Cuba is a destination where a little bit of timely pre-planning goes an awfully long way to a stress-free stay, whether it’s your first time to this amazing Caribbean country or your twenty-first time. How do you ensure a stay which is as smooth as it can be? Simple – read our top tips below!
Tip #1: Get planning early
What could be better than sorting out all your transport, accommodation, and activities ahead of time, so you can then simple settle back and relax in the knowledge you’ve a fantastic vacation coming up?
Planning may not be everyone’s favourite activity, but it does reap benefits. More and more people around the world are discovering Cuba’s charms, which means the best and most popular transport options, places to stay, and activities can get booked up well ahead of time. Instead of getting angry with yourself for not having had the same fore-thought, and for missing out as a result, it’s wise to book early, which means getting planning early too.
The earlier you start booking, the more likely it is your chosen spot or thing to do will be free. For example, the most authentic tours in Cuba – those using knowledgeable guides with impeccable English – tend to sell out very quickly. We’d therefore suggest planning a minimum of three months before your desired travel dates, and even further ahead of time if at all possible!
Tip #2: Learn a little Spanish
Spanish is the main language of Cuba, and even if you’re travelling with an English-speaking guide it’s a great idea to learn just a little Spanish before arriving into the country. Knowing a few simple words or phrases in the local language will not only make occasions such as buying a mojito that much easy, but also means you’ll get a whole lot more out of your time on the island.
Why’s that? Because Cubans are some of the friendliest people you will ever meet. Amazingly welcoming and whole-heartedly interested in the world away from their home, they’ll be plenty of times when we’re sure you’ll be glad you spent a couple of hours back in the classroom!
Not sure where to start? Of all the online language courses and apps out there, Babbel is perhaps the best known.
Tip #3: Get printing
Our lives are increasingly connected, and online. From emails and electricity bills, to airline boarding passes and mapping apps, we have come to rely on fast and instant access to the internet. However Cuba is still in another age.
Although Wifi hotspots do exist, they are not as readily available as you’re likely used to, and shouldn’t be depended on. What’s more, you’ll need to source Wifi cards to get online, and the connection supplied will be slower.
What does all this mean for you? Simply that its wiser to hold paper copies of everything you might need while staying in Cuba. Grab a Spanish phrasebook and a few maps of your major destinations, or download maps.me to your smart phone or device – it’s a regularly updated offline mapping app. Then print off details of your hotels or casas particulares, flight details, schedule, and insurance documentation. And make a note of the latest currency conversion rates too – you’ll need them!
Tip #4: Get ready to bring cash
Forget contactless payments, credit and debit card use, Paypal or Apple Pay, in Cuba almost all transactions are carried out in cash, and you need to be prepared for this by having all the money you’re going to need (and a small contingency for emergencies) for your entire stay.
Some ATMs do exist for taking out cash, mostly in the largest population centres like Havana, but their use includes a number of potential problems. Firstly, unless you’re very lucky, your home bank will charge an international withdrawal fee of several percentage points. Then there’s the fact that historically you’ve needed a Visa rather than a Mastercard to withdraw cash. And finally, if your bank is US-based, there’s no way it’s going to let you take out any cash because of the trade embargo placed on Cuba by the US Congress. You have been warned!
Tip #5: Swap your dollars
Since the currency visitors to Cuba use – the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC; locals use a different currency altogether!) – is pegged 1:1 with the US dollar, it would seem reasonable to arrive on the island clutching a wad of greenbacks sporting the faces of various US presidents. However, due to the ongoing political tensions between the US and Cuba, the country slaps an astonishing 10% fee on the currency in addition to further conversion fees.
The answer? Swap your dollars for Euros or British pounds sterling, which do not have the same 10% fee placed on them. Doing this may be a little bit of hassle while still at home, but will save you a huge amount of money in the long run, which you can use instead on going on an extra tour or two while holidaying!
A vacation to Cuba doesn’t have to be stressful! Following our five simple tips ahead of time and you’ll be able to enjoy the most relaxing stay imaginable!