Isn’t it everyone’s dream to travel the world without spending a bunch of money? You’ve probably carefully checked all the different travel websites in order to get the best flight deals (and you should also check the airline’s own website as this can often be even cheaper). You probably also hunt through the numerous accommodation options on offer so you can find a great price. When it comes to travelling to Cuba, you will find that more and more airlines are now flying to the island, which is great for competitive pricing. There will soon be US airlines flying directly to the island without the legal need for it to be a charter flight, so prices will even get better. There are a few key things you need to know about Cuba to make sure that you get the most bang for your buck.
Leave Those US Dollars at Home
Never ever take US dollars to Cuba. Even though the two countries are buddies once again, they’re not exactly best buddies. You can exchange US dollars for Cuban Convertible Pesos (which is the currency that is used by foreigners), but the exchange rate is extremely poor and there is often a hefty fee on top of that unfavourable rate. Even if you’re coming from the USA, you should ditch your dollars before you arrive. Change US dollars to European Union euros, British pounds (not Scottish pounds, as these are hard to change), or Canadian dollars. You can then easily change these currencies to Cuban pesos. Other currencies such as Australian or New Zealand dollars are not recommended as some currency exchange offices will not accept these. Don’t change everything at the airport, as these airport offices usually have one of the worst rates in Cuba. Only change what you need for the day (and so you have enough to get into the city), and then find a currency exchange office in the city with a better rate.
No Insurance? No Chance
It’s said that if you can’t afford travel insurance, then you can’t afford to travel. While there is some truth to that, a lot of people will try to cut costs by going without insurance. This can be an expensive mistake in Cuba. Theoretically, everyone who arrives in Cuba needs to show proof of insurance. In reality, this is not strictly policed. However, there are numerous spot checks on arriving visitors. If you cannot provide proof of insurance, you will be required to purchase insurance at the one of the airport’s insurance booths before you’ll be allowed into the country. This insurance will permit entry, but you will pay the price as it can be extremely expensive. Shop around before you leave and you will be able to find insurance for a considerably better price than what you would pay if you were caught in Cuba.
Are These Really Luxury Items?
You might be used to picking up some items once you actually arrive at a destination. This is handy if you forget something, but it can also be a deliberate choice to free up more space in your luggage. This is not something to risk in Cuba. Basic hygiene products are hard to track down. Make sure that you bring toothpaste, a toothbrush, sunscreen, any beauty products, contraceptive products, feminine hygiene products, non-prescription painkillers, and even bandaids. Even if you happen to find these products in Cuba, you will not be able to get them cheaply. There are items that you might consider to be basic, everyday things, and yet in Cuba they’re often considered to be luxury items. Because of this, you might want to leave any extras behind as a gift for your Cuban hosts. Such gestures are greatly appreciated.
Eat Where You Sleep
Most short stay tours in Cuba will utilise both hotels and casa particulares. These casas are private homes that have been licensed to operate as a bed and breakfast style of accommodation. You will certainly need the bed part of things, but if you don’t tend to eat breakfast at your accommodation when you travel, now is the time to change. Cuban hospitality means that you will be given a lavish meal each morning, and you might be tempted to take a little nap after you’ve finished. By eating this included breakfast, you will not be hungry until at least dinner time. Be sure to wash it down with a few cups of sensational local coffee.
Stay Offline and Save
Stay offline as much as possible while in Cuba. If your phone service provider has a roaming partnership with a Cuban provider (which is not a given), you will experience a decline in coverage from what you’re used to. There simply is not widespread data coverage across Cuba, since the infrastructure doesn’t yet exist. Even if you can get a signal, don’t go nuts. The data roaming charges can be… well, it could end up being a very expensive vacation. Before you arrive in Cuba, download a mapping system that allows offline access. This means you can find where you need to go without an active connection. If you need to check emails and check in with friends and family, look for an internet cafe. There aren’t that many of them, but it’s the cheapest option. You just buy a prepaid card and use the internet for the designated amount of time.