Are you planning a trip to Cuba? Well, we are so we reached out to a member of the Fellowship of Explorers who recently returned from there. Our man Adrien Patane came through big! Here is a collection of travel tips from the man himself.
Make sure to check out his work and add him to your Instagram feeds…
Whilst it’s still technically illegal to travel for tourism there are now 12 categories from which allow travel, from journalism to vague descriptions such as “Support for the Cuban people”
The key point here is that there is no paperwork required by the US for these categories, you simply may need to prove that you have evidence to support your selected option. Detailed documentation on each description can be found here
Note that there is always (currently) a risk that these rules could be enforced, so use caution just in case, however as mentioned no American has been fined for travel to Cuba for 10 years. If you really want to play it safe you can still take the potentially least risky route via Cancún, and simply ask Cuban immigration to only stamp your visa slip and NOT your passport. That way there is no paper trail for your trip to Cuba.
That said we did get stamps and upon returning into the US didn’t even get a sideways glance or question.
Since we chose to fly via Cancún we purchased our visas at the airport, there are guys wandering around near the check-in that will sign you up and provide you with the slip, I think it was about $25 USD, very simple.
We can’t comment on direct flights as we didn’t do that so there might be some more stuff online about this since it’s changing so rapidly
We flew United to Cancún and then connected to Havana on Interjet, was kinda the same price as flying direct as there was limited direct options at the time, that’s changed since we went for sure.
Note the Havana airport is a circus, took us hours to get through immigration and then to the baggage claim. Little to no signage but our bags turned up – if soaking wet so they must have been outside for a while. As you may have read it’s kinda a trainwreck in there but just roll with it. Note whilst we didn’t have any dramas with bags another couple we spoke to waited for hours for their bags when they realized there is another two baggage claim carousels around the corner from the first two you see, so look around if need be.
Very, very helpful if you have some Spanish vocab – very little English spoken outside of the Havana but that’s changing. Either way make sure you have Google Translate downloaded and download the offline Spanish pack – amazingly helpful (unless you speak Spanish of course 😉
You’ll certainly hear many horror stories as they simply aren’t prepared for full-on tourism, we had heard from many sources the hotels are expensive and fill up quick, along with many associated stories of plumbing issues, maintenance etc
We used AirBnb for Havana and it was fine, just check the reviews and ensure you pick one that seems legit, there are always risks but we didn’t really have a problem. Our place we stayed was just OK in Havana so I don’t feel it deserves a recommendation.
We stayed at Casa Particulares in both Trinidad and Valle de Viñales, I’ve noted those places in the location info below. Definitely found this is the way to go, cheap, easy and gives you a real feel for Cuban life as well as supporting the locals only real source of income.
We found as you’ll read in many locations the best option for this is to convert cash to Euro’s and then when you get there change it over. The airport is a good place and generally not too bad. Note if you do have to convert USD it’s brutal with a 10% fee plus the 3%, the CUC is tied to the dollar so you are getting shafted big time.
Also outside of Havana they are VERY picky about note condition, any tears, tape damage and they won’t accept
Note banks anywhere in Cuba are horrible and takes hours just to change money so if you can convert all you need once and be done with it.
As of December no US credit or ATM cards worked, so I’d assume they don’t
I found Cuba to be one of the safest countries I’ve ever visited, you can carry camera gear around with no one really looking sideways at you and I’m yet to hear any stories of major theft
That said there ARE scams and it seems everyone is connected and plays a role, one of the things you learn is they always ask you how long you have been there and where you are staying. In one case we answered a few questions to one guy who was friendly enough and a little while later another guy came up to us and said he was the next door neighbor of where we were staying and tried to sell us cigars. He must have gotten the information from the first guy. Note we have heard most of the cigars sold on the street are fake (Cohibas) so if you want legit ones buy them from a proper store – not cheap mind you
We also clued into them asking you about how long we had been in Cuba; we suspect this was a way of knowing how easy a target you were, so just be cautious but use common sense as always.
CELL SERVICE / MAPS / WIFI
My AT&T phone worked fine but be aware charges are brutal so I just used it very sparingly
Google Maps works but doesn’t allow offline maps for Cuba which sucks but what I found was when I had WiFi I would search my area and it would stay cached even when you don’t have data, that way you can at least use it for rough navigation. I also used an offline maps app and most of those work fine too if limited in functionality, just make sure to download all maps & data before leaving the country.
WiFi is only available from government controlled hotspots, so you need a card with a scratchy number on it, cards last for an hour but not consecutive just make sure you log off the wifi when you’re done. Cards cost 3-4 CUC and there are always guys wandering around the locations selling cards where the internet is, usually squares or big hotels, you can’t miss it as everyone is on their devices there 😉
FOOD / HYGINE
Food is not one of Cuba’s highlights, but its improving so go in with low expectations, restaurants are very much hit or miss and can be very expensive (relatively speaking). Some of the best food we had was in the Casa Particulares, home cooked and fresh. Definitely get their breakfasts – loads of food and really fills you up for most of the day, typically only 5 CUC as well, so you can’t go wrong.
As with all lesser developed countries be very cautious with water and food, also note Cuba has known resistance to Cipro so be particularly vigilant with cleanliness and where you eat.
Amazing and awesome, we stayed in the old town (La Habana Vieja) which is where all the cool buildings are and lined by the awesome Malecón
Plenty of car/buildings and people shots, Havana Vieja is very walkable, best way to see it
Loved the Castillo el Morro, very good sunset spot for watching the sun sink behind Havana and the Malecón, you need to get a taxi to the Castillo as there is a tunnel under the harbor which is the easiest cheapest way.
The Malecón is very cool just to wander early in the morning and for sunset too, plenty of people about for sunset for some local character otherwise sunrise and mornings are pleasant and quiet.
Beautiful colonial town on the southern coast and no shortage of photo locations from cobblestone streets to vistas of the city and the surrounding hills.
We stayed at probably one of the best Casas which was right in town, not far from the main square and run by amazingly friendly owners. Two hotel style rooms at the back for a pretty decent rate – definitely recommended 40 CUC per room/night
And their own website
There’s plenty to do here from horseback riding into the hills and waterfalls, it’s also not far from the beaches too but we didn’t make it to them due to short time
To get to Trinidad ~5 hrs we took a private car 120 CUC which was probably the more expensive route but generally considered the fastest and easiest, pick-up and drop off wherever you like.
VALLE DE VIŇALES
Spectacular setting amongst towering mogotes, tobacco fields and plantations. Very picturesque and worth the visit
Easiest place is to stay near the main town of Viñales but there are plenty of options out in the hills, just be aware you’d need some form of transport as distances are not small, but taxis are cheap too and will wait if you want to at sunset locations etc
We used both tripadvisor and triptovinales websites, but there are literally hundreds of options for casa particulares.
We didn’t get to stay there but this one definitely caught our eye due to its view over the valley and proximity to the main drag