You want to go to Cuba but you don’t know how? How can Americans go? What is there to do? Is there Wifi? Two currencies? Who thought it would be cute to try to rip us off but did not succeed? Need tips? Let’s get into it!
First off, what do you need to get into Cuba as an American? You do need to purchase a Cuban Travel Visa. This is pretty easy. https://www.cubatravelservices.com/ Is the website you need to go to. If you fly Southwest, you will most likely have to go thru Fort Lauderdale to get to Cuba so that is where you will be able to pick up and pay for your travel visa. You must choose one of the twelve reasons to get to go to Cuba. Our reason was the 9th reason, “Support of the Cuban People”, yes, it is that easy. There is a kiosk right there at the same gate you will board at. If you have a short layover, I would pay for it in advance and get it mailed to you just in case you are limited in time. We paid $75 per visa- credit cards are accepted. If you are using any other airline that is not Southwest, I suggest you get the Visa mailed to you from Cuba Travel Services.
Secondly, Cuba is a cash country! You will quickly find out that there are no places you will be able to use your credit or debit cards. NONE! Prepare in advance and bring lots of cash. This is what we recommend: get your dollars and exchange them in the USA for Canadian dollars or Euros. Then when you get to Cuba, you can exchange them for the Cuban currency which is C.U.C. Why can’t you just bring down American dollars and exchange them in Cuba you ask? Well, you can, but you will get charged an extra 10% for exchanging dollars. You will also not be able to go to a bank and pull out money. You are only able to exchange it. We exchanged our money right in the airport and then again at a bank in Old Havana. We cannot stress this enough- BRING LOTS OF CASH WITH YOU. You’ll most likely pay cash for excursions (unless you precooked before your trip). Hotels, souvenirs, food, taxis, and this one we overlooked- tips for the bands, ALL CASH! Almost every restaurant we went to had amazing live music and after every set they would pass around their hat and ask for donations. Those tips really add up! When we arrived at the airport to leave Cuba, we only had 6 C.U.C. left to our names. Click here to read our ordeal at the airport on our way home and what we had to go thru with only a few dollars in our pockets. We have heard a lot of stories of people running out of money and stressing out because of it. This meant getting a hold of friends or family back in the states to wire them some cash and you have to wire it to someone who lives in Cuba. To make things worse, WiFi is scarce and there is no cell service which brings us to the communications topic.
Yes, there is WiFi, but it is only located at certain parks, hotels and the airport. You have to purchase a WiFi card (1 C.U.C.) which only has a 1 hour time limit. Of course, at a park you can hang out for hours and spend time on Instagram, but why would you? You are in Cuba! Check your email and move on. Your phone service will work, but at a whoppin’ $2-$4 dollars a minute/text message. OUCH! It better be worth it! If you go to a hotel to jump on the WiFi, be prepared to purchase a drink while sitting there. They won’t just let you take up their space, check Facebook, and not buy anything.
The saying goes, “if you haven’t visited Havana, then you haven’t visited Cuba.” If you really want to experience Cuba, stay in Havana. We stayed in an Airbnb right in the middle of everything (Old Havana) and loved it. We walked everywhere! We were two blocks away from La Floridita, 10 minutes walk from the boardwalk, steps away from really great and inexpensive restaurants, and half a block from a park with WiFi. That being said, we couldn’t find the type of groceries we would normally find nearby and while renting out an Airbnb in the middle of a city. If you do find a “mercado” the items you will find are VERY limited. We had to find eggs on the black market because you will not find them in the stores. Bring snacks, protein bars, Nutella for the kids, medicine, Tylenol, Advil, bug spray, and sunblock. You will NOT find sunblock anywhere. Be prepared. If you bring extra, leave it for the Airbnb host. What we take for granted, they will greatly appreciate.
Safety! Are you safe in Cuba? We cannot stress it enough. We never felt safer! They will look after you. Tourism is their main import, therefore, they want you to have a good time and feel safe. Cuba is very poor. You will see things and wonder how they do it, but they will be grateful and happy you are there visiting their country.
I brought up the currency, C.U.C. but there is another one you want to get to know. It’s called C.U.P. CUP is the Cubans currency among themselves. The CUC is valuable but the CUP isn’t much (roughly 24 CUP for 1 CUC). We had a classic car taxi ride from the fort back to Old Havana for the predetermined price of 10 CUC one night. We we got dropped off, we gave him a 20 CUC bill. He gave us back a 20 CUP bill as change. He thought we didn’t know the value or the difference and he was wrong. We actually sat in the car until he gave us the right amount back as change. He was trying to jack us. Not today, homeboy. Moral of the story, know the difference of the currency. A little hint, always prenegotiate the price for any ride before getting into a car.
We cannot stress this enough- BRING SNACKS! You will not be able to find a mercado that have the things you will most likely want. You will quickly learn that the grocery stores are close to non existent. They will not have Doritos, milk, eggs, Chips Ahoy, protein bars, etc. A few things you will find in every store is a dark cola and lots of Havana Rum. If you find a mercado with bottled water (you cannot drink the water from the tap)- stock up! There are times when they will run out and you do not want to be in that situation.
You will literally see a city frozen in time. Sometimes you will find lots of litter in the streets. You will see a lot of poverty and deteriorating buildings but none of that compares to the wonderful nature of the Cuban people. They will welcome you with open arms and make you feel at home. They will have real conversations with you that will make you feel as if you have known them your whole life. You will run into a lot of inconveniences that we take for granted here in the States but Cuba is definitely a country you have to experience. These happy people deserve so much more than what they have now.
When you do go down to Cuba, please bring extra shampoos, lotions, make-up that you can give the people. The women asked for these things on the street and kids asked for candy so we highly recommend to bring little candies as a nice gesture. They have very limited access to these things and love it when they come across it.
Very important, bring toilet paper and antibacterial soap from the states. When you go out exploring in Cuba bring both those essential items with you at all times. You will thank us later.
Enjoy this beautiful country! We had a wonderful experience and hope you do too! We just wish we spent more than a week there.
Here are some links to our recommendations:
El Dandy The people here are wonderful. Between us two and the kids, we spent like 14 C.U.C.s. Crazy cheap!
Most modern restaurant we visited in Cuba. Great places for lunch or dinner. They actually have clean bathrooms and soap in there! The kids will love the choices there. D Next
Tip: Get a classic car from Old Havana to take you here. It will only be 10 CUCs. They will even wait for you when the firing of the canon is over and take you back to Havana. Of course for an additional 10 CUCs. Do not pay more than 12 CUCs. Cabs will be more expensive.
Also, bring a bottle of rum with you and some extra cokes. Make yourself some cocktails while you watch the festivities. We did. Lol.
You can do these two in the same day. They are only a 15 minute from each other. Do Fusterlandia first. Fusterlandia
Then walk on over to Habana Beach Club to enjoy the beach and the swimming pool.
25 CUCs to get in, 15 of those CUCs goes to food. Free for kids 12 and under. Sneak in some rum if you like. We did.
You have to check out the Calljon de Hamel. Go on the weekend when they have the street festival. Colorful alley with art installations, murals & performances celebrating Afro-Cuban culture. Salvador González Escalona is the artist that started the whole thing. He has a bar there which is really cool. Go in there and have a drink. You will enjoy it. Go here and check out the video we did of the festival.
A trip to Cuba is not complete without visiting La Floridita. The energy here is explosive. Yes, we brought our kids.They know mommy and daddy love a good adult beverage. You can also buy Wifi cards there and use them while drowning yourself in mojitos.
You have to eat here! I do not know that name of this place but before you go to Cuba, download the offline map of Havana on your phone and go to these coordinates, 23°08’17.0″N 82°21’18.5″W. You will stand in the middle of the intersection, in front of the park with the obese man on the horse statue, look up, and this restaurant is on the second floor, corner building. It has a Cuban flag hanging from the window ledge. Is it amazing! You will get a lobster dinner and sides, 2 alcoholic beverages, and a dessert all for 12 C.U.C.s. There is also live music! It is such a fun spot. Look for the flag and find the entrance on the side street. Go around 730 to 8pm. Do not go later, they will run out of food.
Museo de la Revolución is a for sure must do. You will learn a lot about Fidel, Che, and the homies who took Cuba back from the dictator Batista.