Cuba – Seven essential advises for survival

I collected some useful information that might be helpful if you are planning a Cuba trip. Here are seven advises from my 2-weeks experience in this country.

1. Internet in Cuba

I didn´t expect to have internet at all in Cuba so I was prepared (more or less) to live without it during the 2-weeks trip. It was a strange feeling, I cannot remember how I lived before the internet era ;).  In the end it was not as bad as expected. In every city you will find WIFI. Normally the main square is a WIFI zone, which you can easily find as you will see a bunch of people starring at their phones :). To get connection, you need to get an ETECSA Internet card. ETECSA is Telco government company that sells these cards in different offices across the country. Take into account there are not many offices nor they are always located close to the WIFI areas.

Make sure to bring your passport (you can only buy three cards per passport / day) and be prepared for a long queue (sometimes +45m). Each card will be valid for 1 hour and has a cost of 3 CUC (3$). The card has a username and password. Once in a WIFI area, you simply turn on your WIFI, select the open ETECSA network and introduce the card’s credentials. Internet speed is ok, not super fast but enough to check E-Mails and do normal browsing. Some Apps will probably not work (typically the US ones 😉 like Ebay or Spotify. Also Facebook didn´t work always.

2. Money Exchange

I read before leaving that it was not possible to take money at the ATMs, and that only big hotels or restaurants provide payment by creditcard. I haven´t tried none of those two options. Instead, I took enough €s in cash with the intention of changing it on-site. Honestly, it felt a bit risky to take so much cash in my handbag. When arriving at the airport there was a huge queue at the money exchange so we decided to do it in Havana.

Make sure to always only change the money in the official Casa de Cambio and not on the street. At the Casa de Cambio you also – like with everything 😉 – you have to be prepared to wait. The upside is that they all have the same conversion rate, being a regulated office. Don´t forget your passport as well. Note Cuba has two currencies, CUC and CUP. CUC is the tourist currency and CUP the one that locals use, however locals are forced to use CUC in places that only accept tourist currency. We didn´t change any CUP, only CUC, and never needed CUP. The exchange Euro-CUC rate is ~1:1.

3. Toilet Paper

Toilet paper is a rare thing in Cuba. Take enough tissues or toilet paper with you. In public toilets you usually have to pay for the toilet (1 CUC) and, if you are lucky, you get a few pieces of toilet paper. I had to pay for toilets that did not have water, of course also not toilet paper :).

4. Be Patient

You have to be prepared to wait for everything. I have waited 1 hour in the airport to buy 2 coffees, even though the place was called “Fast Food”. In Varadero we queued several times 50 minutes to buy 5 simple sandwiches, 1 hour for buying internet cards and 1 hour to change money. Especially there we had to wait a lot also for getting a table at the restaurants since there were not many, apart from extremely slow service which can be frustrating.

5. Airport & Luggage

The airport in Havana is one of the most chaotic airports I have ever seen. The luggage of my boyfriends’ parents and brother didn´t arrive (although they had good flight connections with a lot of time in between). The arrival hall was full with tons of luggages of all kind, totally unorganized. No wonder that no one finds anything there. My boyfriend and me also had to wait 1 hour to get our luggage (we were lucky that it arrived).

It took us 6 days to get the missing luggage. You can imagine how complicated and expensive it gets to call the airline or airport (~5€/minute) and without having internet the first days. We stayed only the first 2 days in Havana and then wanted to leave the city so we also made an extra trip to the airport to ask in person and waited 2 hours again with no result. Only because of the help of the hosts of the Casa in Trinidad we could get back the luggage. They called many times the airport since we were never contacted by the airline (Iberia) nor the Lost&Found office of Havana airport.

When going back to Germany we almost missed our flight. We arrived 3 hours before the departure so more than enough time. We checked in and waited at our gate. The screen was broken so we checked another screen in the hall which did not say anything gates related, only about departure time. Shortly before the scheduled time we were still waiting in the gate’s queue. All of the sudden, someone from the airline passed by shouting for passengers going on our flight. We were lucky to hear him and had to run to the new gate. What a chaotic airport!

5. Food

There is not a lot of variety for restaurants. Normally you will find Cuban restaurants or some Italian. In smaller cities it can be hard to find something to eat at all. Supermarkets (if you are lucky to find one) don´t offer take-away food like sandwiches or fruits, mainly drinks and overpriced cookies and other kinds of snacks. There are some bars/cafes that typically have the same offer – sandwiches or pizza.

In every restaurant 75% of the menu was not available (the waiter normally informs) because ingredients are missing. It happened to us many times that no milk was available so it was not possible to order a coffee with milk. We experienced also that 10 minutes after a snack bar opened there was no cheese available anymore (2 people that ordered before us were the lucky ones to get the last 2 slices ;).

The cuban food is always the same – brown rice (they call it Arroz Moro), fried no-taste banana slices, a bit of salad and as a main some fish, seafood or pork or chicken meat. Normal lunch time is around 12-2pm and dinner 7-9pm.

Havana is “somehow” the exception – there you can find few more-or-less good restaurants. In any case, if you like to eat good food in nice restaurants while you are traveling, Cuba is not the place for you.

6. Mosquitos

We didn´t have many mosqito bites (it might be worse during summer) and used NOBITE mosqito spray during the evenings and an anti-mosquito plug in the room. During our trip we saw some travelers with many stitches but I don´t know in which area of Cuba they were. We traveled across the whole country (Havana, Trinidad, Cienfuegos, Remedios, Varadero) and didn’t have any problems.

7. Prices

To give you an idea about planning your budget, here are some price examples:

  • For a Casa Particular we paid between 10-20€ per person.
  • A sandwich costs around 2-2,5€, while a dinner or full lunch can start from 3€ (not advisable) and can go up to European prices (in Havana and Varadero).
  • All imported drinks, such as international lemonade (Coke) or beer (Heineken), are between 1€ over the normal price.
  • Taxi from Havana Vieja (old town) to the airport costs 25€
  • Taxi from Varadero to Havana is ~120€ (five people, one car).

As a basic traveller you should plan 35-50€ per person / day for accommodation and meals.
More articles about Cuba:

5 book recommendations – Barcelona, Cuba, Indonesia, New York, Sarajevo
Cuba – The challenges of planning the trip
Cuba – Top 3 Casa Particulares

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About Me

Hi, I am Steffi. Welcome to my blog myfaves! I am 33, B2B Field Marketer in a software company and spare time blogger by heart. My home base is Berlin Mitte since 2 years. Before Berlin, I lived 7 years in Cologne and 5 years in Hamburg... Read More

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