10 Things You Should Know About Cuba Before You Go

1. Don’t buy a data plan 

I had bought a data plan with my phone company for my time in Cuba; it didn’t work. It was extremely slow and nothing loaded. There are stores in Cuba in major cities and communities where you can buy an internet card for a few CUC either for 30 minutes or 3 hours. You can buy a plan from your phone company for texting and calling which will work. In Cuba internet access does not exist everywhere you go. You’ll need to go to a public park where there are wifi hotspots. They are easy to find because you’ll see locals and tourists on their phones in a park usually in the largest square in the city centre.


2. Bring currency to exchange 

ATM’s and bank machines can be difficult to find in Cuba. Bring your local currency to exchange at the airport or to banks which offer currency exchange services. Cuban currency is not something that you can obtain before your trip either ordering it from your local bank or trying to exchange it at your local airport before arriving in Cuba.


3. Bathrooms may not be to the same standards as at home 

Washroom facilities are very basic and may not offer the same amenities as public bathrooms at home. You are expected to pay 25 cents when you go and a lady will hand you a small piece of toilet paper. I would recommend taking some of your own tissue and also hand sanitizer as soap sometimes isn’t available.


4. Don’t drink the water from the tap 

The water in Cuba is not dangerous to drink however there are things in the water that foreigners may not be accustomed to and could get sick. Bottled water is easy to find and isn’t too expensive.


5. You should give a tip 

A 10% tip is recommended to give in Cuba. It is not mandatory but is greatly appreciated among Cubans. When you are at a private restaurant, there is usually a band that will play music and will expect a small tip for their entertainment. You can give a few CUC to your host if you are staying at a homestay before you check out.


6. Most Cubans only speak Spanish 

It may be helpful to learn a few important phrases in Spanish before you travel to Cuba. Some may be able to communicate basic phrases in English however there can be some challenges for more complex conversations. A great application to use is Duolingo. It is a free app that will teach you the basics in Spanish.


7. Where you should buy cigars 

Cigars should only be purchased directly on a tobacco farm or at a reputable cigar shop in Cuba. It is illegal for Cubans to sell cigars on the street and they are not the certified/legit brands. Some locals may try to trick you and tell you they are legit but don’t fall for it.


8. Tourism is still a new concept in Cuba 

Tourism only started developing in Cuba about 30 years ago. They are still figuring out tourists desires and some services may not be offered such as in other touristic destinations. It’s common in private restaurants that they will not have soft drinks like Coke. A lot of locals that work in any sector in tourism in Cuba may not have much experience or are not formally trained. Usually it is a second career for some to have a another source of income. The locals will be very friendly with you and you should have an open mind that they are doing the best they can.


9. Cuba is very safe

Hitch hiking in Cuba is very common. The tour guide I had while on an 8-Day tour in Cuba told me that she hitch hiked to university for over 4 years every week. Walking in the streets is safe at night. Of course be mindful of your surroundings but know that you are not in any danger as long as you don’t go looking for some.


10. Food is delicious at the right places 

There are many complaints among tourists who stay at all-inclusive resorts that the food in Cuba is very bland and not tasty. The best places for having great food experiences in Cuba are to dine at private restaurants. Private restaurants are small and only able to seat 50 people at a time. The quality is much better and the food is more fresh.

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