For many, there is a certain air of mystery when it comes to Cuba. As we haven’t been able to go there for 50 some years, knowledge of traveling there is limited to stories, a few documentaries, and a bad and outdated Lonely Planet Guide to Cuba (sorry, Lonely Planet!). When going to Cuba, especially as an American, there are many things you should know. There were certainly things I wish I had known before going to Cuba, which is what I touched upon before. Here are some things I think you should know before going to Cuba:
1. Cash only!
If you are an American you cards are no good in Cuba. I don’t mean that they hate American cards and will scoff at you if you try and use one. What I mean is, American cards physically will not work. At this time (May 2017) American card companies and banks don’t have the right system/machines/agreements to use Cuban card machines or ATM’s. The US Treasury definitely put the kibosh on that. Unfortunately, this isn’t as common knowledge as people would think. I have read blog after blog of Americans getting stuck in Cuba with little to no money for this reason. So if your best friend is a debit card like me, then you’ll want to forego it this time around!
2. Cash Only…but not American
So you can’t use your American credit card but how about American cash? Nope. Well, you can, but be prepared the exchange rate isn’t that good. Like most countries, you will need to exchange money or pull money out of an ATM once you arrive, but seeing as you can’t use your American debit card, you will have to stick with exchanging money. While the airport and some hotels can exchange American dollars for you, there is a 10% penalty/fee added on to converting USD. This is on TOP of the 3% conversion fee you are already charged – yikes! This means, while currently it is 1 USD for 1 CUC, you would only be getting 87 CUC for 100 USD. However, you can avoid the 10% penalty levied on USD if you use another currency. Euros and even Mexican Pesos tend to be the big currencies used for this. However, you are still hit with the 3% fee and sometimes not the greatest exchange rate. I exchanged Euros during my trip through the owner of my ‘Casa Particular‘ and avoided the banks and hotels.
3. There are Two Types of Currency in Cuba
Yep, that is right – two. How is that for confusing?! As a tourist in Cuba, you will be using the CUC – Cuban Convertible Peso. Locals will be using the CUP – Cuban Peso. And of course, they aren’t worth the same! You are looking at about 1 CUC for 25 CUP. Therefore you want to be careful and make sure you are looking at your money when you get it back. If you are paying in CUCs you want to make sure you are getting back CUCs. The easiest way to tell the difference is the Cuban Peso (CUP) has people on them whereas the CUC’s have monuments/statues on them.
4. NO Internet
I have said this before, but I cannot stress this enough, that there isn’t free internet in Cuba. Sorry you can’t Instagram that old car! Sorry you can’t check in at La Guarida. Sorry you can’t print out the itinerary for your car tour! While yes you can get wifi if you buy a wifi card and are at a hotel or park that offers ‘free wifi,’ it is not readily available nor is printing. Plus, not all American phone companies work ! I highly recommend you print out whatever you may need for your trip, itineraries, booking confirmations, MAP(!) of Havana etc. in advance. Be prepared to get unplugged and relax. You are on vacation! Enjoy it.
5. Bring snacks!
Chances are you are going to get a little bit hungry while walking the streets of Havana. Or, maybe you will get the munchies after drinking a few Mojitos or Cuba Libres? Don’t plan on getting snacks like chips or cookies or crackers. One, remember mainstream American products like Doritos aren’t found in Cuba because of things like, you know the embargo and whatnot. Two, due to Cuba being a Communist country and everyone (besides doctors) making the same amount of money per month, stores focus on necessities. With the monthly being 10 dollars, yes 10 dollars, snacks are not something Cubans need. We brought almost a whole suitcase full of chips, snacks and crackers (for when one of us, aka probably, got food poisoning) and we left the extras with the house keepers and owners!
These are just a few things I think you should know before going to Cuba. Obviously, there are many more things – SO DO YOUR RESEARCH! But, even if something goes wrong our you didn’t know something before going to Cuba, relax. You are in Cuba!
Think of anything else you should know before going to Cuba? Let me know in the comments below!