Cuba Travel Information
"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 Cuba 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: - http://www.who.int/countries/cub/en/ - http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/travel-and-living-abroad/travel-advice-by-country/north-central-america/cuba - http://safety.worldnomads.com/cuba
CUBA TRAVEL INSURANCE
It is a condition of booking one of our tours (and the Cuban government) that travellers are adequately insured for the full duration of their holiday. We always strongly encourage our clients to purchase travel insurance at the time of booking their tour to protect their holiday investment from unforeseen circumstances such as significant weather events and illness/ injury to yourself or a family member. 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 a small extra fee. Here at Locally Sourced we want you to be as comfortable as possible and that’s why we try to keep our single supplement fee as low as possible on our Cuba 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 only charge around $135. 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 our downloadable set of Cuba Trip Notes to ensure you arrive well prepared. Approximately 15 days prior to your tour departure date, Locally Sourced Tours will send you a pre-departure message and our set of downloadable Cuba Trip Notes. These notes are a compilation of the information found on this Cuba Travel Guide as well as any other important resources that will help you prepare for your trip. The pre-departure message will include important information about your airport transfer on arrival, local contact numbers, local guide, joining accommodation and any vouchers you might need as well. The Cuba Trip Notes that will accompany your pre-departure message will feature our FAQ document, Cuba Drive Times Map, city maps, your tour itinerary and other important information. Travel to Cuba has never been easier with Locally Sourced Cuba Tours.
CURRENCY IN CUBA
Cuba is very much a cash society, and you will most often need to use local currency (CUC’s) to pay for goods and services. Know your currency! Familiarize yourself with the dual Cuban currency system in Cuba early on. Currently there are two official currencies in circulation in Cuba Cuban Convertible (commonly referred to as CUC): 1CUC = $1USD (not including any exchange fees) 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's, located in cities, larger hotels and at airports. CADECA’s and banks 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. There is a CADECA at the airport. So you can obtain CUC immediately upon arrival in Cuba. Also at the airport, at the end of your time in Cuba, you can change your left-over CUC (as they are worthless outside of Cuba) to another currency. 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). The ATMs (Automatic Teller Machines), work in Cuba for most Visa branded cards, but not for MasterCard branded cards. The is an ATM on the upper level of the Havana airport. You can expect to be able to access ATMs in Havana, Varadero, Vinales, Camaguey, Trinidad, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba. You will need a pin number on your credit card to be able to use the ATM machines. If you want to use a MasterCard to withdraw funds, you will have to go inside a CADECA or bank to do so. Credit Cards linked to US banks or financial institutions will not work in Cuba. 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 we advise our 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. Although Cuba is firmly in the tropics, it still has a Northern Hemisphere weather pattern with cooler (drier) winters (December through April) and hotter (wetter) summers (July is when it is at its hottest). Summer temperatures average 32C with high humidity. The average water temperature is a very comfortable 25C along the coast. High season (November through April) is generally when the most settled weather is. Hurricane season in Cuba is between August and early November, with most storms in the Atlantic occurring in September and October. Below outlines the impact Hurricanes have had in Cuba, over the past 9 years. Hurricane Irma (2017) - Northern coast of Cuba (September 2017) Hurricane Matthew (2016) - Only effected Baracoa in the far east (October 2016) 2015 - Nothing 2014 - Nothing 2013 - Nothing Hurricane Sandy 2012 - Only effected the Eastern part of Cuba (October 2012) 2011 - Nothing 2010 - Nothing 2009 - Nothing
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. For most Cuba tours we run (private and group) we include your airport transfer on arrival so you will just need to locate your driver in the arrivals lounge.
TIPPING & GIFTS IN CUBA
Tipping – with money or small gifts – is an acceptable way to express your satisfaction with services provided. 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 luggage Waiters: 10-15% of the cost of the meal or CUC 1.00, whichever is greater Taxi drivers: 10-15% 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 person per day (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 Casa's, guesthouses 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 provide local advice.
COMMUNICATION IN CUBA
You can learn more about communication in Cuba through our dedicated page in our Cuba Travel guide - https://locallysourcedcuba.com/communication-in-cuba-guide
IS CUBA FOR ME?
Away from Cuba’s all-inclusive resorts and 5* hotels, this stunning 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 is a place unlike any other and will captivate the senses on a day-by-day basis. 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 things 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, cigars and rum: These items are best purchased in local stores and not from the street.
FOOD & DRINK IN CUBA
Historically Cuba hasn't had a very good reputation for its cuisine however things are quickly improving. Before the revolution Cuba had a distinctive and delicious cuisine based on Spanish cooking, but with strong African influences. Traditional Cuban food is seasoned, but not spicy, mild rather than hot. Post revolution, most Cuban’s have relied on ration cards to obtain food, making the ingredients they have had to cook with limited and therefore meal options have been to. Tomatoes, yucca, calabaza (a Cuban pumpkin), 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. Despite rich farmland, food has been in short supply due to: - Inefficiencies in large state farms, - Small farmers pay high taxes on private sales - Transport problems – The Cuban government selling much of its best food abroad and to tourist hotels for dollars. However, with advent of some private enterprise now being allowed in the hospitality industry in Cuba, there are many family run restaurants (Paladares) popping up all over the country. Paladares are quickly improving their culinary offerings and the restaurant scene in Cuba is flourishing. 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 authentic Casa Particular accommodation for the Cuba tours we run, making your Cuban experience even more unique and memorable. Known as Casa's, Guesthouses or B&B's, this type of accommodation is comfortable for guests and generally has very good facilities. We always aim to book Casa's in central locations with ensuite facilities and air-conditioning. You can learn more about staying in Casa's here - https://locallysourcedcuba.com/accomodation/ Locally Sourced Cuba Tours can also book a range of hotels and resorts to suit any budget. 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
CYCLING 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 on 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 you should bring your own lighting just in case. BUS 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 more 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. CAR 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.