Six Things You Should Know About Cuba Before You Visit

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

Hiking Mount Rōtui in Mo’orea

If you’ve heard of Mo’orea, you probably associate it with beautiful beaches, sting-ray filled lagoons, and fancy resorts. But you may not have heard about the rugged mountains and stunning views they offer. During my visit to Mo’orea, we decided to hike a mountain and chose Mount Rōtui – a magnificent mountain that overlooks Cook’s Bay and offers a stunning view of the amphitheater of an old volcano. Fun fact: In Polynesian mythology, Mount Rōtui is purgatory for dead souls before their rise into Paradise.

About Mount Rōtui

Mount Rōtui is an 899 meters/2949 foot high mountain located on Mo’orea. It is the second highest peak on the island and, though challenging, is possible to hike (many of the mountains on Mo’orea are not hikeable).

Mount Rōtui’s narrow ridges ridges and steep sides can be intimidating, so you should be comfortable with easy scrambling and a lot of exposure. There are fixed ropes in two places, but they don’t look well-maintained so don’t rely solely on the ropes. We hiked Rōtui on a dry day and there were some very slippery areas, so be extremely careful if you hike after or during the rain.

Be prepared for a full day – it takes about 5 hours to get to the summit and 2 or 3 to hike back down.

How to Get There

From the Hilton, walk west on the road toward Opunohu Bay and walk down the third driveway, which has a sign that says “Art Deko.” A bit down the driveway, there is another sign which says “Rotui.”

At this sign, walk to the right along a fence next to a house. Once you pass the fence, the trail will become apparent and is easy to follow for the rest of the hike.

You can hire a guide, which I highly recommend if you are not experienced or are uncomfortable with scrambling and/or exposure.

What to Wear

Choosing the right clothing is crucial for hiking Mount Rōtui – there is a lot of growth on the trail that can scrape your legs if not covered and the heat is brutal.

I wore my Vast Terrain Excel 7/8 Leggings in Black and Aeris Technical Tank in Purple.  Vast Terrain’s premium activewear is perfect for hiking in the tropics because the technical fabrics wick away sweat and are soft, stretchy, and easy to move in – a necessity when scrambling! Vast Terrain’s fabric also reduces odor with EPA registered silver salts that are embedded at the fiber level and kill 99.99% of odor-causing bacteria! I’m sure my hiking parters appreciated that 😉 An added bonus is that Vast Terrain is entirely made in the USA!

Wear hiking boots or sneakers with good traction. The ground can be slippery and the hike is exposed.

I also recommend bringing a hat and light long-sleeved layer for sun protection.

What to Bring

Mo’orea can get VERY hot and the sun is strong, so be prepared! Below is what I brought on my hike:

 

I partnered with Vast Terrain in writing this post. As always, all opinions are my own.