1. You must have valid travel insurance
For holidays to Cuba, you need to purchase travel insurance. You are required on entry to Cuba to have a travel insurance document. Although this is not always checked, if you are asked for it you need to be able to supply it so don’t run the risk.
2. You must obtain a travel Visa
To enter Cuba you must obtain a tourist visa card. It’s quite easy but make sure you organise this in advance. For more information on visas read our blog post
3. Tell your bank you are travelling to Cuba
Often overseen but there is nothing worse than trying to use an atm and it comes back as declined. A quick phone call to your bank saves your card being blocked if you need to use an ATM. You can also do this with some online banking apps at the click of a button.
The reason banks do this is to minimise fraud and if your card were to be blocked it could be an expensive phone call home to unblock it so do this before you travel to Cuba.
4. You must have an outbound flight
As part of the visa requirements, you must have an outbound flight booked. It shows your intention to stay for the agreed time and not past that date.
5. Understand the currency
Make sure you understand the difference between CUP and CUC (the two currencies in Cuba). Find out how much they are worth compared to pounds, euros and dollars. For more information read our post on currency in Cuba
6. Book your accommodation in advance
It’s a busy place Cuba with lots of tourists visiting on holiday there each year. In fact, almost 5 million tourists will be visiting Cuba in 2019. That said it is always worth booking your accommodation in advance.
Although you can just turn up and travel from city to city and book a hotel or Casa particular on the fly if you want the best quality and prices book in advance. Hotels will charge crazy rates if you just turn up and I mean crazy. The casa particulars will be whatever is available which could mean a whole variance of quality.
For us, the most important is less cash to Carry. Think about how much money you would need for your 7, 14 or 21 day stay accommodation costs and then think about wouldn’t it be nicer not having to stress about carrying that money on you at all times.
7. Stay in a Casa Particular
Casa particulars are bed and breakfasts in Cuba. A casa particular is a room rental or entire property rental normally in a Cubans house or apartment. This is the ultimate way to experience Cuban life and meet local people. It is far cheaper than staying in a hotel and the quality of accommodation rises year on year.
You will get incredible home cooked meals, great hospitality and an experience that gives you a taste of the real Cuba. Casa particulars are a major source of income to many Cubans and it’s always nice to support the Cuban people.
8. Buy a good mosquito/fly repellent
A good mosquito/fly repellent will be especially handy when night falls by the beach or nature reserves. Like any tropical environment, there will be lots of the little critters flying around. There are lots of brands out there and we have tried many of them.
One of our favourites, if we are trying to go deet free, is Incognito anti-mosquito. Don’t worry we are not paid by this company to promote them, we have tried it and like the products but we will let you decide which is best.
9. Carry coins on you to use restrooms
Always try to carry a little spare change on you. Whether you are using the bathroom in a bar, restaurant or motorway service station there is normally a person there with a little basket collecting money. 10 cents will suffice and although you can use the toilet without paying but it’s the polite thing to do. Also toilet paper is not always a given which they may hold.
10. Get a travel adaptor in advance
Trying to find an adapter in Cuba is always harder work especially outside Havana. Pick one up at the airport to make things easier. You will need a 110 or 220 V, 60 Hz type. The standard plug type in Cuba is a US-style two- or three-pin.
11. Know how to find internet and Wi-fi and how much it costs
If you want to stay connected to home while on holiday in Cuba you need to understand how wi-fi works. Please read our blog post on Wi-fi and Internet in Cuba to get a better understanding.
12. Download an offline map
If your intentions were to use your phone as you do at home with 4G to use google maps to get you around, think again. You will need to have an offline map downloaded to make life easier while on holiday in Cuba. Whichever map service you use, download the Cuba map before you leave and you still have access to wifi. Most map services are free we have used.
13. Download an offline translator
Using an offline translator in Cuba will really help you if you don’t speak Spanish. The good ones let you have real-time conversations and if you are looking to speak to locals this is a must-have. Always pre-download the software and select Spanish. The cost should be around £5 for 1-month use. There are so many situations it will come in handy. From getting a taxi, asking for directions, ordering food, connecting with local people to name just a few.
14. Obtain A VPN for internet use
A Virtual Private Network will allow you to access wifi hotspots with a higher level of security and protect your personal information. To some, this may sound daunting but it’s super easy. Get a 1-month subscription for $12.99 and your away. To find out more read our blog post and watch the explainer video from Express VPN to give you a better insight.
15. Take a spare phone to use with a Cuban sim card
This will save you a lot of money if you need to stay connected in Cuba. You can purchase a sim card for 40 CUC or rent one for 3 CUC per day. You will need an unlocked phone operating at 900hz for use in Cuba.
16. Cash is king
Cash is used everywhere in Cuba. Pay for Items like accommodation and transport in advance as less cash will be needed. Make sure you take enough cash with you for the whole trip, especially if you can’t use an ATM if your bank is an American one or associated with an American bank.
If your bank is not American there can still be problems with using ATMs, like cash runs out, the banks are closed, the queues are very long, there is a limit on how much you can take out, there is a power strike.
17. Haggle with people
Certain items will have a set price but many items you can barter the price down. This may seem like an obvious one but find out how much the real value of the item is in order to negotiate the best price. Taxis are often overpriced along with tours.
18. Scams to watch out for
In Cuba, you will hear of jineteros or jineteras. They are street hustlers. Don’t be afraid of them or get stressed if they keep approaching you. Just smile and say no thank you. Just feel lucky that you are on the side of having money.
Normally they will try and entice you into visiting a bar or restaurant, a day trip, tour, taxi, a casa particular, Wi-fi scratch cards, cigars, a show, the list goes on. It’s quite an art form and they know all the tricks to get you talking and one that always makes me laugh is it’s my birthday today or a national day of some sorts. Just smile and say no thank you.
One scam to always watch out for is paying in tourist money CUC and being given change in CUP which is worth a lot less. It’s a common trick.
19. You can’t take pictures of the police or army
Don’t risk the hassle. You can always ask the individuals first.
20. Only drink bottled water
This is highly advised for all tourists. The tap water will not be drinkable and you will see filtered water everywhere which has normally been boiled first. This may seem like a good idea but if the filter has not been changed for 5 years since the machine was first purchased I doubt it’s still doing its job properly.
21. Don’t flush toilet paper
The toilet systems cannot handle it. You will normally see a bin next to the toilet, so put the toilet paper in there. You don’t want your toilet blocked spilling out water onto your bathroom floor.
22. Take the toiletries you need
Buy the toiletries you need before you arrive in Cuba. It is really hard to find the brands you like and if you do find them they will be expensive especially sunscreen. I always buy mine at the airport which is a little more expensive than my regular store but it saves my baggage allowance going over.
23. Take hand sanitizer & disinfectant wipes
They come in really handy in Cuba when you don’t have access to hand soap which is quite often in Cuba. Most public toilets run out or don’t stock it. For me, I am always feeding stray dogs and giving them a good cuddle In Cuba so I always carry hand sanitizer just to minimise my risk.
24. Take a cool towel & hand-held fan
It gets very hot in Cuba as you may expect. Especially in the summer months and to the east of the island where walking for just a few minutes can cause you to drip with sweat. A handheld fan or cooling towel that you simply just add water too will feel like a well thought out luxury item.
25. Be careful about eating certain street food
You will see street food everywhere in Cuba. Items like peso pizza, burgers, ham sandwiches, fried fish and chicken. The quality of meat can be low and the health and safety aspects we are used to when it comes to food prep does not exist in Cuba. We do eat street food in Cuba but we always advise to anybody to be careful.