Our Top Tips for Planning an Unforgettable Trip to Cuba

Given its turbulent history, Cuba is quite the revelation. It is warm and sunny in both the literal and figurative senses, and you’re not going to find nicer people in a more picturesque location. But Cuba is unique, and such a unique destination requires a few extra stages of planning. It’s nothing too complicated, but by following these tips you will make your time in Cuba go as smoothly as that 5th glass of rum on the beach goes down your throat.

Go Online Before You Go

Chances are that you will do a lot of online research about Cuba (much like you’re doing right now). You will need to do all of this before you actually arrive in Cuba, and this includes researching accommodation, any particular sights you wish to see, and even perhaps transport connections. Remember that the internet is not so widespread in Cuba, and going online can be both difficult (in finding somewhere to connect) and it’s not so cheap either. In a pinch you can go to one of the few internet cafes or terminals (located inside larger hotels, but sometimes reserved for guests only), and there are some wifi zones in larger cities, which require you to buy an access ticket (sort of like a scratch card thing) and then stand around on the street with your smartphone outside the public router where there’s a signal.

A Temporary Goodbye to Data

While we’re on the matter of internet access, you should probably disable the data access on your smartphone unless you know you will be using an appropriate signal. Most phone towers in Cuba don’t support data anyway, but on the off chance that you’re in the vicinity of a data capable tower, your phone will attempt to do all the things that phones are supposed to automatically do, such as relay any Whatsapp messages and update its software. Even if your phone company has a roaming agreement with their Cuban counterpart, this data roaming will result in a hefty phone bill when you get home. So keep your data connection disabled unless you know you’re going to be in a wifi zone.

Offline Apps You Might Need

Because the smart part of your smartphone won’t be of much use when you’re in Cuba, there are a couple of apps you should download before you arrive. Ensure that whichever app you select, you select a version that can work offline. An offline mapping app will be helpful; one that allows you to plot a journey without needing to connect. You should also download an offline translation app. English is fairly spoken in major cities and large towns, but this is not always the case in rural areas away from the tourist hotspots. Some of these apps allow you to speak into your phone, which then translates whatever you wish to say (with varying degrees of success), and others are a text only version.

The Importance of Insurance

Make sure you have appropriate travel insurance and keep the documentation in an easy to access place (like with your passport) for when you arrive. Cuban officials are known to perform insurance spot checks on incoming visitors. If you do not have valid insurance you will be directed to a local provider in the airport and will be required to buy insurance before you will be granted entry into the country. And trust us, this will be more expensive than if you were able to shop around for the best policy before you started your trip.

Buy Before You Go

There are some things which are surprisingly difficult to find in Cuba, so you need to pack these in your suitcase. This includes items like cosmetics, oral hygiene products, shampoo, conditioner, body wash, deodorant, contraceptives, feminine hygiene products, sunblock, insect repellant, aspirin/ibuprofen. It might seem a little bit inconvenient to bring all these things with you, especially if you prefer to pack light. But this is way easier than trying to find these items in Cuba itself. It’s possible to find them, but they can be expensive and won’t be the brands you’re used to.

Some Arrangements Are Better Left to Professionals

Some countries allow you to navigate your own way around. This is possible in Cuba, but it’s not always so straightforward. The railways are antiquated, though comfortable enough, but the frequency of services means it can be hard to find something that matches your travel plans. Ever thought about booking a tour? This can be extremely beneficial in a destination as unique as Cuba. Something like a 20 day tour in Cuba allows you to see the length and breadth of the country, with all the necessary transfers and accommodation arranged on your behalf. This again relates to Cuba’s lack of internet, which can be rather darn refreshing in many respects, but also makes it an effort to do some parts of your own planning, particularly away from the major cities.