Brush up on Spanish or download Google Translate for offline use. English speakers are sometimes few and far between and knowing just a little bit of Spanish will be a lifesaver.
Opt at staying at a Casa Particular instead of a hotel – Full reason why here (coming soon)
Keep small change on you for tips. Especially for the bathroom attendants, which is customary or sometimes even required.
Bring your own toilet paper with you when out and about. While many restaurants and shops have toilets available to the public, paper is usually not included or is guarded by a bathroom attendant.
Wifi in Cuba is possible but not reliable. Cards are 2 CUC per hour and are sold at nicer restaurants and hotels. Although some hotels will ask if you are guests before you buy them. We connected twice over our week vacation and honestly enjoyed and embraced our time off the grid.
Be careful where you walk. Potholes, crumbling sidewalks, dog poop and uneven curbs are part of Cuba.
Don’t drink the water. Bottled water is cheap and getting sick is not – so stick to it. Brushing teeth and showering is fine.
Give yourself PLENTY of time at the airport. It is not uncommon to see only one line for security screenings that are moving at a snail’s pace.
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. Do be careful passing out things too brazenly though, some cops may not like it.
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.
Cuba is VERY safe – you may feel, especially in Havana, that you are walking around crumbling buildings so you must be around crime, but there is almost no crime (against tourists) in Cuba. I was never cat-called once and multiple times we saw Cubans return dropped wallets (full of cash) to tourists.
Figure out your money situation before you get to Cuba Full post on US money in Cuba here
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.
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!)
Don’t expect US standards when it comes to hotels. I stayed in Casa Particulars (Cuba’s version of AirBnb) while in both Varadero and Havana but I heard from many other tourists that their hotel rooms were less than nice, even the ones with exorbitant prices.
Don’t be afraid to go off the beaten path. 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!