Dirty Dancing in Havana? Here’s What You Should Know…

I just returned from an extended weekend trip in Cuba, and I must say that it was quite the experience!! JetBlue had just started servicing flights from Orlando and Miami, and $114 was just too good to pass up. Besides, Cuba was one of many destinations on my bucket list. Because I did not want to encounter any mishaps, I conducted hella research in advance that helped prepare me for my trip. Now, US citizens are NOT allowed to visit Cuba for tourism purposes. The nature of one’s travel must meet the conditions of one of 12 categories of travel. More information on these categories can be found here. I selected “education/people-to-people.” You will NOT be questioned about your selection; HOWEVER, the government has up to a 5-year time frame to inquire about your trip.

Now that you have selected a category that closely relates to your reason for traveling to Cuba, you still aren’t quite ready to set foot in Cuba. Acquiring a Cuban visa and health insurance should be next on your list, but this isn’t difficult to obtain. If you fly JetBlue, the health insurance is included in the price of your flight. Check with your airline to obtain more information on health insurance. The Cuban visa can be purchased at the JetBlue check-in counter for $50. If your airline doesn’t offer this service or charges more than $85, you can obtain your visa from Cuba Travel Services for $85. Now, you’re ready for takeoff. Below you will find tips that will make your life there much easier.

  • Take all of the cash you need with you because you will be unable to use ATMs or credit cards when you arrive. You can do this one of two ways. You can exchange USD for Euros about a week before you head to cuba, and then exchange Euros for CUC once you arrive at the airport in Cuba. Though your dollar depreciates when you exchange USD for Euros, you’ll get the majority of it back because 1 Euro = 1.05 CUC. The other option is to wait until you arrive in Cuba to exchange USD for CUC. However, 1 USD = 0.87 CUC. If you choose the latter route and you’re staying at an airbnb property, ask the host if they’ll exchange with you. Their exchange rate should be 1 USD = 0.90 CUC.
  • There are two different currencies in Cuba: CUC and CUP. The CUC is the Convertible Cuban Peso and is used by tourists. The CUP is the Cuban Peso and is used by locals. 1 CUC = 25 CUP. It is easy to differentiate between the two because monuments and statues decorate the front of the CUC, while faces are plastered on the front of the CUP.
  • Bring toilet tissue, wipes, and hand sanitizer with you. I try to avoid using public restrooms at all times, but when nature calls… You can purchase a travel-size pack of wipes from Walmart for $1.49, if  not less. When I used the restroom at a restaurant on the beach, the toilet did not have a lid and there was a lady outside of the restroom handing you tissue in exchange for a tip. Go to the restroom fully equipped!!
  • Access to wifi is limited. In order to connect with the rest of the world, you have to purchase a wifi card and visit a place where wifi is offered, i.e. business centers and wifi parks. I went to the wifi park and purchased a card from the plug for 3 CUC for 1 hour. The next day, I visited the business center to connect to the wifi. There, I paid 1.50 CUC for 1 hour. I had the option to purchase a 1-hour card or 5-hour card; I chose the latter. We visited the wifi park the next day, and a guy attempted to charge my friends 4 CUC for a 1-hour card. Don’t get hustled!
  • Depending upon where you stay, a taxi ride should cost you no more than 5-10 CUC.  I stayed in La Playa, which was about 15 minutes away from Old Havana, and a taxi ride cost us 20 CUC. A taxi ride from the airport will cost about 25-30 CUC, and drivers accept USD. If you choose to pay in USD, the price will be around $35. ALWAYS inquire about the cost before you get in the car.
  • A lot of people are interested in visiting the beach city of Veradero, but this is a 3-hour ride…tres horas!! We instead visited Santa Maria beach, which was only about 40 minutes away and it was just as nice.
  • You can’t visit Havana under the “education/people to people” category and not take tours. I scheduled our tours with Tour Havana with Roly and have no regrets. Roly and his staff were very accommodating and available to answer questions at all times. My group toured Old Havana (1-hour tour in classic car and 2-hour walking tour) and Vinales. The Old Havana tour was $35, but it was well worth it. The tour guide made sure we got our money’s worth. The price of the Vinales tour depends upon which package you choose – basic or full-service. The basic tour only includes the trip there and the guide. The full-service tour includes the guide, a tour of the cigar farms, a visit to a farmer’s house, the caves and boat ride, horseback riding, and lunch. We opted for the full-service package not only because it was only a few dollars more, but also because we wanted to experience the full extent of Vinales. Now, you can take a bus to Vinales for about 10-15 CUC but it won’t include the activities, and you may find yourself hitching a ride back because the buses aren’t always reliable. Note: Vinales is a day trip and is two hours away.
  • Pack a carry-on. Luckily for me, it only took about 30 minutes to retrieve my checked bag, but I know of people who waited hours in baggage claim!! Don’t be like them!! Pack smart. Lol.
  • Be mindful of what you eat. A few people who accompanied me to Cuba got sick…diarrhea, nausea, you name it. Some said it was the water, others said it was the beef. My advice: stay clear of both.

I hope this is a good start, but I know I may have missed something. What tips do you have for first-timers traveling to Cuba?

Cuba

34 thoughts on “Dirty Dancing in Havana? Here’s What You Should Know…

  • January 20, 2017 at 9:21 PM
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    This answered EVERY question I was asking while reading. It sounds a little difficult, but worth the new experience. How was the house/living arrangements?

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    • January 21, 2017 at 7:57 PM
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      We stayed in an airbnb property, and it was very nice. Telman came and cleaned the house everyday, and we even had security at night. Security frightened us the first night because nowhere in the description did it mention that we’d have security. My friend opened the door the first night to see how it felt and a strange man was sitting on the porch!! Lol. I can laugh about it now but we were afraid when it happened. It was odd because the house was gated and it locked automatically when closed. Oh, I forgot to mention that Telman also cooked breakfast for us two of the days for 8 CUC per person. It was delicious!!

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  • January 21, 2017 at 8:58 AM
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    Very interesting insights and very practical tips! This is the kind of information no travel guides will ever give you. And i suppose that’s why travel blogs are so popular. Saving this for when I need it.

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    • January 21, 2017 at 7:49 PM
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      Thank you! Glad I could be of some assistance.

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  • January 21, 2017 at 2:20 PM
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    Thanks for sharing! If you don’t mind, how much was your tour of Vinales and how many people did it include? And did yo u return the same day? Thanks!

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    • January 21, 2017 at 7:48 PM
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      It depends on which package you choose, the full-service or basic. If I’m remembering correctly, the basic was $60 and the full-service was $85. This was for a group of 7. The trip departs at 8am in the morning and returns around 7 the same evening.

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  • January 21, 2017 at 7:47 PM
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    Great, practical tips! Cuba is on everyone’s list but I don’t think anyone really thinks about the day-today stuff like the wifi and without posts like this we would have no idea to stay away from the beef! Thanks for sharing your insights, I will remember all this when I finally get there.

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    • January 22, 2017 at 11:47 AM
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      Right!! I knew I’d be disconnected from the rest of the world, but I did not know it would be to this extent. It was challenging at times, especially when I was in public and needed to contact my tour guide but didn’t have access to wifi or a telephone.

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  • January 21, 2017 at 9:24 PM
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    As usual, a great read and very informative !! Glad you did your research!!

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    • January 22, 2017 at 10:54 AM
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      Thank you!!

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  • January 22, 2017 at 2:37 AM
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    So, question. If you choose education/people for your visa, can you book day tours after you get there to fulfill that requirement? Or did you book everything ahead of time? Good on you for ticking off a bucket list item.

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    • January 22, 2017 at 11:05 AM
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      I reserved my tours prior to our trip. I wasn’t asked to produce an itinerary of any sort, so it probably wouldn’t matter if you booked in advance or waited until after you arrived. You are, however, “required” to have a full day of activities scheduled if you select this category.

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  • January 22, 2017 at 10:41 PM
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    Very useful posts with lots of great tips and stuff I didn’t know like there are two forms of monies were used in Cuba. Seems like that would be a nightmare to keep track of. When I head that way I will definitely pack some TP! Thanks so much for posting!

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    • March 1, 2017 at 10:42 AM
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      I was not aware of the two different currencies until 1 day before my departure. It’s easy to tell the difference between the two once you’ve seen them both though.

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  • January 23, 2017 at 9:42 AM
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    such good tips! I went five years ago and it sounds like very little has changed. can’t believe it is still so hard to get wifi!

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    • March 1, 2017 at 10:46 AM
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      I enjoy visiting countries that do a great job preserving its culture. So many become Americanized in an attempt to accommodate tourists. Hopefully it doesn’t happen in Cuba.

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  • January 23, 2017 at 10:37 AM
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    Great article! Yes, I think you touched on the important topics that travelers would need to know when traveling to Cuba. Overall it was a great experience and I am grateful you researched so much and were well prepared for what we encountered.

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    • March 1, 2017 at 10:46 AM
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      Thank you!

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  • January 23, 2017 at 4:41 PM
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    crazy this “category thing” instead of tourism, isn’t it? helpful posts and recommendations here, thanks for sharing

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    • March 1, 2017 at 10:48 AM
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      It really is. I was so nervous when I arrived at the airport though. Luckily, I was not interrogated about the category I chose.

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  • January 23, 2017 at 9:48 PM
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    The ‘hella’ research seam to of paid off 😀 You had a great time and now have some very helpful points to help others ! Thank you

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    • March 1, 2017 at 10:49 AM
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      Lol. It really did!! Compared to my other trips, I definitely got the most out of the research I conducted for Cuba.

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  • January 23, 2017 at 10:36 PM
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    I traveled to Cuba this fall and loved it as well. You have a greeat, very informative piece that should do really well since it walks travelers through everything they will need to know. Thanks for sharing!

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    • March 1, 2017 at 10:52 AM
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      Thank you!

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  • January 24, 2017 at 12:07 AM
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    Some good pointers for visiting Cuba. Do not find may posts about this country. So your perspective is really of value.

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    • March 1, 2017 at 10:54 AM
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      Thank you. With increased travel there, I’ve been seeing more and more posts about Cuba. There is no excuse for not being prepared with the amount of information available.

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  • January 24, 2017 at 7:46 AM
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    Great information and super helpful! Will be adding Cuba to the long list of places I need to go to! Thanks for the info

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    • March 1, 2017 at 10:41 AM
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      Thank you!

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  • February 4, 2017 at 6:19 PM
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    Could you elaborate more on your last tip about the food? What did you end up eating?

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    • February 4, 2017 at 7:14 PM
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      I ate a lot of seafood and chicken. Some people I know even brought their own snacks. Apparently, beef is sacred there and anyone caught with it will face severe consequences. However, beef is available for tourists at hotels and other high-end restaurants, but I read that the beef isn’t inspected.

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      • February 5, 2017 at 1:37 AM
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        O wow! Had no idea about the beef. I love chicken, so I’ll probably eat lots of that 🙂

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  • February 4, 2017 at 6:31 PM
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    This was so valuable, thank you for sharing! I have been dying to visit Cuba especially now that we can actually go but would have been completely lost without this list!

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    • March 1, 2017 at 10:40 AM
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      You’re welcome! I definitely would have been lost had I not conducted research in advance. That’s why I always make it a habit to do so.

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