Planning a vacation to Cuba can seem overwhelming - especially if you are an America. How do you get a visa? How do you deal with exchanging money in Cuba? Is Cuba safe to visit as a solo traveler? Although you may have all these questions running through your mind, I promise a vacation to Cuba is completely worth it. Read on to find out what my top tips are for having a perfect vacation to Cuba.
General Cuba Tips
- The visa for Cuba isn't as hard as you think. It's too much to sum up in a quick bullet point so check out this whole article for more information on how to get a Cuban visa as an American.
- Brush up on Spanish or download Google Translate for offline use.
- This is one of the few countries I have visited where it's hard to find English speakers.
- Knowing even the bare minimum of Spanish will be a lifesaver.
- Because of the lack of internet, you can't plan too much before you go. You will want to plan out your trip to Vinales but, I promise, BOOK IT WHEN YOU GET THERE. It will be cheaper and way easier to do than you think.
- Opt at staying at a Casa Particular instead of a hotel
- Hotels can be pretty run down in Cuba - even the nice ones. We talked to so many travelers who couldn't believe how much money they spent for a sub-par experience at a hotel. Book a Casa Particular instead for a much better experience.
- Bring your own toilet paper with you when out and about exploring.
- While many restaurants and shops have toilets available to the public, paper is usually not included or is guarded by a bathroom attendant.
- A couple coins should always be kept on you for bathroom attendants.
- Be careful where you walk. Potholes, crumbling sidewalks, dog poop and uneven curbs are part of Cuba.
- Negotiate all fares for bici-cabs, coco-cabs (small tut tut looking cabs) and vintage car rides before leaving. There are no meters in any of them and their first price is never their best price.
- When smoking a cigar dip the end in honey like Che did. Your throat and taste buds will thank you later. (We learned this on the tobacco farm - even if it is not true it is delicious!)
Money tips for Cuba
- Keep small change on you for tips.
- It is customary (or sometimes required) for the bathroom attendants. There are also various people along the way you should be tipping.
- If you're American, take out all your cash before you leave in Canadian Dollars or Euros.
- There is an additional (high!) fee for exchanging USD in Cuba. Avoid this by bringing Canadian dollars or Euros with you.
- Read my entire guide to currency exchange in Cuba here
- Instead of cash: Bring candy, aspirin packets, small toothpastes and things you can give or leave for locals.
- Some things are very hard to find in Cuba and a little gift is often greatly appreciated.
- Be careful passing out things too brazenly though, some cops may not like it and tell you to stop
- Don’t expect US standards when it comes to hotels.
- Because of the lack of renovation through-out Cuba hotels are just like cars - stuck in a time capsule.
- Instead I suggest you stay in Casa Particulars (Cuba’s version of AirBnb).
- We stayed in them while visiting both Varadero and Havana and had a wonderful experience. I heard from many tourists that their hotel rooms were extremely sub-par. This was even true of hotels that charge exorbitant prices.
Restaurant and Bar Tips
- Cuban time is a thing. Don’t be surprised if it takes your waitress 10 minutes to great you or bring you a drink. Everyone is relaxed here, try to embrace it.
- Don’t drink the water. Bottled water is cheap and getting sick is not fun. Brushing your teeth and showering is fine with local water.
- Check out my recommendations for the best restaurants in Havana and the best restaurants in Varadero.
- Traveling to Cuba on a budget it really easily done. Here is a full guide on what everything costs in Cuba.
How to get Wi-Fi in Cuba
- Wifi in Cuba is possible but not reliable.
- Cards are 2 CUC per hour and are sold at nicer restaurants and hotels.
- Some hotels will ask if you are guests before you buy them. (We just lied and said yes, they didn't check.
- We connected twice over our week long vacation and honestly enjoyed and embraced our time off the grid.
Airport Tips for Cuba
- Give yourself plenty of time to make your departing flight home.
- It is not uncommon to see only one line for security screenings (moving at a snail’s pace).
- Packing for Cuba is tough, you'll probably want to plan ahead. Check out my full guide on what to pack for Havana here.
Is Cuba Safe?
- YES! Cuba is VERY safe.
- You may feel, especially in Havana, that you aren't safe at all since you are walking around crumbling buildings. But, there is almost no crime (against tourists) in Cuba.
- Personal experience: I was never cat-called once (show me a city in the US that doesn't have cat calling. Plus, multiple times we saw Cubans return dropped wallets (full of cash) to tourists.
- Don’t be afraid to go off the beaten path.
- Again, Cuba is very safe and walking around REAL Cuban neighborhoods is both an eye-opening and enlightening experience. You will see kids playing in the streets, groups of men working on vintage cars, local bakeries and street vendors selling fresh fruit. It’s why you went to Cuba so embrace it!
Even though researching ahead of time is great, I definitely recommend bringing a guidebook along with you. Here are some books I recommend...
Also, a super common question I get asked constantly is what camera do I use for my travels. The body is a Nikon D3300 and I mostly use this wide angle lens made by Sigma. It's awesome for travel photography - I am seriously obsessed with it.