A Few Things You Should Know Before Heading to Havana, Cuba
Before you take that quick trip to Havana, Cuba, here are some things you should consider.
Visa. Obviously you need a passport, but you will also need a visa. You can get a visa at the airport for $75 ($50+$25 handling fee) on the day of your departure but give yourself time because the line can get really long. Maybe consider obtaining one in advance (check the embassy)
For visa purposes, you will need to select a reason to go (see list) and be prepared to show evidence (although we didn’t need to, we had an itinerary ready to show upon request).
Travel Insurance. You will need to have insurance to enter the country but most airlines tend to include it in the cost of the flight. Make sure to check before hand if you will need to purchase it separately (They didnt check it, but better to be safe,informed, and prepared).
Money. Your US issued debit/credit cards won’t work. TAKE ENOUGH CASH (we averaged under $60/day per person - including ride to/fro airport, food, taxis, tours, museum entries).
You can usually change money at hotels, beware of the 10-15% conversion fee. (100USD usually gets you 87CUC). We used Saratoga Hotel.
There are two different currencies. One for tourists, and one for locals. USD to CUC (tourist currency) is 1:1, USD to CUP (national currency) is 1:25. Make sure that when you convert money, you get a lot of change. When you shop locally or get taxis they often don’t have change in CUC.
Phone. Cell phone rates are ridiculous so you will want to leave your phone on airplane mode for the duration of the trip.
WiFi. No free Wifi anywhere. There’s usually wifi in parks ($2/hr) and hotels ($6-8/hr). It’s not hard to find someone selling the cards in the park. Beware that wifi cards from hotels, only work in that hotel.
Since you probably won’t have ready access to WiFi, you should download an app called Map.Me and download a map of Havana before you leave (gives you offline access, and updates your location in real time).
STAY IN AN AIRBNB.
Give your money to the locals. Support Casa Particulars or AirBnbs. Read the reviews. It’s helpful when the accommodation includes a cell phone to make local calls. This will come in handy for calling taxis and restaurants to make reservations.
Taxis. To get from the airport to Old Havana is roughly $20 (in “unofficial” taxis). Local taxi rides range from $3-7 but you might have to haggle a bit. City tours in the vintage 50s cars also go for about $25-30/hr (they will start out asking for $50 so you have to talk them down). If you take a taxi somewhere, it helps to get their number to guarantee a ride back.
DON’T DRINK THE TAP WATER. The local folks don’t even drink the tap water. There aren’t many options for bottled water so be ready to drink their local brand bottled water.
Walk with your essentials. Whatever toiletries you will need for the extent of your trip, walk with it: pain killers, toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, bandaids, antiseptic etc. You probably won’t be able to find anything that you forgot at home. Feel free to bring extra and leave behind anything you don’t use.
They don’t owe you anything. They might not have the food you’re used to, the water that you like, the drinks that you get at home, but so what? They don’t owe you, so check your ego. Understand that you are visiting a country that has gone thru a lot over the years. Do some research before you go and be aware of the political climate as well.
Learn some spanish before you go. Though you will find a few folks that speak English. They don’t need to try to speak English, YOU should try to speak spanish. You are visiting THEIR country, so TRY.
Stay present and have a good time! Take lots of pictures, who knows how long you will have access to Cuba!
Feel free to ask any questions, or for any food/coffee, airbnb, or taxi recommendations.
If you have the time, take a couple day trips to places like viñales, and the beach in verdadero. If you’ve been to Cuba and feel like I’ve left something out, let me know. If you haven’t been yet, I hope this helps.