Now that travel to Cuba has become much easier for U.S. citizens, you’ve probably noticed a surge of travel photos streaming down your social media timeline from friends and celebrity favorites hanging out in Cuba.
If you’re thinking about booking a trip in the near future, here are five tips for your travel to Cuba that will save you time and money.
Check The Currency Exchange Rate Before You Fly
If you haven’t heard already, you’ll need to bring all the money you plan to spend in Cuba in cash. You won’t be able to use your debit or credit cards if you overspend. But before you stuff your wallets with US dollars, you should consider the currency exchange rate of the dollar.
A lot of experienced travelers bring euros, not U.S dollars. The exchange rate for U.S. dollars to Cuba’s CUC (Cuban Convertible Peso) isn’t great, and comes with an additional tax (10% surcharge). $100 USD equals 87 CUC. Most times you’ll end up getting more for your dollar if you bring euros instead.
Since currency exchange rates fluctuate, check this Cuban bank to see the current exchange rates to make sure it’s worth converting your US dollars to Euros ahead of your trip.
If the US Dollar to Euros to CUC math works out, head to your local bank a few days before your trip to convert your US dollars to Euros.
Skip The Hotel
Avoid over-priced hotels and opt for budget-friendly housing options that put you in touch with locals and help them earn some extra income. Airbnb is a great option, and the best for your buck. Casas particulares (family houses) are also a good way to go, though they tend to have fewer bells and whistles.
Your Airbnb hosts can often help you do things like exchange money and arrange excursions in and around Cuba for less-than-touristy prices. My Airbnb accommodation was Manhattan-penthouse-worthy – two bedrooms, two bathrooms, sunroom, dining room, eat in kitchen, maid’s room, and had roof access. It cost us a total of $404 (US dollars) for 9 nights. An extra CUC$5 a day got us breakfast prepared by our host.
Most people stay in the city center or Habana Vieja, but try Vedado or another neighborhood further away from the touristy-side of things. Havana is pretty safe, and you’ll likely take a taxi to most places, so don’t worry too much about walking along sketchy streets late at night.
Practice Your Spanish and Negotiate Your Taxi Fare
Taxis are your best friends. Even Cubans travel by taxi in and around Havana most of the time. Keep in mind that the average Cuban earns around CUC$20 per month. If you think your taxi driver is overcharging you, they probably are. Nature of the beast, but don’t be afraid to negotiate. If they tell you a ride is CUC$10, counter with CUC$5. Locals will likely be paying CUC$0.50, but you’ll only get fares that good if your Spanish is up to snuff and you avoid fanny packs and sun hats. Bottom line is, taxi fares can add up. The drivers will make a profit off of you, but don’t let them rob you blind.
Pack Snacks and Toilet Paper
Food is a challenge in Cuba. Their economic situation and the U.S. embargo means that access to certain food items is either inconsistent or restricted. This isn’t a place where you want to dish out lots of cash on good eats every day. If your host or hotel offers breakfast, take it.
Pack trail mix, nuts, or granola bars to throw in your bag for your daily excursions. You may not have luck finding a meal you’re excited about when you’re out for the day, and may get some serious munchies when you’re home at night.
Embargo restrictions and economic challenges also mean that toilet paper is sometimes in short supply. Pack a couple rolls from home to bring with you to the island. You should always have your own stash on your person in case you visit some destinations without it. Better safe than sorry.
Buy More Than a 1-Hour Wifi Card
Wifi is limited in Havana, but it definitely exists. You’ll have to buy a wifi card, then use your card to connect to the internet in designated wifi zones. There are plenty around the city. However, if you’re not sure where to find one, look for groups of Cubans sitting on curbs or leaning against walls while using their phones. They’re most likely hanging around because it’s a wifi zone.
Lack of immediate access to wifi isn’t actually too much of an inconvenience. If you’re making the most of your trip, it should come as a blessing. One tip: cards come in one and five-hour increments. Go ahead and purchase the five-hour card the first chance you get. That time will wind down quickly, and the last thing you want to do after your trip has started is spend hours in line at ETESCA waiting to buy another one-hour card. Do yourself a favor and splurge.
Written by N. Simone Wilson-Millaud
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