It’s fair to say that Cuba isn’t the easiest destination in the world to visit – not least because of the (thankfully ever-growing) number of airlines that fly to the Caribbean’s largest island. But don’t let that put you off visiting its incredible sights, including the capital, Havana! Keep our handy hints to mind and you’ll have no problem making dreams come true and heading to Havana, Cuba’s pride and joy!
- Sort out the paper work
This pretty much boils down to getting a visa, which is a quick and painless process for anyone visiting the island as a tourist (even if you hold a US passport). These visas are often called Cuban Tourist Cards, and are required by most nationalities. You can either organise this beforehand, by visiting a Cuban embassy, or Cubavisas.com for many nationalities. You’ll need a return air ticket to apply, so make sure you sort this first!
Some airlines include the Tourist Card in the cost of their tickets, so it’s worth doubling checking, while Cubana Air sells them from a special desk before check in. If you’re already in the region, such as Mexico, Central America, or other Caribbean nations, this is the usual process to follow, with booths at the airport.
American citizens will need to conform to one of 12 approved categories for travel, and will have to have a day to day schedule available.
- Take out all the money you need in hard currency
You can’t get Cuban currency abroad, and the country remains a society where cash is still king, so you should plan to take all the money you’ll need for your trip in hard currency, in other words US dollars, Euros, or British Pounds Sterling. Credit and debit cards, and cashless payments, are still some years away from entering the street level economy of the capital, though VISA branded cards do function in places that accept card payments.
Even if you’re coming from the United States, it’s definitely worth taking Euros or Pounds, since they offer a much better exchange rate to the Cuba Convertible Peso (CUC) you’ll be using as a visitor than the rates (and extra fees) slapped on any waving dollars around. If you’re travelling as part of an organised tour, we would recommend having access to around US$60 per day for expendables such as drinks, souvenirs, and tips, though budget travellers can survive on a lot less.
- Consider how you want to travel
With independent travel in its infancy (and public transport on the island leaving a lot to be desired) we’d recommend opting for an organised tour for at least part of your time in Havana. They not only take all the hassle out of organising transport and accommodation, but using local guides means they have inside knowledge you won’t have on your own. Long gone are the days of massive tour groups looking out of place. There are some great companies using not only local talent but also keeping group numbers as small as possible on tailor-made tours in Havana. With limited internet access on the island, you’ll want to organise this before you leave home.
- Print off any paperwork you might need!
As we’ve already said, Havana has limited internet access compared to just about anywhere else on the planet. As a result, you need to ensure you print off any paperwork you might need (flight details, insurance documentation, and accommodation addresses for instance) before arriving onto the island.
Also remember you won’t be able to rely on internet-based mapping apps to get about, so consider an offline version such as maps.me, or print these off too! With that extra paperwork in hand you’ll want to travel light. The capital’s temperate climate means you won’t need lots of thick and heavy items of clothing. Travelling light will also stop you struggling up Cuba’s staircases and narrow passages with heavy wheelie bags or suitcases.
Who knew it was so easy to prepare for a trip to Havana in 2019? Beginning this article you might have thought it was more hassle than it was worth, but having reached the end we hope you can now see a little organisation before departure means more time to enjoy your time in this unique destination.