So you’ve booked your fabulous holiday to Cuba and you’re getting excited about what to pack, how many Cuban sandwiches you’re going to eat and how many delicious rum cocktails you’re going to drink. You can easily get carried away in the pre-holiday buzz, but make sure you take a look through these essential snippets of knowledge to give your holiday the smoothest start possible.
1. Money, money, money
If you’re only going to learn one thing before you go, it should be the ins and outs of Cuba’s currency. Cuba is a dual economy country meaning it actually has two currencies – the convertible pesos called CUC and Cuban pesos called CUP. This can be very confusing for tourists, especially as locals will refer to both currencies as pesos.
You’ll find that CUC is what you will use as a tourist. If you haven’t booked your accommodation already, you will pay for that in CUC as well as meals in restaurants, taxis, many buses, nightclubs, tips and excursions. Despite popular belief, tourists can use the local currency of CUP too. CUP can come in handy for farmers markets, street food and some smaller and less popular cafes and bars. You won’t need to use this currency very much but it might help to carry a little bit of CUP as pocket change.
Unlike many other currencies, you can only convert your money to CUC once you are actually in Cuba. Check with your bank before you fly to make sure your cards will work so you can convert with a card transaction – if they won’t work you will need to take your spending money in sterling or euros in cash and then convert your money at the airport or hotel when you arrive.
You will need cash to pay for almost everything in Cuba. Major hotels will receive card payments, but almost every good or service outside of that will expect cash payment.
2.Visas are essential
To get into Cuba, you will need a visa. If you haven’t sorted out your visa before your departure date you can be refused entry and could face a very stressful start to your supposed jolly holiday. You can get your visa from the Cuban Embassy or online at The Travel Visa Company. It is worth checking with your tour operators to see if they include visas in with the price of your holiday.
For more information check out our Cuba visa guide here.
3. Digital detox
In a world where we never disconnect from cyberspace, Cuba is a digital detox. Wi-Fi access is very limited throughout the country so you really can switch off from everything going on at home. However, if you do need to get online, perhaps to send a couple of messages home or make your Instagram followers envious of your cocktails on the beach, you’ll need to purchase an accessibility card.
You can buy cards from ETECSA telecommunications centres or most hotels with Wi-Fi. ETECSA centres are easily spotted by lots of people leaning against the walls or sat on curbs staring down at their devices. You can choose either a 30-minute or an hour access cards, both are usually under 5 CUC. Not all towns will have these centres so if you’re stuck without, head to a hotel and usually Wi-Fi is cheaper in resort areas rather than Havana.
The quality of the Wi-Fi here will not be what you‘re used to in the UK. Accessibility is restricted by the Cuban government and the connection can be very slow and even drop out completely. We know how engrossing scrolling through social media can be so we recommend making a list of priorities and setting a timer so you don’t waste your precious Wi-Fi minutes.
4. The locals are super friendly
You’ll find the locals stop to talk to you or ask you questions about your life while you’re wandering around taking in the sights. Don’t worry, they aren’t being intrusive, they are just genuinely interested! This Caribbean island is the place to make friends – some Cuban people like to test their English and some can’t wait to tell you about their country.
You might even receive hugs and handshakes from strangers purely because so many Cubans are open and sociable people. Lots of locals are fascinated about life in the UK and want to know more about it as so many will never leave their home country.
5. Must see attractions
Finally, plan your excursions before you go so you don’t have to worry about using costly Wi-Fi time finding and researching tours and activities.
The Havana City Tour will show you the historical side of Cuba. You’ll be taken around the crumbling Spanish buildings of Habana Viejo, or Old Havana, Havana harbour’s 16th century history, and highlights of New Havana like world famous Revolution Square where Fidel Castro held rallies and the giant statue of Che Guevara’s face stands.
The Cuba Experience Premium will teach you all about the three cornerstones of Cuban identity – sugar, cigars and rum. Visit a sugar mill and tour the plantations, discovering how rum is made from sugarcane and enjoying a drink of guarapo while you learn. You’ll board a steam train and visit the nostalgic days of the past at Cardenas. Here you’ll see the contemporary art, colonial-era buildings and head to the famous cigar emporium in Varadero. Learn how to match the perfect rum and cigar pairing and feel like you’re truly in the heart of Cuba.
Immerse yourself in Cuba’s rhythm and soul. Havana’s Buena Vista Social Club was made famous by Ry Cooder’s Grammy award-winning album of the same name and is somewhat of a destination in itself. People travel from all over the world to dance along to the Cuban blues and Latin beats and once you visit you’ll want to go back every night.
If you’d like to book any of the above excursions, give our dedicated experts a call on 0800 916 5189.
Can’t wait to meet the locals or tour Havana in a classic car? Book your holiday to Cuba today!