The Caribbean island of Cuba is an amazing travel destination that has been overlooked by many for years due to complex politics. Recent thawing in its relationship with the USA has seen interest in the country soar, but there’s still not a lot of information detailing the ins and outs of travelling beautiful Cuba.
That’s where I come in to help. After a few weeks of travelling, exploring, and island hopping around Cuba, I’ve compiled a list of tips on how to avoid making easy mistakes on your Cuban adventure.
Don’t forget to withdraw your money before you leave
Exchanging and withdrawing money in Cuba is a complicated issue which many travellers don’t fully understand before arriving. The ATMs and banks in Cuba are extremely temperamental, so it’s vital that you withdraw the money you want to take travelling before you leave so as not to get stuck without any cash at all.
It can be nerve-wracking carrying large sums of money around with you, but trust me when I say you do not want to be the person stranded in Cuba without any cash and without a working ATM in miles. Don’t risk it; remember you don’t have to exchange all the money you take out; you can always take it back home with you.
Don’t blow all your cash within the first few days
Getting excited about everything on offer and blowing all your cash within the first few days is also a big mistake, because once again you might not be able to take any more out! This is a common mistake, and one that I fell victim to.
We blew most of our cash on exciting tours we thought would sell out and were left practically penniless after finding out the majority of cash machines don’t accept debit cards or American credit cards, or simply didn’t work. To make matters worse the banks are closed on Saturdays and are sometimes empty! Miraculously we found a working ATM when travelling through Sancti Spiritus. We didn’t, however, get away without a hefty bank fee for the transaction.
Don’t expect the ‘Havana’ nightlife across the whole of Cuba
Cuba’s capital, Havana, has an undeniably spectacular nightlife with famous shows, some of the world’s greatest rum, and lively Salsa bars. But don’t be fooled; it’s not like this everywhere.
Things are especially quiet if you stay on one of Cuba’s small islands like Cayo Guillermo or Cayo Coco; you can’t just stroll into town to hit the clubs because there aren’t any. That being said, if you ‘re willing to travel further afield, there are a few hidden gems such as Disco Ayala in Trinidad and La Cueva Del Jabali in Cayo Coco where travellers can party the night away in natural caves.
Don’t forget to try local Cuban cuisine
Getting food poisoning and ending up with an upset stomach after eating exotic foreign food is a fear for many, but don’t let this stop you from trying some amazing Cuban cuisine. Some of the best meals we had were at local restaurants we were taken to whilst on the road.
Cuban style chips (plantain) actually taste like Kettle Chips. The funny thing is eating Cuban cuisine didn’t upset my stomach at all; I actually ended up throwing up all night after eating a dodgy Spaghetti Bolognese of all things, so don’t worry too much about trying new things, just tuck in!
Don’t book tours and excursions carelessly
If you’re eager to see the sights through organised tours, read about them carefully as many contain elements of the same things, so you could end up paying to do the same thing twice.
For example, we went speed boating and snorkelling on one trip, and then ended up snorkelling in the same place on a second trip and were even due to do it a third time! Read tour descriptions carefully and ask guides about specific locations to make sure you don’t end up paying to do the same things two or three times.
Don’t forget to tip
In Cuba it’s customary to tip people such as maids, waiters, tour guides, bus drivers and sometimes chefs. I know to us Brits tipping can be a bit of a controversial issue, but it’s important to remember that Cuba is a communist country and that many people will work for and live by their tips, not their wages. So don’t be too stingy, everyone has to earn a living.
Don’t give in to jet lag
The dreaded j-word can be a huge nuisance when travelling to faraway places. Usually travelling from East to West is easier to adjust to, but you will most likely still be affected.
We ended up giving in to jet lag on the first night, meaning our bodies didn’t adjust to the new time zone. As a result, I was wide awake at 7am and in bed exhausted by half past 8 for the next two nights and missed a beach party. Try to stay awake and fight off the urge to go to sleep early. Eating late in the evening doesn’t help either, so try eating evening meals earlier rather than later.
Don’t forget to take your passport & travel visa to the bank
If you do end up stranded for cash and are forced to take a trip to the bank, then don’t forget to take along your passport and travel visa. You will probably need your passport to be able to take any money out.
We met a number of travellers who ended up being forced to make the same trip twice because they’d forgotten their passports. Save yourself some time and money and take both your passport and your visa just in case.
Don’t be a ‘naïve tourist’
Being a traveller/tourist in Cuba, you stick out like a sore thumb and to many of the locals you are basically a walking, talking dollar sign. Be wise about who you talk to and what you believe, because many are out to make a quick buck at your expense.
On a trip to Moron, a chef from where we were staying somehow recognised us walking about and insisted on ‘helping us with our shopping.’ To cut a long story short we ended up paying 90 pesos for some questionable looking cigars, and he claimed he needed a 20 peso tip to buy a crib for his baby who had just been born that day. We left feeling naïve, swindled, and 110 pesos (that’s about £72) lighter.
So please be careful who you trust, don’t let people take advantage of you and remember if someone is ‘helping’ you they most likely want money.