What You Need to Know Before Visiting Havana, Cuba

Havana, Cuba

Planning a trip can be quite a task. But planning a trip to Cuba requires even more work, research, and preparation. Since we limited our Cuba trip only to the city of Havana, it may have been a little easier. But still, there are a lot of points to think about in advance.

Visa / Tourist Card

Travelers from 19 countries (click for the list) can travel to Cuba without a visa. Everyone else needs a tourist card. You need to get it before checking into your flight. We travelled from Munich, Germany with Condor, and got it at the Condor counter at the airport hall. You definitely need to check in advance where to get it. Some travel agencies make them out. In Europe also the embassies issue them. You can just go to your embassy with your passport and get it, or you can get it online, by sending them your passport. It takes some time – be aware of it! It costs about 20-35€, depending where you get it.
For issueing your tourist card, you can’t have a one-way flight. Be sure you already booked your departure flight. You also need a valid international travel insurance. Be sure to get an evidence of insurance cover to show.

All of this applies to European citizens. If you are American, please do your research about visa, flights, entrance,.. it is a bit more complicated for you 😉

Debit & Credit Cards

Not all debit or credit cards work in Cuba. Especially Americans probably do not work at all. You will not be able to pay with credit or debit card in stores, or restaurants. Cash machines are extremely rarely. Be aware to bring cash and exchange it, or to catch a cash machine once, to get money.
Be also sure to tell your credit card company that you are travelling to Cuba.

Money / Currency

This is a bit confusing first. There are two currencies in Cuba. The National Peso (CUP), and the Convertible Peso (CUC). CUC is valued 1 to 1 with U.S. Dollar, while the National Peso stands at about 25 pesos per dollar. As a tourist you will probably only get and need CUC, since it’s the currency used for almost everything economical and the currency among tourists. CUP is the currency among locals, used for public buses (which you are not allowed to use anyway), and buying fruits on the streets, and daily life neccessarities.
So just don’t worry about CUP!
You have the best exchange rates from Euros to CUC. If you are bringing U.S. Dollars, better change it into Euros first, and then exchange it.

Print your documents in advance

Technology, and especially internet (see the point below) is not easily found in Cuba. The only option is to go the one of the few big hotels around the El Capitollo and get your stuff printed. It can get expensive, since one hour of internet costs about 8-10CUC plus 1CUC per printed page. Aaaand, the internet is the slowest you will ever experience.
Print and take any travel documents, reservations, insurance, or other information you need before leaving.

Time to go there

Ok, let’s be honest. We went to Cuba during Hurricane season. We had a great time, no rain, no storms – but still-  be aware. Hurricane season is between June and October. Hurricanes are most likely to happen in June and September. In July and August (when we went), there is a liklehood of 5-10%  for a hurricane or stormy weather to occur.  Still it was super, super humid and hot during our stay. But we hardly ever saw tourists 🙂

November – March is the coolest, driest but also busiest season. Cubans highlights, such as tobacco harvesting and Carnival happen in May and June.

Travel insurance

It is required to have valid travel insurance to enter Cuba. They may ask you for a proof at the airport when arriving. They may already ask you for the proof when buying your tourist card before leaving.
Not all  worldwide insurances cover Cuba. So be sure to check. I have worldwide travel insurance coming with my credit card, but I still got another one for a period of 1 month for about 19€, to cover everyyyyything.  If you need any advice concerning this, drop me a mail!

Where to stay

The most common form of accommodation is known as Casa Particular.
These are rooms or even small apartments rented by locals. It’s like AirBnB, but the Cuban way. You can get apartments for your own, or a room in a family’s house – like we did. A lot of families rent a few rooms to make a better living. We totally recommend staying in a Casa Particular to experience the Cuban way of life, and to help the local Cuban families. The price for a room is really inexpensive. You pay 10-25CUC per night and room.
Of course, there are also a few hotels in Havana – even expensive ones, and crazy beautiful architectural ones, like Hotel Nacional or Saratoga Hotel

Transportation

Havana is totally walkable. No need to get confused by bus routes or the system of local and tourist buses. We never used one. And we really recommend walking, just to get notice of all the beauty around you. But prepare to get sweaty. Like  I want a shower every 2 minutes-sweaty.
But if you want, the city is quite well connected and bus rides are super inexpensive (about 5 Cent CUC).
You can also take taxis, which aren’t too expensive. Just be aware you get a legal taxi, with a sticker on the wind screen. They drive around everywhere, and you can just catch them by waving. Also a lot of vintage taxis are waiting at the place in front of the Capitol and in front of major hotels. Just be aware, taxi driver may not know the route either. Two out of three of our drivers had to ask their way through to our place.

Don't drink the water

This may be self explaining. You know why. Better buy bottled water. The local may stomach it. You probably won’t. There are not a lot, but there are super markets, and you can get bottled water there.

Signal / Roaming

Don’t expect to have signal there, or if you have, don’t expect to get into roaming service. We had signal, no roaming, with Austrian and German serviced smartphones. But I totally wouldn’t recommend you to call or text! It is crazy expensive!

Internet & Wifi

Don’t expect to be connected during your stay. It is quite complicated to get Wifi, if you are not staying in one of the expensive hotels.
You can get Wifi cards, which the local telecommunication service sells, at some local phone shops, which then only work at some public places. You can get them hourly and they cost around 2,5-10CUC depending where you buy them. They often run out of cards quickly due to the demand, because there is only a certain amount available every day.
We got told, the queue in front of those shop can be 2 hours. And the wifi is still so slow, you may not get your instagram shot uploaded.

Security

To make it short: We are two girls travelling and we felt very secure, all the time, in Havana. It is not very common, that two caucasian girls walk through the streets of Havana on their own. To be honest, a lot of men were hitting on us, by saying hello or telling us we look beautiful. But not in an inapproriate way or a way that made us feel incomfortable. It just gets a little annoying through the days.
But still, Cuba, considering its economical and political situation, was the safest  I’ve ever felt. A lot of people tried to get into a conversation with us while walking on the streets, or waiting for a green signal – everyone was super interested in our origin and story, and they didn’t hesitate to tell us theirs. Even at night we felt really secure on the streets, since a lot of people and children are still dancing and playing.
Just be aware of scams. Don’t be fooled by offers for cigars or rum!

Don't Snapchat / Don't bring your drone

You know, Cuba is a communist country. Certain things, which are totally common for us to use, are prohibited there.
For example Snapchat is prohibited. It may not even work or be available over there.
Also drones are still prohibited. Don’t ever dare to fly them in Cuba. Read about my experience here!