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10 things you should know before travelling to Cuba

Updated on February 20, 2009

Tropicana Cabaret

The Cabaret
The Cabaret
Hotel of Che
Hotel of Che
Old City Havana
Old City Havana
Hitchhiking
Hitchhiking
Cute Lizards that are everywhere
Cute Lizards that are everywhere
Communist propaganda
Communist propaganda

 1) Water. If you’re staying at the all-inclusive resorts, then it’s safe to drink the water and eat the ice at the bars, because it’ll be filtered. But never drink from the tap or be prepared for several nights of diarreah and/or vomiting. Be careful of restaurants, especially the kind that are operated out of homes. A lot of Cubans these days have been opening up their houses as restaurants and serving tourists from their kitchens. This is a great way to experience Cuba and an equally great way to get food poisoning. Of course, some people have stronger stomachs than others.

2) If you want to go see one of the big cabaret shows, don’t go if it looks like rain. In Cuba, they haven’t invented umbrellas yet. Your show will be cancelled if it starts to rain. It’s not a big deal, you can get your money back or go a different night. It’s just a lot of wasted time driving all the way out there and then all the way back.

3) They have two currencies in Cuba. The Cuban Peso and the Cuban Convertible Peso. The locals use the Peso and it’s valued at 25:1 Cuban:American. But the Convertible Peso is essentially a tourist currency and it’s valued almost at the Euro. Tourists are not allowed to use the state issued Cuban Peso and not allowed to shop in the stores where it is accepted. Cuba may seem cheap. You may get a good deal on your hotel or resort, but once you get there, things will be a lot more expensive than they would if you went to, say, Mexico.

4) Everyone wants convertible currency tips. They will solicit. They will beg. They will offer you caricatures, cornrolling, and pictures of themselves to get it. It’s annoying at first, but you have to understand, that while every Cuban has access to free education, cheap housing and everyone has enough food to live on, they have no money for anything else. If you’re Cuban and you want a microwave, you’ll have to separate some rich, capitalist tourists from their vacation dollars to get enough money for it. If you’re going to be dealing with someone on a regular basis, (maids, bellhops, bartenders, servers) it’s probably a good idea to tip them a convertible peso every once in a while. Your service will increase dramatically and you’ll gain access to things you wouldn’t have had otherwise (more interesting alcoholic drinks. More choice on the restaurant menu).

5) If you’re at all like me and bear a somewhat noticeable resemblance to Harry Potter, Cuba will not be an escape for you. They will notice you and they will not hesitate to expose you for what you are. The only difference is that, in Cuba, you will be Harry Potter’s brother, instead of Daniel Radcliffe, himself. Which is a bit of an improvement. Less autograph writing time.

6) Due to the embargo, transportation is hard to come by in Cuba. Hitchhiking is the national sport of Cuba. You will see hundreds of people lining the streets everyday. If you’ve got money, you can get onto their army of Chinese surplus tour buses. If you want a taxi, good luck, you’ll be waiting over an hour, probably longer. Make sure to leave lots of time between going anywhere to make up for lag-times and missing people. Cuba, as well as a lot of those kinds of countries operates under Cuba Time. Cuba Time is a variable and unpredictable system of keeping time. Sometimes you’ll be early; most times you’ll be late. Pretty much all the time you’ll have no idea what’s going on until everything is over.

7) The cigars, rum and coffee are very good and very cheap. You’re allowed to take two bottles of Rum, a pound of coffee and fifty cigars out of the country. Even if you don’t smoke, I suggest buying as many cigars as possible. You will be able to sell them when you get back for quite a tidy profit. (I wish I’d known this when I went). But beware of buying illegal cigars, (ie buying not from official stores) they’re cheaper, but they will, actually, make you sick, and 8 times out of 10, it’ll be a trap by the police meant to bust you and extort your remaining convertible dollars through bribery.

8) The beaches in Varadero are nice, but if you really want that white sand Caribbean experience, consider hiring a boat to take you to one of the nearby tropical islands. But beware of snorkeling offers. They will charge large amounts of money for snorkeling, but only give you limited time in murky waters. Make sure you decide upfront how much snorkeling time your money is buying you.

9) Bring things. A lot of places will tell you to bring goods, medicine, candy etc. and hand them out while you’re there. You can do that. Some people there will love you for it; others will be indifferent to your gift of toothbrush. It’s your call.

10) Everything is cheaper during the hurricane season (August to early November). Less people go during these times (afraid of hurricanes). The prices are lower, but the services will be lower as well. Fewer restaurants will be open. Fewer people will be around to help you. You have to decide if you want to do that or if you want to pay a bit more and experience a more lively, bustling atmosphere. Both options have their charms. There’s something to be said for a nearly deserted resort you have seemingly to yourself and maybe a significant other. But also, don't remember to beware of Hurricanes. They can happen at any time, check a regularly updated tourist report before leaving.

 

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    • profile image

      LJ 

      4 years ago

      Any one just gone to Cuba without booking a flight ?

      Like to stay with a friend who lives there that is Cuban

    • profile image

      fatma 

      5 years ago

      is it possible to get a good tan in august in varadero?

    • profile image

      dearia 

      5 years ago

      cuba not a great place to go for vacation. I was staying aresort and my hotel room was robbed. My iphone 5 was stolen. And i got robbed e on the streets.

    • profile image

      dfgiuo 

      6 years ago

      Went to "Breezes Varadero" Early april/2012 and it was great. Highly recommend it to everyone.

    • profile image

      Chea Sothol 

      6 years ago

      Hello my name is Chea Sothol . Where are country you live ?

    • profile image

      Engracia 

      6 years ago

      If you are planing to go to Cuba and need a real spanish teacher please contact me. I worked at the Institute of Foreign Trade in Havana, Cuba for 30 years. Now I'm retired but i teach at home or can also go to the students places for lessons. The lessons are not expensive at all. Please contact me only if you are really interested in spanish lessons...thanks, my email is engracia46@correodecuba.cu

    • profile image

      christal 

      6 years ago

      I went to veradero in June for our honeymoon! Were heading back this week, this time with friends its beautiful there..ppl are amazing food and entertainment was great! We got to ride around on dolphins backs and eat lunch on the virgin islands. The sand was so white it hurt my eyes with out sunglasses :-)

    • NiaG profile image

      NiaG 

      6 years ago from Louisville, KY

      This is awesome information. I'm going to link this to my traveling website. Thanks!

    • profile image

      j sanchez 

      7 years ago

      I Just went there and I'm going back next year. I loved it. I disagree with some things the poster said, The people do beg and try to sell you things but like he said, I understand hat, however they do not get enough food there. They are rationed two eggs per person per month etc. The electricity just goes off at random times and stays off for an undisclosed random amount of time, however that will never happen to you if your a tourist staying in a hotel. The island is gorgeous and the ood is great and beaches are cleaner than any of ours

    • PierAllegro profile image

      PierAllegro 

      7 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      Cuba is great. But it is not as safe as it used to be. I find people are more and more frustrated with being abused by the system. I'm having difficulties with deciding whether I like the place or not. There things I love about the Island, but I am not sure we should passively allow the regime to thrive on our gullibility.

    • profile image

      Jessica loves hearts 

      7 years ago

      I haven't ever been to egypt but from my friends that have been, they have said it is great. thanks

    • lethbridgeseoguy profile image

      lethbridgeseoguy 

      7 years ago

      I have been there several time, love it a lot.

    • Max_Taylor profile image

      Max_Taylor 

      8 years ago from somewhere near a beach

      I love Cuban music and I certainly want to get there one day in the future alonog with some other island around the Caribbean, but in the meantime I'm putting my travels around Sydney and NSW together in a website called www.ideal-sydney-getaways.com hopefully i'll get to expand it to take in other countries like this one day ;-)

    • ggerner profile image

      ggerner 

      8 years ago

      Cuba is gorgeous, the people are super friendly, and the salsa music is pure happiness. But take it easy on the rum. Ay-yay-yay. Lots of fun times, though. I've been there five times. Watch out, it's addictive.

    • profile image

      sandra 

      8 years ago

      We went to Varadero, Cuba a few years ago. It is beautiful and hopefully we'll be able to visit again. We did have some experience with mosquitos there. So remember to take some deet otherwise you may find it is expensive at the resort. We usually take non toxic mosquito repellent wristbands and you should be able to get them from Sears in advance. We got ours online at http://pestcontrol-store.com It worked well overall.

    • Wanderlust profile image

      Wanderlust 

      8 years ago from New York City

      Very helpful, I just was about to go Cuba, but changed my mind and your hub supported my decision. Thanks!

    • SXP profile image

      SXP 

      8 years ago from South Africa

      Very interesting. Maybe I'll go there sometime...rum, nice beaches, cheap... seems like a goo place for holiday.

    • vacationguides profile image

      vacationguides 

      8 years ago

      Great hub on tips when visiting Cuba. Thanks!

    • midnightbliss profile image

      Haydee Anderson 

      8 years ago from Hermosa Beach

      great information and tips regarding cuba, I guess it is a beautiful place to visit.

    • OneTravel profile image

      OneTravel 

      8 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada

      I hope that Cuba opens up more freely soon. I look forward to the opportunity to travel there. Great article!

    • TravelMonkey profile image

      TravelMonkey 

      9 years ago from United Kingdom

      Cuba is great- I'd recommend Cayo Guillermo island- a real tropical paradise! :)

    • FreezepopMorality profile imageAUTHOR

      FreezepopMorality 

      9 years ago

      Cuba is great. I'd recommend anybody visit it at least once. But who are you a look-alike for?

    • AEvans profile image

      Julianna 

      9 years ago from SomeWhere Out There

      Cuba sounds absolutely beautiful and amazing , I am also been told that I am a look alike, I thank them however I am only me. Wonderful article as Cuba is always an interesting subject!!:)

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