The hot commodity of international travel right now, the Caribbean island of Cuba has long been a dream deferred for Americans.
...So as soon as it was made possible, I made sure I got my visit in!
In case you're planning on going too, check out these travel tips to get yourself prepared.
1. The first order of business: obtain the special visa you need, which you can easily get online through Cuba Travel Services. There are 12 qualifying reasons for entry into the country, and you’ll need to state one on your visa application. “People to People” is good if you’re only looking to explore and not conduct any business. The processing time is usually 5-7 days for regular service, and 1-2 days for expedited service.
2. Just know that you can ball outta control during your stay in Cuba. Goods and services are much lower priced than the US of A, so not having enough spending money shouldn’t be an issue for you. However, US dollars are taxed 10% to exchange for Cuban pesos, so your best bet is to exchange your American money in the states for euros, and then the euros for Cuban pesos upon your arrival. As of today’s date, you can’t use your bank cards over there, so cash is king!
3. Try to pack light so you can carry-on your luggage. The Havana airport is super packed now—especially since it’s less difficult for American travelers to come there. It could take you forever to get your checked bags due to the country’s recent travel demands. You can avoid waiting for hours by carrying on.
4. The locals hardly speak any English, so try to enhance your experience by practicing some Spanish speaking skills beforehand. That way, you can engage in some small talk or order food at the very least. The Duo Lingo app helps a lot for early practice, and there are also offline Spanish translation apps that you could download to your phone to use over there.
5. Like many foreigners, Cubans think Americans are rich, so they’ll likely up you on certain prices. Always try and negotiate on things like cab fare, souvenirs, etc., or you’ll get got. As a piece of advice, don’t wear any flashy clothes that scream, “Hey everybody! I’m Americano” neither.
6. Get an Airbnb host! Unless you’re pretty versed on Spanish, you might find it difficult to ask for basic things like directions from the airport to your hotel. The host can meet you at the airport, escort you everywhere you’re looking to go, give you the scoop on things like hip hop clubs and great places to eat, and etc. For touristy things, you can also use an offline app (Cuba Map) to help you get around. It’s great!
7. Load up on hand sanitizers, hand soap (unless you don’t mind sharing bar soap), wipes (for on-the-go), and toilet paper (many public restrooms don’t have it because they don’t want it flushed).
8. Bring meds! Between the proteins being much more fresh than the processed foods you’re used to back home and the heavily polluted air, you might wind up sick. Be sure to stock up on water, too, and be careful no to swallow it. Even the locals don’t drink the water without boiling it because the plumbing is so outdated. Always ask for no ice (or take it out the cup).
9. Be open-minded. If you’re bougie, some areas may appear a nightmare to you as some parts of the country is just so impoverished. But, there’s so much beauty in Cuba!!!
10. Make sure Cuba is included in your data plan, or it will cost a crazy amount for phone usage. I recommend keeping your phone in airplane mode and buying an internet card to use Wi-Fi over by the hotels. You can’t use the card everywhere, so this is good excuse to disconnect from the world (and social media) and actually enjoy the trip. You could also go old school and bring a flip phone and phone card to chat with family and friends every now and then.
Now, you go off to enjoy Cuba, honey! It's really a great place.
For inspiration, I'm sharing a few snaps of good scenery from my library of professional iPhone photography.