WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW BEFORE PLANNING A TRIP TO CUBA
Flights, health insurance, health matters, visas, safety issues, etc.
All of this, and the considerably cheap prices of accommodation, transport and food, make Cuba an excellent destination for backpackers and anybody who is traveling independently and on a tight budget. Now that you are finally convinced that this should be your next holiday destination, I can help you better plan your vacation.
1| WEATHER: WHAT IS THE BEST TIME OF THE YEAR TO VISIT CUBA.
If you ask me, I think it’s always a good time to go to Cuba.June to August are the hottest months,
I would advise you to go in February: It’s sunny, you can enjoy the beaches and a good snorkel, and won’t feel suffocated by the heat.while October and November are classified as hurricane seasons – although Cuba safety records concerning hurricanes is excellent and I would not discourage travelers to go during those months.
Besides, depending on the region, you may still get rain in other seasons too. If you are among those that feel the urge to escape the winter months at home, yet want to avoid extremely high temperatures and humidity.
2| FIND THE CHEAPEST FLIGHT TO CUBA: CHECK OUT FLIGHTS DEALS.
Reaching Cuba is relatively easy in any season. Flight prices don’t vary much between seasons, but do keep your eyes open to catch some of the special offers that airlines occasionally have:
- Air France (via Paris)
- Blue Panorama (via Rome)
- Cubana (via Rome)
- KLM (via Amsterdam)
- Iberia (via Madrid)
- Virgin Atlantic (via London)
They all fly to Havana. With a little bit of luck, you may get a round trip ticket for as cheap as 550 euro.
One of the best tools I use to find cheap flights online is Skyscanner. I love it as it searches among all the major airlines for the selected route and shows me tons of options. I usually start my research for cheap flights a few months before my trip and I sign up to their alerts that show when the price drops, giving me the possibility to book at the optimal price.
CHECK OUT CHEAP FLIGHT TO CUBA IN HERE!
3| DON’T FORGET TO BUY HEALTH INSURANCE:
Together with your flight, you should buy a health insurance. As of May 2010, any foreigner traveling to Cuba is required proof of medical insurance, and you may be asked to show it at customs before entering the country. Should you fail to provide proof, you may have to buy one on the spot, with the State agency Asistur.
You won’t be required to show proof of previous vaccinations, so it is up to you if you want to have protection against tetanus, difteritis, hepatitis A and B and typhoid fever.
When it comes to buying my travel insurance, after a lot of research online and years on the road, I decided to go with WorldNoamds, I found them to be very reliable and most importantly, they pay! Check it out and see if this type of insurance is right for you. A really great bonus is that you can renew it while you are still on the road and you can do everything online!
GET A QUOTE FOR YOUR TRAVEL INSURANCE FOR CUBA IN HERE
4| VISA REQUIREMENT FOR CUBA
You will also need a visa, better known as tarjeta de turista which is valid for 30 days and can be extended for 30 more days while in Cuba. It is normally bought via the Cuban consulate in your own country, or, better, through your travel agent. It costs around €25 and you will be asked a copy of your passport and a valid onward ticket.
5| CURRENCY IN CUBA
Now, on the tricky bits: there are two currencies in Cuba. Yes, you read that correctly.
- One is the CUC, or Pesos Convertibles: it is used by foreigners and by Cubans to purchase certain specific goods. A CUC is worth about one US dollar.
- The other one is the MN (Moneda Nacional): 1 CUC = 25 MN.
Knowing that, whenever entering a museum, a foreigner pays 2 or 3 CUC as opposed to the 1 MN paid by locals helps you put things into perspective as to what your money can really buy in Cuba and what things are really worth.
Keep in mind that, although you may pay 15 CUC for a room, the average salary of a Cuban is about 12 to 18 CUC per month. No wonder they all strive to work with tourists: this way, they do get paid in CUC and can have access to a wider range of otherwise unavailable goods.
Do not bring dollars with you, it is better to carry Euros. Also keep in mind that no credit cards are accepted, ever. You have to pay in cash and at most your credit card (as long as it is not originated by a US bank account) can be used to withdraw cash.
6| CUBA INTERNET CONNECTION
Once in Cuba, forget the internet. There is no wifi in the country. There are public phones and in order to use them, you will have to buy (and regularly top up) a calling card from any ETECSA center (that’s where you may also be able to get the internet, but it is so slow you will be discouraged). Take this as your one chance to really forget about computers, emails, text messages and social media.
7| HYGIENE/FOOD IN CUBA: WHAT TO EXPECT.
Cuba is a clean country and you will hardly have to worry about hygiene issues. Different from the majority of Latin American countries, streets here are pretty much spotless, the grass is clean, and you will never see garbage around. Keep it this way.
Cubans are clean people – they may not have brand new clothes, but they do keep good care of themselves. The hygienic conditions are good, and it is safe to eat at either private restaurants (paladares), state-owned restaurants, casas particulares (where the landlady can and will prepare meals for you) and even in the street.
It is advisable not to drink tap water. You should be fine with salads, they are usually washed in purified water.
8| FIRST AID KIT AND OTHER THINGS YOU MIGHT NEED IN CUBA:
Carry a basic set of medicines – whatever you may normally need back home, plus:
- Insect repellent
- Sun block
There hardly are any mosquitoes and cockroaches – the country is regularly fumigated and the houses are kept very clean – but should you find there are mosquitoes, do spray repellent to avoid becoming itchy! I
In doubt, carry some extra toothpaste and shampoo or bars of soap. For as crazy as it may sound, these items are not easily found in Cuba and if you run out of them, you will have a hard time looking for more. I ended up having to ask the landlord at my casa particular in Trinidad to help me find toothpaste.
TIP: Should you be left with some before you leave, you won’t have to carry it home: people in the street often stop tourists to ask if they have shampoo, soap, pencils or pens, and even clothes.I always had some in my bag to give away.
9| SHOPS IN CUBA:
There are no real supermarkets as we know them, but just small shops that sell a few items. You may enter a shop that sells bottles and ask to buy water, and you will be told that there is no water there, but just beer and rum. If you want coke or water, you have to go next door or to a different shop.
And even then, there is only one kind of it. One kind of beer, one kind of soda, one kind of bread. No nonsense and no abundance, and most of all no waste of time in making choices.
10| SAFETY FOR SOLO TRAVELERS IN CUBA:
Cuba is very safe, to travel alone, as a single woman, or even with children.
Cubans love children. Criminality is very low, and you may walk around the streets day and night without anybody bothering you.They will at most comment on your physical appearance, or offer to accompany you, but ignore them and that will be the end of it.