July 28, 2022 by vivalafiona
Cuba has always been a challenging place to travel, unless you opt for the all inclusive hotel or resort. But there is no challenge that does not come with reward. Travel in Cuba is old school, slow style, serendipitous. It requires patience, an open mind and a spirit of adventure, and some pre planning. A few hours of reading and research beforehand can be very helpful. Booking accommodation, tours and arranging car hire before you arrive is a good idea if you are travelling for a week or two but not entirely necessary if you have the time or inclination to wander around Cuba.
First step in planning a trip to Cuba is to know what to bring with you. Money, cash, preferably Euro in small denominations is more important than a credit card. Why? Because Cuba is still very much a cash economy. Private businesses only accept cash. Taxi, restaurants, cafe, private tours, market stalls, artistans, musicians, bicycle taxi’s, food vendors, fruit stalls, B&B’s or Casa Particulars are cash only.
State run hotels, resorts, shops, tour agencies, national parks and buses only accept credit card payment whilst state run bars and restaurants accept Cuban Pesos CUP.
The Covid 19 pandemic, US sanctions and other factors have caused high levels of inflation in Cuba and the current street value of the Euro and USD is much higher than the official rate. Therefore it is best to exchange your Euro to Cuban Pesos CUP with Cubans, not banks or Hotels, preferably your B&B hosts or taxi drivers or tour guides. 1 Euro or USD will buy you approximately 100 CUP. The official rate of exchange from Cuban Banks is 1 : 25, although this is subject to change as the Cuban Government has announced its intention to sell as well as buy Euro and USD.
CUP is useful for state run museum entrance fees, state and privately owned restaurants and bars, street vendors, taxi and bicycle taxi, markets, food stalls and B&B’s, although many private businesses prefer Euro or USD.
So in a nut shell. Buy a good money belt and fill it with Euro, in small denominations and a credit card, that is not affiliated with a US Bank. Make sure you notify your bank you are travelling to Cuba. If you are not comfortable with carrying too much cash the Second step is to book accommodation, long distance taxi travel and bus tickets in advance.
There are plenty of ways to book accommodation in advance either via Airbnb and other online accommodation sites, or direct with your hosts. Cubans now have access to the internet. 4G coverage is now widely available (and in fact visitors can also purchase a sim card and buy a packet with data and SMS from http://www.etecsa.cu)
Many Cuban B&B’s or Casa Particulars, as they are known locally, are listed on Google Maps, Maps.me, Cuba Junky and on social media sites. Before internet B&B owners recommended Casas in other towns and cities, a network of contacts based on personal relationships and word of mouth recommendations. It is still worth asking Casa owners for a recommendation if you have a flexible itinerary.
Please note that due to US sanctions, unless you have a reliable VPN, booking sites such as Airbnb are not available whilst in Cuba. You can send messages to hosts but you cannot make payments in Cuba. If you wish to avoid paying for privately owned accommodation in cash book online before you depart for Cuba, or download a VPN. Some hosts, I believe, can accept a bank transfer payment. Others could ask you to pay your bill by purchasing items from the local supermarkets where only credit cards or Cuban MLC (foreign currency) cards are accepted. Meals and extra services can be paid for on Airbnb (if you have a VPN) as a special payment.
There are a few websites where you can book long distance taxi travel between major towns and cities. TaxiVinalesCuba is one. You can also book bus tickets with Viazul. Otherwise your host can usually arrange a taxi collectivo sharing with other travellers or a private taxi to and from Havana, Vinales, Cienfuegos, Varadero and Trinidad etc.
So, in a nutshell, carry cash or book all your accommodation, taxi and/or bus travel online before you depart or download a reliable VPN. There is plenty of advice about this online.
Third step is to refer to my blog post 10 Things to Bring to Cuba