In May 2017, a couple friends and I chose Cuba as our vacation destination, since it had just opened to the American public for travel. I didn’t know many people who had gone yet, so it seemed like the perfect place to explore!
1. Prefer an affordable housing option?
AirBnBs are a great way to save money while traveling! If you go that route, I definitely recommend only looking for casa particulars- government registered host homes that are safe for tourists. I had a great experience with my host family- they were happy to practice Spanish with me, arrange for taxi service, and suggest fun places to visit.
2. Hablas espanol?
If you don’t know basic Spanish, learn some. Most people there don’t speak English, so it’s super helpful if you want to navigate the streets easily. It’s also a necessity if you don’t want to get ripped off when buying souvenirs or haggling down a taxi ride. Learn numbers, how to ask for directions and prices, order food, and introduce yourself. PS- in case of an emergency, dial 106 and not 911.
3. Not Millenial Friendly
Internet isn’t readily available, sorry millenials! To get WiFi you must go to an ETECSA (a Cuban phone co.) store and pay a couple bucks for a card that gives you access for a certain amount of time. Hotels usually have them as well. Then you have to go to either a designated wifi park or hotel to use the card.
4. Know your Cubans.
If you’re planning to buy Cuban cigars, your best bet is to go to the government owned cigar shops where they’ll give you an official recibo, or receipt, with your purchase. Otherwise, you better know how to tell a real Cuban from a fake one. My friend and I were approached by someone on the street telling us about certain houses that sold discount cigars for cheap- that they were having a half off sale that ended that day. I bought a box for the equivalent of $60 USD (Some Cohibas go for at least that much each!). Later we were at a cigar bar trying to smoke them and wondering why they sucked. After we cut them open we realized they were filled with crap filler. Lesson learned, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Also, don’t be like me and walk into a stranger’s house hoping you won’t get murdered. I’m still alive apparently, but that’s besides the point.
5. Carry Pocket Tissues!
Toilet paper seemed like a luxury, at least when we were out and about in Havana. They only had them in hotels and nice restaurants. Public bathrooms often did not have flushing toilets, functioning faucets, or toilet paper. Be forewarned.