Cuba travel expert

Julio

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our local expert in Cuba
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Visit Cuba: a world of classic cars, salsa and mojitos

A trip to Cuba takes you back in time. Visit Cuba and discover the historical and unique architectural wonders on its city streets. From the colourful and old streets of Havana where you’ll find American vintage cars driving in and out to Cuba’s classic resort zone in Varadero. From cowboys galloping past the tobacco fields of Viñales to the beautiful town of Trinidad where you can dance salsa with the locals till late in the evening. Cuba can’t be compared with any other country.

Positive Impact Travel

What better way to explore a new place than with a trip that positively impacts both traveller and local? We’ve put together the ultimate Cuba travel itinerary focusing on small-scale, local and responsible travel.

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Inspiration and travel tips

Why visit Cuba?

A Unique Island

When you visit Cuba, the capital Havana is a great starting point. Havana is an atmospheric city, full of lively squares, colourful buildings and old-timer cars. The city still breathes the atmosphere of the fifties, reinforced by the classic American cars driving around here. If you also want to see nature, then Viñales is a great stop during your Cuba trip. Viñales is a beautiful village in the tobacco fields, situated between jagged karst mountains. Ideal for walking and horse riding, or just relaxing on a rocking chair at your casa particular.

Places of Interest

In addition to Havana and Viñales, Cuba has many more beautiful sights, such as the colonial village of Trinidad. With its cobble-stoned streets, brightly coloured houses and churches, it’s no wonder this town is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Travel tip: make sure you take a ride with a bicycle taxi where a local guide will take you through the lively suburbs of Trinidad. This way you will get to experience some of the daily life in Cuba. Want to learn how to salsa? Then take a dance workshop in Trinidad. It’ll come in handy during the rest of your Cuba trip, as music and salsa are everywhere.

Cuba with family

The beaches of Cuba are a wonderful way to recover from your trip. For example, choose the beautiful Playa Girón or Guardalavaca. Or go for the special Baracoa in the east of Cuba. Here you will not only find beautiful beaches, but also cocoa and coconut plantations and the relaxed atmosphere of traditional Cuba. Are you going to visit Cuba with children? No problem! Our local Cuba specialist Julio is happy to arrange a special family trip to Cuba for you. Looking for suggestions? Have a look at our family trip here!

Sleep in casas particulares

In Cuba many travellers choose to sleep in casas particulares, instead of standard hotels. The casas resemble bed-and-breakfasts and are an ideal way to really get to know the country and the locals. Casas come in all shapes and sizes, from simple to very comfortable. Another advantage of staying in casas is the delicious food prepared for you! A great way to visit Cuba for a unique and memorable experience.

Rent a car in Cuba

Want to rent a car in Cuba? You can easily drive yourself around in Cuba, allowing you to stop wherever you want and go at your own pace. Julio will be happy to advise you on putting together a beautiful self-drive for when you want to visit Cuba. Have a look at our sample Cuba road trip for inspiration.

Share your travel wishes with Julio and he will send you a tailor-made proposal

Know Before you Go

General Information and Insider Tips
Visa

Visitors from the US*, Canada, UK, Australia and New Zealand do require a visa (also called a “tourist card”) to visit Cuba. For other countries, check visa requirements here. The tourist card is valid for a single entry of 30 days within 180 days of issue, and can be extended in Cuba for an additional 30 days. Contact your nearest travel agent or Cuban Consulate regarding the visa application process.

For US nationals, travel to Cuba is regulated by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the U.S. Department of the Treasury. Travel for tourism purposes is currently prohibited, but you can obtain a license from the Treasury Department if your travel falls into one of 12 categories. Visit the Treasury website for the latest information.

Your passport must be valid for at least six months prior to arrival in Cuba. It is your own responsibility to ensure that you are in possession of valid and correct travel documentation.

Insider Tip: Wifi in Cuba is spotty at best, and it’s expensive. Some hotels have it, and there are public squares that offer wifi, but you will need to purchase a card from ETECSA or from a hotel that has accessibility.

Vaccinations

There are no particular requirements for Cuba, but make sure all routine vaccinations are up to date (MMR, polio, tetanus, etc.). Hepatitis A and Typhoid are recommended, and Zika is currently a risk in Cuba. Check the latest information about Zika warnings. We recommend all vaccines be completed at least six weeks prior to travel.

Servimed is a separate health system in Cuba for travelers which should always be used unless emergent situations prevent it. Be prepared to pay cash prior to any medical treatment, and familiarize yourself with your travel insurance process for making reimbursement claims.

Safety

The safety of our clients is of the utmost importance to us, and our local experts are always well-informed about the current situation in Cuba. For up-to-date information about safety, security and travel warnings, please refer to the US State Department, UK Foreign Travel Advice, or your local government resource.

Insider Tip: Because corruption is a serious offense in Cuba, police are generally friendly, helpful and safe to approach if you have a problem. 

Electricity

110V/60Hz is standard, but many tourist hotels use 220V

Most sockets use the US-style two-pronged (Type A), three-pronged (Type B) or the European two-pronged (Type C) plugs. The less common three-pronged (Type L) plug may also be found, although hotels often have outlets that accept both Type A and Type C.

Flights

At Better Places Travel, you book your own international flights. Your travel expert will gladly advise you on the best option. Read here for more information and tips.

When to go

With a warm and humid Caribbean climate, December-March is high tourist season in Cuba, offering drier and more temperate weather. May-October is the rainy season with September and October as the peak time for hurricanes. Crowds and prices are at their highest around Christmas and New Year.

Insider Tip: Cuban hotels can fill up very quickly during high season, so be sure to book far in advance. Private rooms through Airbnb or other bookers are becoming increasingly prevalent, and are great alternatives to government-run hotels.

Language

The national language is Spanish. Here are some useful words to learn:

Hello = Hola
Goodbye = Adios (formal)
Please = Por favor
Thank you = Gracias
Excuse Me = Perdón

Insider Tip: The common Spanish phrase Cómo no (of course) is Cómo que no in Cuban Spanish.

Culture

Like many other Caribbean nations, Cuba is a mix of European and African influences. Cubans are not self-conscious about moving their bodies on the dance floor, and salsa clubs are a great place to experience this form of self-expression.

Cubans are very reslilent, having to put up with constant food shortages, electricity blackouts and limited access to international media or entertainment. While typically warm, open and welcoming, politics is generally a taboo topic, especially if there are any negative overtones toward the government. The process of queueing can be confusing at first. There is an order, but often no organized line (people may leave and come back). When approaching what appears to be a queue, ask, “El ultimo?” which means “Who is last?” and you’ll soon know the person ahead of you in line.

State-Run vs. Privately-Run Restaurants and Accommodations

The government operates many of the larger hotel chains, resorts and restaurants in Cuba, but they have granted permission for some local residents to house or feed tourists in their homes. Casas particulares are private residences that have rooms available for tourists. Many are available via Airbnb, making booking easy. As a bonus, Airbnb enables booking by credit card, even if it’s linked to a US bank. Similarly, paladares are small, family-run restaurants usually in a converted part of a local’s home. Not only do casas particulares and paladares provide a more authentic experience, more of your money supports locals vs. going directly to the government. Read more about casas particulares.

 

Money

The local currency is Cuban Peso (CUP) and Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC).

There are two currencies in Cuba: one for locals and one for foreigners. Moneda nacional (CUP or MN) is used by Cubans. The CUC, or tourist peso, is tied to the US dollar and what you will get in exchange for foreign currency. CUC can be obtained from Cadeca exchange houses, which are prevalent throughout the country, including many hotels. It is advisable to exchange a small amount of CUC to moneda nacional for use at street stalls and local markets.

Note: In addition to the 3% currency transaction charged applied to all currency conversions, an ADDITIONAL 10% is applied to the exchange of US dollars (for a total of 13%). British pounds, Canadian dollars and euros are better options for getting your hands on CUC as they are only subjected to the 3% fee. Australian and New Zealand dollars are not easily exchangeable.

Cuba is a largely cash-based society, so credit card usage is mostly restricted to higher-end hotels and restaurants. Only cards from non-US banks are currently accepted, and American Express isn’t valid anywhere on the island. The ATM network is expanding, with machines available in most major cities, but again, US-linked bank accounts won’t work.

Insider Tip: Stonegate Bank is an exception to the non-US bank credit card rule, issuing cards that will work in Cuba.

Tipping

  • Restaurants – Service charges are becoming more common in tourist areas, but if nothing is added, leaving 10%-15% is standard. Even if a service charge is levied, an additional tip for exceptional service is always appreciated.
  • Cabs – No tipping, but you can round up the change if you want.
  • Hotels – Tip bellmen 1 CUC per bag, and housekeeping 1 CUC per day.

Read more about the Cuban tipping culture here.

Insider Tip: Cuban Spanish includes a lot of slang. While efectivo is the official word for “cash,” baro is also commonly used

Packing

Due to the hot, humid climate, loose-fitting clothes are a good choice for both men and women. Attire across the island is generally casual and not overly modest, so shorts, tank tops, sundresses and flip flops are all acceptable. A light sweater or jacket is good for the occasional chilly evening, and nicer outfits will come in handy for clubs or cabaret shows—Cubans do like to dress up for a night out. Bring all toiletries with you as you likely won’t find replacements for your favorite brands; the selection is very basic.

Must-pack items:

  • Comfortable closed-toe shoes for walking around dusty Havana
  • Sunscreen
  • Mosquito repellant
  • Sunglasses, hat, umbrella (for shade and rain)
  • Microfiber towel or sarong for beach-going (so you don’t have to ask your hotel or casa particular for an extra)
  • Simple medical kit with over-the-counter drugs and first aid (including anti-diarrheal and stomach meds for potential food contamination)
  • Hand sanitizer or wet wipes
  • All prescriptions
  • Flashlight/torch for possible power outages
  • Tampons (not available in Cuba)
  • Tissues in case toilet paper is unavailable
  • Full supply of toiletries as replacements will be hard to come by

Insider Tip: Many travelers to Cuba want to pack items for gifts or donations. Clothes, towels, linens, first-aid, toiletries (including feminine hygiene) and toys are all great options. These items can be given to hosts and new friends, or donated to local NGOs and churches. Research reputable organizations rather than giving to homeless individuals or beggers.

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