This post is also available in: Български (Bulgarian)
Despite that Cuba is a very safe place and there are practically no criminal activities there, I would like to draw your attention to a couple of useful pieces of advice that would spare you a lot of trouble.
- Money. On your arrival at the airport, make sure that you exchange just a small sum of money since the exchange rate there is always higher than usual. Be ready to stand in queue for a while… Preferably, use cash – ATMs often wouldn’t accept your card. A larger amount of money you may exchange in some cadeca /exchange office/ in Havana. Be careful not to receive your change in Peso Cubano instead of Peso Convertible when on the market or in some club. Make sure you exchange your money only in a bank or a cadeca. Keep in mind, though, that there are always big queues in the banks, so it is better to try a cadeca – the exchange rate is the same. Read more about the difference between the two currencies in Cuba here.
- Luggage wrapping. Don’t forget to wrap your luggage at the airport! Also, keep in mind that it might take more than two hours to receive your luggage at the airport in Havanа. In addition, there is a great chance that your bag might be wet or ransacked…
- Private guest houses. If you are travelling to Cuba on your own, make sure you book your accommodation in advance. I suggest you use booking или Airbnb, which are now common in Cuba as well, or you might simply trust the task to me by using this form. If you are doing your inland journey with Viazul /the local Cuban transportation company for foreigners/, you will be inevitably met at the bus station by a bunch of offers for accommodation. These dealers, however, are simply middlemen – they receive money from landlords for promoting their guest houses. The accommodation itself as you would eventually find out would be more remotely located than initially described. Prices for middle-class guest houses in Havana vary between 35-40 CUC, whereas in the country they will cost you 5-10 CUC less. After all, prices range with the location.
- Cigar street dealers. In Cuba, you will be offered cigars everywhere, especially in Havana. Although they may seem original, I can assure you that 99% of them are made in the dealer’s back yard with waste tobacco. Read here more about cigars in Cuba.
- Salsa Festivals. In the Cuban streets /mostly in Havanа/, they often make fake announcements that today and only today there is a salsa festival that you should attend at any cost. So you go to some club and pay an entrance fee just to find out that there is no salsa festival there… Don’t worry – they will offer you cigars for consolation.
- Car rental in Cuba. You need to be very alert scrolling the numerous websites for car rental in Cuba. Most likely, you will pay, and eventually, no car will be waiting for you at the specific address of Cuba Car. It is hard to find rental cars in Cuba. I don’t really know any decent website to recommend, I have only heard about two Spanish ones, but I can’t be sure enough. Of course, there have been some successful attempts to book a car remotely, but personally, I prefer doing it on the spot. It is preferable to pay in cash since your card you will be charged 3-4% of the sum.
- Driving in Cuba. AVOID DRIVING IN CUBA DURING THE NIGHT – IT IS EXTREMELY DANGEROUS! On a few urgent occasions, I had to drive in Cuba at nighttime and I saw horses hit by a car, carts, and even stumbled upon drunk men that had fallen asleep on the road. Not to mention the fact that most of the vehicles in Cuba don’t have any working indicators… It is a must that you organize your trip so that you travel during the day. Even then, watch out for the big holes on the A1 highway and along the suburban roads as well.
- Street dealers. If you head for Vinales or Trinidad by car, it is very likely that on entering the city or inside it some Cuban guy might start waving energetically for you to stop, convincing you that the road is closed or a dead-end one. If you stop, he would start promoting restaurants or guest houses. It is a bit annoying but apart from that, it is not dangerous. If he talks you into visiting a restaurant or staying at a particular guest house, he will get paid.
- TAXI COMPARTIDO – SHARED TAXI. Often in Cuba and mostly at the bus stations, you will stumble on random dealers offering taxi for “the same price as bus”. Keep in mind that in order to achieve the same price there have to be five other people /or even more if the vehicle allows/. If, for example, there are two of you and you agree to the exclusive offer you will have to wait for three more passengers to join before you can depart and this will require your patience. However, frankly speaking, it is much more comfortable to travel by a shared taxi rather than with Viazul, where you will be cold because of the low-temperature air-conditioning. If you happen to travel with Viazul make sure you take some warm clothes. The shared taxi, on the other hand, is often an old Chevrolet with two passenger seats at the front and three in the back and without any air-conditioning.
- Health. There are no mandatory vaccines in Cuba, no poisonous animals, insects, or sharks in the sea. The latter can be found only at great depths, therefore swimming and diving are absolutely safe. Read here more about fishing in Cuba. Nevertheless, my recommendation is to have travel insurance that would cover any unwanted health expenses. Also, if you happen to get sick, you can always rely on adequate assistance at the specialized hospital for foreigners Cira Garcia, for the price of 40-60 Peso Convertible for the initial check-up.
- Passport and Cuban visa. Avoid taking your passport with you when going out. As soon as you settle somewhere, it is safer to leave your passport at your guesthouse or hotel. You won’t get in trouble walking around without your passport in Cuba. You will need the document only for money exchange. Keep an eye on your visa as well. You will need it to leave the country. The procedure for a lost visa is long and tedious so that you might even miss your flight. Read here more about Cuban visas.