This has to be the best holiday we have ever had as a family. I can comfortably say that we actually relaxed and had fun. Cuba is a major holiday destination from Belgium with direct flights and all inclusive holidays pretty easily available. But do keep in mind before you set off to your break in the sun, there are some key things that you’ve got to keep in mind.
Travelling to Cuba: Your checklist and things to know upfront
- Check your nationality and Cuba’s relationship with that: Before you book your travel and stay, check if its compatible with your nationality. Americans travelling to Cuba have quiet a few major constraints, so be mindful if you are American. Certain nationalities require obtaining a visa (this visa is typically issued at the Cuban embassy in your country prior to travel). You can apply for this tourist visa card after you book your travel but do calculate a couple of days to get the appointment and actual visa in hand.
- Best time to travel to Cuba: November through March is the best time to travel to Cuba. Its not too hot, and very pleasantly warm. The sea is calm. Summer’s are pretty hot. And you might want to avoid the hurricane season.
- Take cash with you: It isn’t easy to find places to withdraw cash or use your credit cards. So please carry cash with you. Euros seem to have the best exchange rate. But if you have other currency don’t sweat it, but just carry cash 🙂
- Local currency: Cuba has 2 currencies. CUC (Cuban convertible peso or ‘Cuban dollar’) for tourists, and CUP (Cuban national peso) for locals.1 CUC = approx. 22 CUP. You can convert money at your hotel. The CUP and CUC prices won’t match up, so it’s important to not spend too much time worrying about that. When you convert to keep CUC’s at hand, do consider keeping some CUC’s handy just for tips because its quiet a culture to tip. Avoid changing money at the airport.
- Tipping: Remember the average monthly salary in Cuba is around 50 USD, nothing close to what you bring home per day, so do tip generously for good service. If you plan to use your credit cards, remember that credit cards are not commonly accepted, and no US credit cards work (eg. American Express or Citibank), so carry a credit card from a non-US provider. We carried our Belgian cards, and when we used it just twice, it worked fine. Don’t forget to inform your bank and credit card companies that you are travelling to Cuba, as the last thing you want are blocked cards.
- Print all the docs you need: Cuba isn’t tech savy, and internet access is not easy to find. If you end up finding internet, its complicated (see my note below at 8.). Once it is up and running, it crawls – so print all the documents you need before you leave for Cuba, like, your tickets, hotel confirmation, airport pick-up, any reservation confirmations, itinerary, places to see, this article, and your insurance documents.
- Insurance: In addition to your regular and travel insurance, you need additional insurance, so check with your travel company for guidance on that in advance.
- Internet: Its really funny but internet and wifi aren’t easy to find. You’ve got to locate a wifi area and buy an internet access card with codes. So don’t carry too many devices that rely on the internet. Carry an extra swimsuit instead :). We left our laptops and tabs behind.
- Packing: Check your baggage allowance from your airline. Our airline only allowed 10 kgs each in handbags, so we bought 2 more check-in bags, as we were travelling with a baby and were looking forward to wardrobe options for our dinners and other outings there. So consider buying check-in bags if you like to travel like Madonna. It can get pretty windy in the evenings, so carry a cardigan. Pack a couple of toilet rolls (as public toilets rarely have it) plus carry your favorite shampoo and bath gels (even if the hotel provides it – we noticed that we had allergic reactions from those).
- Food: You are going to get a lot of chicken, pork, banana, seafood, beans and rice. We liked the food and didn’t think it needed any extra salt or spice (unlike what other blogs and information sites said). We actually carried salt and felt like idiots! What we would say, is that, if you are travelling with family, consider carrying your favorite biscuits and nibbles, for breaks in between meals.
- Book your tours: If you would like to go sightseeing, then book your sightseeing tours as soon as you check into the hotel. We would recommend booking a private vintage car with your own tour guide (it surprisingly isn’t very expensive), otherwise you will spend hours sitting in the bus going from hotel to hotel picking up other sight-seers. We found that booking through our travel company was such a disaster (they actually forgot to pick us up and the trip was more expensive), but booking through the hotel was a very good experience, and a lot cheaper as well – but remember to book as quickly as you can.
- Sunscreen and insect sprays: The sun in Cuba is pretty intense so carry a pretty strong sunscreen. If you are the sun-tanning type, make sure you carry the right soothing creams so that you don’t burn. We recommend carrying an after sun lotion too is you have sensitive skin. Also don’t forget to carry insect or mosquito sprays and ointments if you get bitten – if not you are on the menu for insects at sunset.
- Medical or first aid bag: Carry your medical or first aid bag including band aids. It was hard to come by a band aid in our hotel despite it being a 5 star. Very disappointing.
- Camera’s and drone: Don’t carry sophisticated cameras, as they draw attention and might invite questioning from authorities. Also leave your pet drone at home, as their use is restricted. In fact in a lot of places there are explicit sign’s banning them. We carried our phones and got some pretty awesome pictures. So breathe.
- Have fun: The pace is slower compared to what you might be used to, internet access is painful, but use that as a nice excuse to have tons of fun in the sun.