Travelling to Cuba

Travelling to Cuba can be a great experience

As a Canadian, travelling to Cuba is relatively safe.  Aside from the large numbers of locals begging for money in Havana (adults & kids included), we didn’t run into any issues when we left our resort to tour around at different places.

If you are planning on travelling to Cuba there are a few things I have learned and would like to share.

Do:

  • exchange your Canadian currency at the airport – they give a better exchange rate compared to the hotels.
  • put away 25 CUC’s immediately and don’t spend it so that you have it ready when the leaving the country.
  • book some trips outside of your resort – there are many beautiful places to see and things to do.
  • go to Havana – not only to see the architecture of what was once a beautiful city but also for the sights, sounds and people.
  • go to Varadero to shop – the streets in Varadero are very safe and you won’t run into people begging for money there. You can certainly snag great deals in the markets if you shop around.
  • take your own toilet paper (this is a must if you travel away from your resort).
  • tip – locals for pictures, entertainment, services (restaurants – waiters/waitresses, bars, taxi drivers, bus drivers, tour guides) – they appreciate the pesos.  It is only necessary to give them one peso most of the time – I learned that after I was giving 5 pesos for many things and realized I would quickly run out of money if I kept that up.
  • bring along candy and gum and lots of it to give away to the local children.
  • bring extra toiletries ect to give away (toothpaste, toothbrushes, pads/tampons, soaps, shampoo, deodorant, baby wipes, tylenol, advil, kleenex, toilet paper).  These things are all difficult to buy items in Cuba.  We left them behind for our favourite waitress at the buffet restaurant and for our maid who cleaned our room every day.
  • lock your items in your safe including – your passport, $25.00 CUC’s that you will need when you leave the country, Canadian currency, camera and anything of value that will fit in the safe.
  • do double check and count your money when you are receiving change back after buying something.  Make sure that the change you receive back is CUC’s.
  • wear sunscreen – the Cuban sun is very hot and even when it is cloudy you may not even realize that you are getting burnt until it’s too late.
  • take immoduium along – different food, the heat etc. can cause you to become ill and immodium is a life saver (I definitely learned that one).
  • enjoy the outdoors and the absolutely amazing sunsets that Cuba has to offer – as a photographer that was the highlight of my trip.
  • do buy your cigars at a government regulated store – we stopped at Portaga’s – the cigar factory in Havana.

Don’t:

  • exchange all of your money at the airport – you can always exchange small amounts of currency later at the hotel – keep some of your Canadian currency if you need more money later.
  • give more than 1 peso as a tip – you will find that you are tipping for many things and 1 CUC is fine as a tip.
  • drink the water – I don’t think any water in Cuba is safe to drink.  I would suggest not taking a chance with the water and drink bottled water at all times.
  • be rude when people are begging for money – you may run into the odd aggressive person who won’t take no for an answer but most people will quit after you say no.
  • go in a taxi without agreeing ahead of time on a price and certainly don’t pay until the service is delivered.
  • leave your purse or any other valuables in plain view – I kept my purse strap around my neck, my camera bag was always close and around my neck and shoulder.
  • forget to use your handy wipes or hand sanitizer.  I took a small bottle of hand sanitizer along with me everywhere I went.
  • use the phone – I learned that the hard way.  I had a few phone calls home and my bill ended up being over $100.00 when we booked out of the resort.
  • cheap out on the hotel if you want comfort.  There are many great deals around but you get what you pay for in Cuba.  A rating of 4-stars is good in Canada but in Cuba, you will soon find out that their rating system is different.
  • expect to pay nothing for items from local artisans, this is their livelihood and it is what they do every day to make money – you can try dealing a bit but I think it is offensive to expect something for nothing.  I learned this by watching someone try just that and it is not right (my opinion of course).
  • listen to the locals when they tell you how many cigars to bring back or how much alcohol is allowed into the country upon your return.  Pay attention to the documentation about what or how much you can bring back and stick to it.  You may end up with a hefty charge when going through customs if you have listened to a local.
  • don’t buy cigars from the locals – they are often made of banana leaves and can make you very ill.
  • be scared to try the local foods.  There are many great dishes (most of them with pork) that we tried.  Chicken is in abundance and fish of course the fruits and vegetables are wonderful.
  • eat the beef if you expect it to taste like Canadian beef.  It is not the same – it is tough, has a strange after taste and usually isn’t cooked the same way we cook it here.

I enjoyed my 2013 trip to Cuba.  We stayed at a wonderful resort which was clean, had great food, entertainment and beautiful beaches.  We stayed on the Varadero side of Cuba at the Iberostar Varadero which is the number one rated resort in Varadero.  I was able to photograph some beautiful things when I was there and would recommend a trip to Cuba to anyone who is considering it.  Keeping in mind you are not in Canada and you are visiting a communist country, it is safe, fun and interesting.  

Lori Bote, Prairie Pixel Photography & Design