Tips for travelling to Cuba

1. Visa

We bought our Visas online for like 20£, but Thomas cook was handing those cards out when boarding airplane so you can hand fill it. Contact your airline and ask if they provide it.

2. Money/banks/ATMs

Whatever banknotes you bring, make sure they are clean and has no hand writing on it, tears or any other marks. I brought British pounds that I withdrew from a machine and they had ink, handwriting and etc. In airport exchange (cadeca) they didn’t accept 21 banknotes of 20£. All 10£ were fine, though later found some marking on one so rubbed it off. Exchange rate in airport was 1GBP to 1.24CUC.

In the bank I’ve managed to exchange some of those dirty banknotes, but still they didn’t accept handwritten ones (11 banknotes). Ive got better exchange rate in bank (1GBP to 1.28CUC).

Make sure you have your passport and address where you staying when exchanging.

ATMS are present in every major city, through not easy to find them, also they quite often run out of money, so I wouldn’t rely on them.

There are queues in the banks, so when you come to entrance shout “ultimo” to know who is the last in the queue.

3. Casas particulares

We booked our Casa Particulares via Airbnb. Most of the time it is jot difficult to see them while driving the streets, but in bigger cuties like Habana it can take time to find a vacancy.

In Viñales we got our casa in the evening just waking down the road. The vacant houses have label available. Make sure you check prices on Airbnb as our Cada wanted to charge us 25£ per room and for 4 people 2 rooms. We bargained to use only one room as there were double beds and pay just 20£, as there was in Airbnb for 17£. The lady was complaining that normally she charges 30£ per room for 4 people, but since we asked if we can get breakfast for 5CUC each, she agreed.

You will need to estimate your time of arrival and send to your host at least a day before your arrival. Make sure you mark everything on Google maps, where is the house. Best to do that before trip if you know addresses if you don’t ask for it as location on Airbnb wasn’t very precise.

Make screenshots or print outs the addresses as you might not have internet.

4. Taxi

Don’t catch taxi from big hotels as they will rip you off and won’t bargain. Also don’t anywhere by saying hotel name, just say some close by address and “Casa particular” if they ask what hotel.

We went couple times with non official taxi, which was 3 times cheaper (5CUC) than official (15CUC).

5. Buses

We haven’t tried local buses within the city as we had a car, but it would take time to figure out, since normally you don’t have internet. In Habana fare I think was 1CUC.

Travelling in between cities with Viazul busses might be painful if you haven’t booked tickets in advance. Thr drivers say they have no space and redirect you to a taxi, which will rip you off and pay kickbacks to the bus driver.

6. Internet

Internet is accessible only via ETESCA cards, government company. You buy 1hour and you can use it on Wi-Fi for one hour. You can disconnect and continue later.

Make sure when you connect, connect via browser not Sign in Window, as the later automatically closes and you can’t stop the session. Session ends if you disconnect Wi-Fi after some time on its own, but it consumes more time. Also if using in Casa Particular their Wi-Fi it won’t disconnect if someone else will be using internet. Best initially to buy 1hr cards, later when you master disconnecting you can get 5hr one.

Buying cards is a challenge. Sometimes they sell them on the street for double price, but they can be expired. You need to go to ETESCA office, queue for 30-50min and buy them. Passport required and sometimes your address where you staying. In Holguin they sold us 10 cards each, in Habana it was limited to 3 cards per person.

In Varadero hotels you can get those cards easily at reception, no passport needed.

Important: when scratching make sure you do it gently as sometimes it scrubs the numbers as well. In Varadero they had a sponge for cleaning dishes and the rough side was perfect to scrub it.

Wi-Fi normally available where ETESCA offices are or in main square (Holguin, Trinidad, Havana, Viñales).

Sometimes you just cant connect to ETESCA Wi-Fi 🙂

If you see somewhere loads of people in phones lurking with their phones- there must be working Wi-Fi.

7. Cigars

Better to buy in Havana. We found out that in La Casa de Cubano (Plaza de la Revolucion, La Habana, Cuba) in a hotel Habana Libre was cheaper than anywhere else. Montectisto No. 2 was under 8CUC per cigar, elsewhere was 10-12CUC. Varadero slightly more expensive, as weell as old town of Habana.

8. People

People are friendly, but some of them look at you as a walking ATM and will try to scam you. If you speak Spanish it is easier to interact. Some speak English, but in Casa Particulares we needed Spanish all the time.

You need to bargain in the markets, taxis. If you made offer and they say no and turn around means you probably asked for too much, but if you offer to buy more and offer smaller price, they normally agree to that. Sometimes walking off makes a trick if they don’t accept your offer and you think the item is not worth it.

9. Car & roads

We rented a car before going to cube a month in advance so it got really expensive in total with all insurance fee paid in cash when picking up it was around 2000£ for 14 days. Advice would be to book 3-4 months in advance at least. Also book a jeep as our Honday Sonata was too low to drive on Cuban roads, especially when you get lost or want to go to deserted beach.

Always watch the counter of petrol when not filling yourself. We’ve been scammed, when agent stopper filling and restated again and claimed that it was two fillings. Lost 10CUC. Not too bad.

Once fake policeman under the bridge was stoping us, but we noticed the belt was different, no gun, no car or motorcycle so we just continued without stopping, though he was litterally on the road .

Gasoline especial costs around 1.20CUC per liter.

Only go autopista and roads marked yellow, otherwise make sure you have a jeep as in some places it is so bad that only horses can pass. Autopista is fine, have minor patches bumpy, but if you follow locals you can easily avoid it.

Normally police won’t stop you, but if you see police stopping you stop and be polite. They night let you go even if you were speeding. We’ve been stopped twice on the last day. First time for speeding and second no reason.

10. Scam

We didn’t encounter much scam, only ones mentioned above. We ignored all suggestions for restaurants in the street as well as suggestions for cheaper cigars. I think those are the main Scams.

When someone else filling petrol make sure you watch the counter as they fill once in two goes and charge for two fills.

11. Tipping

Normally restaurants have a service charge included. However, if you are planning to return to the restaurant or bar you should leave a tip. 5-10% is enough depending if you had service charge or not. Whenever you tip a bartender you can expect stronger drinks.

Completely different case is Varadero hotels. You need to tip everyone and everywhere: bartenders, waiters and maids. If you don’t give tips to bartenders expect weaker drinks and longer wait. If you don’t tip waiters don’t expect coffee in the morning or expect diluted wine for dinner. If you don’t tip maid, then towels might not be changed and you night run out of toilet paper ha ha. 1CUC is enough for each, depending how long you are staying, probably at least every second day you should tip the same person.