In 2016 I spent over two weeks on Cuba. I got back home to Poland exactly a week before Fidel Castro died. Before I went on this trip I researched tons of different blogs, websites and travel guides. Some information tourned out to be useful, other not so much. So I thought I’ll help you be better prepared than I was and share 20 useful tips I wish I knew before I went to Cuba.

Getting around the island

  1. GPS works fine on the island (unlike what some of the blogs and sources we found claimed). We recommend downloading the MapsMe Pro app to use maps offline.
  2. It’s difficult to rent a car once you’re already there. It’s best to book a car ahead, as there aren’t many available in rental companies.
  3. If you actually manage to rent a car, remember that you won’t be able to buy fuel everywhere. There are many gas stations on the island, buy you’re allowed to use only those that sell 94 type fuel. And there are not many stations selling that. Once we barely made it on fumes.
  4. It is possible to drive at night although it is not recommended. It’s quite dangerous as there’s not much road lighting and you may encounter a horse somewhere in a middle of a dark highway.
  5. Overtaking cars on smaller roads is mostly forbidden. We were pulled over by the police once for overtaking a tractor going 20 km/h. Fortunately we maneged to get out of it without a ticket by repeating “No entiendo, Polonia, no entiendo” enough times.
  6. You might get stopped by some kind of civil police and asked to take a hitchhiker with you, for example when a local bus breaks down. It is mandatory to take such a person “onboard”. There are many hitchikers everywhere, if you encounter someone who knows a little english you might get some invalid tips and information about where to go and what to see.

Before you go

  1. You’ll need to buy an american power adapter.
  2. It’s worth learning some basic expressions in spanish. You’ll hear some english around the hotels but nowhere else to be honest. It’s worth downloading Google Translate app onto your phone as well.

Once you’re there

  1. You can buy a special internet card at your hotel. The cost is 2 dollars and it gives you an hour of internet access. Just remember to type in your browser to log out. Otherwise all of your “internet time” will run out even if you’re not using it.
  2. There are two different currencies used in Cuba – one for the locals CUP and one for tourists CUC. 1  CUC = 25 CUP. There are people printed on CUPs and monuments on CUCs. It’s worth checking in which currency they’re giving you change in the shops.
  3. Fidel might be talking about the absence of the cult of personality but there’s Che Guevara everywhere on the island. You’ll find him on souvenirs, murals, posters, etc.
  4. The food is… not so good. In restaurants you’ll have to pay 10-12 dollars no matter what you order. Usually you have chicken, beef, pork and crawfish to choose from. I kept ordering seafood the entire time I was there.
  5. The island is getting more and more tourist dependend and tourists mean money. It’s especially evident in Havana where you’ll have to pay 1 dollar just to take a picture of people wearing ritual santeria clothes.

Interesting places

  1. You’d probably want to know that the cigar factory in Havana, described in every tourist guide, was moved to a new location. You can no longer visit the one located on Calle Industria, so just go straight to Calle San Carlos instead. Another interesting fact is that after you finish your guided tour you’ll be offered to buy half-priced cigars from a tour guide.
  2. There are some good diving spots in Playa Giron. The diving intro lession costs 35 dollars. If you have a permit you’ll have to pay 25 dollars. We didn’t try it, but we heard there’s some diving in the caves to be done.
  3. We recommend visiting tobacco plantations in Viñales. The town itself is worth visiting as well.
  4. However it’s not worth going to Cayo Coco. The locals explained to us that “Cayo Coco is not Cuba”.
  5. If you do decide to go to Cayo Coco be sure to go flamingo watching. There are tons of them there. Be sure to book your hotel room in advance or, once you’re already there, via a local tourist agency. This way you may save up to half a price.
  6. Hemingway is a very important person on Cuba so it’s worth visiting places connected to a famous writer such as La Finca Vigia museum and Cojimar town located next to Havana.

I hope you’ll find those tips useful when planning your trip to Cuba. And be sure to go there, it’s a marvellous place! If you have any questions just ask in the comments below and I’ll be sure to get back to you!