Top 5 Tips Before Traveling to Cuba
Cuba is different and exotic. Cuba is quickly becoming the trendy destination to visit and will probably take the current tourism crown away from Iceland. Only a quick 30 minute flight away from the U.S., Cuba is worlds apart in culture. We recently took a trip in March and have learned lots about the country and the people. Since Cuba is still a mysteriously place, we want to pass our knowledge to our readers. Before you take that flight, here are our Top 5 Tips Before Traveling to Cuba.
1. Learn Spanish Phrases
Before we took our trip, we read that travelers recommend learning Spanish. At first, we were thinking that we could possibly make do with our limited Spanish. Well after our trip, we highly recommend learning some Spanish! Leading up to the trip, I downloaded some apps on my phone to learn some basic phrases. These phrases became crucial upon stepping out of the airport in Cuba. Unlike other Spanish speaking countries where you can get by with some basic words, the large majority of Cubans don’t know English at all. Save yourself some headaches and learn basic phrases like “How much?”, “Where is…?”, and “I don’t understand.”
You don’t need to memorize the phrases. There are apps for that. Download the apps that you can use offline and you’ll be alright!
2. Get Euros From Your Bank
While you can bring U.S. dollars to Cuba and exchange them, you’ll be hit with a 10% fee on top of the exchange fees. Instead, order some Euros from your bank ahead of time. Most U.S. banks will not have Euros on hand at the brick and mortar locations. We placed a currency order online through Bank of America a few weeks before our trip and was able to get Euros within a few days. Depending on the bank, there might be a delivery fee. For Bank of America, it is $7.50. You can eliminate the delivery fee if you order more than $1,000 USD. We found that ordering through your bank is the easiest way to get Euros.
Once you arrive to Cuba, you’ll then exchange your Euros for the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) which is the currency used by foreigners. Money exchanges and banks will not give you the regular Cuban Peso (CUP). Before your trip, make sure to download an offline currency converter app. This helped us immensely in making sure we got the correct amount of money when exchanging. Yes…changing USD to Euros to CUC sucks, but it’s the price to pay to visit Cuba.
Pro tip: CUC bills and coins have statues and monuments on them. CUP bills and coins have faces of people. Always look at your money to make sure you don’t get ripped off!
3. Download The Maps.me App
Travel in Cuba is like traveling back in time. You won’t have cell phone coverage and solid WiFi to use Google Maps. Instead, download the app Maps.Me. This app works offline and has cool features like directions and bookmarking locations. This app is a must have when you’re traveling Cuba. The app works with GPS as well and allows you to see the direction you are going. Before our trip, we also made sure to bookmark all the things we wanted to see. This allowed us to easily use the “Directions” function of the app. We would have been lost all the time in Havana if we did not have the app. The other alternative is to use printed maps.
The Maps.Me app works with both Android and iOS.
4. Pack Appropriately
Cuba is a tropical destination so pack all your regular things you would bring to a Caribbean island. We went to Havana in March and there was a refreshing cold front in place during our stay there. The temperatures were a moderate 75 degrees for the highs and upper 60’s for the lows at night. It was “cold” for the average Cuban and was out of the norm. Before your trip, make sure to take a look at the weather forecast at least 2 days before your trip. The weather can change quickly. You can also expect a rain shower or two during your stay in Cuba any time during the year.
From our experience, the must pack items are definitely a good pair of walking shoes and some bug spray. The street conditions in Havana ranged from nice and paved to dirt with holes in the ground. The side streets of Havana were in terrible condition and you can hurt yourself if you’re not looking where you’re going. If you’re prone to bug bites (like Anna), make sure to pack some bug spray with deet. Cuba is a Zika zone but the Cuban government has done well in preventing the spread of the virus. Still though, there is always a chance so make sure to have enough bug spray especially if you plan to go to the countryside.
5. Set Expectations
Cuba is mysteriously place and most Americans don’t know what to expect. Before our trip, we read other blogs about their experiences in Cuba. Most everyone praised the friendly people, safety, and beautiful country and beaches. While these things are true, you must also still be a cautious traveler with your guard still up. Set your expectations low on your Cuba trip and you will find that you will be pleasantly surprised.