- If you plan on paying for anything, bring cash. Cubans do everything in cash. And I mean everything. Want to buy a car? Better bring bags of cash. A house? Cash. So don’t plan on using your credit card at any restaurants, hotels, or stores.
- Cuba is communist. Almost everything – from hotels to restaurants to stores to taxis – is owned by the government. Government rations are low, and often not enough to live comfortably. Therefore many Cubans count on tips for a better lifestyle. Despite this, many Cubans are highly educated and very intelligent, even, and in some cases especially, in what would usually be considered less desirable jobs. While a lawyer or a doctor will work for the government on a government wage and can be sent to live wherever, a tour guide has more control over his or her life and because of the ability to earn tips, will likely be better off financially than a lawyer or a doctor. Therefore you can expect to meet incredibly intelligent tour guides.
- Grocery stores have about 6 items. if you’re looking to buy liquor, milk, water, tomato sauce, beans, or rice…you’re in luck! If you want anything else, sorry, but Cuban grocery stores probably won’t have it. I expected to at least find soy milk, but had no such luck. Markets sell tomatoes, avocados, onions, garlic, and peppers. And most restaurants have menus based off of this very limited food selection. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to bring a few bars and maybe some hot sauce for added flavor.
- WiFi is difficult to come by. It’s not like other countries where you’re likely to have free WiFi in your hotel, hostel, or bed & breakfast. No such luck in restaurants and cafes either. WiFi is relatively new to Cuba. There are certain areas throughout the cities that have WiFi connection, typically town squares and hotels. However, WiFi is controlled by the government and you’ll need a WiFi card with a username and password to use the WiFi. You can buy a WiFi card at various stores for about 1 CUC for an hour of connection. The card will only work on one device. The WiFi is slow. I highly recommend doing the majority of your research and planning prior to arrival.
- Hotels are expensive, and most tourists stay in Casas particulares. Expect a nice hotel in Havana to put you back about 500 USD per night. An average hotel – and I really do emphasize the word “average” – will cost about 300 USD per night. Casas particulares are bed & breakfasts that range in price from about 20 USD to 50 USD. Casas particulares can vary greatly in terms of cleanliness and comfort; however, they are much more reasonably priced than hotels. And if you’re from the U.S., you need to be careful with hotels because staying at certain hotels is a violation of OFAC sanctions. I’d recommend staying at casas particulares because it’s a great way to immerse yourself in Cuban culture and hotels are just so expensive. Having said that, be aware of what you’re getting into and don’t expect high-end accommodations.
- The U.S. has sanctions against Cuba. While travel to Cuba is at the time of this post allowed under twelve categories of general licenses, it is restricted and you do need to make sure your trip is allowable based on current regulations. As an attorney in the US, I’m going to refrain from interpreting the law or giving legal advice on my personal blog, but make sure you do your research.
If you decide to go to Cuba and want some advice on what to do when you’re there, check out my five day Cuba itinerary here.