Would you like to travel to Cuba? In this article, I’ll share some useful Cuba travel tips and I’ll tell you about the best sights.
A vacation to Cuba is unlike any other trip you’ll make
I have traveled a lot in recent years and I know better than anyone how to plan and organize a trip. However, organizing a trip to Cuba was quite a challenge, especially back in 2013. At that time there was hardly any internet on the island, hardly any blogs had been written about Cuba and there was little to be found on websites like Tripadvisor. I prepared for my trip to Cuba by reading travel guides, going to travel agencies, and asking friends or family if they’d know people who visited Cuba.
In the end, almost everything went differently than I had planned, but that is also something that makes traveling to a country like Cuba even more fun. It is and will remain a special country and you have the feeling of being in a different era. The old-timers, the beautiful colonial buildings, the friendly locals, a trip to Cuba is a great experience. Cuba is a country you want to visit as soon as possible before it is packed with the famous fast-food restaurants.
Useful Cuba travel tips
First, I would like to share some useful Cuba travel tips. Do you need a visa? How about money and can you charge your electronics?
Travel advice from you government
Before you go, always check the website (that’s hosted by your government for the current advice for traveling to Cuba. For The Netherlands this is wijsopreis.nl and on this website, we can check if we’re allowed to travel to the country and if there are restrictions in order or not.
In order to travel to Cuba, you need a Cuba Tourist Card. This is valid for 30 days. You must arrange this visa in advance, so before boarding the plane. If you book a package trip to Cuba, there’s a big chance that this visa will be arranged for you. But if you book your own flights and accommodation yourself, you have to this tourist card yourself.
You can get this card by applying for one online, through a visa service, via your country’s Cuban Embassy, or the airline. Please note: if you’re an American citizen, you need a different Cuba Tourist Card (a pink one) instead of the regular green one.
If travel to Cuba, you must be properly insured, and – if they ask – you must be able to show it. That is why you must always bring proof of your health and travel insurance with you. So make sure to print it and bring it with you.
Tourists and locals are separated in Cuba. In addition to their own buses, hotels, and shops, tourists also have their own currency: the Cuban Peso (CUC). 1 CUC is generally worth the same as 1 USD.
The Cuban currency is only available in Cuba and is best obtained by exchanging euros (the exchange rate for US dollars is horrible). There are some ATMs in Cuba, but they won’t work most of the time. For example, one day we tried five ATMs and at the end of the day, we still had no money.
Do you have cash with you? You can exchange money in hotels and in the exchange offices. The exchange rates are usually the best in one of the exchange offices. You can also use a credit card in the exchange offices (VISA or Mastercard, AMEX is not accepted). The opening hours of the exchange offices are very limited, so it is often very busy. Prepare yourself to stand in line for a while.
Note: Since January 1, 2021, there are no longer two different currencies in Cuba. There is currently very little information about what this means for you as a tourist.
Do you need a travel adapter for Cuba?
There are many different sockets in Cuba, but usually, you can go with type A & B (American plug). Bring a good travel adaptor and you will be fine.
Internet in Cuba
When I visited Cuba back in 2013, there was no internet. Luckily, now there are some options to go online and you can access wifi in more and more places. This is never free, you have to pay for it. In hotels, you can often use the WiFi on-site and there are also special WiFi spots on the street (often in parks). To use it, you need to buy a Wi-Fi ticket at an ETECSA office.
Do you need to learn Spanish?
Yes, it is useful to learn a few words of Spanish before traveling to Cuba. However, in most hotels, they will speak English. But not everyone in Cuba speaks English, especially not when you want to stay in a casa particular. So learn at least a few words, for example through an app like Duolingo.
What to pack for Cuba?
You can’t buy much in Cuba, so make sure you bring everything you need. You should definitely bring:
- A small first aid kit (with, for example, aspirin and bandaids)
- A raincoat (when it rains, it pours)
- A dry bag (this way you keep your belongings dry in case it rains)
- A small flashlight or a headlamp (the power sometimes goes out)
Do you arrange the trip yourself or do you book a package holiday?
You can arrange a trip to Cuba yourself, but it might be more difficult than you’re used to. That is why it is sometimes easier to book a package trip, then you have arranged everything at once.
Book a package deal
It’s easy to find a company that offers package deals to Cuba. Worldwide, Intrepid Travel is a good company.
If you’re traveling from Europe or the United Kingdom, these are some good options:
- Beautiful Cuba (8 days) – see all the highlights in one week.
- Cycle Cuba (14 days) – yes, you’ll be cycling around Cuba!
- Cuba on a Shoestring (8 days) – no luxury, but a great (local) experience.
And they also offer a great package deal for US citizens:
- Hola Cuba (8 days) – explore all the best sights in one week.
Organize your own trip to Cuba
Organizing your trip to Cuba yourself can be a hassle, but this way you can organize your trip exactly as you want.
Fly to Cuba
Cuba has several international airports, but it is often the most convenient (and usually the cheapest) to fly to Havana. Check Skyscanner for travel times and the cheapest airline tickets.
Where to stay
In Cuba, you can choose to sleep in a hotel, but you can also stay with locals. They call this a casa particular.
It is very fun to stay at the home of Cubans in a Casa Particular. These can be found everywhere and can be recognized by a white and blue sign on the front of the house.
You generally get a decent room with two beds and a private bathroom. Prices vary between € 20 and € 35 per night and for a small price you can often also get breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Some cases are like small hotels with several rooms, but sometimes you will stay at a case where you are the only guest. We had this with Estrella in Viñales, who told us her entire life story. An amazing experience! DUBBEL Many Cubans have relatives or acquaintances in other places in Cuba, so if you have a casa that you like, ask if they can arrange something for you at your next destination. There is a good chance that you will end up in a similar family.
In 2013 it was not yet possible to book casas in advance, but now you can book them online. Just check Booking.com and select homestay.
Besides sleeping in casas you can also choose to sleep in a hotel. I slept in a couple of hotels when I was in Havana because I heard that the hotels here were better than the casas.
In Havana, you can find beautiful colonial hotels in the historic part (Havana Vieja), such as the famous hotel Inglaterra (drink a mojito on the roof terrace in the evening, the view is fantastic) and Hostal Valencia, which is where we stayed. Both are highly recommended!
Do you want to sleep in one or more hotels during your vaction in Cuba? You can easily book them via Booking.com. Note: hotels in Cuba are less luxurious than you may be used to.
Tip: don’t want to sleep in a hotel, but would you like to relax at a swimming pool of a hotel? At many hotels, you can use the swimming pool for a small fee. Just ask at the reception. I’ve done this a few times myself and usually only had to pay a few euros.
Transportation in Cuba
How to travel around on Cuba? You can use the Viazul buses or rent a car.
The cheapest form of transportation in Cuba is the bus. Between the major destinations, you can use the Viazul bus (this is only for tourists). These are good buses for a great price. However, they only go a few times a day, so get your bus ticket at least a day before you’re planning on leaving, otherwise the bus may be full and you may have to wait a day. You can also make a reservation for the bus through the Viazul website.
It’s even more fun to discover Cuba with a car. But it is expensive! Because of the costs, we decided to compromise and traveling by bus during the first 1,5 weeks and renting a car for the last week. Renting a car in Cuba is a bit more difficult than most other trips.
That is why we have arranged through a travel agency in The Netherlands. I would suggest requesting a quote for car rental from various travel agencies within your country because the prices vary widely. Make sure the insurance covers as much as possible because the roads are really bad in Cuba.
And since there is virtually no internet in Cuba, it is useful to bring a paper road map for navigation or download some maps on your phone so you can use them offline.
Traveling by taxi is also an option in Cuba. You can easily find taxis, especially in the big cities and at tourist spots. Often this is an old American car, held together by tape. A ride in a classic car is an adventure in itself!
To take a taxi, agree on a price with the driver in advance, otherwise, you might up ending to pay far too much. For short trips, you can also take a bicycle taxi, which is also fun to do. These are cheaper than regular taxis, but don’t forget to agree on a price with the driver.
Food in Cuba
To be completely honest: you don’t want to travel to Cuba for the food. I actually lost about five kilos (11 pounds!) during my vacation. The food is often tasteless and sometimes way too salty. I would therefore not eat at the official restaurants (except for La Paella in Havana, they have a really delicious paella), but eat at Paladares (which are restaurants inside people’s homes). My absolute favorite was Paladar Estela in Trinidad, where I had some deliciously fresh vegetables with some sort of lamb stew.
In addition, in most cases, you can also eat well (and cheap) in your casa. Be prepared for many dishes with chicken or fish, green beans, and rice. Potatoes and fries are hardly available. The ice creams you can buy in the supermarket are delicious by the way.
Shopping & souvenirs
There are hardly any shops in Cuba, so don’t expect to go shopping. However, it is nice to buy some souvenirs such as Cuban cigars or a bottle of rum. Rum is sometimes cheaper than water in Cuba.
The most beautiful sights in Cuba
There are many beautiful things to see in Cuba, but this is my personal top five:
The capital of Cuba is really a must-see. Visit the Museo de Revolucion to learn more about the history of Cuba, see the impressive El Capitolio, and wander through the beautiful streets of Havana Viejo.
Read more: The best things to do in Havana
The Viñales Valley
West of Havana lies the village of Viñales in a beautiful green valley. You can visit the tobacco farms, visit caves, go horseback riding or explore the area by bike.
Trinidad is a beautiful old town and there’s a lot to do. You can visit the museums, explore the old narrow streets, go dancing (there’s live music every night), drink mojito’s or just relax on the beautiful Playa Ancon. Trinidad is definitely the place where I had the most fun.
Topes de Collantes
Topes de Collantes is a nature reserve north of Trinidad. A place where you can explore beautiful hiking trails and visit some waterfalls. The best way to visit Topes de Collantes is with a tour from Trinidad, which you can book on the spot with one of the many tour operators.
Bahía de Cochinos
Bring your snorkel gear to Cuba, because the water around the island is really clear! Especially Bahía de Cochinos (Bay of Pigs) is a great place for snorkeling. I saw some huge barracudas here.
Do you need more Cuba Travel Tips?
Are you excited and do you want to travel to Cuba? Prepare yourself well and read up with these great travel guides:
Please note: I traveled to Cuba (from The Netherlands) in 2013 and a lot has changed since then. At the time you could hardly book anything online, but times have changed. This article first appeared on this website in 2015 and got a major update in 2021. Of course, I try to keep the information on this page as up-to-date as possible, but things often change quickly in Cuba, so keep this in mind.
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