Guide to planning a trip to Cuba

When it comes to planning a trip to Cuba, visas, vaccines and travel insurance are the topics that interest you most. But the truth is that there are many others details to keep in mind during the planning of a trip to the island. In this post, we tell you everything. So that you leave your worries aside and give yourself to imagine the adventure that you are about to live.

how to plan A TRIP TO CUBA

We make it even simpler. With this index of contents, you can go directly to the point you are interested on this guide to planning your trip to Cuba.

BEST TIME TO TRAVEL CUBA

Cuba has a tropical climate with mild and warm temperatures throughout the year. The dry season and therefore, the high season, goes from December to March. In addition, the months of July and August it is also high season, where in spite of being the rainy season the demand increases.

The low season match with the rainy season, which runs from May to November. If you visit Cuba on these dates, it is very likely that it rains one day per week at least. If you also travel during the hurricane season, between August and October, you will enjoy very low prices, although you run the risk of rain.

We had no choice. We traveled in October; a little scared if we had a hurricane plowing the north that was the area we visited. However, we could not be luckier. It rained at some point during 3 of the 15 days of our Cuba trip. But at no point did the rain ruin any of the plans made and we enjoyed very low prices. Not only in the flights, as you can see in the budget of the trip, but accommodation, transport, etc.

If I have to recommend you the best month to travel to Cuba, it would be April, which is low season and dry season. Not many tourists, low prices and better weather.

VISA

To travel to Cuba, it is necessary to have a visa / tourist card. To obtain the visa you must have a valid passport that expires in more than 6 months from the visit. The tourist visa is only given for leisure and tourism purposes and is mandatory to enter the country. It lasts for 30 days extendible 30 days more directly at any immigration office of the country.

When you travel to Cuba with some tourist package, travel agencies usually carry out the procedures of the tourist card in your place. But you will have to do the paperwork. However, it is very simple and here we explain how:

  • Cuban Consulate: The price is 22 euros. The only thing necessary is time, since the opening hours at the consulate of Cuba, in Madrid for example, is only from 09:00 to 16:00 on weekdays.
  • Agency: Many agencies carry out the procedures to obtain the visa. There are a lot but the most known and with which we did it is Onlinetours. The price is the same: 22€. You would simply have to pay for the visa shipment by mail, which was 2€. We receive the visas by express mail within two days.

Note: If you are going to enter Cuba from the US, please note that this type of visa / tourist card is not valid. You would have to get the visa directly at the American airport. The price varies according to the airport. From Miami, for example, the price of the visa is 100$.

VACCINES

There is no special vaccination requirement to visit Cuba. However, it is always recommended, regardless of the country visited, to have at least the first three of the following vaccines:

  • Tetanus Diphtheria
  • Hepatitis A
  • MMR
  • Hepatitis B

Other diseases that we have to be alert to is Dengue and Zika. The contagion is very unusual but in the case of presenting symptoms, it is necessary to go to the doctor immediately. Both are contracted by mosquito bites, so the best way to prevent them is by using a repellent with a high content of DEET. In the case of pregnant women and since the infection during gestation can cause important deformations in the fetus, it is recommended that they avoid traveling Cuba.

In the rest of cases is not necessary to be concerned. To us, in spite of using repellent, an infinity of mosquitoes bit us and here we are!

HEALTH INSURANCE

Also obligatory to visit the country, this is one of the first things you have to consider when planning a trip to Cuba. If they ask you about your insurance when you enter Cuba and you don’t have it, they will oblige you to hire the national insurance of the country, Asistur, which cost is 2.5 CUC a day (approx.).

We also hired it through Onlinetours, taking advantage of the fact that we had requested the visa with them and that they were reputed to provide a good service. The cost was a total of 17€ each, for the 16 days we were there.

Insurance, in addition to being mandatory, is fully recommended. Health-care is a high quality service in Cuba and as such the cost of the service is high.

OUR EXPERIENCE

To give an example, in Trinidad I had a parasitic infection coming from what we thought ice water or failing food. We went to the international medical center, and the cost for one morning of hospitalization, serum, and a gastric test was almost 400 CUC (360€ approx.). 17€ for the insurance is very cheap for what it covered. However, cheap is sometimes expensive. As I will tell you in this post, in phone calls to the insurance, the doctor, etc. I had to pay 150€ out of my own pocket.

That is why I prefer to hire an insurance that covers all my needs in case of an accident. We, after trying and analyzing several companies, use MONDO, which always gives us the best value for money.

discount travel insurance. how to plan a trip to cuba

The visa/tourist card, together with the medical insurance and the name of the accommodation where you are going to stay would constitute the essential requirements to be able to legitimately enter the country.

ACCOMMODATION

From all the existent options, we wanted to stay in Casas Particulares. This method, that although it is legal since the beginning of 2000’s, has been popularized in the three or four last years, consists of renting a room in a Cuban familiar house.

The best thing about private houses is flexibility. When you come to a place and see an area you like, you look for some facade with the sign of casas particulares. After viewing the room and if you like it, you can ask to stay. The price can be negotiated. We paid between 30 CUC (27€) in Havana and 10 CUC (9€) in Viñales per night.

casa particular accomodation. how to plan a trip to cuba

Casa Particular sign

Staying in private houses, living together and getting to know Cuban families is a very enriching experience. The rent is the main sustenance of many families on the island. If they have space in the house they will work very hard to meet the requirements and to get the appropriate permission. The thing is that in a week of rent, they can earn the same as they earn working for the state in a month.

As I mentioned in the last section you must inform about where you are going to stay in Cuba, so at least you need to know the address of the first night. We rented the first two nights through Airbnb, since in this platform you can also find private houses.

In addition to the accommodation, they often try to sell you other activities, for instance ;breakfast, dinner, excursions, shows, transport, etc. The usual is that when you are moving through several points of the island your private houses recommend you another house to stay in your following destination. The thing is that after the lease of housing, the second economic means available to them are commissions that they earn by recommending.

CAMPING IN CUBA

Although from what we understood, it is not allowed to camp freely, we met in Cayo Jutías a few girls who had been camping on the island for a couple of weeks and had had no incident.

Go camping, is not very common for foreigners. There are few set places for this, little information about where to find them, etc. Thus and because the accommodation in general is quite cheap, we decided not to carry our tent. A decision that we regret especially during our visit to Cayo Jutías.

TRANSPORT

There are several ways to move around Cuba. We did not have time to try them all although some are an adventure by themselves. Here we tell you the different ways to help you planning your trip to Cuba.

Viazul buses

These state-owned buses offer routes between the main points of the island. Its prices and  amenities are aimed completely at tourists. Viazul buses are very well equipped. They are air-conditioned and comfortable. It is very common that the locals advise against using them in favor of hiring a Taxi or shared taxi service, claiming that the Viazul takes much longer than they say at the station, and they are uncomfortable and unpunctual. From our experience, I have to say that the only Viazul we used, from Viñales to Havana, was on time, air-conditioned, comfortable and without delays.

It is advisable to book in advance in high season and bring a jacket since the air conditioning is usually very strong.

You can check routes, schedules and prices from here.

PRIVATE BUSES

Many hotels organize private buses between different cities of Cuba. The price is a bit more expensive than Viazul buses. This option is used on the Havana-Cienfuegos route, paying 2 CUC more than the Viazul alternative. However, you have to take into account that Havana is a large city and the station of Viazul is on the outskirts. To go to the bus station we would have had to take a cab for the difference. However private buses leave from the hotel doors located in the center.

My recommendation is that to get out of Havana look for some hotel near your private house and ask about these bus services. At the end, you will save money compared to having to take a taxi to take you to the Viazul bus station.

SHARED TAXI

As we mentioned, in the vicinity of the stations of Viazul are huddled drivers who advise you against using the first in favor of shared taxis. They are licensed taxis that look for passengers who want to go to a common destination sharing the cost of the trip. We used this method a lot of times, as it gives more flexibility in schedules and tours than Viazul. For example, the direct route Trinidad – Viñales is not offered by Viazul and yet we were able to do so by taking a shared taxi. The price of shared taxis is usually a couple of CUC below Viazul buses.

transportation cuba how to planning a trip to Cuba

Shared Taxi

Although you can save some time with shared taxis, they are quite more uncomfortable than Viazul buses, as they offer more places than the car actually has; and that, on a long and hot journey, can make a hellish way.

BOTELLA

They consist of trucks that drive fixed routes between different points and they transport as many people as possible in the back side. Some have tarpaulins to protect the passengers from the sun. We could see some that had benches to sit on and others where all the passengers were standing. This method of transport is widely used by Cubans because of its low cost. We do not use it because of lack of time since the routes are remarkably longer than Viazul buses or shared taxis. In our next Cuban adventure we will prove it for sure.

botella transportation. guide to planning a trip to cuba

Botella

OFFICIAL TAXI

You recognize them by their yellow color. There are also official taxis in Havana that use taximeters to collect. We do not use this service because despite being quantified it is usually more expensive than a good negotiation with a shared car.

CALLILAC

These colorful taxis are the delight of any tourist who strolls through Havana. They are usually used more as a tourist car, where the driver will show you different points of the city, rather than as a means of transportation. Its price is not cheap so we did not use it although we had enough photographing them.

Coches viejos de colores La Habana Cuba

Cadillacs

COCOTAXI

We only saw this fun means of transportation in Havana. Being something only used by tourists prices are usually higher. We do not use it.

Cocotaxi Cuba Havana. guide to planning a trip to cuba

Cocotaxi

BIke TAXI

We had to use them twice. The first time in Havana, where after leaving the show it started raining and the second time in order to go to the hospital in Trinidad when I wasn’t able to stand up. Personally, I do not like too much that someone has to take me to the sites with their physical effort. If I can choose I prefer to ride a bicycle as we did many days during the trip; however, on these two occasions , bike taxis were very useful.

Bicitaxi Havana cuba. guide to plan a trip

Bike Taxi

TRAIN

The trains arrived in Cuba late, so they are not very developed. The tours are endless and it is a mean that even the Cubans avoid. We did not try it.

CURRENCY

In the monetary and currency issue, Cuba is a very particular country where we are going to find two different types of currency. This must be taken into account when planning a trip to Cuba.

CUBAN PESO (CUP)

The national currency used mostly by locals The value is extremely low (1€ = 28.7 CUP). With this currency, you will be able to pay goods and services used mostly by local people; like the bus, coffee, local restaurants, etc. We hardly use it, since most of the things we paid were priced in the other currency. They can be obtained in the official exchange houses (CADECA) that you will find in all the big cities. Although, first you will have to change to CUC and from there, you will be able to change to CUP.

CONVERTIBLE CUBAN PESO (CUC)

The currency mostly used by tourists. It will be the currency you mainly use and with which you will pay the vast majority of things. The exchange rate is in parity with dollar (1€ = 1.12 CUC). Beware of changing at the airport office, since the exchange rate they apply is much more expensive than other exchange offices.

DIFFERENCING THE CURRENCIES

Pay great attention to difference both types of currency, especially bills. The easiest way is through  images. While in CUP appear the faces of historical figures of Cuba in CUC (the currency that has more value) appear monuments built in honor of these characters.

bill pesos Cubanos (CUP) with the face of Che Guevara Cuba

3 Cuban pesos bill (CUP) with the face of Che Guevara

bill 3 pesos cubano convertibles (CUC) with the monument to the Che Guevara,in Santa Clara Cuba

3 Cuban convertible pesos  bill (CUC) with Monument to Che Guevara, located in Santa Clara

We carried the separate coins and bills in two different pockets so we didn’t get confused. We also reviewed the changes very well so as not to be easily deceived. Luckily we did not suffer the well-known scam of change in CUP. In which the tourist pays in CUC and they return the change in CUP.

Another tip we want to give is to do the change only in the state’s official CADECA. It is also known the cheat where several Cubans invite you to go to a CADECA where they have a more favorable exchange rate, and simulating an “official CADECA” give you bills or fake or Cuban pesos instead of convertibles pesos.

INTERNET

Connecting to the Internet in Cuba is a luxury that we totally disregard. Our recommendation is that you take every second in Cuba to soak the island and disconnect with all exterior life. Possibly in a few years, Cuba will stop being that special place where children still play outside the net.

If I still have not convinced you to leave the hyper-connection behind the border here I indicate how to use the INTERNET.

ETECSA, the Cuban telecommunications company, has offered INTERNET since 2014. However, this INTERNET is quite unbearable. You can only connect to the Wi-Fi network from certain points. The hotels or private houses that claim to have INTERNET, what they mean is that they have access to the INTERNET. However, to connect you will have to buy a 30 minutes, 1 hour or 5 hours prepaid card. The cards are bought in kiosks of ETECSA or resold a little more expensive in hotels and other establishments. The official price is 1.5 CUC per hour. You have 30 days to spend the card. Otherwise, it will expire.

internet ETECSA Cuba wifi. Guide to planning a trip to cuba

ETECSA Kiosk

Considering that more than half of the Cubans who work for the state make less than 100 CUC a month, saying that the Internet has arrived in Cuba seems to me to be a half-truth since they can barely afford the connection and when they get it, it is extremely slow.

INDISPENSABLE IN YOUR BAGGAGE

Unlike you might expect, in this section I will not remind you to bring sunscreen or mosquito repellent.

Cuba is a communist dictatorship under an international commercial blockade. All Cubans are entitled each month to an amount of food and other items listed on a ration card. This was intended to cover the basic needs of the entire people. However, the reality is that paid work added to the ration card is not enough.

guide cuba trip communism

Ration card

Many Cubans are forced to play their cards under the table in order to survive and get basic goods. They call it jinetear and it is the main income of many of the inhabitants of the cities, where the tourism is greater. From there they are known as jineteros. As travelers in Cuba, it became exhausting that at every step you had the sensation they wanted to take some advantage on you or providing help expecting something on return.  But, this is a tricky political and social matter which a root on all the circumstances related to the history and life of Cuba.

This makes appreciable differences for example between someone from Havana and someone from Santa Lucía. We met a Cuban from Havana with an iPhone 7 and on the other hand a night watchman in Cayo Jutías who was thrilled when we gave him a flashlight with dynamo. That extreme can be the differences in Cuba.

Either by the block or by the inherent system is a complex situation that we can not change. However, I will recommend some essential things in your luggage if you want to help a little for the day-to-day.

SCHOOL SUPPLIES

Pencils are cheap and take up little space. The children will come to ask you to give them some.

Children Playing in Havana Cuba. Guide to planning a trip to Cuba

Children playing in Havana

The sad thing is that it does not just make them happy. We were asked for pencils by adults, especially in rural areas, where the submerged economy is not so strong.

MEDICINES

A simple ibuprofen is a luxury. Palliative pain medications are not considered necessary products so people suffering from chronic pain, such as migraines, live a real ordeal. A great gift you can make. If you prefer, as we did, you can take medicines to exchange for old books or some other souvenirs.

INTIMATE HYGIENE PRODUCTS

What most impressed me about the ration card was the tiny amount of pads that correspond to each woman a month. In my case, I took pads and tampons to give away, although if I did the trip again I would try to take even a menstrual cup and change 5 years of the life of a Cuban woman.

CLOTHES

We were asked for clothes during the whole trip, but as we were practically traveling with what we were wearing and washing, we could not give anything. The ideal would be to take old clothes to Cuba and at the end of the trip give them away.

And with this we finish the complete guide to planning your trip to Cuba, where we talked about the best time to visit the island; the visa, vaccines and necessary medical insurance; how to understand the monetary system; where to stay; how to move around the country or connect to the INTERNET and that you can not miss in your luggage.

WE WILL ADD THE QUESTIONS THAT YOU ASK IN THE COMMENTS TO THIS GUIDE TO PLANNING A TRIP TO CUBA.

written by Ascenphotography by danzafra

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