Before you travel to Cuba, you might want to inform yourself about common things which might be important for you. E.g., as Cuba is a communist country, you cannot just grab your luggage and fly there. Depending on your country, you need to fit into some regulatory frames. This applies in particular to US-American citizens. Besides that, as a tourist you will usually not be able to pay with the national currency but you need to pay with a special tourist currency. As you see, to visit Cuba can be a little be challenging than to travel to another country. Therefore I would like to give you in this article some common information about traveling to Cuba.
The reality about Cuba
First of all you should know, that Cuba is a country you either will like it or you will be disappointed. As Cuba is a communist country, you will not expect a luxury vacation there. It is more a journey into the past. Also, it is a journey into the presence with all the consequences of communism. You will see a lot of very poor people, ruinous and degenerated architecture, damaged roads with huge potholes and horse carts in the rural areas instead of cars. You will probably get sick in Havana from the unfiltered exhaust gases and annoyed by scammers or crooked service providers.
On the other side you will find out, that the most Cubans are friendly and that this country is quite secure. The crime rate in Cuba is much less than in other countries. You will see vintage cars you actually know from the TV or from the post cards. You will also see intact architecture from the colonial times, beaches and the cuban zest for life, despite of all the difficult living situations.
Who is allowed to travel to Cuba?
Just a couple of years ago not everyone could enter the Cuba state. For example, US citizens could not do this. Meanwhile also US citizens can visit this country, but in this case you need to fall under special categories. So if you ask yourself: “Can I travel to Cuba?”, please check those categories below to see if you fit into:
12 Approved Categories for US citizens:
- Family visits
- Official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations
- Journalistic activity
- Professional research and professional meetings
- Educational activities
- Religious activities
- Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions
- Support for the Cuban people
- Humanitarian projects
- Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes
- Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials
- Certain export transactions that may be considered for authorization under existing regulations and guidelines.
In some cases, for example if you from Germany, you need to make a travel medical insurance with you. So the best way to inform yourself is to contact your travel agency or read about the entry requirements on the website of your State Department.
Where to stay in Cuba?
Well, some people prefer Airbnb, but you can do this actually in Havana. Also, there are several hotels available in Cuba, but don’t expect the same level of quality and service like in your country. Nevertheless, these hotels are quite expensive in spite of the fact that them haven’t been renovated for many years. The other possibility is to stay over in a resort. More about hotels and resorts in Cuba I will post in an upcoming article.
The third possibility is to stay over at a private household. The advantage of this kind of staying over is to get closer to the locals. The other one is that you would help these people financially.
Currency in Cuba
Cuba has 2 types of currencies. The first one is the currency for the locals which is called CUP and then you have the tourist currency, called CUC.
1 CUC (tourist) is equal to $1 USD
What can you buy with CUC’s: everything that is available in this country
1 CUP (local) is equal to $0.04 USD
The bus and some food the locals sell on the street. But most likely you will not see any CUPs and pay only with CUCs.
How safe is it to travel in Cuba alone?
When you travel to Cuba, you are maybe worried that Cuba has a lot of heavy crime due to the poverty of the population. But on the contrary, Cuba has a very low rate of crime. So you can feel quite safe during your journey.
But please, don’t jump onto this naive “Cuba is very safe” hippy bandwagon and keep your eyes open. Although the crime rate is low compared with other countries, this is still an “third world place” and there are a lot of scammers in the tourist areas. Pickpockets, snatch & grab and other thievery is absolutely possible. More about my experiences with scammers you will read in my upcoming article.
Do people speak English in Cuba?
Although the educational system in Cuba is very good, the most people don’t speak English. Also, don’t think, if you learned a couple of years Spanish, you would be able to understand the Cubans. The reason is that Cubans speak a strong Spanish dialect and you need to be a native Spanish speaker to understand them very well. I practiced Spanish for about 8 years and visited a couple of Spanish speaking countries, like Peru or Mexico. In those countries I was able to understand the people when they spoke spanish to me. Hence, I was optimistic to be able to communicate with the people in Cuba. But as we lost our way and I tried to ask the people for the right way, I felt like I have never learned spanish because I didn’t understand a word! Furthermore, some them seemed to have problems to understand my “normal” Spanish. Therefore, the best solution would be, you travel with a native Spanish speaker which helps you to communicate with the locals (if possible).
Okay, folks, this was a little bit of common information about Cuba and travel to Cuba. If you would like to know more about Cuba travel, just leave a comment and I will answer as soon as possible.