Cuba is very different to any country that you’ll visit. The biggest difference that most travellers will find is that there’s limited access to the internet. That means you need to prepare a few things before arriving in Cuba and we’ve put them into our travel guides for Cuba travel. Here’s our guide to what you need to before you go to Cuba – your ultimate Cuba Travel planning checklist.
So check out the things to know before you go to Cuba – and don’t forget to download your Travel Cuba checklist too.
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Get yourself a Cuban Tourist Card before you go to Cuba
You’ll need a Cuban Tourist Card BEFORE you go to Cuba. They’re easy to get. Just apply online from home and have them sent to you. We recommend using iVIsa. Check out iVisas’s services for Cuban Tourist Cards here. Alternatively, check with your airline as they may also provide Cuba’s tourist cards.
If you’re doing this in Mexico then you can just buy it at the airport. We flew from Mexico with Interjet – and here’s a short article on how to buy your Cuban Tourist Card in Cancun without being scammed. Your tourist card is valid for 30 days. I’m assured that you can renew it.
If you’re a US Citizen travelling to Cuba there are special rules
Travel to Cuba for tourism purposes for US citizens is STILL prohibited by the US authorities. US citizens can travel for other purposes and details can be found here.
Get Yourself a VPN– before you go to Cuba
If you want to use Skype when you’re in Cuba you’ll need a VPN. If you want to use the internet AT ALL in Cuba then we recommend that you download and get used to using a VPN BEFORE YOU GET TO CUBA.
You’ll be able to use Facebook and WhatsApp once you’re on the internet in Cuba (did you check out our great guide on getting onto the internet in Cuba yet?).
You should also use a VPN if you’re going to be using anything that you put a password into – like your internet banking, any booking sites, your social media access. Our number one choice as the best VPN for Cuba is ExpressVPN > Buy yourself a VPN and be safe and secure in your electronic travels. This link will give you up to 49% off as a reader of Cuba’s Best.
You can read the report about what types of sites are blocked in Cuba – all the more reason to read up on what real Cubans think before you get there.
Arrange Travel and Medical Insurance for Cuba
It’s a mandatory requirement in Cuba for visitors to have medical insurance. Cuba might have one of the best healthcare systems for her citizens (there’s 1 doctor for every 120 people), more doctors than the whole of the African continent and some of the most innovative ways to treat illness – BUT there is a legal requirement on your entering the country to have medical insurance. If you don’t have it and you’re asked to produce evidence, and can’t, then you’ll be forced to buy some from the relevant government authority.
It is unlikely that ANY travel insurance provided by your banking provider will cover you in Cuba. Get a quote for insurance for Cuba here.
We recommend World Nomads – You do not need to be in your home country to take out their policy. Neither do you need to have lived in the same place for the last few months either. AND you can add on while you’re on your trip. Want to read more about the requirements of travel and medical insurance for Cuba? > Here’s an in-depth article on it.
Travel Vaccinations for Cuba
It’s recommended to speak with your doctor or medical professional before your trip to Cuba. They’ll be able to advise what vaccinations are recommended before you fly to Cuba. You may need several vaccinations.
- The NHS in the UK advice for travel to Cuba is here.
- Advice for US citizens for travel to Cuba is here.
- Advice for Canadian citizens for travel to Cuba is here.
Generally, jabs for Tetanus, Hepatitis A, Typhoid Fever, Hepatitis B, Rabies and Cholera are recommended.
Prescription Medication in Cuba
If you take prescription medication then be aware that the type of meds that you take may not be available in Cuba, so you should pack both a supply for your time there AND a copy of your prescription.
Water in Cuba
You should NOT drink tap water in Cuba unless you’re treating it by using a filter water bottle. Bottled water may be available, but do yourself and the environment a favour and ditch the single-use plastic and use a reusable filter bottle instead.
Book your Cuban Accommodation Before You Go to Cuba
The less time you have, the more organised you have to be. If you’re going to Cuba for two weeks, do yourself a favour and pre-book your Cuban accommodation now. If you know where you’re going and how long you’ll spend in each place, go ahead and book it now.
I don’t doubt that you will be able to find somewhere to stay when you arrive in Cuba – but why not reserve the time you have in Cuba for enjoying the country and not trying to find somewhere to stay?
You can prebook both Casa Particulars AND Hotels for your stay in Cuba. Check out some great rated spots to stay in Cuba with Booking.com. There are now more than 1,000 properties that you can prebook with booking.com in Cuba – both hotels and Casa Particulars. If you only have a short time in Cuba, then think LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION.
Read our Ultimate Guide to Casa Particulars in Cuba – it’s everything you need to know!
In Havana we recommend the following places:
Casa Particulars in Havana
- Hostal Katy & Leo: A great location in Old Havana with friendly English speaking owners – Book now, this isn’t often available!
- O’Reilly Casa – an amazing location close to La Bodeguita del Medio – amazing terrace, fabulous luxury. Spoil yourself in Old Havana and book this now.
- Apartamento Cristina y David – fab homestay experience in a Casa Particular – great breakfasts and a fab location that you’ll want to book now!
Hotels to Stay at in Havana
- Hotel Nacional: Iconic, THE place for a sundowner Mojito, in lazy, laid back Vedado > Check out prices and availability now.
- Hotel Saratoga: Push the boat out with unlimited luxury and lifestyles of the rich and famous. Find a room and prices here.
- Hotel Mercure de Sevilla: Old style grandeur here. Wifi in the lounge and a fabulous location. – Get the best price and availability.
If nothing else you should pre-book your first night’s accommodation, which will most likely be in Havana.
Book your Cuban transport before you go to Cuba – to save huge headaches
Transport for tourists is in limited supply. And whether you’re renting a car in Cuba, or hiring a car and driver, or even just taking the Viazul Bus you NEED to pre-book transport as much as you can. Cuba has a superb mentality of “something just always works out”, but this is your vacation and you shouldn’t have to be working it out on the fly!
If nothing else you should book your transport from the airport to your hotel or casa particular. Our partners Civitatis provide a prebook and prepay service that takes all the hassle out of it. Check prices and book now!
There’s more here on what to expect when arriving in Cuba.
Transport in Cuba comes in many forms. (read about Cuban transport in detail here) For tourists the main forms of transport are
- Cuban Car Rental
- Cuban Car and Driver Hire
- Cuban Classic Car and Driver Hire
- Colectivos (shared taxi services)
- Viazul Buses
The Tourist agency buses run by Viazul are the primary budget way to get around the country for a reasonable (it’s not cheap) price in more comfort than a hot sweaty cramped collectivo. We put together the Ultimate Guide to the Viazul Bus Network – and it includes ALL the timetables and routes.
Book Your Cuba Tours before you go to Cuba
There are places that you’ll want to go. Cuba has a host of iconic things that you’ll want to knock off your Cuban bucket list. Perhaps a day trip to Vinales, or a city tour of Havana, or a convertible car tour along the Malecon. Maybe you want to go diving in the Bay of Pigs?
Most businesses that operate these tours prefer cash when you book in Cuba. And if you’re reading this article further down you’ll find details on cash in Cuba. Pre-booking your tours and trips before you go to Cuba lets you pay for them on a credit card and not have to worry about carrying a lot of cash around with you. Here’s our full article on Cuban currency. We include details like the best currency to use in Cuba and the best way to pay for things too.
Here are just some of the recommendations for tours and trips in Cuba that you can prebook.
Check out our list of iconic things to do in Cuba – from walking the Malecon in Havana at Sunset to visiting the Casa de la Trova in Santiago de Cuba – read it here.
Understand Electricity in Cuba
The power supply in Cuba is primarily 110 volts. (The UK and Australia are 230 volts, the USA and Canada are 120 volts – you can check other countries here). If the voltage in Cuba is lower than your country voltage it just means your devices will charge more slowly.
If you are staying in a hotel in Cuba, then it will likely have dual voltage with all sockets in rooms being 220 volts. If you’re staying in a Casa Particular, then your electricity supply is likely to be 110 volts.
Most Casa Particular rooms are not set up for a large number of sockets, so you’d be wise to carry a 4 gang extension to charge all your devices, plus of course an adapter. These are some great options to take with you when you travel to Cuba.
That’s right. Download the maps.me app to your phone or tablet. And then download the local maps for ALL OF CUBA. Because they’re invaluable. Sure this app will chew up your battery, but at least you’ll know where you are and where you’re going. Because your data plan most likely won’t work in Cuba.
You can find maps.me here and all the associated downloads.
Practice your Spanish before you go to Cuba.
More so than any other country in the region you’re going to need at least some basic Spanish to truly experience Cuba.
We found Spanish our primary language of communication. We did, however, meet folks who were travelling around with ZERO Spanish and they were managing. But you won’t end up having a mojito with the locals on their terrace in Baracoa if you can’t rustle up a few words. And it’s harder to negotiate with a jinitero if you don’t know at least some numbers in Spanish.
These are fabulous Spanish Phrasebooks to take with you.
Read up on the history of Cuba
Be sure to also read up about Cuban history. All of the Cuban museums that you visit will primarily be in Spanish and there’s a party line. You will find it useful to at least get a potted history of the country, her leaders and her potential from someone OUTSIDE the country. No matter how well you tip your guides if you take guides you’ll get the standard party line. Cuba is still a communist country. It’s potentially dangerous for folks to tell you how they really feel.
You can also learn a little about the history of Cuba through her cocktails – check out these 4 Cuban cocktails that tell some of Cuba’s history.
Get yourself an SD card to back up your photos
We back all of our photos up online. BUT that relies on us having internet access and while there’s a lot more internet access in Cuba in 2021, it’s still not ubiquitous and it’s not fast. And you’re going to take LOTS of photos because Cuba is both amazing and irritating. You’re going to want to capture every part of this schizophrenic country. So get yourself some SD cards to back up your photos. This is a great SD card to take to Cuba.
Buy Essentials before you go to Cuba
Anything that is imported in Cuba is expensive. Seriously so. And that’s if it’s available and you can find it. So don’t assume you’ll be able to walk into a Walmart (there aren’t any) or a supermarket (they’re few and far between) and buy whatever it was that you forgot. So if you want to, say, for instance, snorkel, then take your gear with you. If you’re staying in one of the resorts – like Varadero – then you’ll be able to rent snorkelling gear, but it’s going to cost you. And it won’t be cheap and it’s unlikely to be new.
We’ve put together a Cuba packing list guide here, but here are some of the highlights that you’ll want to take with you to Cuba.
I recommend that you take a filter water bottle with you. You’ll not only save the environment, but a lot of money too – filter water bottles means that you’ll be able to drink tap water wherever you are in the world.
If you’re diving in Cuba, and you have your own gear, you’re probably going to want to take it with you. The gear we used when diving in the Bay of Pigs was old, (including steel tanks! And holey wetsuits!), but they were serviceable.
There are LOTS of opportunities to go snorkelling in Cuba. So, ff that’s your thing take your snorkel with you. And because many of the beaches will be remote, lock your stuff away and tie it to a tree – you’ll want the fantastic portable safe for that (we left laptops, phones, money and all sorts locked in ours while we snorkelled).
You’re also going to want to make sure you have a hat, an umbrella (for rain or the sun), sun cream and toiletries. I’m not saying you can’t buy these, but they’re going to be expensive and probably not what you’re used to!
Other items that you NEED to bring with you
- Tampons / Sanitary Towels
- The relevant electrical converter from your home country
- Any medication that you need
- Mosquito/sandfly repellent
Plan your Cuban Money before you go to Cuba
Cuban is primarily a cash society. Unless you’re staying in a high-end resort and are playing with a credit card all the time. Cuba now has a single currency, the Cuban Peso (or CUP) and here are the basics of Cuban Currency.
You can only obtain Cuban currency in Cuba. US Credit Cards and ATM cards will NOT work in Cuba. Depending on the flavour of relations between the US and Cuba at the time you travel US dollars may or may not be accepted. Right now they’re accepted, but this changes frequently.
Canadian, Australian, European and British ATM cards work but DO inform your bank before you travel. AND take a backup card. Cell phone coverage is decidedly flaky and you might not have internet access to communicate with your bank, so if your ATM card gets stopped you’ll need another option.
We recommend taking Canadian Dollars, Euros or British Pounds. If you’re travelling to Cuba from Mexico, then Mexican Pesos can also be easily exchanged in Cuba.
It’s not advisable to take US dollars with you. Cuban banks are stopping accepting cash bank deposits in US dollars, so Cuban citizens won’t be able to bank any US dollars that you give them.
We wrote LOTS more about Cuban currency, its history and its ups and downs here.
Be Aware Where you Spend Your Money in Cuba
In November 2017 the US State Department issued rules on where US Citizens can NOT spend money. These are organizations with connections to the Cuban military. Here’s the list.
Final Words on the Ultimate Cuban Travel Checklist
Well, that’s it for now – our Ultimate Travel Checklist of what you need to do before you go to Cuba. Cuba is an incredible place to visit and to tour around. There are some amazing places to see in Cuba and some fabulous things to do in Cuba – but like anything, you’ll get more out of your stay if you plan ahead and schedule what you’re going to be doing.
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