CUBA; Handy tips before you go

We managed to get a good deal on Cuba through Holiday Place. Cuba’s peak season is mid December to mid March. Here are some other things to know about Cuba

  • CURRENCY: They have a closed currency. CUC and CUP. CUP is what the locals use and CUC is what tourists use. 1 CUC = 1 USD, 0.25 CUC = 1 CUP.
    You can exchange your money at the airport if you have not prebooked transfers. They have a cashpoint where you can withdraw money (supposed to be quicker) or bureau.
    When you get to your destination you can exchange money at the hotel if the banks are not open. We were staying in a Casa (private accommodation) and the lady lent us some money because we got there in the evening.
    On leaving CUBA if you have some money left over you can exchange before or after customs at the airport.
    The CUC and CUP look similar; the differences are one is darker and the CUC has convertibles written next to pesos on the notes.
  • WEATHER: Cuba is a tropical country so the weather can change. A local lady we spoke to said in January it is supposed to be warm however recently it has been 3 days overcast, 4 days sun. That is the exact experience we had. We did need a cardigan when it was overcast. Whilst we were there, if it rained, it would be for a bit then clear up.
  • INSURANCE DOCUMENTS: Our travel agent advised up to take a copy of our travel insurance because they check it at customs. We were never asked for this information at any point. I guess it is always handy to have.
  • CUSTOMS: We arrived in CUBA at 5pm and were in our taxi by 545pm. There were no queues and our bags came out quickly. It may be because of the time of day.  When leaving CUBA, customs was pretty straight forward too.
  • HAVANA: We had a package for 3 nights in Havana and 4 nights in Varadero. I strongly recommend anyone wanting to go CUBA to make sure you visit Havana. That is where all the culture and history is. Our transfer guide told us that Varadero was built for tourists and i imagine that is the case for some of the other beach towns in CUBA. You do not get to experience the cuban lifestyle or get an insite into their daily lives. Really you could be at any beach.
  • CIGARS: If you are going to buy Cigars try not to get them off the black  market however tempting it may be. Apparently fake cigars are flagged up on the computers in customs. Not sure how this happens but the genuine ones are supposed to have a specific stamps. The cigar factories are the most expensive. The airport prices are average.
  • WI-FI: Internet is limited while out and about in CUBA. Havana has wifi spots where you can use your prepaid wifi card. Hotels have wifi which at most places is chargeable.
  • MOBILE APPS: With restrictions on the internet, i found these two apps really helpful.
    Triposo: helped with reviews and places to visit and eat in Havana. It had reviews and a map too.
    Google Translate App : Spanish is the main language in CUBA. You can get by with English however knowing Spanish is definitely a bonus. I used the google translate app which worked well. Make sure you download the language before going on holiday.
  • CHANGE: Always keep spare change on you; a lot of places we visited, including hotels, had someone handing out toilet roll and expected money  for it. On two occasions i took my own and they still wanted money. They are happy with any amount so try and keep some change with you.
  • LOCAL SALARY: Cuba is a communist country and it takes a while to understand their way of living. Doctors and teachers are the least paid (around 30 CUC a month) and Lawyer are the most paid (around 50 CUC). The locals describe it as an inverted pyramid system. That is why a lot of them prefer being bar tenders in the city in order to get tips and make more money. This should be a guideline on how much you should tip. Tipping is not necessary however most places have a way of getting it.
    Cuba exports the services of doctors to other countries and that is a big source of their income.
  • CRIME: Crime is not high in CUBA however be alert. Keep and eye out on your change and the currency you are getting back when shopping. We did not have any experiences of being over charged however we did have an instant where we were told because we were paying with change it was double the price. You can get 1 CUC in form of a coin or a note.
  • FACTORIES: A lot of factories are shut in January. We were hoping to visit the cigar one and were told the staff are on vacation in January until the 21st. If this is something you want to do, try and visit outside this time period. We did have a tour guide tell us that he would take us on a tour including the cigar factory and i am glad we didn’t take him up on the offer. Apparently they take you to the factory but just to the little shop that is there.
    It is recommended to get a cigar factory ticket from a reputable hotel rather than just turn up. This way you know what you are getting. It should be around 10 CUC.
    Hope these tips help you when you are out there. Enjoy 🙂


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