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Written by Kieran Proctor

The Ultimate Guide To Cuba (2024): Top Attractions, Tips and More!

The questions answered on this page will have longer articles explaining the process, mobile apps, tools and the skills you’ll ...


The questions answered on this page will have longer articles explaining the process, mobile apps, tools and the skills you’ll need to navigate Cuba and Cuban society. So, be sure to follow the links on this page, or use the search bar at the top of the page to seek out the individual articles.

Cuba isn’t a place you should visit, without conducting thorough research first. The more you know before you get to Cuba, the more fun you’ll have. And you’ll waste less time and money making mistakes, if you educate yourself before traveling.

I spend, on average, 3 months a year living in Cuba. And when I’m in Cuba, I’m based in Havana. I routinely travel between Havana, Varadero and Viñales. So, the tips contained in this guide, are focused more toward those three destinations. Yet, they apply equally well across the island.

You will need this guide before, during and after your Cuban vacation. So, bookmark this page. Because you’ll need the links contained in this guide.

Rooftop view over Central Havana, towards the National Capital in Havana, Cuba.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about traveling to Cuba

Why Read This Cuba Travel Guide?

Have you been reading other blogs, while researching your upcoming vacation? Well, let’s look at some of the ‘information’ you’ve probably been given on Cuba from those other blogs. Because certain things they say, help to date their content.

Have they told you that you’ll need the Sube app because it’s the Uber equivalent in Cuba? It hasn’t functioned in Cuba since 2019. Sube was replaced by Bajanda, which also stopped working in late 2021. Bajanda was replaced by La Nave. And La Nave is the current Uber equivalent. La Nave is available to and from the airports in Havana and Varadero – it’s the current ‘Uber in Cuba’.

So, if those other websites recommend you download and use Sube, then they haven’t been to Cuba in at least 5 years. If they recommended Bajanda, they haven’t been to Cuba in 3 years or more.

Now, onto the currencies in Cuba. Because most of the other websites are providing prices in CUC. The CUC currency was phased out in the first half of 2021. If those other websites you’ve been reading, have been quoting prices in CUC, then the authors haven’t been to Cuba in a few years.

Cuba changes near daily. I watch Cuba change month on month. And I can tell you with absolute certainty, that travel information on Cuba from someone who spent a week or two in Cuba, 3 or 4 years ago, is near worthless. I know, because I was in Cuba before, during and after ‘the big C’. And I find a lot of the other blogs useless, when I’m in Cuba.

So, read this Cuba guide carefully. You’ll get current information on Cuba. This guide will save you a lot of time, effort and money. And it will help you to relax and actually enjoy your vacation.

1940 La Nave (Uber) operating in Havana Cuba
The oldest La Nave I’ve had in Havana.

Essential Items To Pack For Your Vacation In Cuba

There are certain items, that I consider essential for traveling to Cuba. Now, I’m a frequent long term visitor to Cuba. And these are the items I will tell you from my own experience, that you absolutely need.

You can choose to take these items with you to Cuba on my recommendation. Or you can get there and realize that you need them. And then waste a large chunk of your holiday running around trying to find them on the island. The choice is yours.

And do take note, that the ‘life straws’ and most other random items recommended for Cuba by other websites, aren’t on this list. You don’t need a $20 disposable life straw or a fancy self filtering water bottle in Cuba.

Here is my list of essential items to pack for traveling to Cuba

Best VPN For Cuba
Don’t travel to Cuba without a VPN on all your devices!

I’ve made some draft itineraries to help you plan your Cuban holiday. They’re broken down by city or town. And for each locale I’ve begun creating both a 48hr and 7 day itinerary. Along with a guide outlining the best tours you can take.

In most of Cuba’s towns you can see the best of what it has to offer within 48 hours. But places like Varadero and Havana have just a little more to see and do. So I’ve included longer itineraries for Varadero and Havana.

Read each of these itineraries and guides to help plan your own itinerary for Cuba:

Is Cuba Dangerous?

Violent crime does exist. As it does everywhere else on the planet. Though, in Cuba, violent crime involving tourists, is almost unheard of.

You won’t be robbed at gunpoint in Cuba. Firearms are absent from the island. And it’s probably why all the Canadians flock to Cuba, when the Americans go to Canada.

There are no drive-by shootings and school massacres in Cuba. You don’t need to worry about being caught in a crossfire or ducking for cover, when you hear a loud bang.

Knives exist and criminals do carry knives. But they will never pull a knife on a tourist. Tourism is the lifeblood of the island. And crimes involving tourists carry harsh penalties. The worst you’ll ever experience from a criminal on the street is perhaps, some bad language.

With that said, you do need to be careful where you step in Cuba. Cuba has large pot holes and crumbling infrastructure. If you’re not watching where you walk, you could fall into a hole or step in something that will ruin your shoes.

The biggest risk to tourists in Cuba are the roads and sidewalks. Tripping hazards, open manholes or just large holes dropping through the sidewalks into sewers and underground substructures, are your biggest threat. Always watch where you’re stepping in Cuba.

The view from Old Havana toward Capitolio in Havana, Cuba.

Do I Need Health Insurance For Cuba?

You do need health insurance coverage to visit Cuba. Having adequate insurance is a condition of entry into the country. And any time you interact with Aduana, or visit immigration, they will check to ensure you have adequate health insurance covering Cuba.

If you’re found to be without a dedicated travelers medical insurance policy covering Cuba, then the authorities can make you buy their own policy. It’s overpriced and worthless. Once you’ve seen one, you’ll never want to be treated in a Cuban hospital.

With that said, I would never travel to Cuba without health insurance. I buy my health insurance from visitorcoverage.com.

Here’s what you need to know about medical insurance for Cuba.

Havana Syndrome – Another Reason For Health Insurance

Havana Syndrome is the name given to a series of anomalous health incidents, that were first reported in Havana. According to the news, the US intelligence community has apparently investigated every possible cause. From advanced energy weapons to space aliens.

It’s just another reason to have strong medical coverage, when traveling to Cuba. Here’s what you need to know about Havana Syndrome.

Do I Need A Visa For Cuba?

You will need a visa to visit Cuba. This is called a tourist ticket, tourist card or Tarjeta Del Turista. All major airlines will sell you the tourist visa on checkin, at the airport. The Cuban tourist visa costs between $20-$25USD. The price depends on where you’re flying to Cuba from and the nationality on your passport.

In the unlikely event that you’re flying on an airline that doesn’t offer the Cuban Tourist Card (Tarjeta Del Turista), you can buy it from travel agencies selling Cuban holidays. Or from the Cuban embassy in your country of origin.

Always remember to keep this card safe and do not lose it during your stay in Cuba. Whenever you interact with Aduana, they will ask to see it. And you will need it to exit the country.

Cuban Tajeta Del Turista also called a Tourist Ticket or Tourist Visa
Cuban tourist visa.

Can Australians Visit Cuba?

Australians can travel to Cuba. In fact, I’m Australian and I visit Cuba regularly. Because there seems to be a lot of Australians who end up on my website with this question, here’s a detailed post for them. Here’s what all the Australians need to know about visiting Cuba.

Walking the colorful streets of Havana
Just your author, an Australian, wandering through the colorful streets of Old Havana. Why am I wearing a mask? Because I have a face for radio.

USA Visa Waiver Program And ESTA After Visiting Cuba

Cuba was designated a ‘state sponsor of terrorism’ on 12 January 2021. As a result, if you visit Cuba after 12 January 2021, you are ineligible for the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) or an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) online transit visa with the USA.

If you’re not an American citizen, your visit to Cuba will trigger the cancellation of any VWP or ESTA, that you may have with the United States. And you will become ineligible for these programs, while Cuba is listed as a state sponsor of terrorism.

That means, in layman’s terms, you can’t fly to the USA without applying for a US visa and sitting an interview. It also means you can’t transit the USA on your way to visit Cuba. You can’t even change planes in the USA without a visa, after visiting Cuba.

Visiting Cuba on or after 12 January 2021 as a non-US citizen, means that you will be blocked from automatic US travel by the provisions of the Terrorist Travel Prevention Act 2015. You will need to apply for a substantive visa, pay for the visa and you will need to meet all of the visa requirements.

The ban on automatic USA travel authorizations, will stick with you while Cuba is listed as a state sponsor of terrorism. If Cuba is on the list for the next 50 years, you won’t be eligible for visa free travel with the USA, until Cuba is removed from the list.

Best Airlines Flying To Cuba

My favorite airlines flying to Cuba from Europe are Iberia and AirEuropa, which is owned by Iberia. AirEuropa is often cheaper and in my experience there’s not much difference between these two airlines when flying to Cuba from Europe.

For all the Canadians reading this, your airlines fly to and from Varadero Cuba. Allowing you to completely skip the USA and go straight to the beach.

For the Americans visiting Cuba from the United States (US), American Airlines has the greatest availability of flights to and from Havana, at the lowest prices.

If you’re not an American citizen, or permanent US resident, don’t book flights transiting the USA with American Airlines or any other US based airline. This is because you will need to apply for a US transit visa to visit Cuba.

US transit visas cost $160USD and are frequently unavailable. Meaning that the airlines may not allow you to board your flight at checkin. And you might end up stranded at the airport.

If you’re not an American citizen or permanent resident, you won’t have a problem with US transit visas, if you avoid flights transiting the USA when visiting Cuba.

The Best Airline Booking Sites For Cuba

There are two main websites I use to book all of my travel to Cuba. Those are WayAway and OMIO. And, I recommend checking both sites to compare airfares, before booking your flights to Cuba.

Book Airport Transfers Immediately After Booking Your Flight!

You don’t want to be stuck using an airport taxi, or the bus, when landing in Cuba. The taxis are a rip off and they will want to be paid only in foreign currency and in cash. And the bus, while cheap, is chaotic and it takes a long time to get from the airport to your hotel.

The two largest airports in the country, are Havana’s José Martí international Airport (HAV) and Varadero’s Juan Gualberto Gómez Airport (VRA). From either, I recommend booking a private airport transfer at the time you book your flight.

Click each guide to read about your transport options, travel times and costs:

The Worst Airline Booking Site For Cuba Is Trip.com

Trip.com sell all flight to and from Cuba at a large premium. And they will skirt responsibility, in the event that they provide incorrect or misleading information, on their website.

Trip.com is Chinese owned and its call centers are based in India. It has the worst customer service of any online booking engine selling flights to Cuba. Or anywhere else, for that matter.

Here’s my experience using trip.com for flights to and from Cuba. And why I strongly recommend avoiding trip.com.

Do I Need To Cover My Tattoos In Cuba?

You don’t need to cover your tattoos in Cuba. For a good guide on how to determine if you should cover your tattoos, while traveling, see my tattoo travel articles on tattoovagabond.com.

Yet, as tattooed foreigner, I do cover my own tattoos in Cuba. Because, visible tattoos, will give street touts (jineteros) another reason to approach you. And these guys do get annoying.

After the fiftieth approach by a jinetero saying ‘nice tattoos, where are you from?‘ or ‘I love your tattoos where did you get them?‘, you’ll get sick of having visible tattoos. It’s for this reason, that I often cover my tattoos in Cuba.

Now, in saying the above, I should mention that tattoos are quite common among the Cuban youth. And there are some exceptional tattooists in Cuba. But there are also a lot of terrible scratchers in Cuba, who should not be tattooing anybody.

So, if you do decide to get a tattoo in Cuba to commemorate your trip, be careful which artists you choose to use. I recommend talking to tattoo.mania.studio on Instagram if you want to get a tattoo as a souvenir. And I would recommend following Cuban tattoo influencer, Ailec Olivera.

Staircase of la Guarida in Havana
This photo was taken on the most famous staircase in Havana – La Guarida

What Should I Avoid In Cuba?

You should avoid drugs and prostitution in Cuba. Both are highly illegal. And even though enforcement of the laws with regards foreigners, is rare, you could face sever penalties if caught.

Conducting any form of business on the street, should also be avoided in Cuba. As a foreigner, you’re going to be a target for every type of tourist scam imaginable. You’ll be a prime target for the Jineteros and Jineteras.

Travel tip: This is one for my male readers, but do take note. From personal experience, I recommend avoiding dating apps in Cuba and flashy looking women.

Jinetera in Havana

Are There Scams In Cuba?

Again, scams exist everywhere on the planet. But scams are prolific in Cuba. Street touts, taxi drivers, shopkeepers and travel guides, will try to overcharge you or outright scam you out of money. But this isn’t all Cubans and the scams shouldn’t taint your view of the island.

Instead of worrying about being scammed in Cuba, you should educate yourself about the scams that operate here. Start by reading my article on scams in Cuba.

And when in Cuba, remember that if a stranger has approached you and is being overly nice, or is giving you a sad story to make you feel sorry for them in a tourist area, it’s likely a scam. And if you don’t give these people opportunity to scam you, you won’t be scammed.

The Cuban Government, for all the negative press it gets, does occasionally make some sensible laws. For example, they have made it mandatory for all vendors to display prices. And this stops price gouging and gringo pricing.

If you’re shopping somewhere that doesn’t display its prices, you’re likely getting ripped off. And it’s not Cuba or the Cuban Government’s fault. It’s your own fault. Because you haven’t researched and read blogs like this one, before coming to Cuba.

Cuba Bar Prices - Avoiding Gringo Pricing
It’s now mandatory to display prices in Cuba.

Should I Avoid Jineteros And Street Hustlers In Cuba?

You should always avoid dong business with Jineteros in Cuba. The Jineteros are those people who speak some English, and will walk up to you on the street. They are professional criminals.

Jineteros are those guys who either start with a compliment like ‘nice tattoos’, or a question like ‘where are you from’, or they might just open with ‘hey friend’. These people aren’t your friends. And they are only talking to you because they are looking for a way to scam you.

Don’t do business with, or talk to, jineteros. You’ve been warned. They will try to sell you a money exchange scam, drugs or pimp out their friends, girlfriends, wives or sisters. They’re bad news and you should stay away from them.

Report any jinetero that you encounter, to your host or hotel. So they can be arrested, if they persist.

Jinetero arrested in Vedado Cuba
Cuban ‘jinetero’ (scammer) being arrested in Havana

Are There Illicit Drugs In Cuba?

There are drugs and drug dealers in Cuba. In fact, I’ve had more people offer to sell me drugs on the street in Cuba than in ColombiaArgentina or elsewhere in Latin America. Cocaine and marijuana are available on every street corner in Cuba. And you should avoid these substances and the people selling them.

Here’s what you need to know about drugs in Cuba.

Park Central Havana Cuba
Park Central and it’s surrounds are the epicenter for scams in Havana.

Vaping is legal in Cuba. Cuba has no specific laws regarding vaping. You can vape in Cuba, anywhere that smoking is permitted. Do not take cannabis vapes to Cuba. Cannabis in all its forms is illegal. And Cuba does not recognize medical marijuana prescriptions.

For a more detailed account of vaping in Cuba, you can read my article on how to pack your vape and where to buy vapes.

I filmed this ‘how to buy vapes in Cuba’ video in Havana.

Are The Police Corrupt In Cuba?

You should avoid interacting with Cuban police officers, wherever and whenever, you can. The police are corrupt in Cuba. And the fee or bribe to get a police officer to look the other way, is about 200CUP.

For roughly the cost of a can of beer, a police officer will overlook any minor infraction. 200CUP won’t get you out of serious trouble with the police. But for minor infractions and legal issues, it’s the going rate.

It’s also worth noting that Aduana (customs) officers are similar to police. But they’re more careful about who they elicit bribes from. Aduana will often disguise their illegal activities as official business, in the form of fines or fees.

The military are the exception to the rule. Some of the most forthright and upstanding individuals I’ve met in Cuba are military officers. The military officers I’ve met, have both pride in their country and strong discipline. They will never accept anything for ‘helping’ a tourist.

Money And Payment In Cuba

You’ve no doubt read online that Cuba has a dual currency system. Unfortunately, the bulk of these articles are out of date and just plain wrong.

Cuba has done away with the CUC. And Cuba now has a single currency called the Cuban Peso (CUP). Which will sometimes be referred to as Moneda Nacional (MN). The CUP is the only local currency in circulation in cash. All the CUP notes have faces on them, as opposed to the old CUC, which had famous places.

Both currencies circulated in tandem before 2021. The CUP was the peoples currency. And the CUC was the tourist currency. But the Cuban Government, has now ended the tourist CUC currency.

The MLC dollar is still used in Cuba. But this is electronic money used by locals. And you will not see MLC in circulation. MLC is used by the Cuban Government, to suck foreign currency out of local communities.

Is There Western Union In Cuba?

Western Union is once again operating in Cuba. Yet, as a tourist, you will not be able to use Western Union in Cuba. To use western Union in Cuba, you need a local Cuban bank account or a Cuban credit card. Western Union does not pay out in cash in Cuba.

The lack of cash payments, makes Western Union inaccessible to foreigners at this time. It also means that any Western Union transactions sent to Cuba, are processed at the official exchange rate and not at the real exchange rate for the CUP.

What Are The Exchange Rates In Cuba?

Cuba had a dual currency system for about 20 years. There was the CUP, the local currency where the notes had famous individuals on them. And then there was the CUC, which was tied to the USD (1:1) and had buildings and landmarks on them.

Now, there is only the CUP. Cuba only has the CUP as its single currency. But Cuba does still have two different exchange rates in operation. There is the ‘official’ exchange rate that you will see on the CADECA website and that all government institutions, banks and exchange offices will give you. And then there is the ‘unofficial’ or ‘black market’ exchange rate.

The unofficial blackmarket exchange rate, can be found by looking at https://eltoque.com. Eltoque aggregates all the prices from WhatsApp and Revolico, providing a mid-market rate.

You’ll never get the exact black market exchange rate shown on eltoque.com. But you should get close to it. Just be careful who you are exchanging money with. I’d suggest asking your AirBnB host or searching on Revolico, for private money changers. Never change money on the street with a Jinetero.

NordVPN

Will My ATM Or Bank Cards Work In Cuba?

Most often, your cards will not work in Cuba. Particularly if you’re American or Australian. Some Spanish, Canadian, German and Chinese cards work everywhere. Cards from other countries work less often, or not at all.

And, in the event your cards did work in Cuba, you would will still be better off avoiding electronic money. I will always advise visitors to bring an adequate supply of cash to Cuba. This is because you will get a better exchange rate with cash.

Cuban Pesos CUP
Cuban pesos (CUP)

What Currency Should I Take To Cuba?

USD and Euro are the two most popular and most widely accepted currencies. They are the easiest to currencies to exchange and they result in better exchange rates.

One thing to keep in mind, is that government run hotels like the Tryp Hotel Havana Libre, do not want USD. Government run establishments have a preference for Euro. And they will often want to be paid Euro electronically. Everywhere else prefers USD cash.

I personally take USD to Cuba. Though I’ve previously brought Euros.

Establishments That Wont Accept Local Currency (CUP)

Even though Cuba’s official currency is the Cuban Peso (CUP), which is also called Moneda Nacional (MN), most government run or affiliated businesses will not accept CUP. They will only accept USD or Euro. And often, they will only accept payment electronically.

Government owned, operated or partnered businesses, only accept foreign currency. And which foreign currency they will accept, on any given day, can vary. For example, the Tryp Hotel Habana Libre, wont accept CUP. In person, they will tell you that they only accept Euro electronically. But their booking confirmation emails, will state that they only accept USD in cash. And this creates problems.

The reason that the Cuban Government doesn’t want to be paid in their own currency, is that the CUP has no real value. It’s effectively Monopoly money, that can only be used in Cuba. And its value decreases daily.

In its efforts to be paid in foreign currency, the Cuban Government has moved to ‘dollarize’ important infrastructure and whole tourist zones. Cuba’s airports are dollarized. As are tourist towns like Varadero, which have been dollarized.

In places like Varadero, you can still use the local currency. But you need to find private Cuban businesses. The large hotels and Cuban Government businesses, will not accept local Cuban currency.

Here’s what you need to know about establishments that won’t accept Cuban currency in Cuba.

Never Pay A Cuban In Advance

You should never pay a Cuban in advance for goods and services. If you do pay in advance they will cut corners, produce substandard work, or simply run off with your money. Here’s everything you need to know about paying Cubans in Cuba.

Should I Tip In Cuba?

Whether or not you should tip in Cuba, is personal preference. And you should base your decision on the service you’ve received. Tipping was never part of the culture in Cuba.

Tipping, or tips in Cuba are just another example of America spreading its way of doing business, around the globe. But, in America service staff are often poorly paid and educated. Service staff in America need tips to be able to afford to live.

In Cuba, the service staff you’ll encounter often earn far more than doctors, nurses, school teachers and lawyers. And it’s a fact of life here in Cuba, that the waitresses serving your food are often qualified doctors, nurses, school teachers or lawyers.

Often, the pretty waitress serving you, has traded in their professional career for higher paying jobs serving food. Because interacting with tourists pays more.

Only if somebody goes out of their way to help you, would I recommend you tip them. But I’d make it a decent tip. An amount that is at least equivalent to a can of beer. It might be an Australian thing, but we always say thank you with beer.

If you’re at a restaurant and the bill includes a service charge, they have already tipped themselves. Tipping more, is entirely optional. Personally, I will still tip when the staff have been exceptional. If their service was bad or mediocre, I won’t tip.

So, decide for yourself if you want to tip someone, or not, but do not give them coins. I’m speaking to all the Canadians right now. Cubans can’t use or exchange Canadian dollar coins. Don’t give Cubans foreign coins, as they can’t do anything with them. It’s a persistent myth that Cubans want Canadian coins as a tip. Coins and US singles, are virtually useless in Cuba.

Tipping in Cuba
Cuban pesos (CUP)

What Is The Best Currency To Tip In Cuba?

For tipping at restaurants, on tours, or when taking a La Nave, the best currency to use for tipping is the local Cuban peso (CUP). Small tips should always be in the local currency.

Foreign currency in small denominations, is hard to use in Cuba. And any Cuban you tip with small denomination foreign currency, will have a hard time trying to exchange it for the local Cuban peso.

Don’t tip in Canadian dollars or small US currency in Cuba.

What Should I Leave For Staff In Cuba? (Tipping Staff)

What you should give to your Cuban staff, when leaving Cuba, is essentially a tip. And as such, you should give your staff in Cuba cash. The tip you leave for staff, is likely the largest tip you will give somebody in Cuba. And I would recommend tipping in foreign currency.

I would also recommend leaving any excess Cuban pesos (CUP), with your Cuban staff. As you will likely be unable to convert it back to foreign currency, on departure from Cuba.

If you’ve followed my advice and brought extra medications, to cover any potential travel delays, you could also donate your remaining medication to your Cuban staff. But, only once you’ve confirmed that you don’t need it.

Your staff member will likely have a friend or relative, who can benefit from any excess medications you no longer need when leaving Cuba. Medications are always in short supply in Cuba.

Is Cuba Expensive?

This is subjective. I find the accommodation prices for Airbnb (casa particulars) to be on parity with Argentina. And I find that goods, services and food are more expensive in Cuba.

For me as an Australian, Cuba is a relatively inexpensive destination to visit. Particularly now, when there is only one currency in circulation. I’ve laid out some of my costs in this article. And you can read about all the factors that affect how much you should budget, for your vacation.

Ron Santiago de Cuba
Santiago de Cuba rum in Havana Cuba

Is There Inflation In Cuba?

There is high inflation in Cuba, due primarily to the deflation of the Cuban currency (CUP). The Cuban Government might insist that its currency is worth a fixed amount, relative to major foreign currencies, yet every other Cuban disagrees.

As the value of the Cuban Peso (CUP) weakens against foreign currencies, by the day, the prices of goods and services increase at roughly the same pace.

This is good for those with foreign currencies, but bad for average Cubans with fixed salaries. And the number of people I’ve seen digging through dumpsters each day for food, has been growing rapidly since 2021. Poverty and homelessness is becoming more entrenched in Cuba.

How I carry cash in Cuba.

Technology In Cuba – Accessing The Internet And Apps

The most important tip, that I can give you about Cuba, is that you should not arrive in Cuba without a VPN preinstalled on your devices.

With a VPN, you can download apps and your device will work, just like it does at home. Without a VPN, you will not be able to do much online from Cuba.

If you want to use the mobile applications below, to get around in Cuba and save money, you will need a VPN. Below are the basic questions I get asked about the internet in Cuba.

NordVPN

Do I Need A VPN In Cuba?

Because Cuba is under US sanctions, you will find that many websites, airlines, travel booking engines, banks, social media and messaging apps, do not work in Cuba. They’re blocked by the Americans. And you will need a VPN to access them.

Yet, the Apple App Store and Google Play Store are also blocked in Cuba. You will need a VPN to access the app stores. And you need to access the app stores, to get a VPN. It’s a frustrating circular conundrum.

Do not travel to Cuba without a VPN loaded onto your devices before you get here. You can add a VPN from Cuba, but it’s a much more complex process. And I’ve laid out the steps for adding a VPN in blocked countries.

Personally, I use and recommend NordVPN for Cuba. NordVPN works on both the cellular and wifi networks in Cuba. And it’s the fastest and most secure VPN available for Cuba.

You can get NordVPN from https://nordvpn.com. Or click the banner below.

NordVPN
Don’t travel to Cuba without a VPN on your device!

Will Social Media Apps Work In Cuba?

With the exception of the TikTok mobile application, all have worked for me without problems when using NordVPN. For all of your will it work in Cuba mobile app related questions, see my Guide To Using Mobile Apps In Cuba. I update the guide regularly.

Can I Access Mobile Internet In Cuba?

Wifi parks are becoming a thing of the past. Cuba has high speed 4G LTE available with mobile Cubacel SIM cards. And 16Gb of data will set you back 950CUP ($5.75USD) at today’s prices.

It’s a myth that foreigners cannot get a local SIM card in Cuba. Just order a tourist SIM online or visit a local ETECSA store.

What eSIM Will Work In Cuba?

For those of you with later generation mobile phones that can’t take a physical SIM card, or if you can’t be bothered going through the process to get a SIM card in Cuba, there is an eSIM that works on the cellphone network in Cuba.

The eSIM is $9.5 (USD) and includes 1GB of data to use on the mobile phone network in Cuba over 7 days. If you need more data or a longer duration, you can keep adding packs as needed.

The airalo eSIM is available here.

What Local Mobile Applications Do I Need?

I’ve written an article about the most important mobile apps for Cuba. But, the two I will use most often, are La Nave (Cuban Uber) and Mandao (Cuban Uber Eats).

With La Nave, you can get anywhere on the island without needing to negotiate prices with taxis. And you will pay less than a quarter of the price that you would otherwise end up paying a taxi. Use La Nave for all of your transport needs.

Mandao is very useful for days when its raining, or you just want food or alcohol delivered. Need a wood fired pizza and a bottle of wine delivered for Cuban Netflix and chill? Use Mandao.

la Nave in Cuba
La Nave (Cuba’s Uber)

Can I Use Uber In Cuba?

There is no ‘Uber’ in Cuba. But Cuba does have La Nave (Cuba’s version of Uber). The La Nave mobile app has a similar user interface and it feels just like Uber.

The Cuban ride-sharing mobile applications Sube and Bajanda no longer function in Cuba. Despite what you may have read elsewhere, on out of date travel blogs. Here’s how you can get La Nave and save on transport costs around Cuba.

NordVPN

Where Should I Stay In Cuba? Hotel Or Casa?

This is personal preference. Personally, I prefer staying in casa particulars booked though Airbnb. I choose casa particulars over hotels, because they’re cheaper and they often have better amenities (fridges, coffee machines, 65′ televisions and free wifi).

If you’re American, you need to avoid establishments that are run by the Cuban Government. Or that are affiliated with the government. But I’m Australian. And the US Government has no say in where I go or the establishments I frequent.

My personal favorite suburb in Havana, to rent an Airbnb, is Vedado. It’s a clean and quiet neighborhood, with all the amenities you could want. Vedado is very close to Old Havana (Habana Vieja). But Vedado doesn’t have the noise and terrible smell of Old Havana.

Just avoid the Tryp Hotel Habana Libre. It’s a complete dump, but with a great view.

Are There Laundromats In Cuba?

There are laundry services in Cuba. And they closely resemble those present everywhere else, in Latin America. You can drop your laundry off at a ‘lavadero‘ and pick it up the next day.

Prices for laundry are either charged by the kilogram, or by the number of items, depending on which laundry you use. Normally, I pay around 400CUP ($2.42USD) for about two weeks worth of laundry.

Where to find laundry services in Havana Cuba?

Food And Drinks In Cuba

Cuba isn’t somewhere that most people normally think of, as a travel destination for fine dining. And that’s for good reason. The food in Cuba is hit or miss. Somedays it’s fantastic, and other days it’s downright toxic and will have you running for the bathroom post meal.

Food hygiene in Cuba is almost nonexistent. And the people preparing food in restaurants, often have little to no culinary training. If a restaurant or eatery in Cuba looks like it may give you food poisoning, it probably will.

You should avoid frequenting establishments that don’t have a high turnover. If a restaurant is constantly busy, there’s a good chance that the food is fresh. If a restaurant is always empty, there’s a better than average chance that what they’re trying to sell you, is more than a few days old.

Cocktails are the one major bright spot when eating out in Cuba. Cuba may not yet be a foodies paradise, but it is a cocktail lovers paradise. There is a huge array of foreign and domestic cocktails available in Cuba.

My personal favorite is the Cuban ‘canchanchara’. It’s made from aguardiente, honey and lemon over ice. And it’s traditionally served in a small copper or clay cup. It’s one cocktail that I believe everyone should try during their vacation.

Is Tap Water Drinkable In Cuba?

The tap water in major urban areas in Cuba is chemically treated. Yet, the pipes are old and contain heavy metal contaminants, like lead. You should not drink water directly from the tap in Cuba.

Once filtered, the tap water in Cuba is drinkable. Because the tap water in major urban centers is chemically treated, you don’t need to boil it. But you do need to filter it to remove heavy metals and minerals.

If your casa particular (Airbnb) has a water filter, you should use it to purify your drinking water. If you don’t have access to a water filter, then you should stick to bottled water. Bottled water is cheap and available everywhere in Cuba.

Bottled water in Cuba costs roughly $1USD (180CUP) per 2 liter bottle (half gallon). And you should budget $1-$2USD per person, per day, for drinking water in Cuba.

With a water filter, I do personally drink the tap water in Cuba. And I have never had a problem arise from drinking filtered water in Cuba. Here’s what you need to know about drinking tap water in Cuba.

Water filter in Havana Cuba
Water filter in Cuba

Do I Need A ‘Life Straw’ Or Filtered Water Bottle For Cuba?

The short answer to whether or not you need a life straw or filtered water bottle for Cuba, is no you do not. And in fact, you shouldn’t bring these items to Cuba.

The longer answer is that by bringing a life straw or filtered water bottle to Cuba, you will make yourself more of a target for scams. The Jineteros (street hustlers) are better able to identify the newly arrived tourists, who know nothing about Cuba, when they have a fancy straw or water bottle.

Bottled water in Cuba is both cheap and abundant. And anyone who’s been in Cuba for more than a day, knows where to buy bottled water for next to nothing.

Filter straws and self filtering water bottles, are amazon affiliate junk, that other travel blogs make money off, by telling you that you need those items. Don’t bring these to Cuba, unless you want to be dealing with scams more often than you otherwise would be.

Is It Safe To Have Ice In My Drink In Cuba?

At most restaurants and bars in urban centers, it’s safe to have ice in your drink. All mid-tier to upperclass restaurants and bars in Cuba, purchase ice that is safe to be consumed.

If you see a lot of tourists and locals in a particular establishment, it’s generally safe to have ice in your drink. Where I would not have ice in my drink, is in more rural areas or in paladars not typically frequented by tourists or upperclass locals.

If you’re in the countryside, avoid ice. If you’re in Havana, or another major urban centre, the ice is generally safe to be consumed. In Havana, I don’t worry about ice in my drink. And I have never had a problem.

Yet, if you’re worried about the ice, simply order ‘sin hielo. And for all those cold climate folks who travel to Cuba, you can remember the word for ice, because it sounds like ‘yellow’. And you should never eat the yellow snow.

Canchanchara in Havana Cuba
Non-authentic Cuban Canchanchara

Best Restaurants In Havana Cuba

The best restaurants in Havana are subjective. And the quality of food at these establishments, varies on a near daily basis. Yet, there are a few restaurants that always seem to remain at the top of most lists.

All of the top restaurants, will be expensive by Havana’s standards. But by foreign standards, they are reasonably priced. At the best restaurants in Havana, you should expect to pay anywhere from 2 to 5 times what you normally would, in a basic restaurant in Havana. So, take a large brick of cash (10k to 20k+ CUP for 2 people).

The best sunset views available from the restaurants listed below, in order of the views they provide are La Guarida, Casa Mia Paladar and Costa Vino. The others on the list, have no ocean or sunset views. But, they do have intimate dining experiences, better than average service and unique decor.

The best restaurants in Havana are:

The top restaurant in Havana Cuba is La Guarida. While boasting what is arguably the best rooftop sunset view out over Old Havana of any restaurant in the city, La Guarida became famous as the set of the only Cuban film to be nominated for an Oscar (Strawberry And Chocolate 1994).

The second best restaurant in Havana, is Ivan Chef Justo. It’s located in Aquacate 9 in Old Havana opposite the Memorial Granma. Ivan Chef Justo has served everyone from royalty through to current celebrities.

Costa Vino can be spectacular one day and horrific the next. But it does have a good view and one of the largest selection of wines available in Havana. But then again, wine in Havana is generally not very good (cheap Chilean and Argentine wines sold at huge markups).

The last three restaurants on the list are my favorites, along with La Guarida. Each of the last three restaurants offers an intimate dining environment and unique menus. All of the last three restaurants on the list have excellent service.

See my guide to the best restaurants in Havana Cuba. It has a breakdown by suburb and the restaurants are rated on their view, quality and cost.

Sunset view from La Guarida
Sunset view from La Guarida restaurant in Havana Cuba

Good Breakfast Or Brunch Spot In Havana?

If you’re looking for a nice cafe for breakfast or brunch, I would recommend visiting Boné Ma in Vedado. Boné Ma is my own go to cafe, in Havana.

It always has excellent service and safe food, that’s guaranteed not to make you sick. Yet, the best part of visiting Boné Ma, is that you can get a huge English breakfast with good coffee.

You can locate Boné Ma with google maps here.

Marxist Coffee Havana Cuba
Communist coffee beans control their own means of production.

Is Cuba A Travel Destination For Foodies?

Cuba is not yet a travel destination for foodies. The best food in Cuba is often mediocre at best. And can be downright terrible at its worst. Foodies should skip visiting Cuba for the time being. Cuba is rising as a culinary destination. But it’s not there yet.

Here’s everything you need to know about food in Cuba.

Having dinner at La Guarida in Havana, Cuba.
Having dinner at La Guarida. Cuba’s best, located in Havana.

Food Tours In Havana Cuba – Avoid Private Food Tours In Cuba!

Most private food tours are a waste of time and money in Cuba. More often than not, you’ll just end up paying for a Cubans food and then paying (and tipping) for the privilege.

You can easily find the best restaurants to visit, with the guides on this site and Google maps. And Google maps is what I use to locate good food in Cuba.

If you are set on paying for a food tour in Havana, you can check out Havana Food Tours. But be forewarned; You never know what you might be eating on a food tour, or during an ‘authentic’ meal in a Cuban home in Havana.

I recommend sticking to registered food tours on sites like www.civitatis.com. Because you can see real ratings from real people like you, who have actually taken the tour.

Finca Vista Hermosa – Cuban Farm To Table Restaurant

Finca Vista Hermosa is located just outside Havana in Guanabacoa. It’s a farm to table restaurant specialising in traditional Cuban cuisine. It’s a fantastic day trip from Havana Cuba.

Here’s everything you need to know about Finca Vista Hermosa and how to get there.

Best Restaurants In Varadero Cuba

If you’ve ever stayed in an all-inclusive resort in Varadero, you’ll know the resort food is terrible. Yet, outside the resorts in Varadero, you will find some of the freshest seafood available in Cuba.

Here’s my list of the top 10 best restaurants in Varadero Cuba.

Does It Get Cold In Cuba?

It can get cold in Cuba. Or at least cold relative to where you’re coming from. With temperatures getting down to 9°c or 48.2°f.

It feels so cold in Cuba, on the few days of winter that Cuba has each year, that I’ve been known to layer up just as much as I would in Europe.

Here’s what you need to know about the colder months in Cuba.

Cold Weather in Cuba

Is It Hard To Find Products In Communist Cuba?

The country might be communist but daily life in Cuba operates the same way as everywhere else on the planet. In Cuba, money talks and bulls**t walks.

You can buy anything in Cuba, that is available elsewhere on the planet. You will need to pay more for some items, as they aren’t brought in by large supermarket chains on cargo ships. They’re carried into Cuba by individual Cubans on planes.

Yet, when I say that you may need to pay more, things aren’t that expensive. The biggest markups I’ve found are on Apple products sold by the Apple Store in Cuba.

And yes, Cuba has an underground Apple Store modeled on a real Apple Store, replete with life-size posters of Steve Jobs. It operates out of an apartment building’s garage in Havana. You can literally buy anything in Cuba.

Revolico Is the Cuban Craigslist

If you’re looking for goods and services that you cannot find in a store in Cuba you need to check Revolico. It’s Cuba’s blackmarket craigslist. On Revolico you can buy a huge array of hard to find items from individual sellers.

Below is an example Youtube video where we bought vape products in Cuba on Revolico. But you can get virtually anything on Revolico.

An example video we filmed in Havana, using Revolico to buy hard to find items.

Can I Shop For Antiques In Havana Cuba?

You can shop for antiques in Cuba. In houses of suburban Havana, Cuba’s underground antiques dealers hoard artifacts testament to pre-Revolutionary life in Cuba. Bathtubs full of paintings, rooms filled with silverware and matching china, busts of Stalin thrown in for good measure.

Here’s one Australian’s experience of a clandestine antiques market in Havana Cuba.

Are There Lines In Cuba?

More often than you’d think you will find yourself standing in a line in Cuba. Cubans have lining up refined down to an art form. Use Revolico or private markets to avoid lines in Cuba.

Kieran toilet Paper in Havana Cuba
Lining up for toiler paper in Havana.

Shortages In Cuba – What Should You Donate In Cuba?

Medicines top the list of items, that you should carry with you and donate in Cuba. And you needn’t take expensive or hard to come by medicines. Basic medications are always in short supply and they often command steep prices, when sold on Revolico (Cuba’s ‘black market’ Craigslist).

The prices quoted for medications on Revolico, are often beyond the ordinary Cuban’s ability to pay. Which only results in the needless suffering of regular Cubans.

See this article for a list of some items you should take to donate in Cuba and how you should go about donating them.

A Special Note For Diabetics Visiting Cuba

If you have excess medications for diabetes, or equipment for testing blood sugar levels and would like to donate these, before departing Cuba, please click the link below.

The link is for the WhatsApp of Justina. An older woman in Havana Cuba, who works as a housekeeper to support her diabetic children. She earns less than $5 per day when she has work.

Justina lives in La Lisa, a very poor neighborhood near the Havana airport. And she can collect any excess medications listed below from you on departure from Havana.

I must warn you, Justina will probably cry because you will be helping to keep her children healthy. Justina needs any of the following, that you can donate:

  • Insulin
  • Diabetic vitamins or vitamins used by diabetics (B vitamins for type 2 diabetes)
  • Pain medications with Ibuprofen or Paracetamol
  • Antibiotics (Azithromycin, Amoxicillin, Metronidazole or ciprofloxacin)
  • Any equipment that measures blood sugar levels

You can contact Justina by WhatsApp on +53 5 5118463

Cheap Or Free Things To Do In Havana And Surrounds?

I’ve previously made a list of 17 free or near free things to do in Havana. But with La Nave (Cuban Uber), the list of destinations and places you can visit for next to nothing, is exponentially larger.

With La Nave you could visit a finca (farm) like Finca Vista Hermosa:

You could checkout Guanabacoa:

Or you could even head out to Viñales for a much lower price:

We filmed this in Vinales.

Where To Book Tours In Cuba?

Your best option for booking tours in Cuba, is to use Civitatis. All tours are conducted in English and you don’t need to try and negotiate a price, with tour guides.

You’ll find tours ranging from free to moderately priced on Civitatis. Yet, even at the upper end, all of the tours will be significantly cheaper than purchasing them once in Cuba. Particularly if you have limited Spanish language skills with which to negotiate.

Use Civitatis for all your Cuban Tours.

Free Walking Tours In Cuba

Free walking tours in Havana and the rest of Cuba can be reserved via Civitatis. I’d recommend taking a free walking tour, in each major city that you visit.

I’ve created lists of my favorite free tours and activities in Havana. Because Havana is where I spend the most time. It’s the bigger hotspot for tourists due to the cruise terminals. If you need a recommendation for others locations, feel free to ask.

José Martí’s Birthday Celebrations In Havana

Every year, on the 28th of January, you will find commemorations for the birth of José Martí. For his 169th birthday the communist party held a torchlight parade, beginning at the University of Havana.

If you’re in Cuba on the 28th of January, you should enquire as to where and what type of celebrations might be held. The parades and celebrations are free to attend.

Parade for the 169th birthday of José Martí.

Should I Visit Cristóbal Colón Cemetery In Havana?

The Cristóbal Colón Cemetery in Vedado is definitely worth visiting, if you have time. It takes a couple of hours to properly tour the cemetery. And I would recommend to most visitors that they forgo the organized tours and instead walk around the cemetery for free, like I did in the video below.

Entering via the rear gate, will allow you to bypass all the tour guides and touts. And it will give you free access to the cemetery. Yet, if you’re short on time, there are organized tours available.

I took a walk through the Cristóbal Colón Cemetery in Vedado. Here’s the main sites.

Is Varadero Worth Visiting?

Varadero is a destination that you should visit while in Cuba. Because it will give you a different perspective on life in the country, that sits in stark contrast with what you’ll see elsewhere on the island.

Varadero is one of the largest resort zones in the Caribbean. And it’s filled with ‘all-inclusive’ international hotel chains. It draws in tourists from all over the world. And, in 2019, that main beach in Varadero was voted number one on TripAdvisor.

From Varadero, you can take catamaran day trips out to Cayo Blanco, to snorkel on the coral reef and swim with dolphins. Or, you can take a day trip out to the Yumurí Valley on a self driven jeep safari, visiting the town of Matanzas and its impressive cave systems. You can even scuba dive in Varadero or take an all day scuba tour out to the town of Playa Larga and the Bay of Pigs.

Varadero isn’t just resorts. It’s a perfect gateway and base from which to explore. Here’s some handy resources to help you plan a trip to Varadero:

Women And Dating In Cuba

There are good girls in Cuba. But you’ll be unlikely to meet them, if you’re just a short term tourist visiting the island. And if you come to Cuba as a tourist looking for ‘love’, or prostitution, you’re not going to find anything but an empty wallet.

For all those people who come to Cuba, thinking it’s filled with mail order brides, think again. If you’re fat and ugly in your own country, then you’re fat and ugly in Cuba.

For all those normal lads, who are looking for normal women, you will be unlikely to meet a good girl in Cuba until you’ve proven you’re not a sex tourist. You won’t meet normal women at bars, nightclubs, on Tinder or walking up to them on the street.

The way dating works here, is that a friend or acquaintance will know somebody you would be a good match for. And they will take it upon themselves to play cupid, once they know you well enough to know you’re not a sex tourist. And that you’re a good guy who will be a good match for their friend or acquaintance.

Once introduced to a good match, then love and sex happen quickly in Cuba. Don’t be surprised if she’s coming home with you on the first or second date. But be a gentleman. Pay for dinner and the La Nave. And take her somewhere nice, where you can actually talk and get know each other.

When on a real date, with a good girl in Cuba, the date will function just like you’d expect in any other society. Be an old fashioned gentleman and open the door for her, pull out her seat, pay for dinner and talk with her.

You also need to keep in mind that even the best Cuban match, is going to be a pain to deal with. Dating a Cuban woman in Cuba, is a lot like dating a poor mans version of Disney’s Scrooge McDuck. Cuban’s are always after money.

Personally, my advice to you, is don’t date Cubans at all. And instead, date Venezuelan or Colombian women!

Cuban women
Cubanas

Mobile Dating Applications In Cuba (Tinder)

Don’t use Tinder in Cuba. Tinder is solely populated by Jineteras in Cuba. These are the Cuban equivalent of a ‘Gold Digger‘.

Any women you might end up dating, from Tinder, will be after money. And they will likely be semi-pro sex-workers. You should avoid Tinder in Cuba.

To all the single ladies visiting Cuba, the advice above goes for you too. Unless, you want to meet a Cuban man, who by day runs money exchange scams, pimps out women and sells drugs, you shouldn’t use Tinder in Cuba.

What To Bring As A Gift For Cuban Women?

The myth that Cuban women will sleep with you for trinkets, is one that keeps circulating on the internet. And it leads to people frequently sending me weird WhatsApp messages, asking what they should ‘bring to Cuba’ as ‘gifts for Cuban women’.

What you should bring to Cuba is easy. I’ve written about it before. You should bring to Cuba the medications outlined in this article. But if you’re just chasing hookers, you should bring cash and lots of it.

Here’s what you need to know about gifts for Cuban women.

Gifts for Cuban Women
Cuban Jineteras (gold diggers)

A Useful Cuban Dating Phrase

A Cuban saying that you should be aware of is ‘el que no come ni dejar comer‘. Which translates to, ‘he who does not eat does not let eat‘.

Basically, it’s a term used to describe bored women who don’t want to date you, but don’t want others to date you. It means you’ve been friend zoned and she’s wasting your time. Kick her ass to the curb (nicely), as there are plenty more fish in the sea.

If your other female friends tell you ‘el que no come ni dejar comer‘, about your crush in Cuba, listen to them. Cuban ladies know other Cuban ladies better than you.

Cuba Is A Mess – Are US Sanctions To Blame?

I’ve traveled across both Iran and Cuba. And I can say that despite sanctions, Iran has progressed into a modern society with a rich cultural history. Whereas Cuba, is still stuck in the 1960s and is a crumbling mess.

It’s my firm view from visiting both Iran and Cuba, that US sanctions aren’t to blame for the current state of Cuba. It’s my view, that the communist government is solely to blame for the crumbling mess that Cuba has become.

See my comparison of these two US sanctioned countries, Iran and Cuba, in this article.

US Sanctions - Che Guevara - Revolution
Graffiti in Havana Cuba

Is There Racism In Cuba?

There is no public racism in Cuba. But there is classicism. And classism is far worse than racism, and it’s all pervasive in Cuba. You won’t be able to avoid noticing distinct socioeconomic divides. And that these divides, typically set those with darker skin at a severe disadvantage, to those with lighter skin.

Here’s everything you need to know about racism and classicism in Cuba.

Cuban People

Cuba: The Real Life Westworld

If you’ve never seen the television show Westworld, I would suggest watching it before traveling to Cuba. Cuba is the real life Westworld.

When viewed through the lens of Westworld, Cuba isn’t your typical tourist destination. Cuba is like a country sized amusement park. A place intended for rich vacationers to go and live out their fantasies.

And, no matter how illicit those fantasies may be, there are no consequences for those rich vacationers in Cuba. It’s like stepping into another world, where every ‘local’ is a bit player, a sim or a non-player character (NPC) in a large game intended for tourists.

Caribbean Westworld Cuba

Patria O Muerte – Cake Or Death!

If you’ve been to Cuba, you would have seen the slogan ‘Patria O Muerte’. It’s prominently displayed everywhere and its impossible to miss.

Let’s take a look at the slogan and the choice it presents, for the ‘average’ Cuban. Because, when I see Patria O Muerte, I find it impossible not to think of Eddie Izzard’s ‘Cake or Death’.

Should I Invest In Cuba?

Investing your hard earned money, in Cuba, is very a bad idea. Investment scams are rife in Cuba. You should not invest in Cuba. Cuba is not investable. Here’s what you should know if you’re considering investing in Cuba.

Don't invest in Cuba
Don’t invest your money in Cuba – there are too many scams

Leaving Cuba To Go South Or Renew A Visa?

The cheapest and easiest method to leave Cuba if you’re not American is to take a direct flight to Cancun, Mexico. It’s about $200USD on Aeromar. Or a $200 direct flight on Wingo to Colombia.

If you’re not American you should avoid all US airlines and any flights transiting America. If your flight transits the USA you will need to get a USA transit visa and it’s currently impossible to get one while in Cuba.

Also, if you’re going south to visit somewhere like Argentina it makes no sense to go up to Miami or Spain first. So go sideways and book a cheap flight on OMIO or on WayAway. I always check both and I recommend you do too.

Just ensure you have your Cuban Tourist Card (Tarjeta Del Turista), when you arrive at the airport for your flight out of Cuba. If you’ve lost it, you’ll have a hard time leaving Cuba and will likely need to pay a fine.

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