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Cuba

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Melia Las Dunas
Melia Las Dunas - dream vacation

Cayo Santa María, Jardines del Rey, Cayo Santa Maria

Memories Paraiso
Memories Paraiso - dream vacation

Cayo Santa Maria, Cayo Santa Maria

Tryp Cayo Coco
Tryp Cayo Coco - dream vacation

Jardines Del Rey Moron, Cayo Coco

Paradisus Rio de Oro Resort & Spa
Paradisus Rio de Oro Resort & Spa - dream vacation

Playa Esmeralda, Carretera Guardalavaca, Playa Guardalavaca

Sol Rio de Luna y Mares Resort Holguin
Sol Rio de Luna y Mares Resort Holguin - dream vacation

Playa Esmeralda,Carretera Guardalavaca, Playa Guardalavaca

Sol Cayo Largo
Sol Cayo Largo - dream vacation

Cayo Largo del Sur, Archipielago de los Canarreos, Cayo Largo del Sur

Sol Cayo Coco
Sol Cayo Coco - dream vacation

Jardines Del Rey, Ciego De Avi, Cayo Coco

Cuba is the largest Caribbean island, between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean. It lies 145 km (90 miles) south of Key West, Florida, between the Cayman Islands and the Bahamas, to the west of Haiti, and northwest of Jamaica.

Understand

Before the 1959 Revolution, Cuba was a popular tourist destination for United States citizens, mainly due to the large number of casinos catering to gamblers put up by the American mafia. Revolutionaries claim the Batista dictatorship was a government that neglected many of its own citizens' health and welfare to maintain power. Many Americans had beach homes during the summer, and rich American companies owned large factories and land with the cooperation of Fulgencio Batista, the ruling military dictator. Since the Revolution, Cuba has been subjected to a trade and economic embargo (referred to in Cuba as el bloqueo, or the blockade) by the United States. Since 2009, US citizens with relatives living in Cuba have been allowed to visit the country.

After 1959 Cuban tourism was mostly for Cubans only, and the facilities were not renovated until the 1990s, when Cuba lost financial backing from the defunct Soviet Union and opened its doors to foreign tourism. Now many European, Canadian, and even American visitors come to the island. In the typical tourist regions like Varadero and Holguín many modern 3-star to 5-star hotels are available, while in less popular tourist regions visitors can still rent rooms in many Cuban homes (called casas particulares).

Due to several long-standing factors (e.g. bureaucratic ineffectiveness, the U.S. embargo, lack of resources, and the loss of Soviet subsidies), much of the country's infrastructure is in need of repair. In major tourist destinations there will generally be few problems with either power or water, although outages may occur. Electricity outages have been common in Cuba, except in tourist facilities that have a generator. 2006 was designated the Year of the Energy Revolution in Cuba, and many small generators have been installed in an attempt to avoid blackouts. Since Venezuela began providing Cuba with cheap oil and the refinery in Cienfuegos was relaunched, the energy situation has improved. Many tourist accommodations offer 220V as well as 110V power sources. This is adequate for your power needs and should be enough to accommodate anything you plug in, at least to a reasonable limit.

History

Before Columbus landed on Cuba in 1492, the Taíno people had been living there for eons. In 1511, the first Spanish settlement was founded by Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar at Baracoa, and other towns soon followed including the future capital San Cristobal de Habana (Havana) which was founded in 1515.

Cuba remained a Spanish colony from 1511 to 1898 with an economy based on plantations, agriculture, mining and exports of sugar, coffee and tobacco to North America and Europe. The work was done primarily by African slaves brought to the island, until they were liberated in the late 19th century.

In 1898, Cuba was wrested from Spain by the United States in the Spanish–American War. The U.S. subsequently kept Cuba under military occupation as a protectorate for a few decades and then controlled it through a series of corrupt military dictators who were also friendly with the Mafia.

In the late 1950s, Fidel Castro led a Communist guerrilla army to victory over the regime of Fulgencio Batista. Following his victory, Cuba became a one-party Communist country aligned with the Soviet Union, and in a state of confrontation with the United States, which attempted to overthrow the Cuban government by proxy invasion, blockade, embargo, and several assassination attempts on Castro's life by the Central Intelligence Agency. The only thing all these hostile actions succeeded in doing was helping to cripple Cuba's economy. Nevertheless, literacy and health care improved greatly under Fidel's rule. In more recent years, Venezuela under the rule of Hugo Chávez provided free oil to Cuba in exchange for Cuban doctors and nurses.

There is a large gap between the income of visitors to Cuba and what local workers can earn. In recent years, since Fidel Castro retired, his brother, Raúl, has introduced more market-based reforms. However, the country remains a Communist state, public criticism of the government or Communist Party is strongly discouraged.

Culture

Cuban music is influenced by the melding of African and Cuban cultures that is also expressed in the traditional belief in Santería, the local name for Yoruba religion and practices that originate from Nigeria. As in other Caribbean lands, traditional Afro-Caribbean religious and ritual practices are anathema to some, yet are believed to a greater or lesser degree by many Cubans. Most Cubans who profess a religion identify as Christian, especially Roman Catholic, even though some of the Christians also believe to some degree in Santería. The ruling Communist Party is not aggressively atheist, and amended the Cuban Constitution in 1992 to make Cuba no longer officially atheistic.

Cuba's food is also a product of the melding of the cuisine of the Taíno natives, the Spanish conquistadores, the Africans who arrived as slaves, and immigrants from various parts of the world including China.

People

Although average income is only US$ 15 Cubans are not technically 'poor' as their basic needs are covered by the government. They pay their monthly bills of subsidised electricity and water with around US$ 5, receive free education from elementary school to university, can see doctors for free and receive medicine for free. The social system cares for people out of job and provides them with a home and money for food. Life is not easy but everyone can survive. Keep this in mind when it comes to tipping or people begging in the streets (rare). Some might even approach you asking for shampoo and soap because they were told that tourists leave those products behind when going back home. Remember that all your actions might be projected onto tourists in general.

When to go

The best times to go are between December and April, to avoid the storms and hurricanes before December and the sticky heat of the Cuban summer which can be unbearable for some. This is also the high season so expect a price increase during this period.

Maps

OpenStreetMap still has the best coverage of Cuba, though Bing and Google maps may have more street names listed in major cities, yet for most other cities they often don’t include more than the main road.

For offline use, you can download vector maps e.g. from openandromaps.org for South and Middle America (these are especially great for hiking or other outdoor activities) and use them with apps like Oruxmaps or Locus.

Holidays

  • January 1 - Triumph of the Revolution
  • January 2 - Victory of the Armed Forces Day
  • Good Friday (variable)
  • May 1 - Labour Day
  • July 25 - Commemoration of the Assault of the Moncada Garrison
  • July 26 - Day of the National Rebellion
  • October 10 - Independence Day
  • December 25 - Christmas

Regions

Cities

  • Havana – cosmopolitan capital with a swinging nightlife
  • Baracoa – a quaint beach-side town, and Cuba's first capital
  • Camagüey – Cuba's third-largest city is a maze of narrow alleyways, Catholic churches, and jars known as tinajones
  • Cienfuegos – a French-founded city that rivaled (and eventually overtook) Trinidad as Cuba's main southern Port
  • Matanzas – with a name that translates to "massacres," this industrial port city at the end of the Hershey railway is a hidden gem of Afro-Cuban culture and history
  • Pinar del Rio – center of the cigar industry
  • Santa Clara – site of the battle that won the Revolution and now home of the mausoleum to Ernesto "Che" Guevara
  • Santiago de Cuba – coastal city rich in Caribbean influence and steeped in revolutionary history
  • Trinidad – World Heritage Site with charming, colonial-era buildings

Other destinations

  • Cayo Largo – a small island with nudist facilities
  • Gran Parque Natural Topes de Collantes – a national park in the Sierra del Emcambray mountains, straddling Cienfuegos, Villa Clara, and Sancti Spiritus provinces
  • Isla de la Juventud – a large island south of Havana
  • Jardines del Rey – an island chain of beach resorts including Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo
  • Maria la Gorda – a tiny village with some snorkeling and diving options
  • Parque Nacional Ciénaga de Zapata – similar to Florida's Everglades National Park, with vast swamps and world-famous birdwatching, scuba diving, and beaches; and the site of the 1961 American Bay of Pigs invasion
  • Parque Nacional La Güira – Another national park in Pinar del Rio province, with mountains and caves, but without many tourist facilities
  • Reserva de la Biosfera Sierra del Rosario – a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in the Sierra del Rosario mountains of Pinar del Rio province; the principal sites are Soroa and Las Terrazas
  • Varadero Beach – 20-kilometer-long beach of fine white sand and waters
  • Viñales – a national park in Pinar del Rio province, with mountains and caves; it has the best-developed tourist facilities of Cuba's national parks

Get in

For information specific to U.S. citizens see Americans in Cuba

Visa and legal issues

A tourist visa card (visa de tarjeta del turista) is necessary for travelers from most nations. This visa, which is really little more than a piece of paper on which you list your personal information, costs between 15-25 CUC (or €15-25), depending on where purchased. It can be purchased at the Airport in Cuba on arrival, however it should be noted that many airlines will require a valid tourist visa card before boarding flights. It is usually valid for 30 days and can be extended once for another 30 days at any immigration office in Cuba (for 25 CUC) - beyond this you would need a flight out of Cuba within the extended visa period. Canadians are the exception, getting 90 days on arrival and can apply for a 90-day extension. Your passport needs to be valid at least six months past the end of your planned return. Canadian passports must be valid for at least one month beyond the date of expected departure ([1]).

From Canada, the tourist card is normally provided on the flight. It can also be purchased from most Latin American gateway airports if departing from there (Cancun: 250 MXN, Mexico City: USD 25). Please note that if departing from Europe (this may apply to other countries), you will require to have the visa before boarding the plane. Some times, the airline provides these at the airport, however check first that this is the case. Without a valid visa, boarding will be denied (the airline would otherwise get a $1,000 fine from the Cuban immigration authorities).

Country-specific advise

  • UK: Applying for the visa is a very simple process and can be done by post or in person at the Cuban embassy in London. When applying to the Cuban Consulate by post, there is a new charge introduced in 2011 which is a £25 for a non-personal transaction. If you cannot go to the Cuban Consulate you may consider using VisaCuba because it may be cheaper. Through them it may cost £20 in total per person. If you apply in person to the Cuban Consulate, you get the visa straight away. It can also be done through online agencies as mentioned before although they may be slightly more expensive (normally £15 + £15 admin fee and additional postage).
  • Germany: You can obtain the tourist card through the Cuban embassy in post. Travel agencies may often offer cheaper and quicker services though.

Regular tourists who renew their 30-day visa are eligible to depart the country (to any destination) and return immediately enjoying a further 60 days (30 days plus a 30-day extension). You are only allowed two consecutive stays in this manner.

If you want to stay with friends or family in Cuba you have to go with your intended host within two days after arrival to a migration office and pay 40 CUC for a 30 days family visa.

Citizens of Antigua and Barbuda (28 days), Barbados (28 days), Benin, Bosnia and Herzegovina, CIS (except Ukraine and Uzbekistan), Dominica, Grenada (60 days), Liechtenstein (90 days), Macedonia, Malaysia (90 days), Mongolia, Montenegro (90 days), Namibia, Singapore, Slovakia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Serbia (90 days), Turkmenistan who can stay 30 days without visa. (The source of the previous sentence is unknown. Aeromexico staff at Cancun airport claim that only citizens of China and Russia need no visa.)

It is important to note that there is also a departure tax of CUC 25, to be paid in cash when departing Cuba by airplane; this is not required for boat departures. This tax is not well publicized but it is essential to remember it. You will run into significant difficulties if you do not have enough cash to pay this tax when leaving the country. An ATM and currency exchange are available at Havana airport, but these facilities are not as reliable in Cuba as in other places.

Cuban customs can be strict, though they sometimes go easy on tourists.

Cuban-born

To enter Cuba, Cuban citizens residing permanently in another country require a current Cuban passport with the appropriate authorisation. This authorisation is known as "Habilitación" of the passport. To obtain this authorisation the Cuban citizen must be recognised a migrant by the Cuban government.

Most Cuban-born people who are citizens of other countries still need a current authorised Cuban passport to enter Cuba. The Cuban government does not recognise the citizenships that might have been acquired by anyone born in Cuba. This means that all Cuban-born individuals are considered to be Cuban citizens even if they have a different citizenship.

An exception to this rule are Cubans who migrated from Cuba before the 1 January 1971. In this case they can enter Cuba with a non-Cuban passport and the appropriate visa. However, some consulates are known to disregard this exception, with the result that travellers must acquire a Cuban passport at a significant cost. The Cuban consulate in Sydney, Australia is one that have been reported to be doing this.

For more information see the Cuban government's web page "Nación y Immigración" (in Spanish)": http://www.nacionyemigracion.cu/InfConsular/TramitesConsulares_NuevoProcedimientoEntradaPais.html

By plane

Havana

Jose Martí International Airport outside Havana is the main gateway and is served by major airlines from points in Canada, Mexico, and Europe. A direct service with Beijing was introduced in 2016. There are also regional flights from other Caribbean islands. Cuba's national carrier is Cubana de Aviacion, connecting the island to a handful of destinations in Mexico, South and Central America, Canada and Europe. With the easing of sanctions against Cuba, direct flights from major US will commence some time in 2016.

Flights from Miami to Cuba are offered to authorized American passengers. Try calling Cuba Travel Services (CTS Charters). They offer daily non-stop flights between Los Angeles and Miami to Cuba. There are also regular holiday charter flights to resorts such as Varadero, and these can sometimes be less expensive than those going to Havana.

The airports are all fully-air-conditioned and quite modern, compared to other destinations in the Caribbean, offer good medical care in case of problems, and are usually relatively hassle free. Your checked luggage, though, is at great risk. It is increasingly common for your luggage to be opened and anything of value removed. This used to be a problem at Jose Marti International (Havana) only, now it seems to have spread to all airports. Packing valuables in checked luggage is extremely risky - if not foolish.

Please note that if you have purchased a oneworld ticket then further flights into America within that year will be disallowed through American Airlines.

Others

While Havana is by far the most popular port of entry, there are also flights available to Santiago de Cuba from some of Cuba's nearest Caribbean neighbours, Jamaica, and Haiti. There are also flights from more distant locations, such as Miami, Toronto, Madrid & Paris. Santiago de Cuba is connected with the rest of Cuba by Road and rail connections.

There are also regular holiday charter flights to resorts such as Varadero, and these can sometimes be less expensive than those going to Havana.

By boat

There are currently no ferry services from Cancun to Cuba as the sole operator of this line, Aqua Cruises, no longer sails this route. There are also currently no ferry services from Florida to Cuba, however several cruise companies have announced they intend to sail this route when the travel embargo is lifted.

Yachters are expected to anchor at the public marinas. Most ports are closed and tourists are not permitted to walk around them. Private vessels may enter at Marina Hemingway in Havana or Marina Acua in Varadero. There are no visa requirements. Expect to hand out several $10 bills to facilitate your entry.

Get around

By bus

The bus is the most popular way of getting around the island. There are two long distance bus lines, Viazul, which is generally for tourists and Astro, which is generally for locals. Shorter distances are served by local provincial buses.

Viazul

Víazul is Cuba's main bus line for tourists and is the most comfortable choice of public transportation to tour the island. Viazul run modern air-conditioned long-distance coaches with washrooms to most places of interest. The buses are reliable and punctual as there is little traffic in Cuba. The buses can be used theoretically by anyone, including Cubans, but in reality, few Cubans can afford the convertible peso fares.

Reservations can be made in advance on their website, but this is typically only necessary when leaving from or going to popular destinations in high season. Reservations can also be made at a Viazul ticket office (usually located at or near the place where the buses stop). If the bus is full, it’s very likely that you’ll be offered a ride in share taxi for the same price as the bus. If there are no shared taxis going to your destination, the ticket salesperson will likely advise you to arrive half an hour before the time of departure and wait for a late cancelation. If there is a late cancelation, you will be allowed to purchase a 'ticket' from the bus driver.

Schedules for Viazul can be accessed on their website. As internet is hard to come by in Cuba, it is recommended you download or print the bus schedules in advanced. A useful one page schedule of Viazul buses can be found on the Cuba-Individual website. Refreshments are not served on the bus but the buses do stop for meal breaks at highway restaurants along the way. The buses are often over air conditioned, so bring along something warm to wear.

Astro

Astro is the main bus line for Cubans. Astro recently renewed their fleet with 300 new Chinese coaches that are as comfortable as Viazul (without the washroom). Although the new buses have proven to be unreliable and often break down, they are still better than the old buses that Astro used to run. Astro has a much more extensive network then Viazul and tickets are considerably cheaper. Officially, Astro bus tickets can only be sold to Cubans and foreigner students who are studying in Cuba (and have a Cuban student ID card to prove it). However, many foreign travellers have reported been able to purchase an Astro bus ticket. Your ability to purchase a ticket will depend on your vendor, fluency in Spanish and whether the destination is covered by Viazul. Astro buses normally depart from the same place as where Viazul departs.

Local buses

There are also local provincial buses that serve local destinations such as neighbouring provinces (for example from Santiago you can use these buses to get to Bayamo or Guantanamo). These buses are often overcrowded and are usually old (pre 1960s) Eastern European vehicles. Each town will have a "terminal terrestre" where these buses will depart from and are usually quite easy to find (e.g. La Habana it is found in the Lido whilst in Santiago it is found on Calle 4).

Local buses are cheap with rides never costing more than 1-2 CUC for long journeys (as opposed to 5-10 CUP for locals). It is important to note that queues will be lengthy (it is best to arrive in the early hours of the morning, or alternatively give the chauffeur a tip to allow you to jump the queue) and you should always say that you are a student, as tourists are theoretically forbidden from using this transport.

By shared taxi (collectivos)

A popular alternative to travelling by bus is to use shared taxis or collectivos. These consist of either modern or old vehicles that carry 3 to 5 passengers (depending on the size of the car). The main advantage of a collectivo is they will take you all the way to your hotel or casa for a similar price to a Viazul bus ticket. They are also usually faster, stop at cheaper highway restaurants and give you an opportunity to meet locals.

The easiest way of purchasing a ride in a shared taxi is to simply arrive at a long distance main bus station and look for the next available taxi going to your destination. There will be a number of touts trying to sell you a seat in their colleagues taxi so finding a car is fairly easy. Be aware that the taxi only leaves once the car has reached its capacity so try and find one that already has a number of people confirmed to reduce your waiting time. The best time to catch a collectivo is in the morning as this is when most of the locals travel and therefore will maximise your chances of finding a taxi going to your destination. Prices for a collectivo are about the same as for an equivalent Viazul bus ticket. Be sure to negotiate a price before hopping in the car.

Another option is to reserve a share taxi in advance at a tourist information desk. These desks are usually located near a Viazul bus station and they will reserve a seat a taxi for the day of your departure. Be aware that these taxis will only run if the taxi is full so be sure to check there are enough passengers confirmed for the transit. If the taxi is not full and you must travel that day, be prepared to pay for the empty seats otherwise the taxi will not go.

Finally, be aware that some share taxis are operating illegally and if the driver is stopped by the police, you may have to get out of the car and you will be left stranded in the middle of nowhere.

By car

In Cuba, all vehicles drive on the right hand side of the road.

Car rental starts from CUC 65 per day (including insurance) plus the cost of a full tank of gasoline. The refundable deposits start around CUC 200. Rental cars are for the most part fairly new, imported European or Asian models. You can rent cars from any Cubacar outlet. Any traffic tickets received are noted on a rental car sheet and are deducted from your rental deposit. Note that if you are involved in a serious traffic accident involving injury or death, you will be detained in Cuba until the legal process sorts things out. This leaves travellers stuck in Cuba from several months to a year while collisions await trial - even if the visitor is not at fault or was just a passenger at the time of collision. For this reason, many countries advise their citizens not to rent cars in Cuba. Beware of scams regarding the cost of insurance. There is only one type of insurance policy covering everything (except for radio and tires) and the price varies only depending on the car type (details in the "Stay safe" section). Attentively check the contract and be sure you have a receipt for every CUC you pay.

Busier roads and city streets are generally of fair (drivable) quality and should not pose much trouble if due care is exercised, however some quiet rural roads are in need of serious repair.

Generally traffic is light, especially away from Havana. Outside of towns and cities traffic is usually very light, with no cars for miles on some rural roads. Be warned - you also share the highways with local salespeople selling cheese and snacks, cyclists (sometimes going the wrong way, and at night usually without lights) and horse-drawn vehicles. Also note that the Autopista (the main highway running down the center of the country) is crossed at occasional intervals by railway tracks - take care to slow down before going over to avoid damage to the tires or suspension. Many of these have a stop sign ("PARE" in Spanish) which you should carefully heed - or risk a fine of CUC 30, even if no train is coming.

Roads are poorly signposted (and frequently not at all), so if you plan to do serious driving, it would be well-advised to get a detailed map and ask for directions when not sure.

Be aware that many traffic lights, especially in cities, are placed on the FAR corner of the crossing, not where you are supposed to stop, thus appearing to invite you to stop in the middle of the intersection.

Cubans tend not to drive too quickly, and chances are you'll be the fastest car on the road. In additional to random locations, speed limits are enforced at semi-permanent checkpoints. These are usually positioned at junctions and are signposted a few kilometres in advance. Most will require you to slow down to 40km/h. Respect this or get fined 30CUC.

Gasoline costs CUC 1.00/Regular, CUC 1.20/Special and 1.40/Super per litre. Tourist rental cars are not supposed to use regular.

Hitchhiking and the "Amarillo"

The Cuban government's system for facilitating hitchhiking is by far the most economical way for foreigners to travel in Cuba, though a flexible schedule and good Spanish are a must. Known as "El Amarillo" ("the yellow guy") for the yellowy-beige uniforms of its administrators, the system consists of points along main routes where certain vehicles are required to stop and pick up hitchhikers. Amarillo points ("el punto amarillo") along major highways are often full service rest stops for hitchhikers, with water, peso-priced food, and a 24-hour indoor waiting area.

Hitchhiking is the only system where you can travel for Cuban prices without paying a tourist premium. Given that transportation is one of a tourist's biggest expenses in Cuba, this can make your money go much farther. Tell folks you're a student (not a tourist) to avoid funny looks and price gouging.

To use the system within cities, just keep your eyes peeled for a man or woman in a yellow / beige uniform standing along the road near a line of people. Tell the official where you need to go, and wait. To travel long distances, you need to get to the "punto amarillo" on the edge of the city in the direction you're going. Ask a local for help on the best way to do that. Then as you pass through cities, ask what bus or taxi to take to get to the "punto amarillo" on the outgoing road at the opposite extreme of the city. This can be tricky, and it's often worth it to take a local taxi. If you can find a Cuban to accompany you on your journey, their help will be invaluable.

In daytime hours, when the amarillo is present, you pay a nominal amount of money (approx. 20 pesos from one city to the next) to the official when you find a ride. The money all goes to the government; drivers don't get any. As a result, it's much easier to travel long distances at night, when the amarillo has gone home and drivers can make some money picking up hitchhikers.

Of course, it's always possible to hitchhike just by sticking out your thumb to passing cars, but be prepared to give the driver 20-50 pesos for a long ride. This is common in the countryside, near small towns and along the major "autopistas"--which are long, mostly straight roads that resemble an interstate system. The locals refer to the act as "hacer botella"--to hitchhike. "Dar botella" refers to giving someone a ride and "pedir botella" refers to asking for a ride. Your rides will usually begin and end at the various exits along the roadway, where there are usually a few people waiting, and sometimes an Official flagging down passing vehicles.

Most of the rides you get will be in the back of large trucks, open to the weather. This is an exciting and beautiful way to travel the Cuban countryside. Though an accident would obviously be very dangerous for passengers, school kids, older adults, and parents with small children use this system every day. Make sure to bring protection against sun and rain and, if traveling at night, wind and cold.

By train

The main train line in the country runs between Havana and Santiago de Cuba, with major stops at Santa Clara and Camagüey. Trains also run to other cities such as Cienfuegos, Manzanillo, Morón, Sancti Spiritus, and Pinar del Rio.

There is one reliable train in Cuba: the overnight Tren Francés between Havana and Santiago de Cuba, which runs on alternate days. It uses equipment that was formerly operated on the Trans-Europe Express, and donated to Cuba by France a few years ago (hence the name). There are first class and special first class seats on this train (the special seats are better and more expensive), but no sleepers. If only one train in Cuba is running, this will be it.

All other trains in Cuba are unreliable. The equipment is often in poor condition, breakdowns are common, and when they occur, you can be stuck for the better part of the day (or night) waiting for a replacement engine. There are no services on the trains, so bring plenty of food and water with you. Trains are frequently cancelled. Some trains offer first class seats (don't expect too much); others have second class seats, which can be very uncomfortable. Schedules are at best optimistic and should always be checked in advance of travel. There are no sleepers on overnight routes.

If you are still thinking of taking a train, other than the Tren Francès, you should know that many Cubans prefer to hitchhike than take the train.

If you are still determined to take a train, approximate schedules are given under the different city descriptions. Foreigners must pay much higher fares (which is still very cheap) than the locals. Tickets are roughly two-thirds what Viazul charges. Theft is a problem so watch your luggage!

The following services can be expected to run (special first class: air-conditioned, reservation required, meals and drinks available; regular first class: more comfortable seats, otherwise like second class):

  • 1/2, every third day, Habana Central - Santiago de Cuba, "Tren Frances", train, first class
  • 3/4, every third day, Habana Central - Guantánamo, train, second class
  • 5/6, every third day, Habana Central - Santiago de Cuba, train, second class
  • 7/8, every third day, Habana Central - Bayamo, train, second class, continues as 28/29
  • 9/10, every second day, Habana Central - Sancti Spiritus, "El Espirituano", train, second class
  • 11/12, two per week, Santa Clara - Santiago de Cuba, train, second class
  • 19/20, every second day, Habana La Coubre - Cienfuegos, second class
  • 28/29, every third day, Bayamo - Manzanillo, train, second class, continues as 7/8
  • 83/84, daily, Camagüey - Bayamo, train, second class
  • 88/89, every second day, Guantánamo - Holguin, train, second class
  • 90/91/92/93/800/801/802/803/804/805, daily, Matanzas - Habana Casa Blanca, Hershey railbus
  • 119/120, daily, Habana La Coubre - Unión de Reyes, train, second class
  • 133/134, daily, Matanzas - Agramonte, train, second class
  • 139/140/141/142/143/144, Habana 19 de Noviembre - San Antonio de los Baños
  • 159/160/161/162, daily, Cárdenas - Aguada de Pasajeros, railbus, second class
  • 163/164, daily, Colón - Aguada de Pasajeros, railbus, second class
  • 165/166, daily, Los Palacios - Guane, train, second class
  • 168/169, daily, Guane - Pinar del Rio, train, second class
  • 213/214/215/216, Artemisa - Habana 19 de Noviembre
  • 224/225, every second day, Pinar del Rio - Habana Central, "El Lechero", second class
  • 331/332, six per week, Cienfuegos - Santa Clara, train, second class
  • 333/334, five per week, Cienfuegos - Sto Domingo Viejo, train, second class
  • 337/338/339/340, daily, Santa Clara - Caibarién, railbus, second class
  • 341/342/344, daily, Sagua - Santa Clara, railbus, second class
  • 343, daily, Concha - Santa Clara, railbus, second class
  • 345/346, daily, Sagua - Caibarién, railbus, second class
  • 347/349/350/351/352, daily, Sagua - Concha, railbus, second class
  • 353/354/355/356, daily, Santa Clara - Vega Alta, railbus, second class
  • 357/358/359/360, daily, Zaza del Medio - Tunas de Zaza, train, second class
  • 361/362/363/364, daily, Placetas Norte - Sopimpa, railbus, second class
  • 365/366/367/368/369/370/371/372, daily, Trinidad - Meyer, railbus, second class
  • 373/374, daily, Trinidad - Enlace Central FNTA Iznaga, "Expreso", railbus, second class
  • 379/380, daily, Aguada de Pasajeros - Cienfuegos, second class
  • 501/502/503/504, daily, Morón - Camagüey, railbus, first class
  • 505/516, daily, Morón - Júcaro, railbus, second class
  • 506/511/512/515, daily, Júcaro - Ciego de Avila, railbus, second class
  • 507/508/509/510/513/514, daily, Morón - Ciego de Avila, train, second class
  • 519/520/521/522/523/524, daily, Fallá - Morón, railbus, second class
  • 525/526, daily, Morón - Ciego de Avila, railbus, second class
  • 532/533/534/535, daily, Nuevitas - Camagüey, train, second class
  • 536/537/538/539/540/541, daily, Nuevitas - Tarafa, railbus, second class
  • 542/543/544/545, daily, Santa Cruz del Sur - Camagüey, railbus, second class
  • 546/547/548/549/550/551/552/553/554/555, daily, Las Tunas - Balcón, railbus, second class
  • 557/558/559/560/561/562/563/564/565/566/567/568, daily, Piedrecitas - Kilómetro 5.6, railbus, second class
  • 608/609, daily, Santiago de Cuba - Manzanillo, train, second class
  • 610/611, every second day, Santiago de Cuba - Holguin, train, second class
  • 613/614, daily, Herrera - Santiago de Cuba, train, second class
  • 615/616, daily, Holguin - Herrera, train, second class
  • 617, daily, Bayamo - Jiguani, train, second class
  • 618/619/620, daily, Jiguani - Manzanillo, train, second class
  • 621, daily, Manzanillo - Bayamo, train, second class
  • 622/623/624/625, daily, Bayamo - Guamo, train, second class
  • 626/630, daily, Contramaestre - Jiguani, railbus, second class
  • 627/631, daily, Jiguani - Oriente, railbus, second class
  • 628/632, daily, Oriente - Contramaestre, railbus, second class
  • 633/634, daily, Contramaestre - Santiago de Cuba, railbus, second class
  • 712/713/714/715, daily, Guantánamo - Martires de la Frontera, railbus, second class
  • 716/717/718/719/720/721, every second day, Guantánamo - San Anselmo, railbus, second class
  • 722/723, daily, Guantánamo - Yayal, railbus, second class
  • 726/727/730/731/732/733, daily, Guantánamo - Caimanera, railbus, second class
  • 807/809/853/870/872, daily, Talleres Calle 7 - Canasi, Hershey railbus
  • 810/811/812/813/814/815/816/817/818/819/820/821/822/823/824/825/826/827/828/829/830/831, daily, Jaruco - Talleres Calle 7, Hershey railbus
  • 832/833/836/837/842/843/846/847, daily, Caraballo - San Mateo, Hershey railbus
  • 834/835, daily, Caraballo - Playas del Este, Hershey railbus
  • 838/839/844/845/848/849/850/851, daily, Caraballo - Hershey, Hershey railbus
  • 840/841, daily, Caraballo - Talleres Calle 7, Hershey railbus
  • 852/854/855/865/866, daily, Canasi - Santa Cruz del Norte, Hershey railbus
  • 856/857/868, daily, Santa Cruz del Norte - Talleres Calle 7, Hershey railbus
  • 858/859/860/861, daily, Santa Cruz del Norte - Jibacoa, Hershey railbus
  • 862/863, daily, Santa Cruz del Norte - Hershey, Hershey railbus
  • 864/867, daily, Canasi - Hershey, Hershey railbus
  • 876/881/882/883, daily during summer, Playas del Este - Habana La Coubre, Hershey railbus

The following services may run (all daily, second class):

By plane

The fastest and most comfortable way to cover larger distances is on either of the Cuban airlines, Cubana de Aviación, Aero Caribbean or Aerogaviota. They operate on the following routes:

Cubana de Aviación

operated by Aero Caribbean

Aero Caribbean

Operated by Global Air (Mexico)

Aerogaviota

By bike

Calm roads and beautiful scenery make Cuba an ideal country for biking. Its already an incredible popular bike touring destination, both for group rides with bus support, and smaller, independent bike touring. In January - February, you can be confident you will come across at least a few bike tourers. If touring independently, you will have to bring your own bike as bikes suitable for trekking are not readily available in Cuba. Bike touring groups though will have bikes of moderate quality included in the package. Do not under any circumstances rent a bike (i.e. el Orbe in Havana) in Cuba as you will get a Chinese junker or something that will leave your backside raw.

Roads in most places in Cuba are reasonably paved. Large pot holes are common, so always stay alert. There's also many roads that degrade to gravel in certain sections, so it may be a good idea to bring a mountain bike or bikes with reasonably thick wheels. Make sure to bring all spare parts you might need along the way, since they will not be available in Cuba. As casas particulares are available even in relatively small towns it is easy to plan an itinerary. In denser parts of the country (Central and Western Cuba), you can reasonably assume there will be accommodation every 20 km between large cities. Food for on the road can often be obtained locally for cheap Cuban Pesos, most small towns will have at least a sandwich or pizzzeria stall. Make sure to carry enough food (and water!) though, if traveling through more remote areas. Obtaining bottled water outside the major cities can be a definite problem. Pack iodine tablets as a safe alternative.

Bikers are often met with enthusiasm and interest; when taking a break you will often be approached by curious locals. Be aware you'll get a lot Cubans offering to buy your bike, or asking if it'll be left behind. It is possible to take bikes on a tourbus, like "Viazul", to cover larger distances. Some Viazul bus routes will charge an extra 3 - 5 CUC for carrying the bike. It is also possible to take bikes on trains and even to hitch with bikes (wave some convertible pesos to approaching drivers to catch their attention).

For long tours, try and ride to the south-west to have a nice tail wind (for example, Havana to Viñales, a popular ~250 km ride).

By boat

There are two main island groups to explore along the southern shore of Cuba. Your sailing area from the two main bases, Cienfuegos or Trinidad incorporates the Canarreos Archipelago and the Juventud Islands or Jardines de la Reina Archipelago. Windward Islands.

Talk

The official language of Cuba is Spanish, quite similar to the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rican Spanish, although the version here is quite different from that spoken in Spain (although quite similar to the one in Canary Islands because many Cubans are descendants of Canarians), Mexico and South America. Cubans tend to swallow the last syllable in a word and generally swallow the 's' sound.

Basic to fair English is spoken in some tourist locations and language should not be a deterrent to visiting the country for non-Spanish speaking tourists capable of speaking English, though basic Spanish would prove useful, especially in more informal settings. Cubans enjoy talking to tourists, especially if you are staying with them in the "Casas particulares" and some knowledge of Spanish will help you understand regular Cubans' experiences.

Instead of the Spanish "Que tal?" for "How are you?", Cubans will say "Que vola?" (similar to "What's up?", generally quite informal) or "Como andas?" (literally means, "How are you walking?"). Young Cubans amongst themselves will use the word "asere" which means "buddy" but is generally used between men and is not recommended for use by women.

See

There are historical sites to visit in Cuba including CienfuegosTrinidad (Cuba) and Camagüey.

Do

  • Walk along Havana's Malécon during the early evening and take in some of Havana's culture. Be cautious about prostitutes, as mentioned above; they are heavy in this area, especially in sections where rich white male tourists are known to walk.
  • If you have the money (usually about US$60 or the euro equivalent), go to the Tropicana, which is an ex-Mafia hangout owned and operated by the state. The Tropicana is located, as it has always been, deep within a strategically tree-heavy area with a narrow road within the city, back behind the trees, and since its admission price is far too expensive for any average Cuban to afford, the people who go there are almost all international tourists. The club still has old-style traditions such as table service, lavish costumes, dazzling lights, a coat check area, etc. Real (but quite small) cigars are also available and can be smoked inside the venue, including near the stage. The Tropicana is so well-kept that it is almost a time warp (with the exception of the modern stage-equipment and the lack of a dress code) and, so long as you can forgive yourself the fact that most Cubans cannot afford what you are doing, and that the people who work there could not be there if they were not employed there, your night is sure to be extremely enjoyable.
  • Go see a neighbourhood performance of Afro-Cuban dance, which exists in almost every neighbourhood.
  • Go see local music, which exists in almost every neighbourhood.
  • Go to the clubs, all of which heavily play things like Cuban reggae and Cuban rap, as well as more traditional-sounding Cuban music with modern lyrics.
  • Go to the beaches — but be careful, as in Jamaica, of being solicited by prostitutes and con people, both male and female.
  • Don't stay at a resort, unless you don't want to experience the local culture. You will probably be bored and things around you may feel fake, gaudy and overdone.
  • Go out in the countryside and talk with farmers. Check out the area markets. There are two types of markets -- state-run markets, which give food very cheaply and for which Cubans keep ration books (and that you probably can't shop at because you won't have a ration book of your own), and profit-oriented markets where farmers sell their produce directly, which of course, is quite a bit more expensive.
  • Visit some small towns. Each Cuban small town follows roughly the same pattern, a central park with its Jose Marti tribute, the local cultural center, the one, two (or none) casa particulares, and the municipal museum. The museums are usually small buildings carrying artifacts covering the region's entire history (from the indigenous population pre-Columbus to Castro's revolution and a bit beyond).
  • Expect to hear a lot of Carlos Santana blaring out of windows at odd times of the day.
  • Drink lots of fresh fruit juice, which basically flows like water in Cuba due to the abundance of fresh fruit.

Buy

Money

For information specific to U.S. citizens see Americans in Cuba

Dual currency system

There are two currencies circulating in Cuba, Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) and Cuban Pesos (CUP). Wide circulation of US dollars in Cuba ended in November 2004.

Cuban Convertible Pesos are referred to by locals as kooks and is the currency most tourists will use in Cuba. The CUC is primarily used for the purchase of tourist and luxury goods such as hotels, official taxis, entry into museums, meals at tourist restaurants, export quality cigars, bottled water and rum. The CUC is pegged 1:1 to the US dollar and conversion into CUC can be done at Casa de Cambio's or Cadeca's (exchange houses) which are located in many hotels and in other places throughout the city. Tourists are permitted to import and export a maximum of CUP 100 and CUC 200 respectively at any one time.

Cuban Pesos are referred to by locals as Moneda Nacional (National currency) and a mainly used by locals. As of October 2015, 1 CUC buys 24 CUP and 25 CUP buys 1 CUC. The CUP is primarily used for the purchase of daily, non luxury goods that are sold in agricultural markets, street stalls and local restaurants. This means you can buy things like coffee, bread, fruits, vegetables, fresh juices and snacks at local street stalls with CUP. In addition to this, CUP can also be used at some (non-tourist) sit down restaurants and for the purchase of local cigars known as 'tobaccos' or 'Nacionales'. If you are on a budget and intend to eat mainly local food to save money, it is recommended you obtain some CUP as although peso priced places will accept CUC, it is more convenient to use the local currency, and some government shops will not accept payment in CUC as they cannot provide change. Exchanging currency to CUP can be done at exchange houses. CUP currency cannot be converted to foreign currencies.

Note: Raul Castro, who has long criticised the dual currency system as it generally pays hôteliers and taxi drivers more than medical doctors, announced in October 2013 that the dual currency system would be scrapped in approximately 18 months - however that change has not been made.

Exchanging currency

Travellers can exchange a range of foreign currencies at Casa de Cambios or Cadecas (exchange houses) which are located in airports, hotels and in major towns and cities. Bancos (banks) also exchange foreign currencies and are located in most major towns and cities. Both exchange houses and banks accept a number of foreign currencies with the most popular being Canadian and US dollars, pounds sterling and euros. Mexican pesos, Swiss francs and Japanese yen may also be accepted by some banks in Cuba. If you are holding US dollars, it is important to note that a 10% exchange tax will be charged in addition to any commissions normally added. If you wish to exchange US dollars, it may be cheaper to convert to another currency before hand (so long as you don't lose more than 10% in that conversion).

A full list of currencies that are accepted by banks and indicative exchange rates can be found on the Banco Central de Cuba (Central Bank of Cuba) website. It is important to note that if you hold a currency that cannot be exchanged in Cuba, you may have to first exchange your home currency to one that is accepted and then exchange again to the Cuban currency. Doing the first step at at home will probably be the easiest and cheapest option.

Many exchange houses and banks have credit and debit card facilities where they can debit your account and exchange it for cash. Be aware however that U.S.-issued cards will not work at these terminals. In addition to this, many places do not accept MasterCard cards (U.S. issued or otherwise). Be aware also that the terminals at exchange houses and banks often break down or go offline so you may not be able to use any card (until at least the next day when the machine is working again). Be aware that some places will not accept cards without your name on it (travel cards for example) even if it has your signature on the back.

When changing currency, be sure to bring your passport for identification (as well as the address of where you are staying as this is sometimes asked). If you are using a credit or debit card, the name on the card will need to match the name on the passport otherwise they will not accept the card. Be prepared for long queues at exchange houses and banks as well as odd opening and closing hours. Be aware that exchange facilities in resorts and hotels will often offer worse rates then banks and exchange houses in the town. Finally, do not change currency on the street as travellers have been defrauded, with fake or local currency.

Currency can be converted from CUC to foreign currencies, but as of July 2016, the currency changers at Havana's airport only change to euros and US dollars. The currency changers also do not have anything lower than 5 euro bills and US$5 bills, so expect to be stuck with a few CUCs that cannot be converted. Currency changers will also not convert any CUP currency.

Traveler's checks

Traveler's checks drawn on American banks are not technically valid in Cuba, though many have had success cashing U.S. traveler's checks at major tourist hotels. American Express checks are difficult to cash due to the likelihood that they were purchased with U.S. dollars. For example, Swiss traveler's checks will be accepted, as long as they are in Swiss francs, even if the checks are made "in licence" of an American bank, as long as the real producer of them is non-American. Visa Traveller's cheques are accepted, though the same caveats about being drawn on an American bank apply. It's better to bring cash to Cuba; resorts accept Euros, Canadian dollars, British pounds, Swiss francs and Hong Kong Dollar currencies without any fees.

ATMs

ATMs are relatively rare in Cuba but they can be found in most larger towns and cities. It is important to note however that U.S. issued cards and MasterCard cards (U.S. issued or otherwise) do not work at any ATM in Cuba. ATMs do accept Visa (non U.S. issued of course) and sometimes UnionPay. It is important to note however that although your card may be accepted, ATMs in Cuba often break down or do not have sufficient cash for a large withdrawal (if refused, try a smaller amount). Finally, be aware that only primary accounts are recognised so ensure your funds are not in a secondary account linked to the card.

Purchasing on credit and debit cards

There are generally facilities for making payments with plastic in many hotels and touristy shops and restaurants. As mentioned above, U.S.-issued cards will not work. Visa and MasterCard (non US-issued) cards do generally work however they can only charge in US dollars and will incur a 3% fee. If using a debit card, cards that have a PLUS or CIRRUS logo may work. As mentioned above, be prepared for the card terminal to not work or be disconnected so do not rely on using your card. Finally, private businesses such as casas particulares and paladares will never accept card, necessitating the use of cash.

Merchandise

As in any developing country, most of the merchandise available is designed for tourists to take back home. The biggest Cuban exports for tourists are rum, cigars, and coffee, all of which are available at government-owned stores (including the duty-free store at the airport) or on the streets. For genuine merchandise, you should pay the official price at the legal stores.

Cubans also do well in creating music such as salsa, son, and Afro-Cubano. You can purchase CDs or tapes anywhere, but paying the average cost of 20 CUC assures you of quality.

If you are planning to take big quantities (several boxes or more) of cigars with you, be sure you have purchased them officially from an approved shop that gives you proper purchase documentation. Foreign nationals are allowed to export up to 50 cigars (generally 25 to a box) without special permits or receipts, but the export of more requires official receipts. If you buy cigars cheap on streets and you don't have official purchase invoice then your cigars may/will be confiscated. Also, be advised that any purchase of Cuban cigars outside government-approved stores (even in resorts) has the potential to be fake, and that the "cigar factory worker who steals from the factory" does not exist in any appreciable quantities. If you find a "deal" from a street vendor, it's highly likely you are getting fakes, some of which may not even be made of tobacco. Always ensure, no matter where you buy, that the Cuban government origin warranty stamp is properly affixed to the cigar box. Since 2014, licensed U.S. visitors to Cuba were being authorized to import $400 worth of goods from Cuba, of which no more than $100 could consist of tobacco products and alcohol combined. These restrictions were further relaxed in 2016, but bringing back cigars or rum for resale remains prohibited. As the situation is changing, it's best to verify current limits in advance.

Officially you'll need permission to export paintings that are larger than 70cm/side. When you buy artwork from approved shop then they'll give you also the required document, that consists of one paper and one stamp that will be glued on back of your painting. Serial numbers on the stamp and paper must match. Cost of the document is about CUC 2-3. In reality, it is possible that no one will be interested in your paintings.

Medical tourism

Cuba has long been a popular Medical Tourism destination for patients worldwide that seek high quality medical care at low costs. According to the Association of Caribbean States, nearly 20,000 international patients visited Cuba in 2006 for medical care. Cuba is especially attractive to many Latin American and North American patients given its easy proximity and relaxing environment.

A wide range of medical treatments are provided including joint replacement, cancer treatment, eye surgery, cosmetic surgery and addictions rehabilitation. Costs are about 60 to 80 percent less than U.S. costs. For example, Choice Medical Services a health tourism provider, provides a hip replacement at leading Cuban hospitals for US$5845

Eat

Restaurants are owned by the government and run by employees, and the food ranges from bland to spicy. Generally the spicy dishes are not as spicy as the fiery pepperpot spiciness found on some of the other Caribbean islands. The national dish in Cuba is rice and beans (moros y cristianos), and the best food will generally be found in your casa particular or in paladares (locally owned restaurants in private homes).

Black beans are a main staple in Cuban households. Cubans eat mainly pork and chicken for meat. Beef and lobster are controlled by the state, and therefore illegal to sell outside of state owned hotels and restaurants, however special lobster lunch/supper offers are plentiful for tourists. You may see turtle on menus in Paladares, but be aware that they are endangered and eating them is illegal.

Paladares are plentiful, even in the smaller towns. Seating is often limited, so you may need to arrive when they open, usually around 5 or 6PM. If you are staying in a casa particular ask your host for recommendations, as the quality of the food can vary substantially between paladares. Only eat in ones that have a printed menu with prices, otherwise you are very likely to pay two to three times as much as you should. That said, several have taken to printing two different menus, one with local prices and one with foreigner prices. Eating in paladares is perfectly legal, but be aware that if you are taken there by a Cuban, you may be charged extra in order to cover commission of the person who brought you. A supper will cost around 7 to 10 CUC per person.

Eating in state owned hotels and restaurants is significantly more expensive and compares with prices in many first world countries. An average supper with soup, dessert and a glass or two of wine could easily set you back 20 to 30 CUC per person. Note that in these establishments, the vast majority of the employees' income comes from tips (their monthly salary often being less than the cost of one meal), making it a friendly and welcome gesture to tip liberally for good service.

In bigger towns you will also find some state-run restaurants which cater mainly to Cubans and accept local currency. Prices are extremely low (e.g. 10-15 CUP for a sandwich and cooked meals for of 30-60 CUP), but the quality of food, service and ambiance is typically relatively low. You may be able to secure better food by offering to pay in CUCs. Still, this may be an option if you are on a low budget or seeking an 'authentic' Cuban experience. If you choose to tip, do so in CUCs as anything else would be an insult to staff.

Most casas particulares serve their guests a large breakfast for around 2-5 CUC per person if requested (you can tell them what you want for breakfast). However, make sure you get value for money - often you can buy for much less money (in national pesos) the same fruit, coffee bread/omelette etc. out in the street that your casa particular owner will want to charge you 4 times more for just to present it to you in a more comfortable fashion. However, for money-savers, 'building' your own breakfast for national pesos is quite easy. Every little village has sandwich shops where you can get a sandwich of ham, cheese or with omelette for 5-15 pesos depending on the size. Most of them also sell Cuban coffee (sweet!) for 1-2 pesos or a juice for 2 pesos called 'refresco'.

Some casas particulares may also serve guests large dinners for 7-10 CUC per person.

Sometimes if you ask nicely, your casa particular owner may let you use their kitchen to prepare your own food - in fact, they are usually quite accommodating if for instance you have special dietary requirements, or young children etc.

You can also find small street vendors selling a variety of foods, typically sandwiches, fruits (1 banana 1-2 pesos), pizzas (10-20 pesos), spaghetti in tomato sauce, ice cream and sweet delights like cream cake. The quality varies from vendor to vendor. Many of these stores are run from people's living rooms, and buying from them is a good way to help provide some extra income to a Cuban family. While these meals are satisfying and cheap, be warned that long lines are common and the vendors are rarely in any rush to see everyone fed quickly.

There are private restaurants that cater for Cubans and are only allowed to take national pesos. You will realize them by a board that states the daily offers and prices. A tasty serving of rice, vegetables, plantains, and pork or beef will cost around 30-50 national pesos. Some places even sell it to you in a cajita ["little box" in English].

Bottled water is sold in CUC throughout the county where one litre will cost you around CUC 0.80 - 1.20. You can by a 5-litre bottle for CUC 1.90 and transfer it to smaller ones.

Havana Chinatown

Check out the small Havana Chinatown a few blocks west of the Capitolio if you are looking for Chinese themed restaurants. The food is neither spectacular nor authentic Chinese, but decent enough if you can't face another serving of rice and beans. Street food can also be a notch better here, try the area around the intersection of Avenida de Italia and Avenue Zanja.

Drink

Cuban national cocktails include the Cuba Libre (rum and cola) and the Mojito (rum, lime, sugar, mint leaves, club soda and ice).

If you request a rum in a small country restaurant do not be surprised if it is only available by the bottle. Havana Club is the national brand and the most popular. Expect to pay $4 for three year old white rum or $8 for seven year old dark rum.

Cristal is a light beer and is available in "dollar" stores where Cubans with CUCs and visitors may shop. Cubans prefer the Bucanero Fuerte, which at 5.5% alcohol is a strong (hence the "fuerte") darker beer. Both Cristal and Bucanero are brewed by a joint venture with Labatts of Canada, whose beer is the only Cuban beer sold in CUC. A stronger version, Bucanero Max is also available - primarily available in Havana.

There are also smaller brews, not available everywhere, such as Hatuey and Corona del Mar. These are sold in CUP.

Note that - similar to restaurants - there are two types of establishments you can go to drink in Cuba: Western-style CUC bars with near-Western prices, a good selection of quality drinks (and sometimes food), nice decorations, semi-motivated staff and often live music, typically found around tourist hot-spots such as Old Havana and tourist hotels. Here you will mostly meet other tourists, expats and a few Cubans with access to hard currency, but don't expect a 'local' experience.

The alternative is to seek out local neighborhood bars where you can choose from a quality, but limited, selection of drinks (mainly locally produced rum by the bottle, beer and soft drinks, very rarely will you be able to get cocktails such as mojitos), cigars of dubious and cigarettes of only slightly better quality, and sometimes snacks. Local bars accept CUPs and are dirt-cheap, although bar keepers will often ask you for CUCs instead - it's up to you to negotiate an acceptable price, but keep in mind that local bar staff are state employees and (literally) paid a pittance. These bars are also a good way to meet locals who may even open up a bit and talk about their lives after a couple of drinks.

Local bars are not that hard to find despite typically having no prominent signs displayed outside. Just ask or walk around a local neighborhood and look out for a bare-walled, neon-lit room without any decorations or furniture, save for a bar and a few rickety chairs and tables, sullen staff and depressed/bored/drunk-looking customers, almost always men. Contrary to Cuba's reputation as a music and fun loving nation, local bars are not boisterous affairs - they are quiet, almost subdued, music is rarely played (if at all, it will come from a radio but never be live), and have the charm of third-world railway station waiting rooms.

Nonetheless, they make for a fascinating experience (especially if you make the effort to speak to some locals - offering to buy a drink will get a conversation going, no surprise there), and they provide a good insight into what life must be like for ordinary Cubans without access to hard currency. As a foreign visitor, you will be generally welcomed. Discussing politics over a drink is a tricky, and typically lose-lose proposition: speak negatively about the Cuban political system and you may put your Cuban drinking companions into a very difficult position as they may very well be informed on for hanging out with subversive foreigners.

Sleep

Casas particulares

If you want to experience something of the real life of Cubans, the best places to stay are casas particulares, which are private houses licensed to offer lodging services to foreigners. A casa particular is basically a private family establishment that provides paid lodging, usually on a short-term basis. This type of establishment would more usually be called a bed and breakfast or vacation rental in other countries. In general, under this term, you can find full apartments and houses, rooms inside people's homes, mini-apartments or rooms with separate entrance (studio or efficiency-type rooms). The business may be operated either as a primary occupation or as a secondary source of income, and the staff often consists of the house's owner(s) and members of their family who live there.

Casas particulares are cheaper than hotels (average CUC 20-30/room high season; 10-15 low season) and the food (breakfast CUC 4-5, dinner CUC 8-13) is almost always better than you would get in a hotel. Casas particulares are plentiful even in small towns; they are somewhat more expensive in Havana than elsewhere. Note that any service offered by a casa particular other than accommodation, such as driving you to the bus station, will be added to your bill, regardless of whether this is stated up front. Items such as bottled water supplied with your meal will also have a charge. Always make sure that you talk to the owner about what things will cost when you arrive to avoid unpleasant surprises later. These houses are under a lot of restrictions by the government, so make sure that you are staying at a legal "casa". A legal house will have a sticker on the front door (often a blue sign on a white background), you will notice these as you walk past houses. Upon arrival, the houseowner will need to take down your passport details and how long you will be staying for. Some Cubans do offer illegal accommodation and although they are cheaper, the quality of the food and service is generally lower. If found, the Cubans will risk a large fine and it is best to avoid illegal casas completely.

If travelling around the island, it is recommended to ask the casa owners if they have friends or family in the city you are going to. There is a network of casas and the family will gladly organise for you to be met by their friends off the bus at your next destination. Because most casas particulares are small, rarely with room for more than about 5-6 guests, it is advisable for anyone wanting to stay at a bed and breakfast to make reservations well in advance of their travel date. Many casas particulares belong to associations, have a web presence, and are described in various books and travel guides. You can arrange your accommodation in advance, either by asking your host to recommend someone and by using a casa particular association (note, however, that the party making the introduction will almost always receive a commission, which you end up paying as it will be included in the accommodation price). Some will let you book accommodation over the internet before your trip, and will go out of their way to arrange accommodation for you while you are there. You can make a reservation by calling ahead using either the casas phone or a public one. Alternatively, you can use a site specialised in vacational accommodation in Cuba like wildcaribe.com or BB Inn Vinales that let you search a house that suits your needs, check the availability of rooms on the dates that interest you and confirm your booking. Since mid-2016, the US government has permitted Airbnb to list accommodations in Cuba.

For the best rates just arrive in a place and knock on a door to see the room and ask for the price. If you do not like either of them go for the next door. Every city and every village has way to many casas for the few tourists that come. Due to the taxes the casa owners have to pay to the government the lowest price for a room is CUC 15 in high season; 10 in low season. Some might ask you to have at least one meal at their casa to give you a cheap room price. If traveling by bus you will be sometimes welcomed by casa owners at the bus station that will present you with pictures of the room they offer. Those will most likely accept room rates of CUC 15, even breakfast for CUC 2 and dinner for CUC 5. Agree on a price and then go with them as all casas have almost the same standard. But beware of jineteros (hustlers) trying to lead you to a casa, where they will get a commission and you will be charged the extra. Make sure you talk to the casa owner.

Cubans hosting foreigners for free is technically illegal and risk a large fine if caught. Some will bend the rules, but be cautious if you choose to take up the offer (e.g. don't walk out the front door if you see a police car nearby, especially if you look obviously foreign).

In some Cuban cities and tourist resorts, like VaraderoPlaya Santa Lucia and Guardalavaca, local authorities determined that casas particulares would represent a threat to the hotel industry, and passed some legislation placing regulations and limits on the industry forbidding the operation of these establishments.

Note that accommodations may state that they provide wifi, but an internet token must be purchased. See "Connect" section.

Hotels

Most small cities and larger towns have at least one state-run hotel, which is often in a restored colonial building. The prices range from around CUC 25 to CUC 100, depending on what you are getting. Resorts and high-end Havana hotels can be significantly more expensive.

Learn

The University of Havana offers both long and short-term Spanish courses. If you do choose to study at the university, try to see if you can obtain a student "carne" which will enable you to benefit from the same advantages as Cuban students (museums at a 25th of the price, entrance to nightclubs full of mostly Cubans). If you want to take private classes or study Spanish in smaller groups, you can study in HavanaTrinidad or Santiago de Cuba.

Cuban museums are plentiful, frequently open, and usually charge only one or two CUC for admission. You may get a guided tour from one of the staff members; even if you do not speak Spanish, this can be useful. They will generally make you check your bags, and charge a small fee for the privilege of taking pictures inside.

Work

The average official salary for Cubans is about US$15 per month. Non-Cubans can only obtain a business/work visa or a work permit through a Cuban business or a foreign business registered in Cuba. Business visas are generally for up to three months. Work permits are renewable annually.

Stay safe

Cuba is generally a very safe country; strict and prominent policing, combined with neighborhood-watch-style programs (known as the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution, or C.D.R.) generally keep the streets safe from violent crime.

Drug laws can be harsh and their implementation unpredictable. The same may be said about the laws concerning prostitution. The importation, possession or production of pornography is strictly prohibited. It is not uncommon to see a dog jogging on the luggage carousel sniffing arriving luggage, especially when arriving from countries prone to drug-trafficking, so be sure to lock and/or wrap your luggage to avoid any problems in this regard.

Tourists are generally advised not to involve themselves in the following three areas: politics, drugs, or pornography/prostitution. There is relatively little tolerance amongst the authorities for public comments made against the Revolution, Fidel, Che, etc. It is advisable to refrain from making such comments.

Women receive a lot of attention from men, especially away from the more touristy centre of Havana. Avoiding cleavage and short skirts will lessen the attention, although by no means stop it. Do not get annoyed by the whistles or hissing sounds, as Cuban women often acknowledge and welcome the attention. Acknowledging it too enthusiastically, however, will probably encourage the men.

Scams

Cuba is a country of scams, which are so rampant they surprise even seasoned travellers:

  • Renting a car in Cuba calls for your attention on every single CUC you pay. One of the reported scams is referring to the cost of insurance and it is quite expensive as you may get to pay twice the real cost. Price of the insurance depends only on the car model, but the clerk might start to explain the difference between 2-3 types of policies, at different costs (for the same car class). Obviously, the more expensive one has full coverage (except for the radio and tires theft). This is the scam! If you choose the more expensive option, you are told that it is not possible to pay the full amount with credit card. Nevertheless, it is possible to pay a part of it with credit card (exactly the cost of the less expensive one)and pay cash for the difference. You will not get any receipt, nor does this sum appears on the rental contract. This is the exact amount the scammer gets from you. Remember: There is only one type of insurance policy covering everything (except for radio and tires) and the price varies only depending on the car type.
  • Real-looking discount cigars of dubious authenticity being offered by street touts. Quite often though these are indeed genuine articles which have been stolen or collected over a long period of time by cigar workers and are sold at substantial discount on legal and taxed cigars. If you are unable to distinguish genuine cigars then you should only buy from the official cigar dealers. The best people to buy untaxed (illegal but genuine) cigars from tend to be hotel doormen who will not be offended if asked "if they know where you can get cheap cigars" and may lead you to a room in the hotel used for this purpose. If buying untaxed cigars you should not pay more than say CUC 50 for a box of say 25 Esplendidos (around ten times cheaper than taxed cigars a rule of thumb). Be careful that you see the box you are buying open to prove there are in fact cigars in it. Also often stickers are included to allow you to seal the box as if it had been taxed. There is a risk that customs will confiscate these on exit, but for less than 50 cigars it is very unlikely. If carrying more than they should be split between the members of your party. Since the activity of selling untaxed cigars stolen or collection from the factory is illegal and the locals are often very short of money outside the main tourist season it is possible to haggle the prices very low, but since a typical salary for a hotel worker may be the equivalent of USD 20 per month it may seem unfair.
  • "Friendly" locals inviting tourists to bars for a drink (normally a Mojito) or to a restaurant; the tourist will be charged two to three times the normal price, and the spoils split between the establishment and the "friend". In Central Havana area, a running trick is a young local man or couple, in pretext of practising English, to invite tourists to attend a performance by "Buena Vista Social Club" (no, most of the members of BVSC have passed away and the group hasn't performed in Havana for many years) while suggesting to go to a nearby bar for a drink while waiting for the show to start. Some locals even demand shamelessly a few CUC for their company.
  • ALWAYS negotiate your price in advance, especially for taxis. Make the price 101% clear before doing any business, especially if you are not a Spanish speaker. It is not uncommon to reach a destination with a taxi and be asked for much more money than agreed, on a pretext of misunderstanding. For example, 25 CUC instead of 5 CUC. The advice is to write the price on a piece of paper and show it to the person.
  • Short-changing in bars or taxis or giving national pesos (CUP) in change for convertible pesos (CUC). Or, offering to swap 3 CUC or more for a "special edition" 3 peso coin with a picture of Che Guevara (the swap is of a CUC for CUP which is worth about 20 times less). Unfortunately unlike bills, convertible coins are unmarked as such. Get familiarized with the coins as soon as you get them from the bank or CADECA - the ones with a big star or Che Guevara on one side are all national pesos.
  • Water is often sold around tourist areas. Sometimes these bottles have been filled with local tap water and re-sealed (which can be poisonous). You can usually see this tampering on the bottle, but not always, in any case tap water will taste markedly different to bottled water and should be avoided in all cases. If in doubt you should discard the water. In fact, real bottled water (same goes for canned soft drinks) is a luxury even to locals and costs about the same either in national pesos (around 10 CUP) or convertibles (around 0.45 CUC) in stores, local or tourist ones alike - if you get one too cheaply, it's probably too good to be true.
  • Locals offer to swap money at a 'local bank' where the natives can get the best rates and ask you to remain outside whilst they do the deal as your presence would drive the rate up. If you give them your money you will never see them again.
  • Credit cards scams are common and accordingly money should only be withdrawn in reputable hotels or banks. Ideally carry cash with you, USD, EUR and GBP are almost universally accepted (in order of popularity) despite being illegal to spend.
  • In Havana it is important to always be careful when using money. When taking a taxi, ask someone familiar with the system what the approximate fare should be, as many drivers will try to set an artificially high fare before departing. If in doubt, insist that they use the meter. You can almost be sure that any predetermined fare from the airport is at least 5-10 CUC higher than it should be - insist on the meter.
  • Shop assistants have been known to take advantage of foreigners when it comes to providing change (if in doubt, observe what the other customers are doing before making your purchase):
    • Some have been known not to give change and go on serving the next customer, assuming the tourist will not be able to speak enough Spanish to question the matter.
    • Some may take advantage of where ambiguity exists between whether or not published prices are in CUC or CUP, and many vendors will take CUC when CUP is due and pocket the difference without telling you of your mistake.
    • Some may also provide change in the wrong currency, thus providing insufficient change (e.g. providing 3 CUP change rather than 3 CUC change).
    • Some may also attempt to provide large amounts of change in CUP rather than CUC, which can leave a foreigner potentially stuck with currency they cannot convert back to foreign currency. This at first may seem like an inconvenience, but this is actually often a scam. Cubans often provide 20 CUP change per 1 CUC, but the ratio is actually closer to 25 CUP per 1 CUC. Therefore, if you pay 5 CUC for an item of 20 CUP, and you are given change at 20 CUP per 1 CUC (i.e. 80 CUP change), the person providing change is actually pocketing an extra 25 CUP, the equivalent of 1 CUC; in effect, you could be charged more than double through this scam.
  • Credit card scams are common. Do not let your credit card out of your hands, and watch as the salesperson passes the card in the machine. If anything seems strange, DO NOT SIGN! Merchants in small shops may take your card to an adjacent bank counter and use it to take out a cash advance. Look closely at your receipts, if the receipt indicates 'Venta' and a dollar or CUC amount, this means that is has been passed as a cash advance (which will be kept by the dishonest employees). Credit card facilities are however generally so limited to non-existent in shops that it is customary and more practical to just pay with cash.
  • Often, real products such as rum and cigars may be switched by employees for fake ones which are under the counter or in a storeroom.
  • Jineteros/jineteras are a problem in larger cities, and will try to sell tourists anything, including restaurants, cigars, sex and drugs. Note that this type of solicitation is illegal in Cuba and most will leave you alone if you ignore them or politely say no for fear of police attention. If you do find yourself in a situation with a more relentless jinetero, tell them that you have been in the country for several weeks, that you are a student at the university or that you are from a third-world country (which you could pass as a citizen of if you're white, Brazil usually works since it's a non-Spanish speaking country, Russia is another good example; Vietnam or Thailand works well if you're East Asian) and they will probably leave you alone. Many rely on tourists who are unfamiliar with the system and comparatively rich, so ideally you should try to make an impression otherwise. Keep in mind that even if a tout scoops only a few CUCs from unsuspecting tourists a day, he or she will probably make as much as a doctor's monthly salary in just a matter of a week or two.

Stay healthy

Cuba is considered very healthy except for the water; even many Cubans boil their water. That said, some travelers drink untreated water without ill effect. The best solution is bottled water and lots of it, especially for visitors who are not used to the 30+°C/85+°F temperatures. Bottled water (agua de botella) is easily found and costs between .65 and 2 CUC for a 1.5L bottle, depending on the shop. It should be noted that the mineral count (total dissolved solids) of bottled water is quite high compared to elsewhere in the world, so if you are planning to visit Cuba for an extended period of time (e.g. as a student or on work permit), it might be a useful idea to bring a small jug/sports bottle water filter with a few cartridges along to further purify the water.

Cuban milk is usually unpasteurized, and can make visitors sick. Additionally, tourists should be wary of vegetables washed in tap water. Despite the warnings, most Cuban food is safe to eat and you do not need to be paranoid.

The island is tropical and thus host to a number of diseases. Some recommend an aggressive program of inoculations when planning a trip to Cuba, but most travelers come with little or none. Hepatitis B and tetanus shots are recommended by most travel clinics. Hepatitis B is generally spread by direct blood or sexual contact, the inoculation course requires three injections over several weeks, followed by a blood test to determine if it actually worked; shorter courses are available. (Interestingly, the hepatitis B vaccine is actually produced in Cuba for worldwide use). Generally tetanus immunization is more important, since tetanus is a risk with any wound or cut, especially in a dirty, contaminated wound.

HIV/AIDS infection is less than 0.1%, however, as always, you should exercise care and make sure you or your partner wears a condom should you become sexually active while in Cuba.

Cuba has one of the highest number of doctors available per capita in the world (around one doctor for every 170 people), making doctors readily accessible throughout most of the island. Your hotel reception should be able to point you to the closest doctor. (So plentiful in fact are doctors in Cuba, that it is not uncommon to see doctors selling paintings, books or other artwork to tourists at the flea market to make money to supplement their meager salaries.)

Finding some medications is, however, often difficult. It is highly recommended to stock up on over-the-counter medications before heading to Cuba, as pharmacies lack many medications that westerners might expect to find, such as aspirin, ibuprofen and immodium. Do not attempt to import psychoactive drugs into Cuba. Havana also features a clinic (and emergency room) for foreigners, which offers extremely prompt service.

Toiletries such as shampoo, conditioner, razors, tampons and condoms are also hard to come across and expensive, so stock up before you leave.

Bigger cities--especially Havana--have very polluted air because of old cars and factories. This will cause respiratory conditions to some visitors.

Police, Fire and Medical contact numbers

The emergency number in Cuba is: 106.

Respect

Cubans are generally friendly and helpful people. Keep in mind that they make about US$15 a month; if they can help you, they probably will, but they may expect you to return the favor. If you are invited into a Cuban's home for supper, take the invitation. You will really be treated like a guest of honor. It is a great way to get a feel for the culture. Of course, ordinary Cubans are not permitted to host this type of event, but it goes on as a matter of course.

One way to help local Cubans is by staying in casas particulares and eating in paladares or private restaurants and buying from streat vendors. While free enterprise is usually banned, several years ago the government began selling expensive licenses to individuals wishing to open up rooms for rent in their houses, or set up a few tables on their porch and cook out of their kitchens. Not only are the licenses very expensive but the fees must be paid monthly regardless of income, leaving those less fortunate the possibility of actually losing money. Not only is it more interesting to stay with locals and eat in their homes, you're actually directly benefiting them in one of the few ways possible.

Traditionally Cuba is Catholic, but the government has often cracked down on demonstrations of faith. Recently, however, it is less frowned upon since Pope John Paul II's visit, and there are more important issues to deal with. Other religions in Cuba are hybrid religions, mixing elements of Catholicism with others of traditional African religions. The most common one is called "Santeria" and their priests can be recognised by the full white regalia with bead necklaces that they wear. Women going through the process to become priests are not allowed (amongst other things) to touch other people, so if your casa owner is distant and dressed all in white, do not be too surprised. There are many museums in Cuba (especially in the Southern cities like Santiago de Cuba) which depict the history and traditions of Santeria.

Connect

Cuba is, by design, one of the most expensive and difficult places in which to communicate.

Internet

Accessing the internet in Cuba is unlike any country in the world. The Internet is characterised by a low number of connections, limited bandwidth, censorship, and high cost.

Finding WiFi

In Cuba, internet is provided by the state telecommunication company ETESCA (under the brand name Nauta) and is only available in airports, upmarket hotels and government communication centres. Finding an upmarket hotel or a government communications centre in major towns is actually fairly easy as you will literally see a large number of locals and tourists on their phones and laptops on the street accessing the WiFi. Be mindful however that this as this is a fairly new system, it has not spread across the whole island. If visiting small, non-tourist towns, don't expect there to be an internet communication centre.

Purchasing a pre-paid scratch card

Before you can connect to the WiFi, you will need to purchase a pre-paid scratch card. The primary way of purchasing a card is at the government communication centre which bares the brand name ETESCA. The cost of a 1-hour scratch card is CUC$2, there also exists a 5-hour scratch card for CUC$10. If you wish to purchase more than one, remember to bring photo identification as the staff member will need to take down your details in order for them to do so. Be aware that queues at the centre tend to be quite lengthy and move fairly slowly.

You can also purchase a Nauta internet card at an upmarket hotel. The price of these cards vary from hotel to hotel and can be anything from cost price (CUC$2) with the purchase of a drink at the bar to upwards of CUC$8. Alternatively, there are also a number of unofficial vendors either on the street or in small discreet shops selling the same Nauta internet cards. Prices for these cards are at a premium compared to the communication centre however almost all will accept CUC$3 after a little bargaining.

Connecting to the WiFi

Once you have purchased the card, it is simply a matter of connecting to the hotspot, scratching your card to reveal the username and password and entering these into the Nauta login screen (which should automatically appear). If the log in screen does not appear automatically (common on some phones and laptops) simply enter 1.1.1.1 into your browser and the Nauta screen will appear.

Once the hour is complete, the internet will stop working and you will need to enter the username and password of a fresh card. On the other hand, if you do not want to use the full hour of the card, be sure to end your session. This can be done by entering 1.1.1.1 into your browser and clicking the end session button.

In the evening between 8 and 10 pm the internet tends to be rather slow as everyone is trying to connect.

Phone

The country code for Cuba is 53.

The emergency number is 116. The information number is 113.

To use your cell phone in Cuba, you will need to have a GSM phone operating at 900 MHz (or quad-band world phone). If you plan on using international roaming, be sure to check with you phone company as most providers do not offer roaming in Cuba. Alternatively, you can buy a SIM card for CUC$111, plus your prepaid minutes. If you do not have a phone that operates at 900 MHz, you can rent a phone at several stores in Havana, including one in the airport. The rates are 9 CUC per day (6 CUC for the phone and 3 CUC for the SIM card), plus about 36 cents a minute for prepaid cards.

If you're planning on being in Cuba for more than two weeks, you can bring a phone, buy a SIM card and prepaid minutes, use it, then give the phone to a Cuban friend when you leave. Cellphones are among the most desired items for Cubans (bring a case for the phone too, they are very fussy about keeping their phones scratch-free). You will have to go to a cellphone store with your friend and sign a paper to give the phone to your friend. Don't give your friend an unlimited plan that charges to your credit card!

News

  • Granma has a daily edition and an international version .
  • Juventud Rebelde.
  • Cuba Vision , is the national television station.
  • Radio Reloj, broadcasts news 24 hours and states the time every minute on the minute — dos cuarenta y dos minutos...
  • Radio Havana Cuba, multi-language shortwave radio station
  • Radio Rebelde, another news radio station.
  • Cuba Holiday News, online news channel, with selected news for people interested in travelling to Cuba.
  • Havana Times, Photos, News Briefs and Features from Havana, Cuba.
  • Cuba Headlines, Cuba News Headlines. Cuban Daily News | Cuba News, Articles and Daily Information.
  • 14ymedio, the first independent digital media outlet (Wikipedia), some articles are also translated into English.

Most of the radio stations are available live online [2].

Television

If you're staying at a hotel or casa particular, it's likely there will be a television, and watching Cuban television is a good place to observe Cuba's unique mix of vibrant culture, sports and controversial politics.

The Cuban telenovelas are one of the state's key instruments for addressing sexual taboos and educating young people about AIDS, for example. The locally produced cartoons are the most interesting and uniquely Cuban. They range from abstract and artsy to informative to entertaining.

The most famous of the genre is the children's program Elpidio Valdés, which chronicles the adventures of a band of rebels in the 19th century revolt against the Spanish. The mix of cartoon slapstick humor and images of violent revolution (dashing revolutionaries stealing rifles, blowing up Spanish forts, and sticking pistols into the mouths of goofy Spanish generals) in a program geared at children is simultaneously delightful and disturbing.

There are classes under the heading "Universidad Para Todos" (University for Everybody) with the purpose to teach Cubans subjects like mathematics and grammar through the television. Also one of the channels is called the "Educational Channel" (Canal Educativo), although this uses "educational" in its widest sense, including foreign soap operas and pop concerts.

“I don’t even understand this country,” our driver told us. “And I’ve lived here my whole life.”

I should have known from the start that it was futile to try to wrap my head around the mix of contrasts and contradictions that is Cuba. To use a tired cliche, it truly is a country like no other: stuck in time and full of colour, music and flavour. Twelve days and countless conversations later, I’m a little closer to understanding the systems and mindsets that keeps the country running, but I suspect that a full lifetime wouldn’t be enough to really get it.

Havana

Pin me on Pinterest!Our arrival in Cuba went very smoothly: after spending an hour or so battling through the passport control queue at Havana airport, we found our Mexican friend Luis waiting for us at the arrivals gate; he’d flown in from Mexico City a couple of hours previously.

The five of us made our way to the exchange office outside the terminal and joined the seemingly endless queue to change money, but we soon realised that no-one was waiting for the sole ATM hidden just inside the door. We skipped the queue, used a Visa debit card to withdraw lots of cash, and hopped in a taxi to our pre-booked casa particular.

The journey from the airport was an adventure in itself as we admired the socialist billboards and hordes of classic American cars, and we were warmly welcomed by our host Arsenio when we arrived at his house in Havana Centro. The street was mostly potholes and a pile of rubbish graced the nearest corner; the opposite corner was occupied by a street vendor selling bananas. Men catcalled Janine, Ange and me as we walked down the street; when we ventured off our road onto the main thoroughfare we were offered taxis every minute or two. Havana was noisy, active, falling apart, and full of life. I loved it. The others, not so much.

Havana was crumbling apart in some areas, colourful in others.

We spent three nights in Cuba’s capital city. The first night, we kept things simple: dinner and a walk along the malecón (seawall) to admire the fortress and get a breath of fresh air. The next day, we used an app I’d downloaded before we arrived in the country to do a walking tour of the main sights: el Capitolio, the cathedral, the Castillo de Real Fuerza, Granma yacht, and lots of lovely plazas.

We used our last morning to visit a tobacco factory — it was very interesting but we were frustrated by the fact that we couldn’t buy tickets at the factory itself, we had to go back to one of the main hotels to get them. This apparently limits corruption, and the fact that our guide took us into the cloakroom after the tour to sell us cigars under the table makes me suspect that it’s a sensible measure.

A trip to the beach was in order after this experience. We’d been told that the hop-on hop-off tourist bus was the way to go, but when we found out that it only runs once an hour, we jumped in a bumpy taxi instead. The water at Playa del Este was crystal clear, warm and pleasantly rough; it was a lovely, relaxing afternoon.

Beautiful Playas del Este.

Craig didn’t have such a relaxing time: he hadn’t wanted to come to the beach, so he headed to the bus station to buy tickets for our onwards journey. The lines were long and the taxis expensive, but he managed to get the tickets and the next day we made our way to Viñales.

Viñales

I wasn’t a fan of Viñales, though the others found it relaxing after battling the touts of Havana. For me, though, it was a tourist town like so many others around the world: every second house was a casa particular, the restaurants catered almost exclusively to tourists, the markets sold a lot of plastic. To be fair, they also sold handmade items: hats, salad servers, beautifully hand-carved birds and boxes.

Viñales.

Accommodation was easy: Arsenio had called to make a reservation for us at the house of a friend of his, though when we arrived she moved us on to her sister’s place. Our host was pleasant enough but her lack of experience showed in her tendency to hover and her unfortunate habit of wanting to talk to us when we were in the shower.

We spent our first day in Viñales doing a walking tour of the national park. Our guide explained the plants we were seeing as we went along, and we stopped at a tobacco farm to watch a cigar being rolled and to smoke one ourselves, and at a cafe plantation for an explanation of coffee production and an espresso.

Our walking tour was a highlight of our time in Viñales.

The next day we headed to Cayo Jutias, a 90-minute drive from Viñales. It was an excellent day: we hired a car and driver for the day, and he was happy to detour to the mural of prehistory and to stop in a small town along the way so we could buy lunch from local stalls. Janine and Ange went snorkelling and the rest of us relaxed on the white sand beach, drinking beer and eating the sandwiches and fruit we’d bought on the way. That evening was our last with Luis; we went out for a drink or two and watched a show at the Casa de la Música.

It might have been overcast, but we had a wonderful day at Cayo Jutia.

Trinidad

After our one trip from Havana to Viñales, we gave up on buses. They were always booked out a day or two in advance, and since we were a group of four, it was easier to hire a car and driver. The journey from Viñales to Trinidad was pretty expensive, but still cheaper than four bus tickets, and we shaved several hours off the journey time — on the whole, a win. It was a good day to be travelling, as the torrential rain would have made any tourism activities impossible — as it was, we pretty much just holed up in our room for the evening after we arrived in Trinidad.

Trinidad was a pretty city, and we enjoyed walking around and spending an evening listening to music and drinking truly terrible mojitos at the Casa de la Música (tip: go with straight rum, it’s cheaper and infinitely better). However, the highlight of our two nights was talking with our host, Yaneisy, who cooked us delicious dinners and told us all about daily life in Cuba and how things have changed over the last few years.

Trinidad was a very pretty place.

Cienfuegos

Our last stop was by far our favourite. Yaneisy had called to book us a room with a contact of hers, and we were impressed by how friendly and welcoming our new host was. Our room was comfortable, and we had dinner at his sister’s house a couple of doors down the street: a veritable feast of ropa vieja (pulled beef), fish, banana chips, salad, and rice, as well as fresh juice and the rum we’d brought with us. That evening was one of the highlights of the trip for me: we moved from the table to rocking chairs and spent several hours reminiscing and making plans for the future.

Cienfuegos itself was a nice town to walk around: we visited the picturesque town square and walked to Punta Gorda for a drink. Janine and Ange went for a swim off the point and we admired the artwork in the sculpture garden and the boats in the lagoon. Craig, Ange and I got caught in a sudden dowpour at one point and hopped in bicycle taxis to get out of the rain; the drivers promptly pulled into a covered service station to wait it out. We didn’t get back to our casa any faster, but we did end up having very interesting conversations with our drivers.

I love being by the water!

Goodbyes

In fact, it was the conversations that made this trip what it was. One of the last talks we had was with Willem, the driver we’d hired to take us from Cienfuegos to Havana, with a stop at Santa Clara to visit the Che memorial. The first part of the journey went well, but it came to a sudden halt when the car broke down in a petrol station forecourt. Willem stripped off his t-shirt and put on some overalls that he pulled out of the boot before fiddling around underneath the car. Unfortunately he couldn’t fix the problem to his satisfaction, so he called a friend of his to organise a replacement ride to Havana. It wasn’t a problem for us — we had time to spare, and filled it up with a good chat.

Che memorial.

It was Ange’s last night with us, so we went out for a nice dinner at El Trofeo and drank rum on the seawall while watching lightning flash across the sea. We slept for a couple of hours, then woke up at 3am to see her off: sadness all round. The next day we had lunch with a local guy we’d met in the street and had yet another interesting conversation about what it’s like to live in Cuba. He was much less optimistic than other people we’d spoken to; which was a little sad — it’s always good to get other perspectives, though.

Back in Havana.

A year or a lifetime might not be enough to understand how Cuba works, but our twelve days there were a great experience: good company, great conversations, and much better food than we’d been expecting.

“I don’t even understand this country,” our driver told us. “And I’ve lived here my whole life.”

I should have known from the start that it was futile to try to wrap my head around the mix of contrasts and contradictions that is Cuba. To use a tired cliche, it truly is a country like no other: stuck in time and full of colour, music and flavour. Twelve days and countless conversations later, I’m a little closer to understanding the systems and mindsets that keeps the country running, but I suspect that a full lifetime wouldn’t be enough to really get it.

Havana

Pin me on Pinterest!Our arrival in Cuba went very smoothly: after spending an hour or so battling through the passport control queue at Havana airport, we found our Mexican friend Luis waiting for us at the arrivals gate; he’d flown in from Mexico City a couple of hours previously.

The five of us made our way to the exchange office outside the terminal and joined the seemingly endless queue to change money, but we soon realised that no-one was waiting for the sole ATM hidden just inside the door. We skipped the queue, used a Visa debit card to withdraw lots of cash, and hopped in a taxi to our pre-booked casa particular.

The journey from the airport was an adventure in itself as we admired the socialist billboards and hordes of classic American cars, and we were warmly welcomed by our host Arsenio when we arrived at his house in Havana Centro. The street was mostly potholes and a pile of rubbish graced the nearest corner; the opposite corner was occupied by a street vendor selling bananas. Men catcalled Janine, Ange and me as we walked down the street; when we ventured off our road onto the main thoroughfare we were offered taxis every minute or two. Havana was noisy, active, falling apart, and full of life. I loved it. The others, not so much.

Havana was crumbling apart in some areas, colourful in others.

We spent three nights in Cuba’s capital city. The first night, we kept things simple: dinner and a walk along the malecón (seawall) to admire the fortress and get a breath of fresh air. The next day, we used an app I’d downloaded before we arrived in the country to do a walking tour of the main sights: el Capitolio, the cathedral, the Castillo de Real Fuerza, Granma yacht, and lots of lovely plazas.

We used our last morning to visit a tobacco factory — it was very interesting but we were frustrated by the fact that we couldn’t buy tickets at the factory itself, we had to go back to one of the main hotels to get them. This apparently limits corruption, and the fact that our guide took us into the cloakroom after the tour to sell us cigars under the table makes me suspect that it’s a sensible measure.

A trip to the beach was in order after this experience. We’d been told that the hop-on hop-off tourist bus was the way to go, but when we found out that it only runs once an hour, we jumped in a bumpy taxi instead. The water at Playa del Este was crystal clear, warm and pleasantly rough; it was a lovely, relaxing afternoon.

Beautiful Playas del Este.

Craig didn’t have such a relaxing time: he hadn’t wanted to come to the beach, so he headed to the bus station to buy tickets for our onwards journey. The lines were long and the taxis expensive, but he managed to get the tickets and the next day we made our way to Viñales.

Viñales

I wasn’t a fan of Viñales, though the others found it relaxing after battling the touts of Havana. For me, though, it was a tourist town like so many others around the world: every second house was a casa particular, the restaurants catered almost exclusively to tourists, the markets sold a lot of plastic. To be fair, they also sold handmade items: hats, salad servers, beautifully hand-carved birds and boxes.

Viñales.

Accommodation was easy: Arsenio had called to make a reservation for us at the house of a friend of his, though when we arrived she moved us on to her sister’s place. Our host was pleasant enough but her lack of experience showed in her tendency to hover and her unfortunate habit of wanting to talk to us when we were in the shower.

We spent our first day in Viñales doing a walking tour of the national park. Our guide explained the plants we were seeing as we went along, and we stopped at a tobacco farm to watch a cigar being rolled and to smoke one ourselves, and at a cafe plantation for an explanation of coffee production and an espresso.

Our walking tour was a highlight of our time in Viñales.

The next day we headed to Cayo Jutias, a 90-minute drive from Viñales. It was an excellent day: we hired a car and driver for the day, and he was happy to detour to the mural of prehistory and to stop in a small town along the way so we could buy lunch from local stalls. Janine and Ange went snorkelling and the rest of us relaxed on the white sand beach, drinking beer and eating the sandwiches and fruit we’d bought on the way. That evening was our last with Luis; we went out for a drink or two and watched a show at the Casa de la Música.

It might have been overcast, but we had a wonderful day at Cayo Jutia.

Trinidad

After our one trip from Havana to Viñales, we gave up on buses. They were always booked out a day or two in advance, and since we were a group of four, it was easier to hire a car and driver. The journey from Viñales to Trinidad was pretty expensive, but still cheaper than four bus tickets, and we shaved several hours off the journey time — on the whole, a win. It was a good day to be travelling, as the torrential rain would have made any tourism activities impossible — as it was, we pretty much just holed up in our room for the evening after we arrived in Trinidad.

Trinidad was a pretty city, and we enjoyed walking around and spending an evening listening to music and drinking truly terrible mojitos at the Casa de la Música (tip: go with straight rum, it’s cheaper and infinitely better). However, the highlight of our two nights was talking with our host, Yaneisy, who cooked us delicious dinners and told us all about daily life in Cuba and how things have changed over the last few years.

Trinidad was a very pretty place.

Cienfuegos

Our last stop was by far our favourite. Yaneisy had called to book us a room with a contact of hers, and we were impressed by how friendly and welcoming our new host was. Our room was comfortable, and we had dinner at his sister’s house a couple of doors down the street: a veritable feast of ropa vieja (pulled beef), fish, banana chips, salad, and rice, as well as fresh juice and the rum we’d brought with us. That evening was one of the highlights of the trip for me: we moved from the table to rocking chairs and spent several hours reminiscing and making plans for the future.

Cienfuegos itself was a nice town to walk around: we visited the picturesque town square and walked to Punta Gorda for a drink. Janine and Ange went for a swim off the point and we admired the artwork in the sculpture garden and the boats in the lagoon. Craig, Ange and I got caught in a sudden dowpour at one point and hopped in bicycle taxis to get out of the rain; the drivers promptly pulled into a covered service station to wait it out. We didn’t get back to our casa any faster, but we did end up having very interesting conversations with our drivers.

I love being by the water!

Goodbyes

In fact, it was the conversations that made this trip what it was. One of the last talks we had was with Willem, the driver we’d hired to take us from Cienfuegos to Havana, with a stop at Santa Clara to visit the Che memorial. The first part of the journey went well, but it came to a sudden halt when the car broke down in a petrol station forecourt. Willem stripped off his t-shirt and put on some overalls that he pulled out of the boot before fiddling around underneath the car. Unfortunately he couldn’t fix the problem to his satisfaction, so he called a friend of his to organise a replacement ride to Havana. It wasn’t a problem for us — we had time to spare, and filled it up with a good chat.

Che memorial.

It was Ange’s last night with us, so we went out for a nice dinner at El Trofeo and drank rum on the seawall while watching lightning flash across the sea. We slept for a couple of hours, then woke up at 3am to see her off: sadness all round. The next day we had lunch with a local guy we’d met in the street and had yet another interesting conversation about what it’s like to live in Cuba. He was much less optimistic than other people we’d spoken to; which was a little sad — it’s always good to get other perspectives, though.

Back in Havana.

A year or a lifetime might not be enough to understand how Cuba works, but our twelve days there were a great experience: good company, great conversations, and much better food than we’d been expecting.

Vibrant colours, friendly people, classic cars rattling down potholed streets, interesting geology, amazing beaches. Rum. Cigars. Music. Cuba is spectacular.

The country’s turbulent history has left it stranded in time in some regards: there are only 21 cars per thousand residents, pay phones are still a major form of communication, the Internet is almost completely absent. A visit to Cuba means cutting yourself off from the world a little (or a lot) — it’s a full immersion experience.

Pin me on Pinterest!Tourists are a major source of income for the country in general and for local people in particular; sometimes we felt like walking wallets as everyone wanted a share of our money. We were constantly saying no to offers of taxis, meals in restaurants, drinks in bars, erotic services. It’s understandable though: while the socialist government makes sure everyone has the bare minimum to survive, locals don’t have a lot of luxury. The tourist dollar is a way to supplement the average salary of less than US$20 a month.

Despite this, we found Cuba to be very reasonably priced: we stayed in casas particulares (local houses that rent out rooms) rather than hotels, and picked up snacks from street vendors rather than always eating out. Transport was the big expense, but didn’t break the bank, tours weren’t too expensive either, and a mojito in a bar could cost as little as US$2.

To listen, hit play below or find episode 312 in iTunes, Stitcher or Soundcloud:

Where is Cuba?

Cuba an island nation in the Caribbean Sea. The main island is the largest in the Caribbean, and the country also includes thousands of smaller islands as well. The US and the Bahamas are to the north, Mexico is to the west (Cancun is a 45-minute flight from Cuba’s capital, Havana) and Jamaica is to the south. A chain of Caribbean islands stretches off to the east, starting with Hispaniola, the island which houses both Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

A tiny bit of Cuban history

Cuba was inhabited by various mesoamerican tribes until 1492, when Christopher Columbus landed and claimed it for Spain. After 400 years of Spanish rule, it was briefly ruled by the US after the American-Spanish war, and gained independence in 1902. The twentieth century was a turbulent one, most notable for the Mafia invasion during American Prohibition followed by the 1959 revolution which overthrew a dictator and brought in Fidel Castro as leader of a now-communist society.

This revolution saw all land holdings over 400 hectares appropriated by the government, with no compensation given to the landowners. Since a huge proportion of the land seized belonged to US citizens, the USA was understandably angry and not only stopped all trade with Cuba, but also prohibited its citizens from visiting the country. President Obama has recently overturned the embargo, so Americans will be able to legally visit very soon. This, along with the loosening of restrictions for Cubans to start small businesses means that change is on its way to Cuba — visit now if you want to see a society on the brink of change.

Cuba is pretty great for beaches.

Get to Cuba

Some cruise ships stop at Cuba, but there aren’t any ferries at present to other countries. This will be changing soon when US Americans have free movement to Cuba; we found several websites advertising ferry services from Florida, which will start operations as soon as it’s permitted.

This means that you’ll almost certainly arrive by air, and probably into Havana. The easiest way to get into the city is by taxi, which costs 20-25 CUC. Until recently, passenger flying out of Cuba were charged a 25 CUC departure tax: this was abolished on May 1, 2015.

The best way to get around Cuba is by taxi… and that might mean a car like this one.

A word about money in Cuba

We read a lot about Cuba before heading there, and most of the articles dwelt heavily on the country’s dual currency system. It’s nowhere near as hard to grasp as these articles will make you think — don’t worry about it!

The currency you’ll be using the most is the convertible peso, or the CUC. It’s pegged 1:1 to the US dollar, so one CUC is the same as a US dollar — easy, right?

The other currency is the moneda nacional (MN or CUP). One CUC is worth 24 MN, and it’s definitely worth carrying some of these, in a separate wallet if possible. You can use them to buy street food like pizza, pastries and sandwiches, as well as drinks and ice cream from vendors or fruit from street carts. If you don’t have any MN on you, many vendors will accept CUC and give change in MN — just make sure to give the smallest denomination possible as they won’t have change for 20 CUC.

Many government-run shops will now accept both currencies and display prices in both CUC and MN. Apparently the dual-currency system is on its way out, but this might take some time!

A typical Havana street.

Getting money in Cuba

It can be a challenge to get your hands on Cuban cash. It’s not transferable outside of the country, so you’ll have to wait until you’re there to get it, and that often means standing in ridiculously long lines. The information below was correct as of mid-December 2015.

We decided to rely on plastic, and had no problems withdrawing cash from the ATM at the airport using a Visa debit card. There are ATMs on the departures floor and at the exchange office outside Arrivals. (Turn right out of the door, and — if no-one is using the ATM — talk to the security guard to skip the queue.)

Our Visa Debit worked everywhere, however, most regular debit or MasterCard debit cards don’t work at all, and US cards won’t work either. You can also withdraw from a Visa credit card, but you’ll get charged interest immediately on the amount you take out so it’s not an economical option.

There’s a 3% fee on all ATM withdrawals and currency exchanges, so when we withdrew 800 CUC at the airport, it cost us US$824 plus our normal bank charges.

The other way is to bring cash and change it at a bank or cadeca exchange office. Don’t bring US dollars as there’s an extra 10% tax on them: pounds, euros and Canadian dollars are your best bet. Be prepared to wait in line, usually outside the office: a security guard allows one person to enter at a time.

Going to Cuba can feel like going back in time.

Where to go in Cuba

Havana

Havana seemed to be crumbling around us, with many buildings in a bad state of repair and piles of rubbish decorating the streets. It’s an interesting place to wander around; though — we used an app to explore the main sights but didn’t go into any of the museums. Make sure to see the Capitol building, the pleasantly asymmetrical cathedral, the Castillo de Real Fuerza fortress, and the Partagas tobacco factory. Walk along the malecón (seawall) and buy snacks from the peso shops of street vendors using moneda nacional. We did a tour of one of the tobacco factories, which was very interesting, though quite short. Tickets cost 10 CUC and you have to buy them from any one of the big hotels in the city centre, not from the factory itself.

Viñales

Viñales has boomed in recent years to become a tourist hub. Almost all of the houses are casas particulares and budget street food is hard to come by. It’s worth a visit though: do a tour of the national park on foot or by horse to see tobacco and coffee plantations, visit a cave and swim in a small lake. It’s also a good base for heading to one of the beaches on the northern coast: Cayo Levisa and Cayo Jutias are both around 60km and 90 minutes drive away. Going to Cayo Levisa means hopping on a day tour as going independently is a lot more expensive; we chose Cayo Jutias as it was a little cheaper to get there and seemed less commercial and more laid back.

Viñales, Cuba

Trinidad, Cienfuegos and Santa Clara

Just an hour or two away from each other, these three colonial cities are all worth a visit. We spent two days each in Trinidad and Cienfuegos, and just visited Santa Clara for the Che Guevara memorial. Trinidad was great for the nightly outdoor concerts at the Casa de la Musica, and Cienfuegos charmed us with its beautiful colonial buildings and seaside location.

Other destinations in Cuba

Twelve days isn’t enough to scratch Cuba’s surface. We limited ourselves to the western side of the island due to time constraints, but there’s plenty to see on the other side as well. We’ve heard that Santiago de Cuba and Guardadlavaca are interesting cities, and there’s snorkelling, scuba diving and hiking opportunities all over the place. There’s no overnight hiking possible: everything we found out about required a guide, a park fee and only comprised 4-15km loops (1-4 hours, maximum hiking time).

Eating in Cuba

Rumours of terrible food in Cuba didn’t match our experience there. Perhaps because new private restaurants have a financial incentive to ensure customers enjoy their food and come back for more, we found the food to be pretty good, on the whole. There was certainly a lot of rice and beans, but in almost every restaurant we could choose from chicken, pork, beef, shrimp or lobster, and side dishes of vegetables were also available. For variety, we had the occasional hamburger or pasta dish, and bought snacks from street stalls in moneda nacional.

As well as eating in restaurants, we also had dinner in our casa particular at least once during each stay. We found the food to be excellent in each case, and the price (7 or 8CUC per person) to be fair. If you’re travelling solo, prices may be a little higher to offset the labour-to-income ratio.

Drink and smoke

Cuba is famous for rum, and for good reason — it’s fantastic. We stuck to Havana Club, the best quality of the brands available, and also the brand you’re most likely to find in bars. Choose from white rum (3 year old) or barrel-aged darker varieties, such as our favourite, the Añejo 7 años. Our cocktail of choice was the mojito, but the daiquiri was also created in Cuba if you want to try it out.

We don’t smoke as a rule, but a few puffs on a Cuban cigar is an experience worth having. Buy your cigars from a temperature-controlled store if at all possible, and never buy on the street. You can tour the cigar factory that produces Partagas, Romeo y Juliet and Cohiba in Havana and see the more casual way cigars are rolled in the tobacco plantations near Viñales.

Visit a tobacco farm while you’re in Viñales, Cuba.

Get around

The Viazul buses provide a comfortable journey between Cuba’s main cities, but places are limited in high season and you’ll need to buy your tickets (in person) a day or two in advance. Your other option is to hire a car and driver, which we found to be the most convenient way to travel as we were a group of four. Prices are similar to what you’ll pay for the bus, though you might be able to negotiate a small discount if you’re lucky.

Solo travellers can book a seat in a car travelling in the direction they’re heading, though drivers might try to cram four people in the backseat to earn more money. You can ask for advice at the Infotur office in each city, or your casa particular host might have a contact for you.

Cuba is full of awesome classic cars.

Warnings

Most Cubans earn less than US$20 per month, which isn’t really enough to live on. Tourists represent a chance to earn more, and while many people have legitimate businesses, others make a living through scams. Jineteros (touts) are a constant issue: they get a commission if they take you to a casa particular or restaurant, so you’ll end up paying more than you should if you show up somewhere with one in tow. Some restaurants seemed to charge different prices depending on the day, and Craig was once charged three times as much as he should have been for a lemonade by a waitress who wanted to line her pockets. It’s hard to avoid all the scams all the time, even for experienced travellers, so be prepared to be ripped off at least once during your trip.

Final thoughts

Cuba is a fascinating country that’s slowly incorporating capitalist values into its socialist system. You’ll undoubtably be frustrated by its contradictions, but it’s definitely worth a visit.

To listen, hit play above or check in iTunes, Stitcher or Soundcloud.

Travel is about people. However, your accommodation choices can limit how many people you meet: hotels tend to isolate, while hostels will help you meet travellers but won’t put you in touch with locals. In Cuba, staying in casas particulares will give you a taste of local life — quite literally, as many casas offer breakfast and dinner.

What is a casa particular?

Pin me on Pinterest!“Casa particular” means “private home” in Spanish, which is exactly what it is: local people rent out rooms in their house to travellers. It’s strictly regulated, and until a few years ago, getting a license was a long-drawn-out process that involved at least ten forms and a considerable cash outlay. Now, more licenses are available as part of Raul Castro’s reforms, and many more people are refurbishing their houses to make them suitable for paying guests. This is great, because tourism is increasing rapidly — high season can see full occupation in some towns.

Every room we stayed in had a private bathroom and two beds, usually one single and one double. Most casas had two rooms available, though we were told a few had up to five. You pay per room rather than per person; this means it’s great value for couples and groups of three, while people travelling alone might want to consider finding a travel buddy to save costs.

The going rate is 20-25 CUC per night. (Note: the Cuban convertible peso is pegged 1:1 to the US dollar, so 1 CUC = US$1.)

The living room of one casa particular in Cuba.

Food

We were always offered breakfast, at prices ranging from 3-5 CUC per person per day. When we declined the 5 CUC offer, our host lowered the price until we said yes (at 3 CUC). This was pretty good value for coffee, eggs, fruit, juice and bread, which is the standard offering, even if we could have put it together ourselves at a lower price. (Note: the Cuban convertible peso is pegged 1:1 to the US dollar, so 1 CUC = US$1.)

Some casas particulares also offer dinner for 7-12 CUC per person. If you’re staying more than one night, I’d recommend you eat at home at least once: the food is delicious and the price is comparable to what you’d pay at most restaurants. Plus, the money goes direct to your host, rather than to the government.

The food at casas particulares can be amazing!

How to book

Most people in Cuba don’t have access to the Internet, so you probably won’t be able to reserve online. That said, we saw a few casas particulares listed on sites like Homestay.com, so it’s not unheard of. Personally, we were given a business card for a casa in Havana by a fellow traveller, and called to make a reservation.

Once you’re in Cuba and in a casa, your problems are over. Your host will happily call a friend, relative or contact in your next destination to reserve a room for you, which works out great for everyone involved: the contact gets a client, your original host increases the chance of his contact sending him clients in the future, and you get a room with very little effort. It’s a wonderful system.

Our street in Havana.

Paperwork

As soon as you arrive at your casa, you’ll be asked for your passport so your host can record your details in a log book and call to register you with the government. There are stiff fines for non-compliance, so make it easy for them! We generally paid when we left, but some hosts might ask for payment on arrival.

Hand over your passport!

What if I don’t speak Spanish?

Everyone in Cuba studies English at school, so you might be able to get by in English. It’s worth learning a few key phrases in Spanish just in case, though:

  • Hello: Hola (OH-la)
  • Thanks: Gracias (GRA-si-ass)
  • How much does it cost?: Cuánto cuesta? (KWAN-to KWES-ta)
  • At what time?: A que hora? (ah KAY OH-ra)
  • Breakfast: Desayuno (des-ah-YOO-no)
  • Dinner: Cena (SEH-na)
  • 1: uno (OO-no)
  • 2: dos (DOS)
  • 3: tres (TRESS)
  • 4: cuatro (KWAT-ro)
  • 5: cinco (SIN-ko)
  • 10: diez (DEE-ez)
  • 20: veinte (BEN-te)
  • 25: veinte cinco (BEN-te SIN-ko)
  • 30: treinta (TREN-ta)

Enjoy

Every experience in a casa particular will be different, just as every host is different. One thing’s for sure, though, you’ll have a great experience staying in Cuba‘s casas particulares.

I’m often surprised when I look back over photos from the last twelve months to see how much I’ve done… and this year is no different. 2015 has been an amazing year, full of good times, not-so-good times, and time with friends and family.

January

We saw the new year in in our temporary home of Alcalá de Henares, where I was doing a master’s degree. We’d been based there since September 2015 and stayed until the end of June, so it was a pretty long stretch for us. Luckily, we loved it — and who wouldn’t? Not only is it Unesco world heritage listed, it’s full of lovely people and delicious tapas.

We spent a lot of time in the Plaza de Cervantes.

February

We’re always happy to have an excuse to visit our old home of A Coruña, so we took advantage of a long weekend to fly up to visit our friends Oliva and Guille at Carnival time. They (and another friend, Alba) had created some spectacular costumes for us to wear, and we enjoyed watching the parades and looking like idiots while eating tapas.

March

I had to knuckle down to work and study, but Craig headed off to Berlin to attend a conference and hang out with awesome people. I wasn’t too jealous — after all, it was at least ten degrees warmer where I was.

I got to go to Berlin later in the year, so I wasn’t too jealous…

April

April was a month of family visits. First, my brother Simon and his fiancée Katie hopped over from London to spend Easter with us, and then Craig’s parents visited for a week in the middle of the month. We made sure to explore Alcalá and Madrid with them, and headed over to Valencia for the weekend.

Katie, Simon, Linda and Craig at the Puerta de Alcalá.

May

The big event of the month was a trip up to Lloret de Mar in Catalunya to attend the TBEX travel bloggers’ conference. It’s always great to catch up with our travel blogger friends, some of whom we’ve known for almost ten years — as long as Indie Travel Podcast has been running.

After TBEX, Craig headed up to the Baltics with JayWay Travel and I returned to Alcalá with my friend and workmate Alisa. While Craig explored Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, I finished my thesis and went on school camp with a hundred preteens.

However, I was jealous of missing the trip to the Baltics.

June

Our last month in Alcalá was spent in good company. My sister came over for a visit with her son Henry, and our friend Janine joined us part way through the month. We all hopped in a car together for a quick trip around Portugal with a stop in Segovia along the way, and Janine and Craig finished the journey with a week-long surf school in Peniche.

After my graduation, Janine, Craig and I headed north to take part in the Haro Wine festival — yep, we threw wine at each other for a beautiful, sticky morning.

We got a little damp.

July

Janine had never walked a Camino de Santiago, and we are always keen to do another, so we hiked 300km from Oviedo to Santiago over two weeks or so. We started as a group of three and finished as seven, and for some reason we called ourselves the Smurfs.

One of the many views on the Camino Primitivo.

After a quick stop in Coruña (to show it off to Janine) we hopped in Alba’s car to head to Toledo for Oliva and Guille’s wedding. It was a beautiful day in a gorgeous location and we felt privileged to be invited to take part in it.

We had a few days in Madrid, during which we caught up with a few friends and ate tacos, then flew to Berlin for something completely different.

August

We were housesitting in the outskirts of the city and thought we’d just get down to work — but it didn’t work out like that. Instead, we spent heaps of time with our friends Claudia and Holger; Frankie and Jesus; Adam; Javier; and Natalie and Stephanie from Context Travel. We did find time to walk the dog twice a day, though!

We even spent time at the beach while in Berlin!

From there, we caught a bus down to Prague, where we stayed with the excellent Charles of JayWay Travel. Our friends Graham and Jon were over from New Zealand, and Janine and our Camino friend Clothilde joined us for a wonderful couple of days together.

Too soon, it was time to go — we flew to England for another housesit.

September

We’d never heard of Oundle before we accepted the housesit, and it wasn’t anything like what we expected. There was so much to do — pub visits with the neighbours, walking tours, a visit to the theatre. I even went to a blogging festival near London (where I almost froze, but at least in good company). We were sad to leave, but not too sad — we were going to Moldova!

Oundle was beautiful and surprising.

October

We’d wanted to attend the Moldovan wine festival for at least eight years, so you can imagine our disappointment when it was called off when we finally had tickets to the country. No worries, though: alternative activities were put on, and we enjoyed them in the company of a group of Moldovan and Romanian bloggers.

The Moldovan flag flies over the Et Cetera vineyard.

Our trip to Ukraine was postponed as a result of my incompetence, but we got there eventually. We loved spending time with local people in Odessa and having a Performance Foundry mini-conference on a boat in Kiev.

St. Sophia Cathedral is one of the most spectacular buildings we’ve ever seen — and we’ve seen a few.

November

The weather really started to cool off at the beginning of November, and heading back to England probably didn’t help matters. However, we had a stunning day for watching New Zealand win the Rugby World Cup final, and only shivered a little while travelling across London for the World Travel Market conference.

Go All Blacks!

Most of the month, though, was spent in Mexico with Janine and our other best friend, Ange. We hung out in Cancun for a week before starting our epic road trip around the Yucatan Peninsula, during which we ate a lot of tacos and only had to pay three bribes.

December

Cuba was our next destination, where we were joined by another friend, Luis. We loved staying in casas particulares (local homes) and trying rum and cigars in various spots around the country.

Cuba is full of awesome classic cars.

Pin me on Pinterest!It was sad to say goodbye to Ange, Janine, and Luis, but they had other plans and we were heading back to Mexico to hang out with other friends. Pete and Dalene had told us they would be spending Christmas in San Miguel de Allende, so we decided to crash the party and head there too, with a one-week stop in Querétaro along the way.

An indie travel 2016

2015 has been an epic year, especially since we thought we’d be travelling slowly. Next year though, we really should be slowing down: we’ve got a housesit lined up in Panama, and we’re heading to Colombia for three months after that. We hope to explore a bit more of this part of the world before heading south again to hang out with family and friends in Australia and New Zealand towards the end of the year.

What are your plans for 2016? What was your highlight of the last year? Leave a comment below.

“You went to Cuba? I’m so jealous!”

Pin me on Pinterest!Almost every American I’ve spoken to since our visit to Cuba has responded in the same way: with envy. Soon, though, it’s going to be much easier for US citizens to visit this Caribbean nation, with the lifting of the decades-old embargo.

We visited late last year with a couple of friends, and explored Havana and the eastern half of the island. We stayed in casas particulares and travelled in huge old American cars. We ate at hole-in-the-wall locals’ food stalls, drank rum and smoked cigars.

It was an experience like no other in a country that’s like no other: stopped in time in some respects, inching into the future in others. We found it frustrating, invigorating, interesting and welcoming, and we’re sure you’ll have a great time there when you travel to Cuba.

In the meantime, enjoy these Cuba Instagram photos. While you check them out, take a listen to our Cuba podcast: hit play below or find episode 312 in iTunes, Stitcher or Soundcloud:

Havana

Classic cars are an important part of Havana. Internet is not, hence my recent silence here!

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on Dec 5, 2015 at 8:23am PST

Wooooo! Loving Cuba so far.

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on Nov 30, 2015 at 10:49am PST

There are some awesome building in Havana, like the Partagas tobacco factory.

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on Dec 15, 2015 at 4:11pm PST

I love the lack of symmetry of Havana's cathedral.

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on Dec 13, 2015 at 1:28pm PST

Havana, looking stormy.

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on Dec 17, 2015 at 2:43pm PST

Beaches

I'm dreaming of beaches tonight! This is Cayo Jutías in Cuba.

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on Dec 29, 2015 at 9:41pm PST

We made sure to get some beach time while in Cuba — it's important!

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on Dec 12, 2015 at 6:16am PST

The sun has set on our time in Cuba — which means we are back in a place with Internet and I can finally put up some photos! This sunset was in Cienfuegos a couple of nights ago.

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on Dec 10, 2015 at 10:22pm PST

Cienfuegos

Cienfuegos was our favourite city that we visited in Cuba.

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on Dec 11, 2015 at 9:05pm PST

During our wander around Cienfuegos, we found this small lagoon full of boats — so pretty.

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on Dec 11, 2015 at 8:23am PST

Another photo of my favourite Cuban city, Cienfuegos.

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on Dec 23, 2015 at 7:15am PST

Another boat in the lagoon at Cienfuegos, Cuba.

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on Dec 18, 2015 at 6:53am PST

One of the sculptures in the Cienfuegos sculpture garden. "Dragonfly" is "libélula" in Spanish — try saying that five times fast!

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on Dec 16, 2015 at 7:04am PST

The Arch of Triumph in the main plaza of Cienfuegos is dedicated to Cuban independence.

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on Dec 14, 2015 at 7:04am PST

It was a beautiful day in Cienfuegos… An hour later, the heavens opened and we ran for shelter in a bus stop. Two bike taxis pulled up and offered us a lift into town, but promptly stopped under a petrol station awning to wait out the worst of the rain. We didn't get home any faster, but we did stay dry and have a great conversation with our drivers.

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on Dec 12, 2015 at 7:49pm PST

Viñales

One of the highlights of our trip to Cuba was the five-hour walking tour through the national park in Viñales. We visited tobacco and coffee plantations, explored a cave, and went for a swim in a small lake. It was awesome.

A photo posted by Craig and Linda (@indietravel) on Dec 15, 2015 at 6:49am PST

Come join us on Instagram by searching for indietravel — we’re having heaps of fun!

Anticipating a Cuban New Year's bash, tourists gather in Havana's old town. The cathedral square is filled with tables, as servants scamper to keep the breeze from destroying their handiwork with the napkins. Leaving the touristic center, we walk three blocks into a barrio -- with buildings aging like melted sugar cubes and people who, it seems, view the world from their ramshackle doorsteps. I made a friend and was invited into a party I'll never forget. Peeking into a once-grand entryway, now draped in poverty, I saw masses of creative wiring creating a confused black web above broken building material coated with grime. A ramshackle spiral staircase led into what seemed like a dark attic -- but I knew was many floors of apartments, each with a family primed to enter the New Year. Given the political quaking in Cuban-American relations, I suspect that 2016 could be a year to remember. Marveling at the play of light -- rays streaming through cracks, highlighting random corners of the otherwise dark space -- I realized it was perfectly monochrome. As I steadied my camera against the door to compensate for the low light, a man suddenly stepped into the space. Wearing a blue-and-black-striped shirt, with crucifix bling dangling from his neck, he looked like a young, miniature Arsenio Hall. The bright-blue stripes along with his toothy smile popped in all that black and gray. He said, "Me llamo José." We talked and shared our feliz año nuevo wishes. Americans are still an oddity here, so that stoked the conversation. José was heading up that haunted-house spiral staircase to his family's party, and invited us along. Knowing that this is the kind of opportunity you travel for, we accepted. Rocking chairs spilled out onto the third-floor landing, providing an alternative space for the old boys to gather. Drawn to the bright light of the family room -- a big space for cooking, eating, and lounging -- we were welcomed into a four-generation scene. (Generations pile up quickly, as girls have kids early. José was 39 and already a grandfather. He didn't like that his 13-year-old daughter had a child...but what can you do?) Photo: The Travelphile I've enjoyed many situations with very poor people partying. But this scene seemed different. I sense the ratio of education to per capita income here is the highest among the poor of any place I've ever traveled. These people spoke English and eagerly taught us to rhumba. With the conversation raging, the brother showed me his smartphone with quotes from Abraham Lincoln in Spanish. He translated one roughly: "The best form of justice is not always the best politics." Cuba has plenty of poor, but regardless of any family's ability to pay, they've all been to school. The only thing being served was straight rum in tiny glasses. A boom box played while all danced. Little kids were busy learning dance moves from the older ones. A ten-year-old Michael Jackson wannabe was happy to teach the visiting tourists the steps. The patriarch proudly snapped photos. (My next post is a video of all the fun.) Photo: The Travelphile Getting some quiet, I stepped out onto the balcony. From that corner perch, the grimy city stretched in four directions. Nearly all the action seemed to be families gathered in homes -- certainly more affordable than going out. When midnight struck, everyone crowded onto that balcony to enjoy the local tradition of pelting anyone clueless enough to be out and about with garbage and water. Photo: The Travelphile Later, we walked six blocks back to Cuba's towering capitol building (a knockoff of ours in Washington DC -- but, they boast, "one meter taller"). Across the street, we climbed to the rooftop of a hotel and crashed a classy $50-a-plate dinner with a band playing poolside. The patrons seemed dreadfully bored, and the contrast between this scene (with over-the-top food and party favors for about a month's local wages) and the humble apartment where we had enjoyed our New Year's was thought-provoking. Out after midnight in a Havana barrio, we felt perfectly safe, except for potholes and passing bici (bicycle taxis) in the dark streets. Jumping into a taxi, I said, "Miramar" (the neighborhood of our B&B). He said, "Twenty CUC" -- that's about $20. I said, "Ten." He said, "No, this is a 1956 Pontiac...fifteen." I said, "OK." He said "Feliz año nuevo," and we rumbled home...capping a New Year's Eve I'll long remember.

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Hear about cruising to Cuba as the Amateur Traveler talks again to Dave Grenewetzki about his trip on a ship based People to People trip to Cuba.

Hear about cruising to Cuba as the Amateur Traveler talks again to Dave Grenewetzki about his trip on a ship based People to People trip to Cuba.

Scott Sporleder

Cuba’s capital city, Havana, is one of the largest urban areas in the Caribbean region. The city is well known for its Spanish colonial architecture in 16th-century Old Havana. Havana’s vibrant culture and architectural beauty attract over a million visitors every year. Here are a few things you absolutely have to do and see when in the city.

Editor’s note: These spots are all taken directly from travelstoke®, a new app from Matador that connects you with fellow travelers and locals, and helps you build trip itineraries with spots that integrate seamlessly into Google Maps and Uber. Download the app to add any of the spots below directly to your future trips.

Fusterlandia

 FusterlandiaLa Habana, CubaHeading to Havana? Be sure to check out the studio of artist Jose Rodriguez Fuster, as well as the surrounding neighborhood (Jaimanitas). Everything is so colorful and lively! No wonder it is called “Fusterlandia.” It reminds you of Disneyland, the happiest place on Earth!

Plaza de Armas

 Plaza de ArmasLa Habana, CubaCool square that has lots of vendors selling things like records, books, posters and trinkets from pre-1960 #souvenirs #bargins

Centro Habana

 Centro HabanaLa Habana, CubaHavana, Cuba street life

Almacenes San José Artisans’ Market

 Almacenes San José Artisans’ MarketLa Habana, CubaTake at least 3 hours to get through all of this. Some awesome hand made leather goods, souvenirs and amazing paintings from local artists. Put your bargening shoes on because you will be in for one heck of a ride. Also there is a stand that has frozen coconuts and they will put a bunch of rum in it for an extra dollar. #souvenirs #bargins

Café París

 Café ParísLa Habana, CubaGreat cafe to grab an espresso and have a cigar and pastries. Also at night it becomes lively with a great mojito and live music. #cheap-eats #coffee #casual #dancing

La Catedral de la Virgen María de la Concepción Inmaculada de La Habana

 La Catedral de la Virgen María de la Concepción Inmaculada de La HabanaLa Habana, CubaThis is an amazing cathedral in central Havana that still holds mass and is free to walk around in. Don’t forget to take off your hat when entering as a sign of respect. Located in the beautiful renovated square for many opportunities for great shots. #free

Palacio de los Marqueses de Aguas Claras

 Palacio de los Marqueses de Aguas ClarasLa Habana, CubaThis is a great cafe called El Patio adjacent to the front steps of the cathedral. Beautiful architecture and views of the Cathedral Square. This is also a hostel/particular that you can get reasonably priced rooms. #cheap-eats #coffee

Policia Nacional Revolucionaria

 Policia Nacional RevolucionariaLa Habana, CubaVery cool building which is still used as a police station today. #history

Centro Habana

 Centro HabanaLa Habana, Cuba#streetlife #havana #cuba

Great Theatre of Havana

 Great Theatre of HavanaLa Habana, CubaAnother stunning structure in Old Havana. We were not able to see a show but heard amazing things and can’t wait to go back to see a show. #history #gallery #dancing #musicvenue #livemusic

IBEROSTAR Parque Central

 IBEROSTAR Parque CentralLa Habana, CubaGreat location,nice room,excellent rooftop bars.Good food, great music when we were there.

Paseo de Martí

 Paseo de MartíLa Habana, CubaBeautiful central walk where you can sit in the shade on the marble benches while enjoying the breeze and watching the classic cars roll by. #free #statue

Museum of the Revolution

 Museum of the RevolutionLa Habana, CubaWorth the 10 pesos to get in and see all the amazing history that evolved around the revolution. The building alone is worth the trip with amazing architecture and bullet holes from the fight. #history #gallery

Paladar La Familia

 Paladar La FamiliaLa Habana, CubaAmazing dining experience. Secret hole in the wall and up a tiny staircse where the famous people come like the Rolling Stones. There is usually a live band playing in a very cool open atmosphere. #cheap-eats #food #casual

Visiting neighboring cities

 HavanaLa Habana, CubaHire a private car with a driver . Costs USD$100-150 per day. Visit cities out of Havana. My fav were TrinidadSanta ClaraSantiago de Cuba # road trip #photography

Lonely Planet Cuba (Travel Guide)

Lonely Planet

#1 best-selling guide to Cuba *

Lonely Planet Cuba is your passport to the most relevant, up-to-date advice on what to see and skip, and what hidden discoveries await you. Take a drive along Havana's Malecon, soak up the live music scene, make yourself at home in a casa particular all with your trusted travel companion. Get to the heart of Cuba and begin your journey now!

Inside Lonely Planet Cuba:

Full-color maps and images throughout Highlights and itineraries help you tailor your trip to your personal needs and interests Insider tips to save time and money and get around like a local, avoiding crowds and trouble spots Essential info at your fingertips - hours of operation, phone numbers, websites, transit tips, prices Honest reviews for all budgets - eating, sleeping, sight-seeing, going out, shopping, hidden gems that most guidebooks miss Cultural insights give you a richer, more rewarding travel experience - history, architecture, cuisine, music, dance, landscape, wildlife, literature, arts, politics Free, convenient pull-out Havana map (included in print version), plus over 80 color maps Covers Havana, Artemisa, Mayabeque, Isla de la Juventud, Valle de  VinalesPinar del RioVaraderoMatanzasCienfuegos, Villa Clara, Trinidad,  Sancti SpiritusCiego de AvilaCamagueyLas TunasHolguin, Granma,  Santiago de CubaGuantanamo and more

The Perfect Choice: Lonely Planet Cuba , our most comprehensive guide to Cuba, is perfect for both exploring top sights and taking roads less traveled.

Looking for more extended coverage? Check out Lonely Planet's Discover Caribbean Islands guide.

Authors: Written and researched by Lonely Planet, Brendan Sainsbury and Luke Waterson

About Lonely Planet: Since 1973, Lonely Planet has become the world's leading travel media company with guidebooks to every destination, an award-winning website, mobile and digital travel products, and a dedicated traveler community. Lonely Planet covers must-see spots but also enables curious travelers to get off beaten paths to understand more of the culture of the places in which they find themselves.

Lonely Planet guides have won the TripAdvisor Travelers' Choice Awards in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 in the Favorite Travel Guide category.

*Best-selling guide to Cuba. Source: Nielsen BookScan. Australia, UK and USA. Mar 2014 - Feb 2015

Havana Tips and Tricks: Interesting Facts and Tips On Havana And Cuba (With Trinidad Bonus Section)

Mario Rizzi

UPDATED 2016 EDITION - With Bonus Trinidad City GuideThis sample guide includes dozens of interesting facts, tips and tricks to help you understand Cuban culture and daily life. The information presented in this guide was taken from the book Real Havana: Explore Cuba Like A Local And Save Money. This book is available at most online book retailers. It offers a complete description of all the information presented below.In this mini-guide you will learn about:● Dozens of facts and tips on Cuban Culture and daily life.● Money saving tips on Cuban cuisine and dining.● Common restaurant scams in Havana.● Facts about buying alcohol, cigars and shopping in general.● Important tips on using taxis, public transportation and rental cars.● Info on biking in Havana● Booking a cheap apartment in Havana (casa particular)Plus, this updated 2016 edition includes a special Trinidad City Guide. Trinidad is one of the most beautiful towns in Cuba and one of the most popular excursion destinations for travelers. Learn how to explore this wonderful UNESCO World Heritage site for yourself, on your next trip to Cuba.BONUS: As a bonus, this mini-guide also includes the Top Ten Cuba Tip List! It’s packed with the most important information that any traveler must know about Cuba and Havana, in order to maximize their fun, save money and avoid any hassles.The Real Havana guide has all that information and much more. It has been described by industry professionals as being the #1 travel guide for information about Cuban culture. That’s why it is a bestseller and has been a trusted resource to over 200 000 travelers since 2010.About Full Compass GuidesFull Compass Guides are aimed at travelers who want to understand local customs and culture so that they can experience destinations like a local. Unlike regular tourist guides, Full Compass guides are not a list of attractions popular with tourists, and boring restaurant and hotel reviews that are obsolete the moment they are published. With our guides, you get succinct, useful information about the culture, people and geography of your destination so you have the tools and the confidence to explore on your own, experience everything that your destination has to offer, and save money.Our guides are written by experienced travelers who have intimate knowledge of both the location and the culture of the destination. They give you the exact information you need in order to make the most of your travel time. With a Full Compass guide, you will be a knowledgeable explorer, rather than just another flash-happy tourist.

StreetSmart Havana Map by VanDam - City Street Map of Havana - Laminated folding pocket size city travel map (English and Spanish Edition), October 2017 Edition

Stephan Van Dam

VanDam's best-selling Havana StreetSmart maps all of the capital's cultural attractions, neighborhoods, beaches, hotels, resorts and more at an immensely legible scale. The map features the latest restaurants, hotels, bars and supper clubs all clearly marked. This is the smartest and easiest to use map of Havana. Remember web access in Cuba is limited to hotels, excruciatingly slow and up-to-date information simply unavailable. So, let Havana StreetSmart be your key to understanding the new world's oldest city. This sexy laminated city map package refolds easily to 4 x 9 inches (24 x 9 inches open) and snuggly fits into your pocket. Buy this map to become an instant StreetSmart Habanero.

DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Cuba

DK

DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Cuba is your in-depth guide to the very best of this island nation. With its unique history, pristine beaches, vintage cars, and strong cultural traditions of music and salsa, Cuba is an endlessly fascinating place. Delve beneath its dazzling surface to experience Cuba's extensive arts scene and bold architecture, escape to the beautiful mountain ranges of the countryside, or enjoy an exceptional meal in its backstreets.

Discover DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Cuba:

   • Detailed itineraries and "don't-miss" destination highlights at a glance.    • Illustrated cutaway 3-D drawings of important sights.    • Floor plans and guided visitor information for major museums.    • Guided walking tours, local drink and dining specialties to try, things to do, and places to eat, drink, and shop by area.    • Area maps marked with sights .    • Insights into history and culture to help you understand the stories behind the sights.    • Hotel and restaurant listings highlight DK Choice special recommendations.

With hundreds of full-color photographs, hand-drawn illustrations, and custom maps that illuminate every page, DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Cuba truly shows you this island nation as no one else can.

Recommend: For an in-depth guidebook to the Caribbean, check out DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Caribbean, which offers a complete overview of the island destinations in the region; thousands of photographs, illustrations, and maps; and more.

The Rough Guide to Cuba

Rough Guides

The Rough Guide to Cuba is the perfect guide for all your travels across this dazzling country.

Discover all of Cuba's highlights with insider information ranging from Cuba's diverse music, Scuba diving, and colonial architecture to its world-class ballet and baseball, political history, and captivating capital city, Havana.

Clear maps make your travels around this spectacular country easy and unforgettable. You will never miss a sight with the stunning photos included and detailed coverage of Cuba's vibrant cities, glittering beaches, lush countryside, and addictive mixture of the Latin American and Caribbean cultures. Insider tips lead you to the best hotels, bars, clubs, shops, and restaurants in the country.

Make the most of your time with The Rough Guide to Cuba.

Series Overview: For more than thirty years, adventurous travelers have turned to Rough Guides for up-to-date and intuitive information from expert authors. With opinionated and lively writing, honest reviews, and a strong cultural background, Rough Guides travel books bring more than 200 destinations to life. Visit RoughGuides.com to learn more.

National Geographic Traveler: Cuba, 4th Edition

Christopher Baker

This guide covers all the main towns and regions of the island of Cuba, helping travelers negotiate one of the Caribbean's best-kept secrets up to now. Travel information and tips for HavanaTrinidadSantiago de Cuba, and Holguín are all updated in this latest edition. The book also includes detailed colonial city walks and regional drives, complete with maps and booking information, as well as interesting features on topography, Che Guevara, reefs, Cuban baseball, rum, and cigar making. The National Geographic Traveler guidebooks are in tune with the ever growing trend toward experiential travel, providing inspiring photography, insider tips, and expert advice for a more authentic, enriching experience of the destination. The guides provide information, historical context, and cultural interpretation not available online.

StreetSmart Cuba Map by VanDam - Map of Cuba - Laminated folding pocket size country travel guide with detailed city street maps (English and Spanish 2017 Edition) (English and Spanish Edition)

Stephan Van Dam

VanDam's newest Cuba StreetSmart maps all of Cuba's cultural and natural riches at an immensely legible scale. It is both a relief country road map and culture map. The map features attractions, beaches, hotels, resorts, the latest restaurants, bars and supper clubs all expertly researched and clearly marked. With blow-up details of HavanaCayo Coco, Guilermo, HolguinMatanzasTrinidad, and Santiago de Cuba, this is the smartest and easiest-to use map of Cuba: indispensable travel companion and lasting souvenir. Remember web access in Cuba is limited to hotels, excruciatingly slow and up-to-date information simply unavailable. Let Cuba StreetSmart be your key to understanding the Carribean's biggest island. This sexy laminated city map package refolds easily to 4 x 9 inches (32 x 9 inches open) and snuggly fits into your pocket. Buy this map to become an instant StreetSmart Cubano.

Top 10 Cuba (Eyewitness Top 10 Travel Guide)

DK

Newly revised, updated, and redesigned for 2017.

True to its name, DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Top 10 Cuba covers all the island nation's major sights and attractions in easy-to-use "top 10" lists that help you plan the vacation that's right for you.

This newly updated pocket travel guide for Cuba will lead you straight to the best attractions the country has to offer, from its extensive arts scene and bold architecture to its beautiful mountain ranges to its fascinating history and strong cultural traditions of music and salsa.

Expert travel writers have fully revised this edition of DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Top 10 Cuba.

   • Brand-new itineraries help you plan your trip to Cuba.    • Expanded and far more comprehensive, new laminated pull-out map now includes color-coded design, public transportation maps, and street indexes to make it even easier to use.    • Maps of walking routes show you the best ways to maximize your time.    • New Top 10 lists feature off-the-beaten-track ideas, along with standbys like the top attractions, shopping, dining options, and more.    • Additional maps marked with sights from the guidebook are shown on inside cover flaps, with selected street index and metro map.    • New typography and fresh layout throughout.

You'll still find DK's famous full-color photography and museum floor plans, along with just the right amount of coverage of the country's history and culture. A free pull-out city map is marked with sights from the guidebook and includes a street index and a metro map.

The perfect pocket-size travel companion: DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Top 10 Cuba.

Recommended: For an in-depth guidebook to Cuba, check out DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Cuba, which offers a complete overview of this island nation; thousands of photographs, illustrations, and maps; and more.

Series Overview: For more than two decades, DK Eyewitness Travel Guides have helped travelers experience the world through the history, art, architecture, and culture of their destinations. Expert travel writers and researchers provide independent editorial advice, recommendations, and reviews. With guidebooks to hundreds of places around the globe available in print and digital formats, DK Eyewitness Travel Guides show travelers how they can discover more.

DK Eyewitness Travel Guides: the most maps, photographs, and illustrations of any guide.

Exercise normal security precautions

The decision to travel is your responsibility. You are also responsible for your personal safety abroad. The purpose of this Travel Advice is to provide up-to-date information to enable you to make well-informed decisions.

Canadians often encounter problems accessing funds while in Cuba. Consult the Laws and Culture tab for more information.

Crime

Pickpocketing, theft and assault occur, and Canadians are increasingly reporting being victims of these crimes, especially in Havana (the neighbourhoods of Old Havana, Centro Havana, the Malecón and Vedado) and on the beaches of Playa del Este and Varadero.

Theft of items from checked baggage at Cuban airports is frequent. Bags, including locked suitcases, are being opened, and items removed. Do not pack valuables in your checked luggage. All bags are routinely X-rayed on arrival and departure as part of normal local procedure.

Reports of violent crime are also on the rise. Exercise caution at all times, especially in tourist areas and crowded places. Ensure that personal belongings, passport and other travel documents are secure at all times. Avoid wearing jewellery or showing signs of affluence. If you are robbed, remain calm and do not resist. When reporting a crime to local police, you should insist on receiving the document Comprobante de Denuncia as confirmation that a report has been made. Police officers may speak only Spanish.

Road travel

Avoid driving in Cuba, as driving conditions can be hazardous. Road signs are scarce. Bicycles, pedestrians and horse-drawn carts use the middle of the road and do not readily give way to oncoming vehicles. Many vehicles are old and poorly maintained. Inoperable vehicles are often left on the road until repaired. Few roads are lit and some vehicles do not have lights or reflectors. If you must drive, drive defensively at all times and avoid driving after dark.

The Autopista Central (national highway), which runs half the length of the island, is generally in good condition. Other roads are generally poor. Allowing hitchhikers into your vehicle is not advised.

Public transportation

City buses are infrequent and overcrowded. Tour companies offer good bus service between airports and the all-inclusive resorts. Buses used for organized day trips from hotels are also in good condition.

Radio taxis are generally reliable. Avoid unlicensed private taxis as well as old model private vehicles offered as taxis. The latter are not equipped with safety features such as seat belts and air bags and there is no insurance coverage for passengers in case of an accident. Yellow, three-wheeled Coco taxis are unsafe and should be avoided.

Air travel

Consult our Transportation Safety page in order to verify if national airlines meet safety standards.

General security information

Unscheduled electric power surges and outages are common. Most tourist resorts are equipped with generators.

Telephone communication is a problem. Calls are often not answered, even at major institutions. Technical problems also exist. Calls may be connected to a different number than the one dialled. It often takes repeated tries to place a call to another city, particularly after rain. Reliable cell phone service is available in most major cities. Cell phones compatible with North American standards can be used in Cuba. Canadian cell phones generally function. You may arrange for cell phone service by contacting Cubacel at 05 264-2266.

Health

Related Travel Health Notices
Consult a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic preferably six weeks before you travel.
Vaccines

Routine Vaccines

Be sure that your routine vaccines are up-to-date regardless of your travel destination.

Vaccines to Consider

You may be at risk for these vaccine-preventable diseases while travelling in this country. Talk to your travel health provider about which ones are right for you.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a disease of the liver spread by contaminated food or water. All those travelling to regions with a risk of hepatitis A infection should get vaccinated.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a disease of the liver spread through blood or other bodily fluids. Travellers who may be exposed (e.g., through sexual contact, medical treatment or occupational exposure) should get vaccinated.

Influenza

Seasonal influenza occurs worldwide. The flu season usually runs from November to April in the northern hemisphere, between April and October in the southern hemisphere and year round in the tropics. Influenza (flu) is caused by a virus spread from person to person when they cough or sneeze or through personal contact with unwashed hands. Get the flu shot.

Measles

Measles occurs worldwide but is a common disease in developing countries, particularly in parts of Africa and Asia. Measles is a highly contagious disease. Be sure your vaccination against measles is up-to-date regardless of the travel destination.
 

Rabies

Rabies is a disease that attacks the central nervous system spread to humans through a bite, scratch or lick from a rabid animal. Vaccination should be considered for travellers going to areas where rabies exists and who have a high risk of exposure (i.e., close contact with animals, occupational risk, and children).

Typhoid

Typhoid is a bacterial infection spread by contaminated food or water. Risk is higher among travellers going to rural areas, visiting friends and relatives, or with weakened immune systems. Travellers visiting regions with typhoid risk, especially those exposed to places with poor sanitation should consider getting vaccinated.

Yellow Fever Vaccination

Yellow fever is a disease caused by the bite of an infected mosquito.

Travellers get vaccinated either because it is required to enter a country or because it is recommended for their protection.

* It is important to note that country entry requirements may not reflect your risk of yellow fever at your destination. It is recommended that you contact the nearest diplomatic or consular office of the destination(s) you will be visiting to verify any additional entry requirements.
Risk
  • There is no risk of yellow fever in this country.
Country Entry Requirement*
  • Proof of vaccination is not required to enter this country.
Recommendation
  • Vaccination is not recommended.
Food/Water

Food and Water-borne Diseases

Travellers to any destination in the world can develop travellers' diarrhea from consuming contaminated water or food.

In some areas in the Caribbean, food and water can also carry diseases like cholera, hepatitis A, schistosomiasis and typhoid. Practise safe food and water precautions while travelling in the Caribbean. Remember: Boil it, cook it, peel it, or leave it!

Cholera

There have been cases of cholera reported in this country in the last year. Cholera is a bacterial disease that typically causes diarrhea. In severe cases it can lead to dehydration and even death.

Most travellers are generally at low risk. Humanitarian workers and those visiting areas with limited access to safe food and water are at higher risk. Practise safe food and water precautions. Travellers at high risk should get vaccinated.

Travellers' diarrhea
  • Travellers' diarrhea is the most common illness affecting travellers. It is spread from eating or drinking contaminated food or water.
  • Risk of developing travellers’ diarrhea increases when travelling in regions with poor sanitation. Practise safe food and water precautions.
  • The most important treatment for travellers' diarrhea is rehydration (drinking lots of fluids). Carry oral rehydration salts when travelling.

Insects

Insects and Illness

In some areas in the Caribbean, certain insects carry and spread diseases like chikungunya, dengue fever, malaria and West Nile virus.

Travellers are advised to take precautions against bites.

Dengue fever
  • Dengue fever occurs in this country. Dengue fever is a viral disease that can cause severe flu-like symptoms. In some cases it leads to dengue haemorrhagic fever, which can be fatal.  
  • Mosquitoes carrying dengue bite during the daytime. They breed in standing water and are often found in urban areas.
  • Protect yourself from mosquito bites. There is no vaccine available for dengue fever.

Malaria

Malaria

There is no risk of malaria in this country.


Animals

Animals and Illness

Travellers are cautioned to avoid contact with animals, including dogs, monkeys, snakes, rodents, birds, and bats. Some infections found in some areas in the Caribbean, like rabies, can be shared between humans and animals.


Person-to-Person

Person-to-Person Infections

Crowded conditions can increase your risk of certain illnesses. Remember to wash your hands often and practice proper cough and sneeze etiquette to avoid colds, the flu and other illnesses.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV are spread through blood and bodily fluids; practise safer sex.


Medical services and facilities

Medical services and facilities

Cuban public health authorities are undertaking insect control measures, including fumigation and aerial spraying. The chemicals can cause discomfort, and travellers are advised to close windows and doors if fumigation is being carried out nearby.

Medical services

Generally, Cuba’s medical services are acceptable, although basic medicine and equipment are not always available.

The Cira García Hospital (Calle 20, No. 4101, corner of avenida 41 Playa; tel.: 204-2668 or 204-2489) offers health services reserved for foreigners. International Servimed clinics provide emergency medical care and are located in most major tourist areas around the island.

In most hospitals, guarantee of payment (or payment in cash) must be provided in advance. Check with your insurance company for payment/reimbursement procedures.

Medical tourism

Consult our page entitled Receiving Medical Care in Other Countries if you are contemplating undergoing a medical procedure in Cuba.

Prescription drugs

Canadians with prescription medications are responsible for determining whether or not their medication is prohibited in Cuba. They should bring sufficient quantities of prescription drugs with them. Medications should be kept in the original container and packed in carry-on luggage. As pharmacies sometimes run out of stock, visitors should also bring basic medicine, particularly if travelling to outlying areas.

Keep in Mind...

The decision to travel is the sole responsibility of the traveller. The traveller is also responsible for his or her own personal safety.

Be prepared. Do not expect medical services to be the same as in Canada. Pack a travel health kit, especially if you will be travelling away from major city centres.

You are subject to local laws. Consult our Arrest and Detention page for more information.

Laws

Canadian consular officials may be accompanied by Cuban authorities during visits with Canadians who have been arrested or detained.

Under the Cuban judicial system, charges are not laid until the investigation is complete, and the accused may be jailed during the entire period of investigation. Although Cuba retains the death penalty, to date it has never been applied in the case of a foreign offender.

Crimes such as drug trafficking, assault, sexual assault, and assisting in illegal migration of people are punishable by long prison sentences. Drinking and driving is against the law. The blood alcohol content limit for drivers in Cuba has been set at .04 percent (40 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood).

Avoid military zones and any other restricted or heavily guarded areas. These are not always identified. Photographing military or police installations or personnel, or harbour, rail and airport facilities, is forbidden.

All electronic devices with Global Positioning System technology, including cellular telephones, are illegal and may be confiscated upon entry to Cuba.

Traffic accidents are a frequent cause of arrest and detention of Canadians in Cuba. Accidents resulting in death or injury are treated as crimes, and the onus is on the driver to prove innocence. Regardless of the nature of the accident, it can take five months to a year for a case to go to trial. In most cases, the driver will not be allowed to leave Cuba until the trial has taken place. In some cases, the driver will be imprisoned during this delay.

Vehicle rentals

Be cautious when renting a vehicle in Cuba. Although insurance is offered, coverage differs from that in Canada. Contract agreements do not cover occasional drivers; therefore, the signatory is responsible for all people driving the vehicle. If you are found to be at fault in any way in an accident, rental agencies will nullify your coverage and seek damages to cover the cost of repairs, which can be very high.

Avoid renting scooters, as thieves target them and you may be responsible for the cost of their replacement.

Rental agencies are government-controlled and can prevent you from leaving the country unless they receive payment.

Sex tourism

Cuba is actively working to prevent child sex tourism, and a number of tourists, including Canadians, have been convicted of offences related to the corruption of minors aged 16 and under. Prison sentences range from 7 to 25 years. Release on bail before trial is unlikely.

Dual citizenship

Under Cuban law, the Government of Canada cannot provide consular services to Canadian nationals or to permanent residents of Canada with Cuban citizenship.

Boat traffic

The U.S. government closely monitors boat traffic in the Straits of Florida. Officials will seize any vessel without a licence from the Office of Foreign Assets Control if they believe it is headed for Cuba. Canadians who dock their Canadian-registered boats in Florida are subject to these measures, whereas those Canadian boats simply en route to Cuba via the U.S. will be exempt. However, expect to be thoroughly searched and questioned if you are in the latter category.

Imports and exports

Articles prohibited from entry into Cuba include drugs, explosives, pornographic material, literature considered subversive, perishable food items, radio transmission equipment, wireless microphones, radio and TV receivers differing from household models, global positioning systems (GPS), satellite receiver antennas and stations, air conditioners, and small appliances that draw heavily on electricity. Such items are routinely seized on arrival without compensation.

Cuban customs officials may also seize any imported item that they do not consider to be for the tourist's personal use.

Cuban customs may apply steep tariffs for travellers whose personal baggage exceeds 30 kg or who are carrying more than 10 kg of medication.

Donations of any type, whether by individuals, organizations or businesses, must be coordinated through the Embassy of Cuba in Canada.

You may export up to 20 cigars from Cuba without documentation or up to 50 cigars if they are in the original container, closed and sealed with the official hologram. If exceeding that amount, you must also provide a guarantee of origin certificate. Failure to comply with this regulation will lead to the seizure of the cigars without compensation. Art objects (including artifacts and paintings) purchased in Cuba must be accompanied by an export permit (usually provided by state-owned galleries). Otherwise, items must be registered with the Registro Nacional de Bienes Culturales, Calle 17, No. 1009 e/10 y 12, Vedado, tel.: 53-7-833-9658.

It is forbidden to leave Cuba with illegally purchased lobsters. Authorities can impose heavy fines and require the offender to pay before leaving the country.

For detailed information on import and export requirements, please consult the Cuban Customs Administration.

Black market

Travellers may be approached and offered black-market goods, such as cigars, or asked to change dollars for Cuban convertible pesos. Engaging in black-market transactions is illegal and can lead to difficulties with the Cuban authorities. Never transport packages for strangers. Pack all luggage yourself.

Marriage

Marriage to a Cuban citizen does not guarantee your spouse immediate access to Canada. The immigration process takes at least 10 months, and you must initiate the sponsorship in Canada. For additional information, consult Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

Marrying a Cuban does not automatically entitle you to live with your spouse in Cuba, even for just a few days. To be able to stay in your spouse’s residence, you must have a personal visa so that you are properly registered with local authorities. Your spouse can be fined or jailed if you do not follow the rules. Cubans accompanying foreign visitors, especially in bars and hotels, may be asked for identification papers and denied entry.

Canadians wishing to marry a Cuban in Cuba may visit the Web site of the Embassy of Cuba in Canada for more information on required documents and procedures.

Two Canadians who have never been married before need to present the following documents to be married in Cuba:

a) valid passport; and

b) the tourist card obtained upon arrival.

If either of the Canadians has been married before, in addition to a valid passport and tourist card, he or she must produce the following documents:

a) if divorced, the certificate of divorce;

b) if widowed, the certificate of marriage and the spouse's death certificate.

Furthermore, these certificates must be legalized and authenticated by Canadian authorities, translated into typewritten Spanish, without errors or corrections, and then forwarded to the Cuban embassy or a Cuban consulate in Canada for legalization and authentication.

Money

Cuba has two official currencies: the Cuban convertible peso (CUC) and the national peso (moneda nacional or MN). Transactions involving foreigners almost always take place in CUC. However, visitors should familiarize themselves with the moneda nacional, since it is a common scam for merchants to give change in moneda nacional instead of CUC. The CUC is worth substantially more than the MN.

Accessing funds in Cuba

Canadians often encounter problems accessing funds while in Cuba. Debit cards and Canadian money transfers are not accepted. Additionally, Canadian money transfers are not accepted by Western Union in Cuba. Credit cards are not widely accepted; in particular, those issued by American financial institutions, such as American Express cards, and some credit cards issued by certain Canadian financial institutions affiliated with American banks, are not accepted. Other credit cards are generally accepted at major establishments such as state-run hotels and restaurants and international resort chains. Private restaurants (paladares) and private guest houses (casas particulares) do not accept credit cards of any kind. Credit card cash advances (in CUCs) may be obtained at banks, hotels or Cadeca exchange houses.

Automated banking machines (ABMs) are rare and do not always work in Cuba. In Havana, cash advances in CUCs from Visa cards can be obtained from the ABMs located in the Miramar Trade Centre and in some hotels. In Varadero, ABMs are located in the Plaza America and at banks. If you use an ABM, do so during business hours at a location inside a bank or large commercial building. Leave copies of your card numbers with a family member in case of emergency.

Most foreign currencies can be exchanged at Cadeca exchange houses, found in Cuba’s international airports and in urban areas, as well as in banks and major hotels. Canadian currency (cash and traveller’s cheques) may be exchanged for CUC without fees. American Express traveller’s cheques are accepted at certain banks. Keep receipts for traveller’s cheques separate. Australian dollars cannot be exchanged anywhere on the island. Exchange of U.S. currency is possible, but is subject to an additional fee.

It is against Cuban law to remove CUCs from Cuba. They can be exchanged for U.S. dollars (and Canadian dollars, if available) at international airports before leaving the country. It is not possible to exchange CUCs outside of Cuba.

Climate

The hurricane season extends from June to the end of November. The National Hurricane Center provides additional information on weather conditions. Stay informed of regional weather forecasts, and follow the advice and instructions of local authorities.