Updated September 19, 2023
Cuba is somewhat uncharted territory for many travelers and there are a lot of questions surrounding travel to the island. Cultural visits in support of the Cuban people for US travelers are a bit of a novelty. This is our list of the top 10 Cuba travel tips to help prepare you for your trip so you can have the best time ever!
The old colonial buildings and vintage cars are amazing. However, they are old and that means they often break down. Replacement parts for things that you may consider basic are hard to come by in Cuba. If a replacement part is needed, Cubans have to improvise with whatever they have. They cannot simply order the part online or go to a shop and buy it. There is usually never an easy or quick way to fix things that break because Cuba still lacks a lot of resources to make repairs.
It’s important to come to Cuba with this in mind and a good amount of patience. For example, if something breaks at your casa particular, kindly speak to someone working there about whatever appliance is broken and understand that it may or may not be able to be fixed during your stay. Your host will do their utmost to make you feel at home and comfortable.
Telecommunication in Cuba has improved a lot over the years. However, cell phone and internet usage are still very limited on the island. For US travelers, some of your service providers may advertise call and text messaging in Cuba. They typically have very high roaming charges for incoming/outgoing calls and texts though. Even if your provider says that you will have service in Cuba, it is very possible that you won’t have service during your trip. Calls and texts might work, but the internet (data) on your phone will not. When you land in Cuba, you will usually get a message from your service provider with the cost of texts and calls.
The internet can be hard to come by in Cuba. Be prepared to have only a few chances at most to connect on our 9-day trip. It can be accessed at some telecommunication stores in the form of WiFi cards. These cards can be used in designated public squares, parks, and some hotels. On our trips, your guide will point out where you can purchase the WiFi cards and use them. Most major tourist hotels or Etecsa sales points sell the cards. Unfortunately, even when purchasing these cards, the connection can be spotty at best.
It’s best to inform your family and friends not to expect daily emails, calls, and messages from you during your visit to Cuba. Also, let them know not to worry if they don’t hear from you since the internet can never be guaranteed in Cuba. If you travel with us, we will have your emergency contact information and in case of an emergency, we will contact the number you provide us.
We know it can be hard because we are so used to having lots of telecommunication options at our fingertips. Try to enjoy this “digital detox” opportunity! It’s not every day that you have an excuse not to be glued to your phone, tablet, or computer!
Spanish is the official language of Cuba. Don’t expect to be able to speak English everywhere you go. If you stay in a casa particular, there might be little to no English spoken. If it is spoken, it could be broken and/or limited. When visiting a store, restaurant or bar, interaction in English is not always guaranteed. Many non-Spanish speaking visitors to Cuba rely on gestures as a means of communication which are part of the fun of traveling!
We suggest learning some key phrases in Spanish before going. We suggest the standard “Please” and “Thank you” as well as “I would like…”, “How much is it?” and “It’s OK.” It’s also wise to brush up on food and numbers before you go. Most guidebooks will have useful phrases in them. Also, Duolingo is a free online learning tool that we love to help you learn some basic Spanish.
A casa particular is a type of accommodation in Cuba. It is similar to a guesthouse or bed and breakfast. You can find casa particulares in most large- to mid-sized cities and in some smaller, more well-traveled towns in Cuba. You can identify a casa particular by the mandatory sticker with a blue anchor on the door. This indicates that it is a legal accommodation for foreign visitors.
Casa particulares are generally very safe. Most have a small safe inside each room where you can securely store your valuables. They are owned and operated by private Cuban citizens who often live on the property. A casa may consist of up to 5 – 7 rooms or as little as 2 – 3 rooms. On our 9-day trip, we only stay at casa particulares.
The families who own and work at the casa will try their best to make you feel at home. Most casa particular owners are very friendly and love to talk to guests. Our travelers have said that the casa particulares in Cuba were highlights of their trip. The casas provide a great opportunity to interact with everyday Cubans. They also offer a different experience than staying in hotels.
Please note that power outages are becoming increasingly common. These may happen with little to no notice and are mostly due to the country’s very outdated and crumbling power supply plants.
Hurricane season in Cuba is from June to November. Hurricanes are most likely to happen in September and October. We don’t recommend traveling to Cuba during these months. Hurricanes don’t occur frequently in Cuba, but they can happen. Our trips are in March, November, and December/January to avoid peak hurricane season in Cuba.
In Cuba, cash is king. In general, it’s usually most convenient for US travelers to bring US dollars for spending. You can read more about money in our blog about currency exchange in Cuba.
Americans cannot use any debit or credit cards in Cuba. No US card will work in Cuba. Even if you’re not American, we do not recommend relying on any card as a main method of payment.
Some may advise you to get an MLC debit card on arrival in Cuba. We do not recommend getting this card. The Cuban government produces it and it works primarily at state-run businesses. We do not patronize these places on our trips. Most private restaurants, bars, casa particulares, etc. do not have card readers and will not accept payment by any type of card.
A Cuban visa, also known as a tourist card, is mandatory for many travelers to Cuba, including those from the US. Most of you won’t need to fill out an application or hand in your passport to an embassy. If you’re from the US, you can usually get your Cuban visa with the airline you’re flying with.
You can usually purchase your Cuban visa at check-in or at the departure gate of your flight to Cuba by credit/debit card only. If you have questions, it’s best to call your airline. Alternatively, you can pre-purchase your Cuban visa online with Cuba Visa Services.
If you’re not from the US, it’s best to contact your nearest Cuban embassy to see if you need a Cuban visa and how to go about getting one.
To learn more about the Cuban visa (tourist card) and how to get it, check out our How to Get a Cuban Visa blog!
Wondering what to pack for your trip to Cuba? Our advice is to pack everything you’ll need and double of the necessities. Finding phone chargers, shampoo, conditioner, bandages, aspirin, socks, and pretty much everything else in between are hard to find in Cuba. If you can find them, they are very expensive. That’s why it’s best to pack everything you think you’ll need. If you have any extras, you can leave them behind as gifts for the Cuban people.
Read more about what to pack for Cuba in our blog!
Travelers from the US must travel to Cuba for one of the categories approved by the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC). You can see the approved categories on the US Department of the Treasury’s OFAC website. All of our 9-day trips go under the category “Support for the Cuban People”. We adhere to the required full-time schedule of activities as relating to this category.
Food in Cuba is delicious but tends to be very simple due to extreme food shortages on the island. There isn’t much variety compared to what you’re used to and much of the food is what’s in season and it’s generally organic as Cuba doesn’t rely heavily on pesticides and GMOs. The best thing to do is to have the correct expectations as food in Cuba may not be as plentiful or great in variety as where you’re from. Most still find it delicious despite the food shortages. Dishes are always handmade and prepared with lots of love!
If you’d like to learn more about this, check out our blog about Food in Cuba.
Here are some more things to know to help you prepare for your trip to Cuba:
Cuba is a very unique and beautiful place that deserves a place on your bucket list. With these tips to help prepare you, you’ll have a trip of a lifetime in Cuba! Happy travels!