Cuba Travel Tips
Cuba bus network
There are very good air-conditioned private bus connections. In the buses, you only pay with hard foreign exchange (CUC). In the high season, it is better to book a seat in advance, otherwise, you will have to wait for the next bus. Here you can sit only among tourists. From Matanzas to Havana it takes only two hours. The public buses are always crowded and there are hardly any seats for tourists.
Cuba is not a gourmet country and the food is rather minimalistic. We ate in the Casas with the families. The breakfast was always similar. There were coffee, omelet, and fruit in plenty. In the evening there was either fish or meat with rice or beans and vegetables. For dessert, there was fruit or sometimes a homemade candy.
Think about exactly how much money you need. In the smaller cities, there are no banks and it is difficult or impossible to get money. Here you will have to travel with a lot of cash. Still, you should try to leave the cash in the accommodation and to hide well. Cuba is safe, but you never know. We exchanged half of our money at the airport and the other half at our stop in Havana.
In the accommodations, there is no or hardly any Internet connections. We did not have a single internet facility in Cuba during our entire travel period. In the larger cities, such as Havana, there are internet cafés with a very slow connection. In the larger hotels Internet is there partly.
Cuba rental car
On our backpacker tour in Cuba, we did not have a rental car and we traveled the entire route by bus.
Cuba has a subtropical climate. Throughout the year the temperature is around 25-30 degrees. From mid-May to early December it is very hot and there are tropical showers. In the Caribbean and also here there is an official season from July to the end of October. The best time to travel is during winter from mid-November to late April. Then the climate is tolerable.
Cuba is the land of tobaccos. There are cigars in plenty on the island and at reasonable prices. You should definitely go to the west to Pinar del Rio and visit one of the tobacco plantations there. 80 % of tobacco production comes from this region. You may carry 20 loose cigars without proof and up to 50 if they are in a sealed and original packaging. For more than 50, you need the original invoice for a state-approved transaction.
The most famous rum brand is the Havana Club. The Mojito is national favorite and my favorite drink. On our trip to Cuba, there was no day when we had not drunk at least two mojitos. No matter what house we were in there was plenty of rum. Every street kiosk had at least 5 different brands of rum in high quantities. The prices for a bottle are very cheap. Unfortunately one can only buy one liter of rum.
The language is Spanish. English is hardly spoken. Especially in the smaller cities, people do not understand a single word of English.
Atlantic or Caribbean? With over 5,000 kilometers of coastline, the decision is difficult. There are countless fantastic beaches. My absolute favorite beaches were on the Cajo Jutías peninsula and in the small bays in La Boca. The Playa Ancon according to the travel guide is the most beautiful beaches. The small bays in front are by far more beautiful and especially solitary. At the Playa Ancon, there are lots of hotels, where you can intermingle with tourists.
110 volts with flat contact points. So you need an adapter.
Taxis are cheap. Here every local is a taxi driver or at least one from the family. If you want to drive with a rickshaw, then negotiate the price here also.
There is no better way to get to know the real life than to spend the night in a private Casa. Sometimes it is a room, sometimes a separate area with small roof terrace.
For the entry, you need a passport that is valid for at least six months. You need a visa, the so-called tourist card, for your trip to Cuba. This must be got before entering the country. It is available at the Cuban embassy, travel agencies, tour operators and at the airport. In the case of package tours, you can get this card from the travel agent. As a backpacker, you must apply for the tourist card in the Cuban embassy. With the tourist card, you can stay for 30 days in Cuba. A one-time extension of another 30 days is possible.
Cuba health insurance
Each traveler is to provide a valid health insurance for the entire duration of the stay. An insurance policy is enough for the obligation to provide proof. There are different providers of the international health insurance. If you have not got it before or do not have proof of it, you must take out insurance at the Cuban airports (2-3 CUC per day).
It is a rather safe country. We did not feel threatened on our backpacker tour. Still, you should take care of your valuables. In the Casa particularly you can live with locals.
People are very open, sociable and curious. Many of them have the goal to sell or offer something afterward, whether it be cigars or a bottle of rum. These so-called Jineteros or horsemen who stay near tourists like in Havana. People are very imaginative. Often they also offer themselves as a classic photo-motif with a cigar and demand a few CUC.