Traveling with a great group of friends to a new destinations is what I consider a good time, so it is no wonder that my friends and I had a blast in Cuba.
Our trip was fabulous just … keep the following in mind:
The Internet is limited – No, I mean really limited. According to my tour guide, Cuban residents have had access to the internet for only a few short years. It was hard for me to get used to being in a developed metropolitan city without the internet being widely available. If you are lucky enough to gain access to a WiFi enabled hot spot just know that you will still need an internet card to get online. I can tell you this now… but you won’t believe me until you try to Google something while you are in Cuba. Then and only them will you truly believe me. Word to the wise, download a few apps that you can use offline. A language translator and a currency converter are useful. Check out Caron Oag’s 5 Essential travel apps to download for a trip to Cuba
U.S. Currency is pretty much worthless – So yeah… I researched and was well aware that I needed to enter Cuba with non-US currency. So I obtained Canadian currency through my bank for much less than the airport exchange counter and headed to Cuba. I then exchanged my Canadian currency for Cuban Pesos…no problem. The only issue is that nothing feels worse than knowing that all the money you have with you is all the money that you will have for your entire trip. That means, no visits to the ATM to use a US debit card and no using your American Express, Visa or any other US credit card to purchase that great piece of art or anything else. Long story short, plan plan plan to have enough money. The Cuban Peso is valued as high as the US dollar, so take enough money for food, activities, tips and souvenirs (art, cigars, rum and oh yes coffee).
Research Cuban Politics past and present – I don’t mean spend hours researching US/Cuban relations but understanding the country’s relationship with the US is helpful (Bay of Pigs/Cuban Missile Crisis anyone?) The History Channel has a few quick articles that can bring you up to speed with ease.
Also knowing what is happening politically around the time of your visit is good to know too. For example, a new president was inaugurated the day before we arrived …that would have been good info to know just in case there were any issues associated with the election. Additionally, we stayed at an Airbnb near the US Embassy during a time when Embassy employees were being partially evacuated due to an unexplained illness many believed was an attack by the Cuban government and or one of its allies.
Understanding who key Cuban figures are and their importance to the country is helpful as well. Pictures of Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and others are prominently displayed through out Havana.
Be sure to stay tuned for Part II: Cuba off the beaten path Farms, Mountains and Caves (working title.)
Been to Cuba lately? Share your helpful tips and experiences in the comments.