When I looked into traveling to Cuba I just Googled “how to get to Cuba”. That may be how you got here. What I found were a tons of articles about specific things. What I wanted was one article or post that covered everything and gave me resources.
P.S. If you’re looking for tips to do Cuba right, check out 5 Insider Tips for Americans Traveling to Cuba.
The basics for Americans who want to travel to Cuba:
*As of June 16, 2017, new, tighter regulations have been announced for Americans. The regulations discontinue independent travel under the People to People visa and require Americans to book with tour companies. However, these regulations have not been issued. It will take a couple of months, which means you have only a couple of months to explore Cuba freely.*
It’s not called a Tourist Visa
Legally, American tourism isn’t allowed. By that they mean you shouldn’t just sit on a pretty beach and sip mojitos the whole time. They want you to engage with locals, have conversations, learn about the other culture. And I kind of agree. So if you’re going to explore, get outside of the big cities and beaches, then here’s what you do.
Pay for the Tourist Card at the airport. Really, that’s it! I bought mine when I checked in with Delta. You should know it's also called the People to People visa and falls under the educational section of visas in case it’s not listed as People to People.
Americans can’t take out money so you need to bring cash
If you have an American bank or debit card, then you won’t be able to take out cash. It’s because of that whole Cuban/American embargo thing. So you’ll need to bring all of it with you (just hide some in a money pouch).
You should bring between $50-100/day, depending on how budget or luxurious your travel style is. Consider accommodation, food, entertainment, taxis, tours, drinks and souvenirs. Always bring extra since you can’t take any out. If you can, pay for accommodations beforehand on a card so you can carry less cash. P.S. the taxis add up so always negotiate!
Cuba has two currencies and customary tipping
There are two currencies. CUP is for locals and CUC for foreigners so locals pay less for things. It’s about 25 CUP to 1 CUC, which equates to 1USD. Got that? Simply put, imagine your CUC as USD when paying for things. If you get CUP back, then use it for tipping or save it!
Tipping is customary but it’s not as much as in the US. Tip about 10% in CUC for food, taxis, hotel maids and street musicians. For tours is should be 5-7 CUC/person/day. Tipping is important and helpful to Cubans because it’s not taxed (everything you buy is).
You should stay in casa particulares
Staying at a hotel is easy but it’s not authentic. Casa Particulares, rooms locals rent out to travelers, are the way to go in my opinion. Most of the time, you get to live with a local, get tips from them and eat their homemade food. Other times you’re in an apartment by yourself or with other travelers. You can find casas here or on Airbnb.
Cuba is safe unless you consider being overcharged a crime
Souvenir stands overcharge, taxi drivers constantly stop to give you a ride and guys stare and honk, but all that is expected in a Latin country. When I walked around by myself during the day, I felt safe. When my boyfriend and I walked 30 minutes to a bar at night, we felt safe. When I asked solo female travelers I met, they said they were annoyed by the cat calls but still felt safe. No one targeted us or saw us as an opportunity. It’s pretty safe but still practice basic rules when traveling solo: don't walk alone at night, meet and go out with fellow travelers, drink in moderation, say no and walk away if you need to, and if you need help walk up to the nearest woman.
You can wear almost anything as an American woman
In Havana and the countryside, you won’t see many local women wearing shorts. In beach towns, they are more popular. You can still wear shorts though as long as they aren’t too short. Anything too short might bring unwanted staring or whistling.
To deal with the heat I suggest dresses, wide leg pants or a shirt and leggings for the day and maxi dresses at night. Jeans are just too hot. I brought nice sandals instead of heels, which saved my life. Tripping over broken sidewalks would’ve killed me.
Yes, there’s internet but it’s not wifi
Our casas didn’t have wifi so we had to find an unmarked booth that sold internet cards. We had to wait in line for a while so we only did got internet once (and reveled in completely disconnecting). These cards only work when you find a wifi hotspot, which could be in a park, hotel or some random guy walking around selling his hotspot. Once you find a hotspot you have to log in with the card. Then you only have an hour to use it. If you want more than that then stock up on cards. To be with internet or not to be with internet. That is the question!
If you have any other questions about traveling to Cuba, write them below in the comments. I can update the post with more basic need-to-know things!