will come across bici-taxis, horses with carts, and motorbikes with sidecars, too. This is true especially for the areas outside Havana.
Renting a car, either with a driver or none, can also be one of your best options, especially if you have a lot of places to visit in Cuba. Here’s some tips on driving in Cuba.
If you want to experience the thrill that commuting via public transport in the country brings, then you would have to go with the colectivos. Colectivos are shared taxis which transport people in between towns. For long-distance hauls, buses are more preferred than taking trains. Trains in Cuba aren’t that advanced and updated. Hence, there’s a large probability that you’ll most likely encounter some bumps and troubles along the way.
Here’s some more information on how to get around in Havana.
Accommodations in Cuba
When you are in Cuba, there are a lot of places to consider for accommodation. While there are a lot of places to stay, restrictions are kind of limited in a way. This is because there are only two major types of accommodations in Cuba. These are the hotel chains and Casas particulares or private houses.
The hotel chains are your typical three to five-star hotels. If you are on a budget, there are some hostels that you can stay in. However, if you prefer a homier and more casual feel than that of what a hotel could bring, then the perfect choice for you is to with a Casas particulares. Although the service might be compromised since these private houses are run mostly by Cuban locals operating their home as a makeshift bed and breakfast, the stay is still worth the experience.
If you’re looking on where to stay in Havana, there are a lot of hotel chains and Casas particulares in the area. But since the place is a tourist spot, you should book your stay in advance. We recommend looking for accommodation on Booking.
What to Eat and Drink in Cuba
If you are in Cuba, there’s a lot of dishes that you can’t afford to miss. Skip the fast food and international food chains that you can find elsewhere. When you’re traveling to Cuba, make sure that you get the chance to taste their authentic Cuban food.
Here are some of the foods that will leave your mind blown for days:
- Medianoche – sandwich served in nightclubs in Havana
- Pernil Relleno de Moros y Cristianos
- Vaca Frita – translated as a fried cow; beef marinated in lime, garlic, and salt
- Frita – Cuban hamburger
- Shrimps in coconut sauce
- Arroz con pollo – rice with chicken; Cuban version of a paella minus the seafood
- Lechon Asado
- Pulpeta – Cuban meatloaf
- Tamal en cazuela
- Costillitas – marinated baby back ribs
These are the typical traditional Cuban food that are absolutely recommended for foreigners.
Check out these restaurants in Trinidad if you’re in the city.
What to eat and drink in Cuba
Things to Do and See in Cuba
Cuba is such a beautiful country. The place is basically an island surrounded by water throughout. With that alone, you’re guaranteed that you’ll never run out of exquisite beaches in Cuba.
Water sports activities like snorkeling and scuba diving should be included in your “what to do in Havana” list. You cannot say that you have been to Havana without trying it out. Havana has one of the cleanest beaches and clean coastlines in the world. But if you’ve had too much of your beach time, then you can visit the museums and other architectural infrastructures found in Havana such as at the Plaza de la Catedral and Calejon de Hamel. We also recommend joining a tour of Havana, like this one, to truly get to understand the city.
If you’re into seeing what kind of culture Cuba has to bring, then you should visit Santiago de Cuba. Here, you can find lively music all over the area, surrounded by Cuba’s most historical places and museums. It is also in this place that you can see Calle Eredia, which is considered to be a sanctuary of Cuba’s traditional music and artists.
Not everyone knows what kind of beauty Baracoa has to bring. If this alone got you curious, then that’s a telling sign that you should not miss this. Baracoa, by far, is the most isolated place in the country. Being around people – locals and tourists alike – may get too overwhelming for you. So, if you’re looking for that just one easy hike that will satisfy your introvert needs, then this is the place for you to go.
Things to do & see in Cuba
Shopping in Cuba
There are a lot of places to visit in Cuba. At the same time, there’s a lot of shopping malls that could satisfy your shopping needs too. For any of your arts and crafts needs, the best place for you to shop at is at Centro Cultural Antiguos Almacenes de Deposito San José which is located in Havana. You can also buy traditional clothing made in Cuba at Clandestina. Enjoy shopping for rare second-hand items at Librería ‘La Fernandina’.
There are so many specialty shops in Cuba and a cigar store, La Casa del Habano Quinta, is just one of them!
Even though Cuba is a small island, it is filled with buzzing nightlife. Especially in key tourist areas like Havana, except a large party scene. The most top-rated night clubs in the country are the House of Music Varadero and Cabaret La Vegas. Both are located at Havana.
Safety Tips for Cuba
Cuba might be great and all. But the question “is Cuba safe?” might have crossed your thoughts. Yes, it is safe to travel to Cuba. The criminality rates are low in the country. Although you would have to still be careful at touristy places as there could be some cases of pickpockets and petty theft – and, like most tourist spots, some scams in Cuba. But overall, Cuba is a pretty safe place for travelers to muse upon.
Some tourists prefer joining a tour for safe travel in Cuba. Tour operators like G Adventures and Intrepid Travel offer great Cuba tours that are sometimes viewed as easier than traveling on your own.
In summary, you can definitely say that Cuba is such a beautiful place to be in. You’re not only going to enjoy its beautiful beaches, but you’ll also get a glimpse on how much their culture has affected how the way they live and shape their community. From the foods and drinks that you should try to the market places and top tourist destinations that you should visit – it is without a doubt that you will have the best time of your life traveling to Cuba.