What do you need to know about visiting Havana, Cuba as you plan your trip? When I booked my last minute trip to Cuba, I honestly was so worried about how to book the plane ticket and unsure if I could make it work since I’d heard so many stories about how Cuba was hard to travel to. I wanted to give you these tips for visiting Havana, Cuba and hopefully show you it’s not that hard!
As someone who is a huge planner, especially when it comes to taking trips, I honestly stressed too much about this one thinking it would be harder than it actually was. So I’m here to say don’t worry too much about visiting Havana and enjoy it! Enjoy these tips for visiting Havana, Cuba.
1. It’s really easy to visit – seriously.
Okay this isn’t really a tip but has to said first. Why? Because the number one thing I kept getting asked when I told people I was going was isn’t it hard to visit Cuba as an American? While it does take some extra planning, you purchase a visa in person and give your reason for visiting based on 11 choices. It’s that simple. I do have a post going into more details about the step by step process. You can find it here.
2. Bring enough cash.
American credit cards/debit cards don’t work. This one is tough because how much do you budget? I ended up spending around $50 a day but had prebooked some tours. The most expensive things were drinks on rooftops and taxis. I was ripped off twice by taxis because I didn’t know pricing. This leads to my next tip…
3. Don’t overpay for taxis!
4. Need Internet? Go to a hotel or public park.
In Cuba, public WiFi is hard to find. Some homes and hotels will have it but you probably won’t find any free WiFi. If you really need it, go to a public park and get an internet passcode card. You can then access WiFi for an hour! Some Airbnb’s advertise having WiFi but will actually have close access to a public WiFi or have a landline with a laptop to use. Read the fine print!
5. Supporting locals is fairly easy and really important.
The economy in Cuba is not great and tourism is a huge way for individuals to make income. Plus, supporting Cuban people is one of the reasons Americans are allowed to visit Cuba. I found it very easy to support local people. Here’s how:
Stay with a local (AirBnB is a great way)
Buy street art/souvenirs on Paseo Marti
Eat breakfast at your AirBnB
Take a taxi
Use AirBnB to book tours with locals
Buy from street vendors
6. Just buy the visa at the airport (check with your airline)
Every airline flying to Cuba from the US has a way to purchase your visa when you arrive to the airport. I was able to buy my visa without an issue after checking in for an American Airlines flight. It was $100 and that was it. They only took credit cards for it so bring one for this purpose!
7. Prebook your transfer from the airport.
Taxis to and from the airport are typically $25 CUC which is not bad for the 45-minute drive but you can also pre-book and no have to worry about things when you get there. I prebooked for just $10 each way through get your guide and saved money/time. Which brings me to my next tip…
8. Prebook the tours you can.
Beyond saving time and not knowing how to negotiate prices well in Spanish, I found pre-booking activities helpful. Yes I paid a little more (everything is pretty affordable ale in Cuba) but it meant carrying far less cash with me on the trip, not being concerned about running out of cash, and security that I’d get to do everything I wanted to. Prebook what you can to save time, money, and stress!
A few things I booked if you’re interested:
9. Wear close-toed shoes or platforms, etc.
The streets in Old Havana are gorgeous, but they are also really dirty. They don’t often get street cleaning and garbage is all done in dumpsters along public streets with trash often overflowing onto the street. I saw many potholes filled with dirt and trash. Wear shoes that protect your feet!
10. Drink bottled water and lots of it.
I visited Cuba in April and it was 90 every day I was there. I was told it gets even hotter in the summer and that tourism really drops off after April because it gets so hot. You need to stay hydrated!
The water in Cuba is typically not safe for those not accustomed to it to drink. Bottled water is cheap and easy to purchase. My Airbnb even had it in the fridge to purchase for $1 CUC.
11. Check the place you’re staying has air conditioning.
A lot of places do not have air conditioning. It’s not really standard in Cuba and with the heat if you’re used to having it. For me, it can be hard to sleep without and is something you should look for when you are booking just like WiFi.
12. Bring two outfits for a day (because… sweat).
I found that I needed to change in the afternoon because it was so hot and staying in the same outfit all day was not comfortable. This is obviously not a must, but I was so glad to have some clean clothes to change into when I got really sweaty during the day.
13. Eat Ropa Vieja.
Ropa Vieja is the national dish of Cuba and is delicious! It’s a stew of beef chunks, cooked until they are shredded along with tomatoes and onions. It’s SO GOOD! Trust me, you won’t regret it. Honestly, I didn’t have a bad meal while in Cuba. Every meal can be eaten for under $5 (without a drink) and I never paid over $10 even with drinks.
14. Street vendors are everywhere – fresh fruit and flowers are the best.
I love buying something as I am walking around the city. In Cuba, fresh fruit is the specialty and definitely can be safe to eat. Buy some as you walk around! I also my very favorite flowers for sale and of course needed a photo!
15. Visit rooftops for amazing views.
Havana is gorgeous from the ground and the top. Try out some of the rooftops while there to really see across the city. The National Hotel is the most famous and Hotel Kempinski is the newest right near the Capitol. I visited both but the Hotel Kempinski had my favorite view right by the capitol. I did a tour where we visited three different rooftop bars and it was so much fun. Unfortunately, the one I booked is no longer available but Airbnb as many experiences in Havana to choose from.
16. Don’t forget toiletries!
But if you do… under Hotel Sevilla or Hotel Kempinski are lots of shops you can purchase things you may have forgotten in. The reason I say don’t forget anything is because things like toiletries are not cheap and can be hard to purchase. I forgot a few things and the shops were not open before 9 am so I had to wait to purchase things I forgot. Also, I paid $8 for Crest toothpaste and a toothbrush. I also had to buy a comb that was $5.
17. There really are old cars everywhere.
Locals use them too, a lot, so you shouldn’t feel like it’s only for tourists! The ones right near the Capitol are for tourists and more fancy though. It’s worth it to hire one to take you around town for an hour or two.
18. Food and drinks are cheap!
I didn’t pay over $10 for a meal in Cuba. I paid $5 or less for some meals if I didn’t order alcohol. You can easily eat a delicious meal for so little that is truly delicious. My favorite meal was at Chanchullero where I had a pork and pineapple dish that was amazing.
19. Drink lots of mojitos and daiquiris.
Havana is where both the mojito and daiquiri were invented. They are everywhere, cheap, and delicious! El Floridita is the spot to grab a daiquiri and is the famous for Ernest Hemingway’s frequent visits there. It’s a touristy stop but worth popping into to listen to the live music and sip on a cold drink.
20. Learn a little Spanish Knowing some Spanish can be really helpful in Cuba.
While most people do speak English, especially in touristy areas, you’ll find it easier if you know basic phrases in Spanish. Spanish is not essential in Cuba because those who work in touristy areas will know English, but learning some of the local language is a way to show respect and love for the people and their culture! There are some people who won’t speak English and you will find it helpful.
Now you have an idea of how to plan ahead and some tips for visiting Havana, Cuba. Don’t worry and have fun!