Cuba Travel Tips: What You Need To Know Before You Go

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Planning your trip to Cuba?  First off it is a beautiful country and you will no doubt have an amazing time.  Planning can be a bit difficult since there is a lack of solid information on the internet...lots of travelers talking about Cuba, but most businesses are still in the dark.

How to travel to cuba

CAN AMERICANS TRAVEL TO CUBA?

As of Feb 1 2018, I can assure you that even as an American you can still legally travel to Cuba.  There are certain rules that you must follow but that is true with traveling to any foreign country.  The relationship between the US and Cuba are constantly evolving and you will need to verify the most current rules before you go. Here are some government pages to get you started: 

US State Department - Cuba

US Treasury Department - Cuba

DOCUMENTS REQUIRED TO TRAVEL

  • Cuban Tourist Visa -- You can get this visa at the airport from the gate agent before boarding the flight to Cuba. You go to the counter, pay the fee, fill out the form and keep it with you.  Don't lose it because the Cuban immigration officer will need this when you are entering and leaving Cuba.

  • Medical insurance -- Cuban requires that all visitors have insurance.  Our airline provided this for a $25 fee (not optional) and we were told to keep our boarding pass as proof of insurance in case of an emergency.

CRUISING TO CUBA

A passport book that is valid for at least 6 months is REQUIRED to cruise to Cuba. This is different than other cruise destinations...normally you are able to cruise with just a birth certificate and a government issued ID. Also, the passport card is not acceptable, it has to be a passport book. You will still be required to complete the OFAC form prior to boarding the ship. You will also still need to obtain a Cuban Tourist Visa from the cruise line during embarkation.

Cuban Money - CUPs

Best Money tips for cuba

TAKE CASH TO CUBA

That's right...all cash! Credit and debit cards from the USA will not work in Cuba. We sat down and actually wrote out a budget and also looked for ways to prepay for as many things as possible; like booking our Viazul tickets online and booking our casa particulars thru Airbnb.

Click here to get $40 credit when you sign up for Airbnb!

...BUT DON'T TAKE CASH FROM THE USA

Before leaving convert your US money to either Canadian or Euros. Check with you bank as most will have a money exchange service. With our bank you fill out a form online, they pull money out of you account and a few days later you go to the bank and pick it up. Easy peasey.

Why are we doing it this way you ask? Well because on "tense" government relations and the recent tightening of US visitor restrictions in 2017, Cuba has reimplemented a 10% fee on the conversion of US money to CUCs. So by taking a different currency you don't have to pay that tax and get to keep more of your money for spending in the country!

CUCS vs CUPS

Cuba has a dual income system, CUCs for tourists and CUPs for locals. Don't get these mixed up because you could lose a lot of money really fast...CUCs have monuments on the bills and CUPs have people.  When getting change from purchases make sure you double check your are being given the correct currency back.

CUC (monuments) are set at $1 = 1 CUC exchange

CUP (people) are about $1 = 25 CUP exchange

ONE AT A TIME AT THE BANK/MONEY EXCHANGE COUNTER

Money exchange counters and banks will only let one person to the counter at a time..so if there are two of you traveling you will have to take turns.  Quite often they will have a guard standing there that will direct you which counter to go to and will remind you that it is one at a time.

WHERE IS THE AIRPORT MONEY EXCHANGE COUNTER?

After heading thru custom and you enter the main part of the arrivals area, you will be met by a crowd of taxi driver and tour operators.  Once you make your way past all of them you will find the currency exchange outside the main entrance of the building.  So head outside and there will be windows to the left and the right for exchanging your money.

CURRENCY EXCHANGE IS ONLY ON THE GROUND LEVEL WHEN ARRIVING

In preparation for our trip to Cuba, we had read from many people that Money exchange couldn’t be done upstairs to avoid the massive line that forms at the 'Arrivals' money exchange. Sure enough we looked downstairs and found a long line..heading upstairs to the other money exchange desks we found that the line was non existent.  Unfortunately when we got to the front we were told that we had to go downstairs to exchange our money.  🙁 

TAKE EXTRA MONEY WITH YOU FOR JUST IN CASE

Not kidding...we were stranded in Cuba for an extra day because our flight was cancelled (and other people on our flight didn't get home until 4 days later). Luckily we had extra US cash that we had tucked away for just in case.  Yes we paid the extra 10% fee to convert it to CUCs but it also made sure that we didn't have to sleep in the airport and go without eating for a day and a half until we finally made it back to the US.  Remember you won't have a credit or debit card that works in Cuba.

Viazul Bus in Cuba

GETTING AROUND CUBA

DON'T BE LATE FOR THE VIAZUL

The Viazul is a charter bus that is similar to the Greyhound bus in the United States and they offer service to many cities across the island. It is an amazing and cost effective way to get from city to city. If you book a trip on the Viazul do not be late...the bus will leave you! In Varadero we definitely saw them leave people behind that had not checked in early enough.

HOP-ON HOP-OFF BUSSES

Havana and Varadero both have double decker hop-on hop-off busses that are a great way to get around the town and see many of the sights. The Havana bus is 10 CUCs and the Varadero bus is 5 CUCs per person. Tickets are purchased on the bus and are good for the entire day!

DON'T MISS RIDING IN A COCOTAXI

You will see these cute little taxis all over the place...they are bright yellow rickshaw-style taxi vehicles. They are great way to get from point A to point B for pretty cheap.  We took a ride in Varadero from one end of the main part of town part to the casa we were staying at for 5 CUCs. When you have aching feet this little taxi is a blessing in disguise.

CATCH A RIDE IN A CLASSIC BEAUTY

And of course...what trip to Cuba is complete without taking a ride in one of the legendary classic cars that Cuba is known for!  Seriously they are everywhere...so pretty much anywhere you go you will be able to find one.  Try to haggle to get a better price than what they originally ask and don't be afraid to walk away. 


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Cuba Travel Tips: What you need to know before you go! How to Travel to Cuba - Best Money Tips for Cuba - Getting Around Cuba -- Photo: Cuban Classic Car on a street in Havana Cuba

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