Cuba is a wonderfully fascinating country to visit, filled with the friendliest people, fuelled by music and dancing, set against a backdrop of beautiful landscapes and colonial architecture. New stories emerge around every corner and down each side street and alleyway. The warm Caribbean sun offset by cool, crisp mojitos. Cuba truly is a photographer’s paradise.
To make sure you can concentrate on soaking it all up and capturing that perfect image, here are our top 10 Cuba travel tips:
Pack light: It’s always warm in Cuba; even if it rains it’s rarely ever cold and even the most up-market restaurant in Cuba has a casual dress code, so don’t over-burden yourself.
Our top tip: Lightweight clothes, shorts, t-shirts and good walking shoes are all you’ll need. Oh and toiletries of course!
Money: Cuba has a closed currency, so you can only exchange funds in-country. Although there’s a bureau de change at the airport you’ll find the queue is often very long and slow moving. Also, thanks to the continued US embargo, there’s a surcharge on changing US dollars.
Our top tip: Change funds at a hotel, or visit one of the Metropolitan Banks around Havana to change money. If possible bring Euro’s or British Pound as these tend to have favourable exchange rates.
Water, water everywhere: So you’re on an island surrounded by water, but what is there to drink? Well, tap water is a no-go, as is anything labelled “filtered”. Look for sealed bottled water (which is sold everywhere very cheaply). Remember to use it for brushing your teeth as well as drinking.
Our top tip: Always have at least one bottle of water with you when you're out and about. Also, If you’re looking to hydrate throughout the day, you can’t go far wrong than our favourite local beer; Crystal. It’s fairly low alcohol, crisp, clean, refreshing and no risk of an upset stomach.
Cuba Time: Be prepared to slow the pace. Locals are used to waiting and queuing for pretty much everything. No one is in any rush to go anywhere (except the taxi drivers!). Things happen, when they happen.
Our top tip: Relax, unwind and bring your patience.
Espanola: Spanish is the first language in Cuba and although a lot of people, especially those involved in tourism will speak some English, you will often find people who don’t. Even those who do speak English will appreciate it if you make even a little effort to communicate in Spanish.
Our top tip: Learn a few words, or bring with you an offline translation app, or good old fashioned phrase book.
Go Local: Some of the best experiences, bars, food and fun can be found away from the tourist centric locations, tucked away on backstreets or in quiet neighbourhoods.
Our top tip: Don’t be afraid to visit some of the local’s bars; listen for the sounds of salsa, rumba and reggaeton flowing from sidestreets and follow the sound to some of the coolest night spots.
Off the grid: When we first started travelling to Cuba you were lucky if you got mobile phone reception at all. These days most major hotels offer paid for internet and wi-fi hotspots are popping up around Havana and in some other major cities, but there’s no such thing as data roaming.
Our top tip: Disconnect from emails and social media and embrace off-the-grid living.
Be discreet: The average salary in Cuba is $20-30 a month; most people who are employed by the state (and that’s the majority of Cubans) will earn no more than $45 a month! Whilst there’s almost zero crime in Cuba, it’s always best not to tempt fate.
Our top tip: Leave the expensive jewellery and watches at home.
Souvenirs: There are a lot more independent shops and vendors around Cuba now than ever before and competitions is a healthy thing, however, you’ll find many shops are selling the same, or very similar merchandise.
Our top tip: If you’re buying some gifts to take home, or souvenirs of your trip shop around and don’t be afraid to haggle.
Don’t get caught out: Tourism isn’t new to Cuba, but the volume of tourists has definitely increased in recent years. Sadly, with more people arriving, so more people will look to try their luck. There are two or three dodges which you will possibly encounter, especially in Havana. These are: “Today is a Salsa Festival” and “Today is a special holiday” – in either case your new best friend will try to sell you some tickets, or cigars or a day out, in reality though there’s nothing happening different that day than any other.
Our top tip: Be polite and courteous, (remember these are people with very little trying to make something extra), but also be firm in declining – a simple “No thank you” and keep walking on will usually deter them.
Lastly... all good top ten tip lists have a bonus recommendation and ours is no exception!
Travel with the pros: Cuba can be a fairly complicated country to navigate, especially if it’s your first trip. Travelling with a company who have years of experience working and touring in Cuba, with great in-country contacts will help ensure you have an amazing trip and find those little extras that make your stay truly special.
Our top tip: Come with us! We might be a little bias, but we truly believe our holidays will give you that Wow! Factor and unlock some of the hidden Cuba that you just won’t find on a regular tourist coach trip.