One of the hottest destinations in 2017 is Cuba. As the United States has opened doors to travelers you will find a wide variety of Americans visiting for the first time and people from all over the world planning trips to explore the country before it has the chance to change.
Whether you’re looking to explore the bright building of Havana, smoke a Cuban cigar, relax on beaches or absorb the history of the country, you won’t be disappointed by what Cuba has to offer.
From where to go to the logistics, there are few things you need to know when planning a trip to Cuba.
Planning a Trip to Cuba: Where To Go
A week in Cuba will give you time to explore more than Havana but not everything. Consider spending a few days in Havana, with a day trip. Then spend a few days in another Cuban destination.
If you can only make it one place, make it Havana. Here you’re able to contrast historic Cuba with the liveliness of Cuba today. Spend time in Old Havana, wandering the cobblestone streets, enjoying live music, bright buildings, mojitos, museums, and more.
Explore Central Havana and Vedado where you can see where and how Cubans live. You’ll feel the same hustle and bustle of a major city but with shorter buildings. Cuba may not be known for its food, you’ll find a variety of places well worth a cheap bite or two.
On the South side of the island, you’ll find the UNESCO city of Trinidad; filled with colonial buildings and a more laid back feel than Havana. Music is truly a commodity in Trinidad and find a salsa lesson and listen to music all night long.
Not far is Playa Ancon where you can take in the white sand beaches and enjoy a Canchánchara, Trinidad’s signature drink.
Head out of the city to the valley of Vinales. Here you’ll find Cuba’s famous tobacco farms and a variety of outdoor activities. As well as exploring a slower side of Cuban life. Only an hour and a half from Havana you can take a day trip or spend a few days exploring the area.
Varadero is one of the most popular resort destinations in Cuba. For relaxing on the beach and diving or snorkeling it can be a great spot to getaway. While much of the area is a resort, you’ll find a variety of ways to explore the other side of Varadero.
What You Need to Know When Planning to Visit Cuba
Cuba throws a few curveballs at even experienced travelers. Make sure to do your research on the quirks that come with traveling to Cuba.
Cuba has two different types of currency. For the locals, it’s the CUP or Cuban Pesos; valued at roughly $24 to the $1 USD. For tourists the CUC or the Cuban Convertible Pesos; $1 to $1 USD.
You’ll see two prices at many places or only accept the CUC. Additionally, you’ll want to watch that you get the change back in what you originally gave, otherwise your money will lose value fast.
If you’re traveling from the U.S., the dollar is penalized when exchanged at 10%. Many travelers instead bring Canadian Dollars or Euros.
Finally, you’ll want to confirm that your credit/debit card works in Cuba. For Americans, the answer is no, but other countries cards often work. Few places take credit you can use banks and ATMs for cash. If not, be sure to bring enough cash for your whole trip.
For non-Americans, you’ll have a simple visa fee and need to purchase a special health insurance for your trip. Check with your country’s state department and see if your airline covers the insurance.
For Americans, you cannot travel as a tourist to Cuba. There are twelve verified exemptions, the most common are educational and volunteer purposes. At the airport you’re departing from you can purchase a $50 visa. Currently (April 2017), you don’t need documentation other than your visa and passport. Americans also need the specialized health insurance but most airlines are covering their passengers.
Overall, travel within and between cities is simple. You can take private taxis, just be sure to agree on a price before you get in. Within cities, you’ll also be able to take bike taxis that are cheaper but slightly slower.
When you’re traveling between cities most people take the Viazul, the tourist bus, or collectivo, a shared taxi. The Viazul is the cheapest and a safe way to travel but it makes more stops. The collectivos, which is you can set up at your casa or a hotel tourist desk, are quicker and only run $5 or so more.
Hotels in Cuba are expensive and often limited in amenities. While they are worth taking a look at, for many travelers they aren’t the best option.
Instead, Cuba has an expansive network of guest houses called casa particulars. An affordable and very local way to travel through Cuba. You have a chance to get to know your host, eat a meal or two with them, and do it all without breaking the bank. Rooms run in the $20-40s and you can rent an entire apartment if you’re traveling with a group for $40-100.
The casas are legal and easy to find once you arrive or through sites like Airbnb if you prefer to book ahead of time.
A Week In Cuba Is Barely Enough But Worth The Visit
While a week a great start to get a taste of Cuba, you’ll be left wanting more time to explore. For those planning on staying even longer take a look at these top things to experience in Cuba.
About Our Guest Blogger
Megan MacNee is the founder and editor of Traveling Nine to Fiver. After spending five years working full-time she decided to make a change and keep her job while still exploring the world. During the day she works in politics in Sacramento, California, but in her time off she travels around the west coast and the world. She writes to encourage other full-time professionals to get out and explore the globe.