What you need to remember Cuba is politically and an economically isolated country, which means it’s good to do some research and organize few things before you travel. I made all possible mistakes and skip any planning steps, which was quite costy. But most importantly – Cuba is a very safe country, even for solo female traveleers. There was not a moment when I felf unsafe and if you require help, people will assist you at the end.
Visa – getting a tourist card
You need to apply for visa before going to Cuba. There are many online services which will help you do it for a small fee. It is easy to get it but you need to present few details. First of all you need:
- Travel insurance document for the entire duration of the trip.
- Passport – you need to attach a passport along with visa application.
- Travel itinerary – flights confirmation.
- Visa application – you need to specify visa type, which is not too clear for an independent traveler. What I advise is to pick that you will be contributing to a local community by attending dance classes, etc.
Is Cuba safe for traveling?
Yes, Cuba is a very safe place. Although scams is a nighmare! Everyone is scamming you all the time! People are nice only because they want to offer something. I don’t want to generalize, as I’ve met wonderful people too, but the number of scams is terrifying. Don’t believe when you hear you need a guide, there are no resctrictions against traveling alone.
Don’t ciggars in havana they are fake. Do not talk to people on the street who are offering help or guiding. Apart of that, you can walk after dark with no fear.
Two currencies in Cuba
Firstly convertible pesos (CUCs) and Cuban pesos (moneda nacional). As tourist you will be always charged in CUC for taxis, restaurants, guesthouses, etc. Sometines in very small local ‘shops’ I was charged local currency. I only entered as I saw the locals are getting simple sandwitches from a small booth and I went to buy one too. For fruits and vegetable from street market you will be charged with local currency too.
Secondly: You can get Cuban currency only on the island, it’s not possible to exchange it in advance. It is also not possible to take any notes outside Cuba. The best currency you can bring is British Pound or Euro. Do not take Dollars!!! It has the worst exchange rate and they also apply 13% charge! Obviously I didn’t check and as I was coming from USA had just $$$ 🙂 Make sure all notes are in a perfect condition. Some of my dollars weren’t accepted as had tiny scratch or so crazy!
CADECA – is a good exchange office. You’ll find it on the airport and big hotels in the city. Don’t be surprised with the exchange process! I did it on the airport and in front of Cadeca there are few security officers. One person joins you to the booth to assist you with the money exchange!! That was hilarious! You need to scan your passport, then insert certain amount of currency to get CUC (Cuban tourist money), some notes get rejcted.. and everything happens so quickly that you acctually have no idea how much you have already inserted and how much CUC you already have. Anyway, it’s quite safe so no big reason to worry.
The exchange rate: $100 = 87 CUC. What you can bare in mind: 1 United States Dollar = 1 Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC).
ATM’s are easily available but make sure to use those in the banks. 100 CUC cost me 103.5$ so the rate is much better when you withdraw money from an ATM. Credit cards are accepted but remember – cash is king in Cuba!
Travel insurance and medical kit!
Medical kit – YES!! This is one of the countries where you should pack full medical kit. You should have something for stomach problems and moskito spray. Denga and malaria are present in Cuba, so if you are one of those people like me, who don’t take any anymalarian pills, bare in mind spray will be in use there. I advise moskito net too, although in most hostels nets are available in the rooms, no harm to use it as a comforter. No chance any mostkito will get you 🙂 Get travel insurance too before you go, it is required for visa purposes anyway.
Scams in Cuba – Everyone is scamming you all the time! People are nice only because they want to offer something. I don’t want to generalize, as I’ve met wonderful people too, but the number of scams is terrifying. Don’t believe when you hear you need a guide, there are no resctrictions against traveling alone.
Transport in Cuba
VIAZUL – are the most popular buses running between cities. The buses condition is ok, although some people advise to check tyres condition before you get in. They might remember the previous century. The greatest story I have is from one night Viazul, I had 7 hours ride to reach my next city.
I sit back comfortably hoping to get some sleep when I realized something was moving on the window glass. I immediately realized the bus was inhabited by cockroaches which were slouching around! NOT joking! All you can do is hide yourself in your silky sleeping bag to isolate from the rest of the world and all will be fine! 🙂
Taxi collectivo and others
You will need a passport to buy a ticket and always buy ticket in advance! I would advise at least few days in advance. Why?? Deficiency of gasoline, which is affecting bus schedules extremely often. The buses might be cancelled for 2-3 days just like that. Cuba has a huge issue with gasoline!! If that happens you can always take TAXI COLLECTIVO – shared taxis. This might be an interesting adventure (as the taxis are usually vintage) but a long distance ride can be also very tiring.
Havana Viazul bus terminal is Terminal de Omnibus. You will be asked for Taxi collectivo many times. Price from havana to famous Vinales Valley shouldn’t cost you more than 20$/per person.
HITCHHIKING is not popular in Cuba for one simple reason. Cubans cannot take foreigners, they would be in trouble if they were stopped by a police. Unless it’s a taxi.
Internet in Cuba
WIFI – there are no SIM cards in Cuba. You need to get Internet cards (Internet tarjeta) – available only in big hotels. Good news is they are very cheap. One card – 1 hour internet. Then you need to find a Wifi spot to apply a code from a card to get an internet access.
What’s more you won’t be able to make any reservations while you are in Cuba. Non of the reservation websites worked which was a bit of a problem for me, as I hadn’t booked anything before traveling.
Luckily this was a low season which gave me a chance to bargain around accomodation price. In most cities for a nice single room you’ll need to pay 10 CUC (with private bathroom).