From food poisoning, to getting lost (many times), to being overcharged, it’s safe to say I made a number of mistakes during my trip to Cuba. I don’t want any of my short sightings to happen to you, so I’ve put together some of the most important travel tips for Cuba. This way, I hope you can have the most relaxing and enjoyable Cuban vacation possible.
1. Don’t Eat the Cuban Sandwiches at the Airport Airport
After eating a Cuban sandwich at the airport, I got food poisoning and was out of commission for a full day. And didn’t fully recover for two days. After talking with others, this was not a once-off occurrence, so it’s best not to chance it.
2. Steer Clear of Street Food
For that matter, don’t eat food off the street or street-side vendors in general. Even Cubans don’t eat it and don’t recommend it. You’ll see hamburgers, croquetas, and a number of other food items available, but if you’re hungry, try and just wait until you can get to an actual restaurant. Or just stick to foods that are clearly cooked through.
I did eat a few fried items off the street (chips and churros) and was fine, but after getting food poisoning, I would be wary of the meat and cheese options.
3. Don’t Drink the Water
Similar to travel throughout other Caribbean or Latin American countries, it’s best to drink only bottled water. However, I was not overly concerned with the ice, and after drinking many frozen drinks (daiquiri’s) I was completely fine.
4. Carry On Your Luggage
If you can, carry on your luggage. It is very common for the airlines destined for Cuba to lose luggage. Even though I was on a direct flight, my luggage still got lost and I had to call the airport repeatedly until it was found (I heard instances of it taking up to 6 days to recover lost baggage). Even reliable airlines suffer from this problem. Cubans that are fortunate enough to obtain a visa to visit other countries often take the opportunity to import items that are not available domestically. This leads to planes with very full baggage compartments and some checked bags being left behind.
Also, when it is found, the airline will not deliver your baggage to you. You have to go back to the airport and wait indefinitely until you are allowed to retrieve your precious cargo.
5. Cuban Addresses
When it comes to Cuban addresses, it proved that more information was required than most western addresses. Most of the time I was told that the address provided by the Airbnb host was incomplete. Typically, Cuban addresses will require the actual address, in addition to the cross roads on either side. Always ask your Airbnb host for the exact address in addition to the crossroads.
For example, if the address is 4924 56th Avenue, they will also require that you provide that the house is located between 49th and 51st street. This is also indicated in the first two digits of the house number. In this case (49)24 indicates the house’s cross streets are 49th and 51st street.
6. Airbnb Tends to be Inaccurate
Whether it is due to Cuban Airbnb accommodations being fairly new, or another reason (See #7), Airbnb listings will often have wrong or misleading locations. Just know, you cannot always trust the locations provided. If possible, it may be best to ask your host to provide a screenshot of the location on a map.
And do this before you arrive. Even if you find WiFi in Cuba, it is likely that it will be a few hours to a few days before the host connects and sees your message. Most have to actively leave their home and connect to WiFi to check their messages. And data does not exist on their cellular network, so Cubans are not always contactable, like westerners are used to.
And just to cover all bases, as back up it’s best to ask your host for their phone number, too.
7. Google Maps Also Tends to be Inaccurate
Sometimes Google Maps does not have accurate street information for Cuba. And the inconsistency between western addresses and Cuban addresses means that a Google Maps search will not necessarily bring up the correct location, even when it looks like it is.
8. Hot Water Isn’t Everywhere
If you’re staying in a casa particular, not all of them provide hot water. If hot water is vital for you, be sure to thoroughly read the description before booking.
9. Vintage Car Rides – More Than You Expected
Taking a drive in a vintage car is a bucket list experience for many visitors, but they aren’t cheap. Rides in antique cars typically cost about $100 for the day. But again, this is always negotiable.
10. Do Not Buy Cigars off the Street
You’ll find people selling cigars and other souvenirs right off the street. Although it’s a convenient purchase and you’ll surely get a deal, they are almost always of poor quality. If you’re wanting authentic, high quality Cuban tobacco, then it’s better to pay the higher prices from a quality store.
11. Never Take the Train
Unless you want the extremely scenic and always delayed route, then do not take the train. Even Cubans don’t use it unless they absolutely have to, or are simply wanting the “train” experience.
12. Do Take the Bus
The Cuban bus system, Viazul, is reliable and a great form of transportation. Just be aware, many budget travelers seek this option, and seats do sell out. If possible, arrive at the station with plenty of time to ensure a bus ticket, or book in advance online HERE.
13. Do Take a Taxi Colectivo
An alternative to a bus that is also reliable and an arguably better option is to travel via taxi colectivo, or a shared taxi ride.
If traveling from Havana to Cienfuegos or Trinidad, do not pay more than 25 CUC per person for a ride.
14. Transportation Price Around Havana
Whether you go by a normal taxi or a bicitaxi (Cuban bicycle taxi), rides around Havana shouldn’t cost you more than 6-10 CUC depending on the distance. If venturing out to Vedado from La Habana Vieja or the likes, you can expect to pay a bit more.
15. Transportation To and From the Havana Airport
There seems to be some sort of Havana-wide agreement that the standard price to and from the airport is almost always 30 CUC. Often times, if staying in a casa particular, the host will offer a pickup service from the airport for the same price. If they offer, then take it. Some taxi drivers might have trouble locating your casa particular address (See#5&6), which only ensues in headaches…especially if you’ve been traveling for a while.
If traveling from Havana to the airport, sometimes you can obtain a cheaper price by haggling. However, if your flight is before 8am, the price might be more than 30 CUC.
16. WiFi Price
If you can help it, don’t pay more than 4 CUC for 1 hour. If you’re being charged more, just know there are other places cheaper, you just gotta find them. The first spot I went to I paid 6 CUC for 30 minutes. 🙁
In Havana, I found Hotel Inglaterra to be a great find, and returned frequently. Even though there were many signs saying the WiFi was for guests only, there’s never any harm in asking, and they ended up selling me an access card anyway. I was charged 2 CUC for 1 hour.
17. Do Not Expect a Lot of Boutique Shopping
Unlike other major tourism cities, there is a lack of boutique clothing or jewelry shops around Havana or other cities in Cuba. Expect to bring all of your cute and stylish clothing with you, as buying them there will be tough.
There is however a plethora of typical souvenir shops.
18. Haggle on Price
And lastly, even as a seasoned traveler I did not do this, and I regret it. I underestimated the extent that vendors, taxi drivers, etc. will overcharge you, and was unfortunately quite naïve. Without a doubt, you will almost always be overcharged, even by our “friendly” casa particular hosts. Trust no one.
Before ending, I just want to say that none of this information should dissuade you from visiting Cuba. I had a wonderful time and would encourage everyone to also go! These are just some tips that you should be aware of before your visit. 🙂
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Over to you! Did you pick up on any other travel tips while in Cuba? I would love to know!