You guys! I cannot begin to explain how amazing my trip to Cuba was. For one it was a chance to unwind with my girls, there was an endless supply of photo opportunities ( super important for a blogger ☺) and the lack of internet truly gave me a chance to live in the moment. It was incredible and I cant wait to go back. Since posting ” Bloggers’ guide to Cuba” , I have received a lot of questions about traveling to Cuba and this post is my attempt to answer everything in one place. Let’s get into it ;
Do I need a visa ?
Yes my dear, you definitely need a visa.
Whether or not you are American, you need a visa. For Americans, there are one of 12 reasons you are “allowed ” to be in Cuba: Professional research, journalistic activities, human rights/ NGO, educational activities, activities of private foundation or educational institutions, visiting Cuban family member, religious reasons, public performances, humanitarian projects, telecom import business, or official government work. You can read more about that on the OFAC FAQ here. No one is going to ask you to prove that you fit into any of the categories but some airlines will send you an affidavit to sign. You also need international health insurance that it typically offered through your airline. I had health insurance through American Express but no one asked me for proof and I didn’t offer either. When in doubt, call your carrier before you buy that plane ticket.
TRAVEL TIP #1 : If you fly through another country like Mexico or Canada, you can get the visa at the connecting airport. Our visa was $20 in Cancun. In this case, they did not stamp our passports in Cuba. But i did read here, that this person stamped their passport and nothing happened so there is that.
Is Cuba expensive?
The short answer is , it depends. The first thing anyone considers when planning travel is budget. In my experience, Cuba was expensive but that is because we stayed at a relatively nice Airbnb, took a lot of cabs, bought art and went on excursions with English speaking guides. I suppose if you stay at a cheap Airbnb in a central location , you wouldn’t spend a lot but where’s the fun in that? Right?
TRAVEL TIP #2 : Travel with a group of friends to save cost in Havana.
How much money do I need?
Cubans have two forms of currency. One for foreigners, the CUC ( Cuban convertible peso) and another for locals, the CUP( Cuban peso). A lot of people don’t realize that their debit and credit cards don’t work in most of Cuba. I read somewhere that a plane had to turn around because there were people on the plane with no cash. You definitely want to withdraw cash before you travel as you will likely be unable to do so In Cuba. We brought $700 each for 5 nights. I got my hands on 40 CUP to show you. This will get you on a local bus to anywhere in Havana.
TRAVEL TIP #3 : Make sure to bring enough cash with you to Cuba. Dont be that person at the airport with no money. ATMs are super hard to come by in Cuba. And
almosteverything is paid for in cash.
How much money should I plan to spend per day?
In general you do not need more than 100 CUC a day unless you are buying art, eating at fancy restaurants and planning expensive day trips out of Havana. Also, be careful, the taxi drivers are slick and never seem to have change and you will run out of money if you give it away to them.
TRAVEL TIP #4 : Change your money into euros before you travel. It’s a much better exchange rate ( approximately 1 EUR:1 CUC).
Where should I stay?
Even if you are used to staying in hotels, you might want to consider an airbnb for this trip. One because it is cheap compared to the hotels, and two because you get to interact with the locals which gives you a more personal experience. Do note that in Cuba most of the hosts will be in the house with you. So, if privacy is super important for your top secret project or whatever, then maybe a hotel is best. However, you pay a pretty penny (Think $500 a night).
We stayed in two Airbnbs. The one in old Havana was my favorite. The staff were super nice and we had alot of the basic amenities offered at a hotel. I seriously cannot recommend the Revolution Boutique hotel enough. We unfortunately couldn’t stay the whole time because they were booked. Pro tip is to book your accommodation as soon as possible.
The second airbnb was in central Havana. It was cheaper but you had the pungent sewage-like smell coming from the bathroom and super loud music from the neighbors. It was centrally located steps away from the malecon and the host was super nice.
TRAVEL TIP #5 : Please manage your expectations in Cuba, you will have the light go off on you. You may run out of water mid shower or see a cockroach in your bathroom but its all part of the experience 😚. You also get what you pay for. Choose your accommodation wisely. When you up at night smelling sewage at your cheapass airbnb, remember your cost savings.😂
How Long should I plan to Stay?
Our trip was 5 days total. It was just the right amount of time for 3 days in Old Havana, 1 day trip to Viñales to see how cuban cigars are made, and a trip to Santa Maria beach. If you are not trying to do the most, this is enough time. But if you want to go to Trinidad, Cuba to see amazing colorful houses, buy local art and ride horses, then factor in a couple extra days for an overnight trip. And bring extra cash.
Where should I eat?
It’s no secret that Havana food is seriously bland. Be prepared to ask for salt… unless you want to pay extra and go to the bougie spots that are by reservation only. We did splurge and eat at Havana 61. I cannot recommend their food enough! The ceviché was legit and they served it with the coolest tiny bread loafs! My friend ordered the seafood platter and it was a glorious plate of fish, lobster and shrimp and it was delish! I barely eat pork but I ordered the chunks and they were amazing with plantains.
TRAVEL TIP #6 : Put some hot sauce in your bag… and some salt and pepper while you are at it. And do not order seafood if you are not close to the sea. Not unless you want to spend your night with food poisoning like I did.
Can I swag like Beyoncé?
Yes. Yes you can! Listen if you do nothing else in Havana, you HAVE to go to La Guarida. I already told you their food aint shit (sorry, but it’s the truth) and its hard to get a reservation. But the view is bae 😍😍😍. Plus side to going here? Bragging rights because that is where queen Bey ate.
TRAVEL TIP #7: Make sure to go to the rooftop at La Guarida. You get a 360 view of Havana including the water and the Capitol building.
Is it time to unplug?
If you have to sit there for an hour to upload a 1 minute video to instagram, maybe it’s time to unplug? Or maybe not. For my die hard internet users here is the scoop. In order to use WiFi, you have to buy a 1 hour internet card. In order to use said card, you have to find specific locations where there is a government provided WiFi signal. Alternatively, you can find underground , illegal might I add, wifi that you find on the street and pay per use. We found a hotel Santa Isabel (pictured below) in old Havana where you could buy your internet card, grab a drink, and enjoy excellent internet for the next hour. But seriously, Cuba is beautiful. Spend time offline and you will see what I mean. The people, the atmosphere, the music, the drinks…but I digress, again.
TRAVEL TIP #8 : If the lack of internet gives you anxiety, maybe Cuba isn’t for you.
Who should I invite on this trip?
I went on a girls trip. I’m a project manager in my day job so it was easy for me to take care of the logistics of the trip. You want to have someone like that in your group. Cuba is not the place that you just get up and go to. There is quite a bit of planning that needs to happen ahead of time. Invite that friend that speaks Spanish ; thank me later. Now is the time to start inviting Fun Felcia to be the hype man for the group. She will get you into all the clubs and get you some free drinks while she is at it. Maybe invite that friend that is fun but doesnt drink so that you dont stumble into the wrong casa after a fun night. Do you have a friend that is good with her camera? Bring her. You are going to want to document this trip. Trust me. Ok , maybe not ALL of your trip but most of it.
Do I need to bring my Spanish speaking friend?
Trying to communicate with people that speak only Spanish… as one taxi driver put it “wow!” . My trip was wrought with frantic hand gestures. We got lucky with an amazing airbnb host that is originally Canadian so organizing activities, airport pick ups etc was a breeze. Alternatively, now is that time to start inviting that Spanish speaking friend of yours on a girls trip. If yal havent spoken in a while, call her now !
Is it safe for women to travel alone in Cuba?
It is incredibly safe in Havana. There is literally almost no crime there. The punishments are so strong that folks don’t try it. So for example, it is illegal to kill a cow in Cuba, a crime which is accompanied by a punishment of 35+ years in jail. You cannot find drugs anywhere on the street because possession of Marijuana carries an immediate 1 year jail sentence and intent to sell carries life in prison. Havana prisons are NOT nice so you can be happily unaware of your surroundings while on vacay in Cuba. No worries 😁.
TRAVEL TIP #9: Be warned, do not make unnecessary eye contact with strangers. Not unless you want to be hustled into spending your money on things you don’t need or to turn into a walking Forex bureau for locals in possession of foreign currency.
Where my coffee drinkers at?
I had to include this here because as it turns out, im quite addicted to coffee. Like tension headaches kind of obsessed. Good news is that there is REALLY good cuban coffee in central havana. So not to worry.
TRAVEL TIP #10 : Buy some Cuban coffee as gifts for your friends. It’s really good!
What about transport?
Most foreigners use cabs or walk in Havana. There are lots of cabs available. And your airport ride to your airbnb or hotel in old Havana or central Havana is about 35 CUC. Try to resist getting in a taxi before negotiating a price.
TRAVEL TIP #11 : Maybe skip the bicycle-pulled rides. You might as well walk considering how slow they are. And they mysteriously never have change
TRAVEL TIP #12 : Take a vintage taxi instead of a yellow cab. Way cheaper! Plus, they photograph well.
What should I Pack?
It’s hot. Pack clothing that can absorb sweat and keep you cool. Think cotton. Thankfully the outlets in Cuba are like those in the US, so I didnt need an adapter. If you are nice, consider bringing some toiletries as gifts for your host. Everything in Cuba is imported so its nice to have something for them. I also packed vitamin C gummies because i just spent the last 4 weeks sick with the flu and I do not want a repeat.
Do I need to pack toilet paper?
Why is this even a question? Well, I read in at least 2 online blogs that you need to bring toilet paper with you. So my eager beaver butt took a roll of TP with me. I didn’t use that roll of paper, not once! I seriously don’t know where in Havana these folks were but even outside of Havana in Viñales, I didnt use the TP. There was always toilet paper in the bathrooms. Do bring some tissue for your allergies though.
Do I need to bring my medicine?
Yes sir, you absolutely do. I had allergies, food poisoning and a migraine while i was in Cuba. Those last two were my fault, i know. No one sent me to order lobster or smoke a cigar in Viñales. But that is not the point. It’s hard to find what you need so just pack a tiny med kit just in case.
TRAVEL TIP #13 : Might I suggest you pack some band aids for your potentially blistered feet? You are going to do ALOT of walking in Havana. Thank me later
And that’s it folks! You should be all set for your trip now. If I left something out, holler at me in the comments section below. Have fun planning! Oh and If you consider yourself bad and bougie maybe you might want to buy yourself a plane ticket somewhere else or pay top dollar for one of the all inclusive resorts in Cuba. However, if you are down to experience something authentic and have an adventure, this is the place for you! Happy Travels 😘