Cuba, whenever I first mention this amazing Caribbean island to people their first comment is about the cigars, the rum and the classic cars. They are delighted to hear about the amazing sandy beaches and when it comes to sharing the wonders of crystal clear water holes with stunning water falls to match, or the luscious green forests, delicious food and spectacular diving, they are ready to discover more!
It is a place rich in history, steeped in culture and filled with surprises. Certainly a place that will challenge your perception on what’s important in life and what happiness means – many a travellers have returned from here to make major changes to their lives!
It is a place that is often (unjustly) viewed as being unsafe, yet it has the most generous, friendly and hospitable people in the world. Nevertheless, it is a place that requires preparation prior to you travel. So here are some tips to consider.
Learn Some Spanish
One of the biggest Cuba travel tips we can give you is to learn some Spanish before you go. There are two main languages in Cuba: English and Spanish. Although many locals will try to speak English, many of them have not had the chance to learn – in saying that, you may find them being able to speak another language, like German, French, Russian.
If you travel in a small group, your guide will be able to assist you, but there could be times where simple Spanish phrases may help you. Like finding the bathroom, or at times even choosing of the menu.
Prepare for Limited Internet Connection or Cell Service
You have to check with your phone company whether roaming is available for you. For Australian travellers, that is definitely a no!
You can now purchase a tourist sim card prior to your travel that you can collect upon your arrival to Jose Marti Airport. For this you can purchase data packs upon arrival or online once you got coverage. However they have a rather interesting packaging of 3g and 4g data as well as the coverage that goes with it, so you can find yourself having data remaining but not being able to access it.
You can also purchase WiFi cards in 1 or 5 hour packages. You can do this at Natua offices or at some hotels. As for finding a WiFi spot to use them.. easy! Look for where many people are sitting marvelling at their phones.
On a serious note, hotels, some restaurants and casas offer free WiFi now.
Mingle with the Locals
The locals are always eager for conversation, so don’t be shy. Many Cubans are eager to discuss the outside world, talk about the latest technology trends and of course, football. (try to wear a Real Madrid T-shirt and walk down the street) You’ll be surprised by how many people you meet that are up on the latest news and ready to hear what you have to say about it.
It is also a great way to learn about the life in Cuba. There are plenty of myths that you can bust by having a yarn with people. Can be anyone from your casa owner to your guide, waiter, driver. And don’t be surprised if you get invited to dinner at the end of the conversation.
Stay in a Casa Particular
A Casa Particular is a family home that rents out rooms to travellers, providing extra income for the family. They are also great for travellers as they tend to be cheaper than a hotel, yet offer the same comforts (and in some cases more), they provide the opportunity to immerse yourself in Cuban life and meet other travellers as well.
They are extremely comfortable, the owners hospitable, provide the opportunity to taste real Cuban food – beware that portion sizes tend to be HUGE – as well as they can offer you advice and be great for conversation.
Dine at Paladar
Just like Casa Particulars, Paladares are eateries and restaurants within a family home. They offer a taste of Cuban cuisine at a much cheaper rate than other restaurants.
The local families will take your order in the morning and then spend their day sourcing fresh ingredients from around town to prepare your meal. Be prepared that you cannot pick and choose ingredients, whatever is on season is what will be offered. In saying that, there is no pesticides, preservatives and the likes around here. So whatever you will get, will be pure and wholesome food!
I am not sure how much I can emphasise this point – Cash is still King in Cuba!
And in that, in the year 2022, Euros will fetch you the best rate.
Yes, there are ATMs, they are few and far between. They only give you CUP in exchange and not at the best rate either, on top of it you will get charged a currency exchange rate on your card.
However, if you bring cash, you can use that to make purchases and given the phenomenon of a parallel market in Cuba, you can often get a better deal either by using currency or exchanging it at the street market. Your guide can help you with that.
Come with an open mind
You may have already picked up from my intro that there is a lot more to Cuba than the world knows about. So forget what you heard, what you think you know and come with an open mind and be ready to learn!
As one of our casa owners said – I lived in Stockholm most my life, but have never been as grateful for each day as I am since I moved to Cuba!
It’s a place where you’ll definitely find a slower pace of life, so enjoy it! Look around you, taste, smell, look, hear – it is a place to tickle the senses. Take some time to explore and interact with the locals.
It’s a beautiful and diverse place with a lot to offer anyone with a sense of adventure.