This Cuba Travel guide contains a comprehensive collection of information that will help you plan your trip to Cuba. This Cuba travel guide is constantly updated so all of the information remains relevant and interesting. If you have any feedback or questions relating to our Cuba travel guide, please get in touch.
- Understanding Cuba
- Updated Cuba travel advice
- Cuba Travel Insurance
- Our Single Supplement Policy on Group Tours
- Cuba Trip notes
- Currency in Cuba
- Cuba’s Climate & Weather
- Electricity & Adapters in Cuba
- Cuba Airports and taxes
- Tipping & Gifts in Cuba
- Communication in Cuba
- Is Cuba for me?
- Jineteros & Scams
- Food & Drink in Cuba
- Accommodation in Cuba
- Getting around Cuba
- Reading, listening & watching
Cuba is a place that is not always easy to understand
It it important to understand that Cuba can be a difficult destination to understand, an island of riddles that can confound and confuse
These riddles are a result of its rich and often troubled history – a history that has seen genocide, slavery, invasion, counter-invasion, and popular revolution. With its unique location positioning itself between the US and Latin America, Cuba is always struggling to work out just where it fits in.
For the best part of half a century Cuba has been a global discussion point for its politics dominated by images of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. But those who travel to Cuba soon find out, Cuba is much more than politics, rum, cigars and antiquated cars!
More recently Cuba has begun to open its doors to the outside world, and the Cuban people are embracing the change, meaning there has never been a better time to travel to Cuba. Experience this fascinating, awe-inspiring and perplexing island – a uniqueness you will struggle to find elsewhere in our now globalised world.
This Cuba Travel Guide is a comprehensive source of information for those wishing to travel to Cuba. A fantastic resource to use to help plan your next Cuban Adventure.
Updated Cuba travel advice
Stay up to date with Cuban travel and safety advice
We recommend that you keep up to date with the latest travel and safety updates relating to Cuba if you are planning to travel to Cuba. We will post anything relevant in this Cuba Travel Guide and below is a number of helpful links as well.
Cuba Travel Insurance
You must have travel insurance when you travel to Cuba
To travel to Cuba, the Cuban government (and Locally Sourced Tours) require you to have travel health insurance which you may be required to present at immigration when entering the country.
View our ‘Travel insurance‘ page here for more information
Our Single Supplement Policy on Group Tours
If you want your own room on one of our Cuba group tours, we will give it to you for no extra charge
Here at Locally Sourced we want you to be as comfortable as possible and that’s why we waive the fee for single supplements on our group tours. Other tour operators in Cuba will charge anywhere from $450 to $650 for a 15 day tour when you travel to Cuba with them, but at Locally Sourced we don’t charge anything. This provides our clients with a considerable cost saving which you can then use for other parts of your adventure (excursions, meals etc.). If you would like to share a room with one of your compatriots who you have not met prior to the tour, we can accommodate this as well (single sex sharing only).
Cuba Trip notes
Is there a travellers destination that offers more than Cuba? Familiarise yourself with this Cuba Travel Guide and trip notes to ensure you arrive well prepared
Two weeks prior to your trip to Cuba, Locally Sourced Tours will send you a comprehensive document outlining all of the notes you will need for your trip. These notes are a compilation of the information stored on this Cuba Travel Guide as well as any other important resources that will help you prepare for your trip. The notes will also provide a more detailed tour itinerary, outline optional extras with updated pricing and include helpful maps for the locations you will visit. Travel to Cuba has never been easier with Locally Sourced Cuba Tours.
Currency in Cuba
Know your currency! Familiarize yourself with the dual Cuban currency system early on
Currently there are two official currencies in circulation in Cuba
Cuban Convertible (commonly referred to as CUC): 1CUC = $1USD
Cuban Peso (commonly referred to as CUP): 24CUP = 1CUC
The Cuban Government fixes the exchange rates for both currencies, and they are subject to change at any time.
The only currencies you are guaranteed to be able to change in Cuba are Euro’s, GBP and CAD. You will also have the opportunity to exchange USD, however the Cuban Government will surcharge an additional 10%, so we recommend against doing this (same for travellers cheques).
Throughout Cuba there are official currency exchange houses called CADECA, located in cities, larger hotels and at airports. CADECA’s allow foreigners to exchange foreign cash to CUC’s, make cash advances on credit cards (Visa & MasterCard) and exchange travellers cheques (you will need your passport to do this). There is a 3% commission for the bank included in the exchange rate they convert at.
Locally Sourced recommends that when you travel to Cuba, you bring notes that are in good condition, as faded or damaged notes can be difficult to exchange. Also, try and bring notes in smaller denominations (lower than USD$100).
ATMs: Havana, Camaguey, Trinidad and Santiago de Cuba are the cities in which ATM’s are present so you will need to plan your withdrawals and spending carefully. PIN numbers are required to make credit or debit card withdrawals and travellers should be aware that only Visa cards will work in ATM’s (not Mastercard or Cirrus). There is a 3% fee charged on cash withdrawals.
Occasionally there appears to be some problems with using certain types of Visa cards for Cash Withdrawals (Travelex and Citibank Visa’s both do not work in Cuba). For this reason, this Cuba Travel Guide advises travellers to travel to Cuba with alternate forms for obtaining cash, as a safety blanket if your credit card doesn’t work.
CUP’s: CUP’s are the local Cuban Peso and have limited use for travellers. Local Cubans use this currency to buy goods from ration stores, as well as a few other limited products. It might be a good idea to obtain a small amount of this currency from a CADECA to purchase items such as ice cream and pizzas. Your guide can help you with this decision.
Before deciding to travel to Cuba, it is important for travellers to be aware of this dual currency and be able to recognise the difference (something your guide can help you with). This will safeguard against any potential Jineteros (see below) or scams you might encounter.
Cuba’s Climate & Weather
A sunny tropical climate means Cuba remains an attractive destination all year round
Simply put, Cuba has a fantastic climate for adventurers, travellers and tourists alike. Cuba can be described as moderately subtropical with 2 seasons. The dry season, which runs from November to April is less humid and cooler, with average highs of 26-29C and lows of 18-20C. Summer temperatures average 32C with high humidity. The average water temperature is a very comfortable 25C along the coast.
Hurricane season in Cuba is between June and November, with most storms occurring in September and October.
If you are planning to travel to Cuba during Hurricane Season, Locally Sourced Cuba Tours still operates, however itineraries are subject to change during these months.
Make an effort to learn a little Spanish before you travel to Cuba. Cubans will appreciate you trying to speak Spanish and will be more welcoming – especially if it is done with a smile
The official language spoken in Cuba is Spanish and it is always helpful to know a little of the local language before you travel to Cuba, to help make your trip that much more enjoyable. However this is not a necessity as all of your travel arrangements have been made for you and you can rely on your tour guide should you ever need to have anything translated.
A Locally Sourced Cuba Tour looks to integrate with Cuban society and immerse travelers in Cuban culture wherever possible. It is helpful to at least know a few Spanish phrases so you can greet and thank the locals. Your trip notes will feature a list of the most common Spanish phrases and there are other learning tools available including Apps, phrase books and CD’s – see our recommended reading section in this Cuba Travel Guide for more details.
Electricity & Adapters in Cuba
Remember to pack your adapter(s) before you travel to Cuba as it could be difficult to buy one in Cuba
If you are planning on traveling to Cuba with some of your personal electronic appliances, you might not be able to use them unless they are designed for 220v electrical current. Most countries outside of the Americas use 220v. But a few places, like Cuba, use both 110v and 220v. If you are going to Cuba, be prepared for 220v by bringing dual-voltage appliances. If an electronic device is dual-voltage, it means that it accepts both 110v and 220v electrical current. It will indicate this by showing a 110v-220v voltage rating on its indication panel.
Cuba Airports and taxes
Don’t get left short changed… have currency ready to exchange when you land in Havana (CAD, GBP or Euros are the best)
Jose Marti Internacional (Havana’s largest international airport), is a relatively modern airport with all the facilities you would come to expect from an international airport. Having landed in Havana, you will have to wait in line to have your passport, travel insurance and tourist visa card checked by an official.
At the airport you will find an ATM and a CADECA currency exchange office (there can sometimes be a considerable wait to use these facilities, so we recommend being prompt in locating them after arrival).
At the airport it is also relatively straight forward to get a authorized taxi outside to take you into the central city or your next destination – see the Airport Pick Up & Drop Off section in this Cuba Travel Guide for more details.
You will also need to pay a 25CUC departure tax at the airport before leaving Cuba.*
* For all bookings made as of March 01, 2015 for travel on or after May 01, 2015 the Cuba departure tax will be included in our taxes and will no longer have to be paid at destination
Tipping & Gifts in Cuba
Remember to tip for good service and assistance – tipping should not be a prerequisite. Don’t be outrageous with your tipping, it should be in line with local wage rates and socio economic levels
Tipping – with money or small gifts – is an acceptable way to express your satisfaction with service rendered. Tipping is also something that is culturally determined: some countries practice tipping and others don’t.
In Cuba, tipping is done by Cubans (many, not all) and visitors alike – visitors who come from countries that practice tipping within their own borders that is. Tipping is done at both peso and CUC (pesos convertibles) establishments, although at tourist resorts, your monetary tipping would be in CUC’s.
What someone tips – and here we’re talking about monetary tips – differs from individual to individual, the following suggestions can help provide a guideline:
Porters: CUC 1.00 or more if you have lots of bags
Waiters: 15% of the cost of the meal or CUC 1.00, whichever is greater
Taxi drivers: 15-20% of the fare in CUC
Bus drivers: CUC 1.00 per day per person (if you’re with a group)
Guide/translator: anywhere from CUC 1.50 – CUC 5.00 per day per person (if you’re with a group)
Note: Don’t leave coins, unless they’re in CUC, as Cuban banks do not accept foreign coins for exchanging into local currency (whether pesos or CUC). Sometimes hotel or restaurant workers are “stuck” with substantial sums of coins from which they are not able to obtain any benefit (unless they’re able to find an individual from that country who is willing to exchange them).
As for leaving gifts such as certain hygiene products (toothpaste, shaving product, makeup, shampoo, nice hand soaps, etc.) or school supplies (pencils, notebooks, colouring books, crayons), these too are appreciated although they’re more appropriately given in homestays and hotels rather than in restaurants. If you make a special friend with your host family, for instance, a nice gift is always appropriate (financial, or a pen, or a shaver with razor blades, etc.), together with personal things – including clothing items – that you don’t need to take home. You will need to carry these gifts with you, before you travel to Cuba as they will be difficult to buy there.
If you are unsure what to tip, just ask your Locally Sourced guide and they will be able to help.
Communication in Cuba
Don’t choose Cuba as a destination if you plan to be online or on the phone the whole time… choose it if you plan not to be!
Making international calls from Cuba is expensive (approximately 3CUC to Canada and over 4CUC to the Southern Hemisphere and Europe). You can buy phone cards from ETECSA outlets (Ask you guide for locations). 119 is the international dial out code for Cuba.
Whether or not your mobile phone will work will depend on your location and provider. To ensure your mobile will work in Cuba you should:
- Check your phone works on the 900Mhz frequency
- Before you travel to Cuba, check your operating network has an agreement in place with Cubacel
- Have global roaming activated on your phone
Only small minority of Cubans enjoy internet access, and to do this they must go online via dial-up networks on their phone lines, relying on a technology that has been obsolete elsewhere for more than a decade. There are however hotels and a few government workplaces that have Wi-Fi or DSL hookups, but everyone else is stuck with transmission rates that hover around 5 kilobytes per second. The largest telecommunication company in Cuba is called ETECSA and they have locations throughout the country. Tourists are often allowed to use these facilities but must present their passport to do so (ask your guide for the location of these offices at each location). Prices hover between 5CUC and 15CUC per hour. At a hotel you can expect to pay more than this.
Be warned…. surfing the web in Cuba requires stoic reserves of patience. Online photos often don’t open. Streaming web video is completely out of the question (this Cuba Travel Guide would even take a long time to load in Cuba).
Is Cuba for me?
Away from Cuba’s dated resorts, the archipelago is a destination for travellers not tourists
Walking through the streets of Old Havana, you’ll hear music and laughter, as much as you will hear no es facil (it ain’t easy). Traveling through Cuba is not for everyone, but those who do make the trip, most often fall in love with the country and its people. It’s a destination for those with a sense of adventure, who want to immerse themselves in culture and experience a unique way of life. Cuba, a place unlike any other, continues to captivate the senses on a day by day basis. Outside of visiting Cuba’s resorts, Cuba is a destination for travellers, not tourists.
Travellers should have some empathy with the demands that come with experiencing a country that has a very different way of life. A good sense of humour, plenty of patience (you will be in the ‘go slow’ Caribbean remember!), a willingness to learn and most importantly a readiness to enjoy your adventure are all key ingredients in deciding if Cuba is for you! As you will have noted in this Cuba Travel Guide, some things in Cuba might take a little getting used to, but other thing operate as they would anywhere else in the world.
Jineteros & Scams
In Cuba hustlers are called Jineteros/ Jineteras
These are local “career criminals” who basically make their living on the streets scamming tourists. They are particularly prevalent in the larger cities of Cuba as that’s where they’ll likely find more victims (Havana and Santiago de Cuba).
These con artists will offer to sell just about anything, from cigars to drugs and sex. One of their more lucrative scams is selling discounted tickets for tourist activities, which in the end are not valid. They also might try and take you to a dance festival that doesn’t exist, or ask for money so they can buy milk for their young children.
By the time the victim discovers they’ve been duped, the thief is long gone with their money. Solicitation of this sort is not legal and given Cuba’s high police presence, it’s advised that you do not interact with jineteros at all. If they do approach you, politely but firmly refuse and walk away.
Cuba is truly a lovely place to visit. But like any tourist destination, there will always be dishonest criminals who try to capitalize and scam, swindle or con their way to some extra cash. As long as you use your common sense and know what type of things to look out for, you’ll be able to enjoy your trip without becoming a victim.
Other things to look out for:
Fake cigars: If you are offered cigars by a local on the street, they are most probably fake… remember if it is too good to be true, it most likely is.
Restaurant Bills: Always check your bill for any unwelcome surprises
Short changed: be very careful that when you pay for anything you receive all of your change back and make sure you are familiar with the two currencies in circulation and the difference in value.
Counterfeit money: don’t exchange money on the streets. You are likely to receive counterfeit or outdated money that will be completely worthless.
Buying bottled water and rum: Both of these items are best brought in local stores and not from the street.
Food & Drink in Cuba
Cuba doesn’t have a very good reputation for its cuisine however things are on the improve. Before the revolution Cuba had a distinctive and delicious cuisine based on Spanish cooking, but with strong African influences from the plantation. Traditional Cuban food is seasoned, but not spicy, mild rather than hot. With most Cuban’s relaying on ration cards too obtain food, sometimes ingredients are limited and therefore meal options are too.
Tomatoes, yucca, calabaza – a Cuban pumpkin – and sweet potatoes, mango, sugar-cane, rice, beans, coffee, coconut, plantain and citrus together with chicken, pork and fish have become the central ingredients in Cuban cuisine.
With most Cuban’s relying on ration cards to obtain food, sometimes ingredients are limited and therefore meal options are to. Despite rich farmland, food is in short supply due to the inefficiency of large state farms, the fact that small farmers pay high taxes on private sales and transport problems – added to which the Cuban government sells much of its best food abroad and to tourist hotels for dollars.
With advent of some private enterprise now being allowed in the hospitality industry in Cuba, there are some nice family run restaurants (Paladares) who are quickly improving on their culinary offerings. Travelling through Cuba, you shouldn’t expect 5 star, gourmet meals however you can expect to be served fresh ingredients, cooked hygienically with a lot of love!
Accommodation in Cuba
Safety is our first priority
Locally Sourced Tours is committed to using local homestay accommodation on our tours, making your Cuban experience even more unique and memorable (not to mention fun!). Known as Casa Particulares, this type of accommodation is comfortable for guests and generally has very good facilities.
Locally Sourced has a range of Casa’s and Hotels that we can recommend throughout Cuba – simply Ask Us and we will be more than happy to help with any extra bookings or accommodation advice you require.
At Locally Sourced tours, your comfort and safety is our first priority, so you can be encouraged by the fact that all of our accommodation bookings and recommendations are made with your best interests at heart.
If you want more information about the hotels or Casa’s we use, just ask our team!
Getting around Cuba
Cuba is a great place for cycling enthusiasts. There are lots of bike lanes to utilise, bike workshops to use and drivers are used to sharing the roads nationwide. Spare parts are however difficult to find so if you are planning a cycling trip you should bring important spare parts with you.
Poncheros located at every small town will happily fix punctures and provide air.
Helmets are not really used in Cuba so you should bring your own alongside a good bicycle lock .
Throughout the country a one metre path oh the far right of the road is reserved for cyclists – even on highways.
You should avoid cycling after dark as road lighting is almost non-existent and bring lighting just in case.
Bus travel is a reliable way of getting around Cuba and bus facilities are of an acceptable western standard. Viazul is the only long distance bus company with routes between most main centres. See www.viazul.com for mor details. Viazul charges for its air conditioned service in CUC’s and generally runs on time. Buses generally will stop for lunches and dinners and sometime this can be a great way to meet other travellers.
Renting a car in Cuba is relatively stress free but it is a little on the expensive side. Renting a car can cost anywhere between 50-70CUC per day not inclusive of any other costs including gas, insurance etc. and for short journeys it is almost always cheaper to take a taxi.
To rent a car you will need your passport, drivers license and a 200cuc deposit.
Before you decide to travel to Cuba and self-drive please be warned: Driving in Cuba is not for the faint hearted. There are not many road signs, the roads are not in a great condition and there can be any number of hazards to watch out for (overgrown railway lines, cyclists, old cars & trucks, livestock. However if you take things slowly, stay alert and use your horn, you should be able to manage easily enough.
Reading, listening & watching
Travel to Cuba prepared… This Cuba Travel Guide recommends:
Lonely Planet – Cuba
Cuba – Moon Travel guide
An Innocent in Cuba: David McFadden
Cuba Confidential – Love and Vengeance in Miami and Havana: Ann Louise Bardach
Havana Good Times (HGT) ebook in the iTunes store, tourist guide for urban Havana
Enduring Cuba: Zoe Bran
Rough Guide Cuba
Latin American Spanish: Lonely Planet Phrasebook
Afro-Cuba: A musical anthology
Real Rumba (Corason label)
Cuba Classics (series from Tumi records)
Buena Vista Social Club
Fresa y chocolate
Death of a Bureaucrat
Tomás Gutiérrez Alea (1966)
Humberto Solás (1968)
Memories of Underdevelopment
Tomás Gutiérrez Alea (1968)
A Cuban Fight Against Demons
Tomás Gutiérrez Alea (1971)
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