- Due to the embargo, technically US citizens cannot ‘spend money’ in Cuba.
- You have to fly out to Cuba from another country (We chose Mexico). Prior to flying from Mexico to Cuba we bought our ‘Tourist Card’. This is required and costs 25 USD. When you enter Cuba, Cuban immigration officials stamp your ‘Tourist Card’ as opposed to your Passport. When you leave Cuba, you will need to have this ‘Tourist Card’ handy. This is what they Stamp again for exit. If they ask, you obviously don’t want your passport stamped.
- We flew from US to Mexico City, then Cuba, then Bahamas, back to US. We were concerned that if we did round trip Mexico, our two Mexico entry stamps would be suspicious. However, two of our friends did round-trip Cancun (NYC=>Cancun=>Havana=>Cancun=>NYC) and had no issues coming back stateside.
- The local currency is CUC (CUban Convertible), pronounced ‘kook’ which is set against the US dollar. 1 CUC=1 USD. There is also something called the CUP (Cuban Peso or Moneda Nacional), 1CUC = 24 CUP. Locals use this to buy groceries and such. You wont really need this currency unless you plan on purchasing street food at cafeterias.
- Warning! Your US issued credit card wont work in Cuba because of the embargo! You will have to bring enough cash to cover the duration of your stay!
- There is a 10% Penalty if you convert USD to CUC. Your 100 USD will only get you 90 CUC. I would recommend exchanging your USD to EURO at a local bank in your city (several locations act as a currency exchange; depending on your membership level at the bank you might be able to exchange with no conversion fee tacked on). Then, when you arrive in Cuba, you can exchange your Euro to CUC.
- I stayed at a ‘Casa Particular’ for a few nights in Havana. These are like the B&B’s of Cuba. You will get a great price (25-45 CUC) per room. So its convenient to travel with a buddy. You pay when you arrive in cash. I had to contact about ~50 Casas over email or FB before I found availability. We booked really late and it was the peak season, I recommend reaching out as soon as you have your flights arranged.
- There are also hotels that you can stay at that have reasonable rates in the off season (In Havana Vieja you might want to check out Hotel Inglaterra, Hotel Telegrafo- or Trip Advisor it)
- Don’t go to Cuba expecting spectacular food- it’s ok. There are limited supplies that locals work with so food is simple. Breakfast usually consists of fruit, sliced Italian bread, some butter, jam and coffee. Now that private businesses are allowed, you can also visit ‘Paladars’ for meals. They are privately owned businesses. Everything else is government owned.
- Drink bottled water only. But, I brushed my teeth and bathed with the normal water.
- Bring granola bars to snack on. There aren’t very many places you can purchase snacks. These granolas saved me when I got hungry late at night)
- Speaking Spanish is a plus! Not everyone speaks English but locals are helpful and you can always practice
- Cubans are really nice people but the infrastructure in the country is crumbling a bit. Don’t be shocked at bathrooms that don’t have toilet paper (Bring some hand wipes and bring your own mini roll of toilet paper – I did)
- Airport to Havana should be between 20-25 CUC and no more.
- Exchange some money (1-2 days worth) at the Airport. Then visit the Cadeca (Government Bank) in Havana (many on Obispo Street) to exchange the rest. It does get very busy with long lines so go when it first opens or right before close.
Book large travel expenses on Cuba Travel Network. I don’t know how they do it (They must have EU or Carribean Affiliates), but you can use your credit card on their site to pre-book some travel arrangements. This will help so that you don’t have to carry so much cash. We used them to book our flights to and from Cuba. We also used them to purchase Tropicana Cabaret show tickets. Now that I know this neat trick, I would try to use them to book housing too (unless you want to stay at a Casa Particular- most only take cash).
Now that you have all my tips and tricks, I think you can start planning :). That being said, I enjoyed Cuba immensely. here is A LOT of history, culture and arts that you can enjoy. And, it really does feel like you have traveled back in time!