Guide provided by Suzzstravels
Cuba, for Americans, has been that forbidden fruit we weren’t allowed to touch. Cuba is a beautiful island and worth visiting if you are going with a basic understanding of what has led it to be where it is now. Do not expect the resort life you get in the majority of places you visit, Cuba is still largely undeveloped. In my opinion, this is what makes traveling here so unique and unforgettable. Even though the rest of the world has been coming to Cuba for years, Cubans are still excited to welcome Americans to their home.
Here’s a checklist for you of what you NEED to have NOW:
1. You need a valid U.S passport (can’t expire in less than 6 months from the time of travel)
2. Make sure you have health insurance. Jetblue includes health insurance with the purchase of the flight. If you don’t have health insurance see if the airline you plan on traveling on does the same.
3. You must self-certify that you are in one of the 12 1 approved category for traveling to Cuba. As of November 2017, the only approved category individuals can self-certify is under “Support for The Cuban People”. Remember “tourism” isn’t a valid reason to visit. You can no longer stay at military owned hotels or spend money at military-owned businesses. You must eat at local restaurants, and support local businesses. A list of restricted entities and subentries can be found HERE.
4. Have a written itinerary that supports that reason in the event you are asked to present it. I didn’t get asked for ours (which we had prepared) but the people before us and after us did. You don’t have to list your itinerary by the hour, by the day activities that support the reason you chose should suffice. Your plans once in Cuba could be different from what you “officially” present.
5. You will need a visa ($50-$85) to enter Cuba which you will get from your airline the day of travel at the airport you are traveling to Cuba out of. Therefore I recommend arriving at least 2.5 hours to the airport before your flight. I flew on Jetblue in NYC who has partnership with Cuba Travel Services. They had a desk designated to selling the visas for travelers at the airport. Other airlines will have something similar to this.
Let’s Talk Money
Important: MAKE SURE YOU BRING TO CUBA ENOUGH CASH TO LAST YOU THROUGHOUT YOUR WHOLE TRIP! American debit cards DO NOT work in Cuba. You might see ATM’s here and there but they do not take American cards. As a rule of thumb, always bring at least an extra $200-$300 than what you think you may need. Exchange only what you think you need and then exchange more as needed. You won’t be able to use your card anywhere.
Cuba has two currencies: CUP and CUC. Visitors only need to worry about the Cuban Convertible Peso AKA “CUC” (in Spanish you pronounce each letter when talking about it). I exchanged my dollars in euros at a local Chase bank before my trip and exchanged it at the airport in Havana. On my visit, $1 EUR=.86 CUC BUT there’s an additional tax for exchanging US dollars in Cuba. When dealing with the money I always thought of 1 CUC: 1 USD.
Cuba has no accessible WiFi unless you buy a ETECSA Wifi card (looks like a calling card) and you’re at a designated zone. You can buy cards good for 30 minutes or 1 hour. You can purchase them in the street for 1-2 CUC. If you can’t live without your phone and being connected, you will learn how to in Cuba! Additionally, there are specific “zones” designated for WiFi use in Cuba. Forget about asking for free Wifi or even if restaurants have Wifi, that is nonexistent. In order to use the Wifi you must go to these designated zones and connect using your Wifi Card. It is the ONLY way!
We stayed in Jaimanitas during our stay, which is about 20 min outside of Havana central (if you are new to Airbnb get up to $55 off HERE). When you inquire about a home, make sure you ask if you can rent the house house vs a room if that’s what you are looking for. Sometimes Airbnb will show you are inquiring about the entire place but the hosts receives it as a room inquiry based on the number of people you are reserving for vs the number of rooms in the home. As a rule of thumb, message the host letting them know what you are interested in booking before booking it. If your host offers to cook breakfast for you for an additional fee i would recommend going with this option. Not only will you feel like a local waking up to home cooked breakfast but you are also helping supply someone with some additional income. Breakfast in Cuba consisted of eggs, sliced local cheeses/ham, sliced fresh fruits, bread, fresh juices and hot coffee for us every morning. We had an amazing cook (Judy) whose food we ended up eating 80% of the time since it tasted a lot better than some of the restaurants we visited.
Some Additional Suggestions & Tips
I also want to share that unlike in the U.S, the Cuban people must pay for their license to work. The great majority of them, don’t even break even after paying for their license. Keep this in mind and remember that tips here can go a long way. 1-2 CUC are greatly appreciated.
Toilet paper is expensive for Cubans, so when you go to the restroom in a public place you won’t always find any. Some places have independent restroom attendants who provide their own toilet paper which is why they live off tips to make that money back. If you can, bring a few extra rolls with you on your luggage to leave at your Airbnb rental and take some with you when you go out in your bag or pocket. If you want to help out the Cuban people bring some spare bars of soap with you and spare clothes you no longer wear to give them. It is a great way to free some space in your closet and to help local people with basic necessities.
Where We Stayed & Our Time Spent There
My visit was 100% in Havana, whereas the other girls in my trip started their journey, a couple days before I got there, in Varadero which is 3 hours away from Havana.
-We did day trip from Havana to Vinales, such was absolutely amazing! Our driver (which we arranged with the airbnb) was an amazing guide and took us to the best restaurants, viewpoints, and tobacco experience.
-Do a day trip to the beach called Santa Maria in Havana. We ended up visiting Ernest Hemingway’s home in route to the beach which worked out perfectly.
-Take a drive around Havana in a classic American convertible car. Have the driver take you around to different points of interest.
-La Bodeguita del medio: great mojitos and live music. We ended up staring up of our nights’ here and explored different rooftops and nightlife for music nearby.
-La Guarida Restaurant: their rooftop right before sunset provides great views & photo opportunities
2-3 Day Trips:
You can also make 2-3 day trips into Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Playa Larga or Playa Girón.