Cuba Travel Advice for 2016
Traveling to Cuba is an exciting and adventurous experience. Throughout my independent travels in Cuba, I learned a lot of what I read was no longer accurate or stuff was recently changed. Learn about what you will encounter before traveling without a tour to the island - From recent changes in customs to general travel tips in Havana and throughout the country of Cuba.
Cuba during High Tourist Season - February 2016:
0. Buy a Tourist Visa before you go. Save yourself some time at the airport and buy a Cuba Tourist Visa before you go.
1. Cuba, and especially Havana is packed with tourists. Havana is very busy and it is easy to get caught off guard. The streets of Old Havana are crowded, bars and restaurants are filled to the max, every hotel and casa are nearly 100% full.
2. There is a 10% fee when exchanging US Dollars. The exchange rate after the fee was $1 USD = .87 CUC. If you are an American traveling to Cuba, it might be better to exchange your money to Euro's before entering Cuba.
UPDATE: As of 3/17/2016 there is no longer a 10% exchange fee on the US dollar.
3. There was no exit tax when leaving the airport in Cuba. You may read and hear about a 25 CUC tax when exiting the country but you will discover this is no longer true.
4. Cuba immigration no longer requires proof of non-US medical insurance when entering the country.
5. Bars and restaurants may shortchange you when paying the bill. Make sure you get the correct amount of change back.
6. Casa Particulars may cancel on you, and at the last minute. I reserved rooms at 3 Casa Particulars throughout my stay in Havana. All 3 cancelled or there was some "mistake" but "they know someone". I booked through mycasaincuba.com & havanacasaparticular.com. Even confirming our reservation the day before arriving in Cuba, we learned our room was no longer available after arriving at the Casa front door. I ended up paying the same rate at a lower quality hostel.
7. Don't buy Cigars from anyone off the street!!! Only buy cigars from a cigar shop or the cigar factory. If the shop doesn't have a humidor, do not buy cigars from them. And, avoid people who want to "show you" where to buy cigars - there is a very good chance they are trying to hustle you and you may find yourself in an uncomfortable situation.
8. Cuban Food is really good! Despite what some people say (and what some people said while in Cuba), the food is delicious. Encourage yourself to try real Cuban food and stay away from the pizza and Italian places. Ask the waitress or waiter what they like and try that!
9. Book directly with a Hotel or Casa Particular. Making reservations directly with the hotel or Casa will reduce confusion. Call or email to confirm, reconfirm, and final confirm your stay.
10. Much of Havana is under construction or renovation. Everyday you will find streets getting tore up and interesting but effective scaffolding stretching for blocks. Many old historic and colonial buildings that were decaying and in ruins are now being restored to their former glory!
11. Cuba is safe! Even walking around at 12am, you will feel safe in Havana and any in any other city in Cuba.
12. If staying in a Casa Particular, bring the hosts a small gift. This gesture will go a long way. Small gifts for the kids or special gifts from your hometown will be much appreciated.
13. If you plan to travel to another city, try a "Collectivo" taxi! It's a little bit cheaper than the bus but it's much faster and more exciting.
14. No problems re-entering the United States Customs after your visit.
15. When entering Cuba, the immigration agent doesn't stamp your passport - For US Passport holders, Cuba Immigration will stamp your tourist visa card.
16. Rum in Cuba is cheap, really cheap. If you're planning on bringing rum back with you, buy Cuban Rum at the airport. The rum is just as cheap or cheaper at the airport as anywhere else.