What you need to know before going to Cuba

I am so obsessed with Cuba that I can't stop thinking and talking about it, and that's why I ended up writing three posts about this unique country. I believe this post is very important though because there are some information that you need to know before traveling to Cuba.

The visa is actually a travel card that can be issued by the airline which you bought your tickets to Cuba. The process isn't bureaucratic and the visa card costs U$ 50. You can get it ahead of time (which I advise) or at the airport before departure. You will not be able to board the flight without the visa card. 

Do all the research before you go
Search for itineraries, addresses, what to do, and etc, before your trip. When you arrive in Cuba you won't have internet access. And yes, it's nice to have some time to just walk around Havana without a destination and find out things at the moment, but there are also some cool things to do there that you probably will not know if you don't research before.

Download the Cuba app
This app is amazing! It was SO helpful on this trip! It has an offline map that actually works. You won't be able to search for an address and have the app showing you the way, but you can see the blue dot in your location, which at least for me, made it much easier to use a map. 

Make reservations at the places you want to eat before you go
Some of the best restaurants in Cuba (I have here in this post) need reservations. We even tried to go to some without making reservations but we were not able to get a table. So I advise you to do a little research, or read my post with my favorite restaurants, and make reservations before you go.

Money in Cuba
In Cuba there are two currencies: CUC and CUP. The CUP is used by locals, and CUC by us, the tourists. Basically everywhere is going to have the prices in CUCs, unless you visit something extremely local that is not touristy at all. 1 CUC is equivalent to 1 US dollar, but because of the complicated relationship between US and Cuba there is a surcharge of 10% to exchange US dollars to CUC. A smart thing to do is to bring Canadian dollars or euros before you go so you get the best deal.

How much will you spend each day?
This question is a little hard to answer because it depends on the person. But I wanted to share an average of how much some things cost there: We had breakfast at the Airbnb we were staying in and we paid 5 CUC per person. For lunch and dinner we spent around 12 - 20 CUC per person per meal. The other costs were transportation, museums, rum and mojitos haha. We spent an average of 80 - 100 CUC per day per person.

Cash only
In Cuba they don't accept any cards from US banks. We should have been able to use my card from Brazil or Lindsey's from Holland to withdraw from an ATM, but we were not able to find any ATM that actually worked. So you have to bring enough money because everywhere you go you can only pay with cash.

Airbnb instead of a hotel
The best way to really get to know Cuba is by staying in a house rather than a hotel. There are several options on Airbnb and the Cuban people are very receptive. Many of them can even offer you services like transportation or food. In my opinion, staying in a hotel takes away some of the magic of being in Cuba.

Do not take a taxis
Very important tip: do not take the yellow cabs. They are from the government and they are much more expensive. You can easily find people offering taxis on a private car (most of the time on the antique cars), and they are much cheaper. Always talk to the driver about the price before accepting the run and don't be shy to ask for a discount.

There are no snacks on the street
Apart from a cart selling churros that we found on the first day, and a little window that sold pizzas, we couldn't find any kind of snacks. There is not a place to grab some chips, granola bar, or fruits on the go. So if you are like me, who eats every 3 hours, bring a few snacks with you or prepare to feel a little hungry between your meals.

The more Spanish you can speak the more you can enjoy. In my group, I was the only one who spoke Spanish and I was trying to translate everything. My friends who were with me said that they will try to learn some Spanish so they can understand everything better and communicate with the Cuban people next time.

Travel with an open mind and heart
Cuba will make you wonder and question many things. Forget about trying to understand everything or find answers. Just go with your head and heart open and let yourself fall in love with this magical place. Forget internet, forget uber, forget luxury. Go and live each day intensely.

Raquel Paiva

Brazilian fashion and lifestyle blogger based in NYC