Traveling to Cuba is an enriching experience. Each country is different, with its peculiarities, pros and cons, but we dare to say that Cuba is the most special country we have ever set foot in, very different from the rest. Poverty at street level, difficulty finding products in restaurants and supermarkets, internet limitation… all the result of their particular political system. For all this, we believe it is appropriate to write a post with 30 tips for traveling to Cuba with the intention of helping you as much as possible to understand the country and enjoy it.
Documentation to travel to Cuba
1. Get your tourist card
For Spaniards it may seem strange, since we do not need a visa to visit most Latin American countries. But you need a tourist card to travel to Cuba . It is the same as a visa and is obtained by paying €22 .
You can request it directly by going to the Cuban embassy in Madrid or the consulate in Barcelona. But if you don’t live in these cities or want to save yourself the face-to-face procedure, we process it online . They send all the visas you process to your home for an extra €9.
In addition to a valid passport, it is necessary to have a ticket to leave the country and travel insurance to obtain a visa. The maximum stay allowed with the tourist card is 30 days (extendable once in Cuba).
2. Take out travel insurance to travel to Cuba
It is mandatory to have travel insurance to enter the country . So do not forget to hire it before your trip and bring proof of it in case they ask you for it at the airport. We travel with TotalTravel insurance and it is the one we recommend due to its extensive coverage. In addition, we offer you a 5% discount on all Iati insurance .
3. Avoid flights with a stopover in the United States
In 2019, Donald Trump prohibited taking a flight to Cuba originating in the United States for tourist purposes. Even if you are not an American and only have a layover in the country, theoretically it is not allowed. The trip must be justified with one of the 12 accepted travel reasons. The most common is “Aid to the Cuban people”.
For example, by staying in private homes, bringing things to donate or participating in a solidarity project, you will be helping Cubans and it is unlikely that you will be denied boarding. But they can always question the reason for your trip and put obstacles in your way .
Therefore, one of the best tips for traveling to Cuba is to avoid flights departing from or with a stopover in the United States. If you decide to fly through the United States, the tourist card you will need is different from the one for flights from other countries. It costs €120 and you can also get it online . And also keep in mind that you will have to process the ESTA , which is an additional $14. Not worth it!
Currency in Cuba
4. Be aware that there are two currencies
One of the most shocking things when traveling to Cuba is that the country has two currencies: CUC and CUP. Broadly speaking, on a day-to-day basis, Cubans use CUP (also called national currency), while the vast majority of products and services for tourists are paid in CUC . For example, there are restaurants with two menus, one in CUC and the other in CUP.
5. It is better to carry euros than dollars to exchange, one of the best tips for traveling to Cuba
The dispute between the United States and Cuba affects, among many other things, the currency exchange. A 10% penalty applies when exchanging dollars to CUC . For example, if you want to change $100, they will only give you 90CUC instead of the 100 that would correspond. Therefore, one of the best tips for traveling to Cuba is to bring euros or any other currency before dollars.
6. Exchange your currency at CADECA
In hotels and some private houses they offer currency exchange. But we recommend you avoid it and go to the state exchange houses, called CADECA . They offer a better exchange rate. In addition to getting the best change, at CADECA you will have the option of paying by card. A very practical option so you don’t have to carry a lot of money with you.
There are CADECA offices in all cities, as well as at the Havana airport. Of course, being the best option, you will probably have to wait a long time in line. If you are in a hurry, change a small amount at the hotel or private house and the next day change most of your money at a CADECA.
7. Always check to receive the change with the same currency, one of the best tips for traveling to Cuba
In general, Cubans are honest and hard-working, but there are always people for everything. As there are two currencies, there are some who try to take advantage of the lack of knowledge of tourists by returning the change. If you pay in CUC, make sure you get the amount back in CUC. Because 10 CUC is not the same as 10 CUP . There is a lot of difference in value!
8. Make sure that the price of the products is always in CUC
In some establishments they do not label the products or simply indicate a number, without referring to CUC or CUP. It is not the same that a juice costs 5 CUC than CUP . So make sure before consuming.
Accommodation in Cuba
9. Stay in private homes to save
Most hotels are owned by the state. And they are usually very expensive! If you want to sleep cheaply in Cuba, it is best to sleep in private houses . They are local houses, in which they enable several rooms to rent to tourists. You can save more than 5 times the price of an average hotel. They are also run by locals who will always help you with everything you may need and enjoy the experience more.
10. Book online to have guarantees
It is very easy to find a room in a private house once you arrive at your destination. You just have to look at the entrance if they have a sign with an I in blue. But we advise you to book it through Booking or Airbnb . Perhaps instead of 10CUC it will cost you 15 or 20, but you will be able to see the opinions of other guests.
Transportation in Cuba
11. Move by bus to save, one of the best tips for traveling to Cuba
The bus is the cheapest form of transportation in Cuba . The Viazul company is the most popular among tourists and links the main tourist destinations in Cuba. We recommend booking tickets in advance to ensure availability. And above all, go to the stations early as they are somewhat chaotic.
The buses are old and not very big. Take something warm because many times they put the air conditioning on full blast.
12. It is not an ideal country to rent a car
Having a car in Cuba is a luxury. That there are so many vintage cars is not a whim or a coincidence. There is very little supply of rental cars and that causes prices to be high . Although the traffic is not chaotic, the roads are not known for being in good condition. So if you can save yourself driving, all the better.
In addition, they are having many fuel supply problems and all this causes the price of gasoline to be higher than in Europe .
13. If you are looking for comfort, book private or collective transfers
Cuba is a very tourist destination with many transportation alternatives. There are private and shared transfers. The latter are our favorite option, since they pick you up at your hotel and take you to the next one. In this way you do not have to worry about driving or waiting at the stations .
Regarding the price, they usually cost twice as much as the bus , but if you have to add the taxi prices to and from the station (they are usually far away), the difference is not that great and you gain a lot in comfort. Also, during the journey you can talk to the taxi driver and learn a lot about Cuba and, unfortunately, the difficulties they have in exercising their profession.
14. Always make sure you agree on the price before getting into a taxi (there is no meter)
This is one of the best tips for traveling to Cuba. If you plan to get into a taxi, be sure to set the price before you leave. Taxi meters are not used in Cuba and to avoid surprises at the end of the trip, it is advisable to agree on a price.
15. Get away from the Capitol to find a classic car, a vital tip for traveling to Cuba
When you visit Havana , we do not advise you to get into a classic car in the Capitolio parking lot. There they come to ask you for up to 80CUC for an hour of travel. If you want the best price, it is best to walk through the less crowded streets of Old Havana and negotiate the price with a driver. You can get it for 25CUC or even cheaper if you have the ability to haggle. Without a doubt, one of the most interesting tips for traveling to Cuba .