10 things you need to know before going to Cuba

1. Visa

Everybody who visits Cuba needs to obtain the tourist card. If you are flying to Cuba with certain airlines, like Air Canada for example, you will receive the tourist card on the plane, for free. Sometimes, you can ask for it at the desk counter of Air Canada, in Toronto or Montreal Airports. There is no need to apply for a Visa at the consulate, unless you are sure the airline won’t provide it. Besides the travel card, you will need to have a travel health insurance also. You have to make sure that it covers Cuba, as only certain insurers work with the Cuban National Insurer. Sometimes, you will be asked to show the insurance when you get to immigration.


For me, the immigration process was very fast, less than 2 minutes. , you can ask them to stamp your tourist visa instead of your passport. They won’t mind doing this.


2. Flights

Due to the American Embargo you can’t fly to Cuba directly or via the States. From Europe there are two main options to get to Havana: a direct flight from Madrid or a connection flight through Toronto or Montreal. I chose the second option, which offered me a 20 hours layover in Toronto, enough time to explore the city.


Prepare to pay a lot for the flight and book ahead! Flying to Havana has never been cheap. I paid for my ticket £650, bought with 6 months in advance and combining many short European flights. Usually, expect to pay around £800 – £1000 for a ticket in high season (December – February).


3. Money

Cuba is one of the few countries in the world that have double currency: the national peso (CUP) and the convertible peso (CUC). The convertible peso is what tourists are using and it equals 25 national pesos. It can be very confusing at the beginning but once you arrive to Cuba you get used to it. I would recommend you to take with you euros and sterling pounds because the American dollar has a 10% tax charge. You should only exchange money at the CADECA (authorized state exchange offices). You will recognise them by the long tourist queues in front.

You should also pay attention when you get your change back after paying at a restaurant or in the market. Familiarise yourself with the coins and the notes so that you can tell if you are given back the change in national peso instead of convertible peso.

Change a small amount of national pesos too, so that you can enjoy some of the street food in Havana. Outside Havana, from my experience, they are useless for tourists.


4. Costs

Cuba is not a cheap country. Because of the dual currency and the lack of economical ways of travel, you will need to be prepared to spend at least 75 CUCs a day. A room in a casa particular will cost you around 30-35 CUCs in high season and 20-25 CUCs otherwise. If you want to stay in one of the iconic hotels of Havana, like Hotel National, Hotel Inglaterra or Hotel Parc Central, prepare to get out of your pocket up to £150 a night.


A meal in a restaurant will be between 10-20 CUCs. Cocktails are usually around the same price, everywhere you go: 3 CUCs. You can try to find local restaurants, where the Cubans eat. There, you will be able to have a full meal for only 3-4 CUCs (the equivalent in the national peso).

When you get in a cab, agree on the price before and don’t be surprised if on the way, it will stop and pick up other people too. Usually a journey between Old Havana and Vedado will be around 8-10 CUCs.

Read more here about how to backpack in Cuba on a budget.



5. The cultural experience

Cuba is a country like no other you have visited before. At soon as you land and get into the airport you will feel that you have stepped back in time, 60 years ago. I come from an ex-communist country and for me, a lot of things seemed to be familiar and a lot of other things started to make sense.

I think Cuba is one of the few countries in the world where the time stood still. People are living here a simple life, without the technology that we are so used to back in our world. Can you imagine there is barely any internet access around the country?


Cuba is also a country of music and dancing. In every city, people gather in the evening in the main square, and dance till after midnight. It’s a lot of fun to watch then, even join if you feel your salsa is good enough.

The colonial architecture of Cuba will blow you away. Every house is painted in a different colour and has the beautiful columns in front that support the structure. You will often see locals playing domino under these columns, in front of their homes.

You can also read more about the culture in the .


6. Travel inside Cuba

There are two main ways of traveling around Cuba: you either book an organised tour which will have transport included or, if you are backpacking, travel by bus. Viazul is the bus for non-nationals and a one way ride from Havana to Varadero for example, will cost you 10 CUCs. It is recommended to take the Viazul bus and not the local one, for safety reasons. Viazul has air conditioned buses, comfortable, same as the National Express ones in the UK. I found it very easy to book a ticket online, which is advised if you travel in high season. All you need is a little bit of Spanish. Make sure that you print your reservation and bring it with you about an hour before the departure.


I would also recommend trying the almendron, a collective taxi service that collects and drops off people on a fixed route, just like a bus. The difference is that the alemendron is not a bus but a 1950s old car. As a tourist, you will pay the same price as the locals but in CUCs. If a local will pay 5 CUPs, you will pay 5 CUCs (unless you travel with a local and let him or her do the talking). It’s a unique and fun experience.

You can read more about how to travel within Cuba and how to build your own itinerary here.


7. Food and water

Unfortunately, Cuban food is now known to be one of the best in the world. The dishes here are very basic and are based on pork, chicken and fish. They usually come accompanied with side dishes like yucca mash (which is delicious), beans and salad. In my experience, the home made food is much better than the restaurant one (even if I did have some nice meals in restaurants too). Expect for the meat to be usually over cooked. One thing I will recommend you to try is the lobster. The prices for lobster vary between 11 – 15 CUCs and you can be sure it will always be fresh and delicious.


When you travel and stop in a service along the motorway, your food options will be limited to pizza and sandwiches with ham and cheese. The ham in Cuba is a bit strange; I would recommend the cheese options only.

Buy water from the local restaurants that sell pizza and sandwiches as they are much cheaper than in the shops.


8. People

People in Cuba are very friendly and helpful. I’ve met wonderful Cubans that showed me around, introduced me to their friends, and welcomed me inside their families. Most of the people you will meet in Cuba are genuine, but in central Havana pay attention to jineteros, they will not try to help but scam you.


The owners of the casa particulares where I have spent all my nights in Cuba were amazing people, each of them trying their best to offer me the best Cuban experience I could get. One of them even asked his girlfriend to bake cookies for me, for breakfast. They always welcomed me with a big smile and even if their English was limited, we still understood each other and I had a great time at their houses.


9. Stay safe!

As a general rule, make sure you don’t take any unnecessary risks. I felt Cuba to be one of the safest countries that I have visited so far. But even so, keep an eye on your belongings and don’t keep expensive things on display, especially in Havana.

In the centre of Havana especially, there are a lot of jineteros (scammers) that are targeting tourists in order to gain a few dollars. If you are offered to be taken to a party by a stranger refuse politely. It is easy to spot a jinetero, they will approach you in English and offer to help you with directions, or tell you a sad story. Don’t believe them. I was in old Havana, negotiating for a taxi when this woman approached me with her sad story. I ignored her and by the time I got into the car she was screaming and crying that she wants the shoes from my feet.


10. Get involved and enjoy Cuba!

Don’t go to Cuba in an all-inclusive holiday where you don’t leave the hotel and spend all your time at the beach! Go and explore the real country, talk to the locals and make time to spend in their company, getting to know and understand the way they live.


Bring with you essential items that you can hand out to children and people you interact you. Toiletries like toothpaste and deodorants are very welcomed, same as the school supplies.

Sharing is caring!

Traveler. Dreamer. Cat lover. Wondering around the world with my backpack and my camera. Contributing to make the world a better place.


  1. Great tips Joanna. I actually had a lot of fun reading your previous posts on Cuba, and I really really love the photos you posted. I remember the cars, some of them… or is it most of them are from the 1950s? I also think their houses are painted with nice colors, pleasing to the eyes and yes, they are so Cubans – dancing and music.

  2. Lovely to see it through the eyes of a traveller and it good to hear that Cuba is safe to travel to. Seems like there is quite a lot of poverty, sadly.

  3. Cuba is definitely in my list of dream destinations. I think the fact that time stood still in Cuba is its very charm. I have heard that people here love to dance and play music. I’d love to spend the night dancing and singing, not in a bar but in a lawn. And never mind if there is no internet.


  4. A friend of mine went to Cuba last year. i really enjoyed her stories and watching the pictures she made. the closest I’ve been to Cuba was Little Havana in Miami. I loved the Cuban coffee!

    Your tips are really great. I want to visit Cuba sometime. And now I already have learned some more about it. Thank you!

  5. Cuba sounds like a great place to go to and I’m sure it would be filled with amazing sights to see. The people seem friendly you just have to choose who you interact it, like in all other countries. Thanks for these wonderful tips!

  6. These are all detailed informationa and guides. I wonder if they are planning to stick in one currency in the future. Nevertheless, it looks like it will all be worthy to see Cuba and its lively timeless charm. 🙂

  7. I was blown away with the cultural experience where you will be taken back to 60 years ago. That’s the time without internet. Where lives were all so simple. Cuba has maintained everything simple. I wonder if my kids can live long there where not a single moment they get separated with gadgets. Lol. Thanks for sharing this as I am able to see a glimpse of what Cuba has to offer. Great tips here!

  8. This is something every tourist bound for Cuba should read before hand. You have given great tips. I didn’t know that they have two currencies, which is kind of complicated. I have no plans of traveling to Cuba but if ever I get the chance, I’ll bear this mind.

  9. Great tips for first timers in Cuba! I also read up tips and tricks for the countries I’ll visit. Don’t want to scammed! 😛 Hehe. Bookmarking this page for future reference 😀

  10. Thanks for the tips! Never thought of visiting Cuba but I’m always curious about the country and it’s culture. Will definitely keep your article for references.

  11. I read your previous posts about Cuba, and these tips pretty much recaps your journey. I was wondering though, since US and Cuban relationship is warming up, is there no direct flights yet between the two countries?

    1. There is a charter flight from Miami, but is very expensive. Also, I know that American Airlines was intending to introduce direct flights from different cities, but that didn’t happen yet.

  12. I loved Cuba, but found before the travel ban was lifted that there were so many Canadians -_- especially from Quebec! I leave Canada to get awayyyy.. Havana was beautiful and the beaches are stunning.

    Definitely considering going back again to check it out before it starts to get more westernized..

    Good on you for hanging out in TO but that must have been quite the trek!!

  13. Wow. Surely people who are planning to go there should read this post! This helps a lot of people. I didn’t know that there are no direct flights to Cube until now. I really like that “time stood still”. I really feel that I was born in the wrong era and would really love to feel and experience the vintage feel. 😀

  14. We absolutely loved the beaches and people, both are so beautiful that they will stay with you forever. Wonderful post!

  15. Great tips, simply written. Great advice for currency, food and going around. I have always wanted to go. I thought Americans can now travel easily into Cuba?

  16. Great read – the fact they have a dual currency totally blows my mind, and I think I would find it hard to keep up whilst I was there! Also, having to show you’ve purchased travel insurance might come as a shock to some. We always travel with it, but I’ve heard a lot of people don’t! Cuba has been high on my list of places to visit for so long, but the price is always the thing that stops me – I think now that they embargo has lifted I should just suck it up and go, before the time that stood still starts moving again!

  17. My friend was asking me to visit Cuba with her as Havana is her hometown. Maybe I’ll go next year. Thanks for sharing all the valuable information about Cuba. Have pinned your post for my reference!

  18. I would like to go to Cuba but as you said the dual currency means that it is not cheap at all, I have to admit I never realized it had a dual currency .

  19. Great post. I have recently returned from my trip to Czech Republic and because is was a communist country it felt to me that time stood still.I have always wanted to g to Cuba but i really have to save as it is very expensive traveling from South Africa.

  20. Reading that people from Cuba are nice and friendly all the more gives me the reason to consider this place. Love traveling and Ive got so many places i would want to visit, Cuba included.

  21. For me here is a lot of valuable information. I read that the flights are not cheap at all! I didn’t know that. It’s like a flight to California (for me to compare). Wonderful post – thanks so much for all tips! The first photo is so beautiful!

  22. I love posts like these, they are both insightful towards the specific travel destination as well as showing us the highlights of the location. Cuba wouldn’t have been on my travel list but you have convinced me otherwise, great job.

  23. I hope I will use any of this very helpful tips. Cuba looks like a must-visit place. I loved your last one, so many people forget to explore around instead they are enjoying at their hotels, but yeah it’s a personal preference.

  24. Your story of the woman who was screaming and crying for your shoes was powerful. I would love to visit Cuba one day though. You really provided some helpful information here!

  25. Good idea getting the layover in Toronto. If have done that too. I didn’t realise some insurers would be difficult with Cuba. I do like the odd all inclusive but I totally agree. It’s not the same vibe as meeting locals and fully emersing yourself.

  26. Since I never planned to go to Cuba, I never really try to know how things are done. The first time I was even exposed to a Cuba travel diary was with one of your posts and I have to say that even though it’s not n1 on my travel list, it still a country that I won’t mind discovering ! the ticket issue might be very annoying !

  27. That was such a fascinating read and a must-read for anyone travelling there. I had no idea about the dual currency, that must be really confusing. It does looks and sound like an amazing place to visit.

  28. I find it interesting that you found it very safe to visit, I had always had the notion that it want safe place to visit, so happy to have been proven wrong and can now add it to my bucketlist

  29. I’ve never been to Cuba. Your pictures certainly draw me to the people and land. I keep telling myself someday–and making a list of everywhere I want to travel to.

  30. I haven’t made plans but this list makes Cuba very interesting. I am also quite surprised to know that Cuba is not a cheap country. Thanks for the heads up!

  31. I have friends that have visited Cuba and their experiences have been similar as yours. Great tips on how to travel there and make your visit awesome.

  32. Ahh it was great to read your travel report. Cuba is one of my dream destination. It’s amazing how colorful and historical. Your pictures are amazing, I can’t wait to travel there!

    1. You need a tourist card to enter the country. It’s their visa. And the dual currency is necessary because otherwise locals would never afford to buy anything.

  33. So much culture! Thank you for the tips and ideas and I had no idea about the double currency. I’d love to go one day especially for the food x

  34. wow! The photos were amazing. I guess Cuba is a great place to get our mind out of the high-technology and enjoy the companionship of the people around much more.

  35. These are really amazing tips. I have always loved looking at pictures from Cuba. It’s like you said, time seems to have stood still!

  36. Great tips! Some relatives went to Cuba as well some time ago and they told me that they felt very safe too. However, how did you feel when that woman started crying and screaming that she wants your shoes? Seems so weird and sad… if you will.

  37. Great input especially about money and where to exchange currencies in Cuba. Financial matter (plus where to find good food) is very important for travelers.

  38. The car in number 4 looks like a the car in the movie Cars. Anyway, I wanted to visit Cuba because of the stories I heard about the country. Thanks for this list it will be a good reference.

  39. Cuba looks amazing based on the stories I heard about Cuba. I am looking forward to visit Cuba soon. And I might consider this tips before going to Cuba.

  40. Thank you for sharing these tips. I have read your previous posts and I’m sure you indeed enjoyed the culture, and you made friends with a lot of people in Havana too!! Hope I can visit Cuba someday!

  41. I love Cuba I went there during April 2016 spring break omg. People are so friendly and the food fresh every day and the music is great I had wonderful time , but I was advised by travel agency to not leave the hotel pass 10 Pm because during those time you’re at risk of kidnapping and thief or injury 😀 btw looking forward going back there soon, Thank you for sharing this it’s really helpful

  42. I’ve already heard that Cuba is an exotic country to travel and experience. Plus that the cost to get there is also a lot expensive LOL <3 Hope to visit Cuba soon!

  43. Cuba has always been on my Bucket list of travels xP
    This post made me want to go even more, but I realized that I’ll have to keep filling my piggy bank for quite a while so I’ll be able to go

  44. This is great. Thanks for giving us a checklist on what we should research, think and do before traveling to Cuba. This would be very useful traveling. For me it is important to know the people, culture and of course on how to be safe

  45. Its interesting that you are required to show insurance to enter Cuba? Did not know that, but it responsible to have travelers insurance anyway, surprising thought that a lot of insurance companies don’t cover for Cuba. I would love to go sometime but would be very very expensive as an american citizen, a lot of restriction have been lifted this past year and while it’s not a country allowed for tourism from the US yet, you can go for education courses or educational groups and then its allowed but lots of paperwork and about $3,000 just to go. Funny cause you can almost see Cuba from the Florida Keys, so close yet so far 🙁

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.