Visit Cuba for an Incredible Tourist Experience
Cuba has intrigued tourists for decades, but until recently, travel to Cuba has been highly restricted. Now that the opportunity for travel has opened up, American tourists are flocking to this beautiful country in droves. Here is our guide to the tourist experience in Cuba to help you make the most of your trip to this unique and vibrant island.
Getting to Cuba
Cuba Airports are dotted all over the island, but most tourists will arrive via Jose Marti International Airport, around 12 miles outside of Havana. The best way to get from the airport to the city is by taxi. However, two city buses depart from Terminal 3, which cost 0.40 pesos per person and are recommended for travelers with minimal luggage only because they are crowded.
If you prefer a little luxury during your stay in Cuba, Havana has several luxury and boutique hotels available that feature a full suite of amenities and offer a spectacular view of the Caribbean Sea.
Cuba has a variety of hostels with private or shared rooms that are clean and well-equipped. This can be a great accommodation option for travelers on a budget, and hostels allow you to mingle with your fellow travelers and also the locals.
Casa particulares are basically the Cuban version of Airbnb. Rent a room in a local’s home, most of which come with a small kitchen and air conditioning. You will find plenty of Casa Particulares available in Cuba. If you are traveling throughout the island, most of the owners of the Casa Particulares will gladly help you arrange accommodations at your next destination. Casa Particulares are the single best way to experience the local culture, and if you are lucky, authentic local cuisine.
Tips for Traveling in Cuba
Cuba is a special destination which has its own unique ways of doing things and managing your vacation will be easier if you understand a few of these things up front so you can plan ahead.
The Best Time to Visit Cuba
The most popular time to travel to Cuba is between November and March when the weather is a little cooler and dryer. However, Carnivale and the Tobacco harvest happen between May and June, so if you don’t mind the heat and humidity, these are a couple of highlights in the Cuban calendar. Avoid traveling between July and November, which is hurricane season.
US credit cards and bank cards are not always valid in Cuba, and most vendors prefer to be paid in cash when possible. Try to bring enough cash with you to cover your tourist and dining expenses during your visit. Tip: If you book and prepay for as much of your vacation as possible prior to your trip, you can wisely minimize the amount of cash you need to carry.
Pay Attention to the Currency
Figuring out currencies in Cuba can be confusing because there are two different currencies. Cubans are paid in Cuban National Pesos (CUP). However, you will be paying for items with Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC), which are the US equivalent and 26 times more valuable than CUPs. This means that most products will have two price tags. To tell the difference, CUPs have pictures of national heroes, while CUCs have pictures of monuments.
You won’t be able to exchange your home currency for Cuban National Pesos (CUP) outside Cuba, and if you are exchanging American dollars, there is an additional 10% exchange fee on top of the 3% bank fee. This means that although the conversion rate is 1:1, you will only receive 0.87 pesos to the dollar.
To get the best rate, exchange your dollars before you leave for Cuba, or you can bring Euros or British Pounds Sterling, which are the most valuable currency in Cuba.
Wi-Fi is Unpredictable
Wi-Fi is not always available unless you are staying in Cuba’s top-rated hotels or manage to find an internet café. Once you are connected to these networks, the bandwidth is extremely slow. There are a few options for accessing the internet while in Cuba. Otherwise, check with your mobile provider to see if you can get international roaming.
Until recently, Cuban cuisine had a reputation for bland, subpar food due to the heavy restrictions placed on restaurant operators. However, now that the restrictions have eased, you can find some spectacular dining at privately-owned eateries called paladars.
Must-See Museums and Monuments
The rich political and colonial history of Cuba means that there is an endless number of museums and monuments dedicated to local heroes. The top museums and monuments that you need to visit during your trip include:
- Plaza de la Revolución
- Hotel Nacional de Cuba
- El Capitolio
- Che Guevara Mausoleum
- Museo de la Revolución
- Jose Marti Memorial
- Morro Castle
- National Museum of Fine Arts
- Diego Velazquez Museum in Santiago de Cuba
Cuba City Tours and Excursions
It is best to book tours around Cuba before you arrive. Most guided tours are popular and fill up quickly. One of the best ways to see the famous city of Havana in the true Cuban style is with a Classic American Car Tour. These 1950s convertible cars are unique to the island, and the drivers are experienced English-speaking guides who can show you the sites of this dynamic city. If you prefer to wander around on your own, take a self-guided walking tour of Old Havana. Don’t miss out on a mojito at the Bodeguita del Medio, Ernest Hemmingway’s Old Watering Hole.
One of the most beautiful and scenic tours is the tour from Havana to Cienfuegos and Trinidad, which gives you a glimpse of the authentic Cuban culture that so many tourists do not get to see.
Tobacco Growing Regions
Cuba’s most famous export is Cuban Cigars, and the lush tobacco-growing regions of Cuba are unavoidable, especially during the harvest season. You can hire a car and driver in Havana to take you to Vinales, which is about a three hours journey. At Vinales, you can go horseback riding through the dense tobacco plantations before enjoying a famous Cuban Cigar Tasting. There are also plenty of hiking and biking trails available for energetic travelers.
Cuba has some of the most beautiful, untouched beaches in the Caribbean. For travelers who love snorkeling and diving, head down to Playa Larga at the head of the Bay of Pigs, where you can rent gear from roadside stalls. Continue another hour and a half down the road to Trinidad, where you will find Trinidad’s most beautiful beach, historic buildings, and fun cultural activities.
Cuba is a complex country with an interesting history and a truly unique culture. Cuba is one of the most interesting travel destinations on the planet and offers an unforgettable experience for tourists.