Cuba Travel Guide: Tips + Itineraries

Cuba Travel Guide Travel Tips

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Planning a trip to Cuba and don’t know the difference between your CUP or casas? Don’t stress, tranquilo! Our Cuba travel guide details the essential planning areas from tourist cards to currency, accommodation and itineraries. So let’s dive you so you can start dreaming about those Caribbean beaches and rum cocktails.

Ultimate Cuba Travel Guide 

Before You Travel to Cuba

Getting to Cuba

Where is Cuba? Cuba is located in the northern Caribbean where the Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean meet.

Travel to Cuba is relatively easy for all nationalities with the exception of citizens from the USA.

For non-US citizens, it is as simple as having a passport in date booking a flight with an airline carrier and touching down/sailing into Cuba as long as you did not travel through the States.

If you are planning on a multi-destination trip and the USA is your stop before Cuba the US rules apply, regardless of your nationality.

Travel to Cuba from USA is regulated by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

For US citizens travelling to Cuba and those arriving from the US, previous relaxed regulations created by Obama have been tightened again but it is not impossible. In the past, visitors from the US arrived via a Foreign Gateway City in Canada or Mexico.

For example, they would take two flights, one to Cancun, Mexico or Toronto, Canada and then from Cancun to Havana or one of the other airports in Cuba.

Trump’s Cuba travel ban changes have stopped all flights to Cuba bar those flying into Havana’s José Martí International Airport.

According to the New York Times, US citizens can still enter Cuba under the “support for Cuban people” permitted/reasons for travel category.

It’s assumed this means you vow to support privately-run companies (not Government-run) which you will do naturally anyway because it’s Cuba and they’ve crafty with their economy for decades.

Privately-run accommodation options are called a casas particulares and privately-run restaurants are called Paladares.

This category does not permit you to visit for a vacation. See questions six of the frequently asked questions here.

→ Tip: Print out/screenshot all important information. You won’t have 4G when you land.

Playa Ancon Trinidad Cuba

Playa Ancon

Cuba Tourist Card (Visa)

All visitors must have a Cuba Tourist Card to enter the country. Usually, your airline provides one for you and it just takes a quick filling out of the official form at the airport for you to gain access.

Check that your airline carrier does offer this. If it does not you need to speak with the Cuban Embassy in your area.

If like us, the embassy is in another country (London) it is worth shopping around for a flight that includes the tourist card to keep costs down and save time.

There a Cuba Tourist Card form on the UK Government website but the last update is 2017 so we cannot confirm that you can use it to apply for a Tourist Card.

Please tell us in the comments below if you have used it.

For UK citizens, the Cuba Tourist Card covers you for one entry and for 30 days and costs £39.00.

Your passport must have at least two months left on it. We’d always advise applying for a new passport when you are close to the six months mark as many countries don’t let you in with less than six months.

Our experience was a bit of a nightmare as we were flying from Colombia and did not know about the Cuba visa and our last day in Bogota was a bank holiday so the embassy was closed.

Craig spent the day trying to find an answer along with picking up currency at every bureau which I’ll talk about more below. Don’t leave your Cuba planning to last minute like us.

Conclusion, find an airline carrier that includes the Cuba Tourist Visa!

Airports in Cuba

There are 16 airports in Cuba in which visitors can fly into. The most popular, and only airport US flights can land in, is Havana’s José Martí International Airport.

Other popular airports are found at Camagüey, Holguín and Santa Clara.

Cuba Airport Tax

There is a mandatory airport tax in Cuba of 25 CUC which is often covered by your flight.

Check before you leave or you’ll be sweating at the check in line like us with the ATM not working.

No stress required, it was inclusive of the flight price.

Cuba Travel Vaccinations

It is advised to speak to your medical professional before your trip to discuss vaccinations for Cuba.

Leave plenty of time for this. Tetanus is recommended and Hepatitis A, Typhoid Fever, Hepatitis B, Rabies and Cholera could be considered (UK).

The US offers similar advice here. Speak with your doctor before flying.

Medicines may not be available in Cuba so pack a sufficient supply of prescribed drugs. Always carry a copy of the prescription and a letter from your doctor explaining your condition, treatment, medication and dosage.

Travel Insurance

You should always travel with insurance. It is unlikely any providers through banking accounts will cover travel in Cuba.

We use True Traveller Insurance for long-distance travel, others prefer World Nomads Travel Insurance. You can read our comparison guide here.

According to the (OFAC), Cuba requires US Citizens to have non-US based medical insurance which may be covered by your flight.

Water in Cuba

Avoid water from the tap unless you are using a purifying and filtering bottle like Water To Go [quote TSA15 at checkout for 15% off].

Taking a bottle with you will not only save you money as you won’t have to buy a plastic bottle every day, but it will also help prevent the plastic tide.

Revolution Square Che

Che at Revolution Square in Havana

Learn Spanish

I don’t think I’d say this about any other country that I’ve been to, including Japan, but you have to learn some survival Spanish before going to Cuba or travel with someone who can understand and speak the language.

Only tour guides can speak English, your casa owners, taxi drivers and general members of the public don’t speak English. You are in their country, they speak Spanish.

Craig and I spent one week learning Spanish in Peru and still struggled.

We were very lucky to have met a Brit who lived in Mexico who spoke for us most of the time. Probably not the best idea if you are trying to improve your language skills but it helped us out massively.

If you are planning to travel around Cuba independently and want to meet friends to travel with I recommend booking a hostel in Havana for a couple of nights as rooms in casas are private and not social. See the accommodation section below for more.

» You may like | How to learn Spanish without leaving the house

Currency in Cuba

Cuba is currently undergoing currency reform. Our content will be updated as changes are announced. 

Read this guide on currency in Cuba.

Debit and Credit Cards in Cuba

Legally, you can use credit and debit cards in Cuba even if you are a US citizen as long as you are there authorised to be there by the OFAC.

Now here’s the catch, many US cards don’t work and just because you are not from the US doesn’t mean your credit card company isn’t associated with the States.

We even struggled to buy flights for Cuba in Peru with our UK bank credit cards using what we thought was a non-US website.

However, things seem to have improved since with visitors being able to use a UK Visa with no issues.

Not everywhere takes card though so take cash to exchange or a debit card to take money out from the ATM.

Expect to pay a 3% fee on debit ATM withdrawals in addition to your bank transaction charges.

Is Cuba Expensive?

Cuba was more expensive than we expected. Having just spent three months in Peru, Bolivia and Colombia we were surprised to be burning through our budget so quickly in Cuba.

I don’t advise visiting as part of a big travel trip and would like to visit with a bigger budget.

Our Cuba daily budget was 90 USD per day for two people. Less on the day we stayed put, more on the days we moved destinations. 

Our plans to travel around the whole island were cut short, deciding to check into an all-inclusive resort to save money instead. I know, hard life!

Here’s a full breakdown of our Cuba travel costs: 3 weeks in Cuba.

Cuban Currency Note

Accommodation in Cuba

You will find hotels in Cuba’s bigger cities and towns like Havana and Trinidad but they are more expensive than the local option, casas particulares. For example, the Iberostar Trinidad starts at $400 (U.S) for one night.

Casas pariculares are private homes where Cubans rent out a room. It is common practice to stay with a local and the level of engagement will very much depend on the host and you.

You can tell if a house is a casa because they have the symbol in the image below outside of their home.

The cost of casas depends on where the house is and what the rooms are like. The general rule of thumb is that rooms cost 10-30 USD per person. We mostly spent 10 USD per person and negotiated this price for every room after Vinales.

The price includes a bed for the night in a basic room, an ensuite, a fan or aircon. Some rooms will have fridges. Not all casas have WiFi for you to log on to, others go as far as to offer you a phone!

Breakfast, and sometimes, dinner is offered on top of the room price. Breakfast is usually around 4-5 USD and varies in quantity. We’ve had banquets to margarine running out and that’s what you have to embrace about Cuba.

Casa owners can hook you up with anything! Need a casa at your next stop? No problem! A taxi colectivo share ride? Their uncle does that! You want to hire bikes? Their neighbour can hook you up.

It’s a strange way of life for us to get our heads around at first but you have to remember that Cubans have been working in an oppressive economic structure and they’ve found ways around it.

When your new Cuban friend gets you another casa, a taxi ride or bike hire they receive a small amount of commission for referring you on. Clever eh?!

You can book casas before you go to Cuba if you’d prefer to see what you are getting use You can read reviews at TripAdvisor for example, La Villa Teresa in Havana. Gorgeous.

Paying before you go also means carrying less cash.

Find out everything you need to know about casas in Cuba here: Essential Guide to Casas Particulares in Cuba

Casa Symbol in Havana

Casa symbol in Havana 

Although many casas call themselves hostals they aren’t hostels like backpacker hostels with social spaces. There is a handful of them in Havana though.

Hostels in Havana

  • Club 58: Outstanding reviews, friendly staff, very social, super central and safe
  • Ronaldo’s: This is the first hostel in Havana and a bit of an institution. Nice rooftop. Friendly staff
  • Paradise: This is where we stayed for two nights as Ronaldo’s was full. Nice rooftop. Hot rooms

Transport in Cuba

Cuba is pretty difficult to get around if you are short on time or tight on budget.

The most popular local bus service for tourists is, Viazul which has a website. It is advised to book buses for the journeys you know you want to take.

Screenshot the bus times too as you won’t have 4G/WiFi all the time. Be aware that businesses run on Cuba time which is not always the most efficient. Tranquilo!

Hiring a car is a good idea if you can spare a few days in Havana to wait on one coming in. Don’t always believe it when locals tell you roads are closed or gas stations have been shut down. It’s a scam an Aussie couple told us about. Oh, that charming Cuban hustle…

Taxi Colectivos are shared taxi cars which can be prearranged on the street, via your casa owner and outside of the bus stations.

These shared rides tend to match the bus prices but it don’t always get you there quicker. The cute vintage cars you see in the Havana guidebooks are genuinely the cars than Cubans use and while they are very good at fixing them, breakdowns do happen. Tranquilo!

It is not uncommon to switch cars halfway so don’t be alarmed. We did this getting from Playa Larga to Trinidad.

Moving between places starts to add up. Expect to pay around 25 USD per person and up between itinerary stops.

Other modes of transport in Havana include:

  • Cocotaxi
  • Car taxi
  • Classic car
  • Tuk-tuk
  • Hop on/off bus

And in Viñales, horse-drawn cart! and Galileo maps both works in Cuba. Download before you touchdown.

Vintage Car Vinales Cuba_

Our taxi colectivo

Internet, WiFi and 4G in Cuba

Does Cuba have the internet?

Yes it does! Contrary to popular belief there is internet access in Cuba but not as you know it.

To log on you have to purchase a card from an ETECSA telecommunications centre, hotel, casa owner, or Cuban on the street (not official).

Use the card to log on and use the internet at any of the WiFi points around the country. Remember to log off again to save your credit.

You’ll know the points as you’ll see lots of locals looking at their phones. Read the full guide to WiFi and 4G in Cuba here.

Havana Pool Craig Using WiFi on Phone

Hotel Sevilla Pool in Havana

Best Time to go to Cuba?

The best time to visit Cuba is in the dry season.

The dry season is between November and April but there are nice temperatures all year round. We visited in April and it felt really hot in Havana even then. Consider this when creating your itinerary and making plans.

June to August sees highs of 32 degrees Celcius/89F. This is the hottest

Is It Safe to Travel Cuba?

Crime rates are very low in Cuba and you will have no issues walking around the cities at night.

However, I’ve mentioned above that Cubans have been crafty in their retaliation to a communist regime so there are a few Cuba scams you should be aware of such as a baby milk scam and cigar scam. Read the full details in our guide to scams. Independent travel to Cuba is totally doable and encouraged.

→Note: None of those scams are made up. It is not a sensationalist post. All ten either happened to us or the people we met in Cuba. Check the comments for others that fellow visitors experienced too.

La Bodeguita Del Medio Havana

Cocktails at La Bodeguita del Medio

Food in Cuba

Food in Cuba varies in quality and availability.

Paladar restaurants are privately-owned and tend to offer better meals.

Government-run service can be slow. We were advised of this by our tour guide in Havana and definitely knew were in a government-run restaurant in Trinidad after waiting an hour for a rice dish!

Many Cubans live of rations, please be considerate of this.

Cuba food to try includes:

  • Ropa vieja
  • Tostones
  • Tamales
  • Arroz con pollo
  • Mojitos cocktail which you can learn how to make in this cocktails around the world guide!
  • Daiquiri cocktail
  • Canchanchara cocktail

Cuba Packing List

  • Cuba travel plug – Pack a Skross universal adaptor US / UK
    and you can’t go wrong
  • Hydration tablets US / UK for hangovers
  • Cuba travel guidebook US / UK
  • Filter/purifying bottle like Water To Go [quote TSA15 at checkout for 15% off]
  • Sunscreen
  • Comfortable walking shoes

Cuba Itinerary: 1-10 Days in Cuba

Whether you have one or ten days in Cuba there is something for everyone in our Cuba travel itinerary. It is a relatively small island so if you have the budget and time you can easily tour the whole country in three weeks.

For what to do in Cuba, my best advice is to pick up a copy of Lonely Planet Cuba before you leave, make a plan, research the bus times online and print them out once you know which places to visit in Cuba. I don’t usually suggest that you need guide books but for Cuba, you do because WiFi is not readily available.

Let’s take a look at where to do in Cuba with 1-10 days.

Havana: 1-6 Days

Four days in ample time to see everything the city of Havana has to offer. Here is a sample of the highlights:

Havana’s Three Main Areas

  • Centro Habana
  • La Habana Vieja (Old Havana)
  • Vedado’s Central Business District and urban residencies

Havana’s Points of Interest

  • Ride in a classic car
  • Walk the malecón waterfront
  • Capitolio government building
  • Museo de la Revolución
  • Sculptures such as Roberto Fabelo’s girl at Plaza Vieja/Old Square
  • Camera Obscura
  • Hotel Ambos Mundos, a Hemmingway haunt
  • Hemingway tour
  • Plaza de la Revolución with Che Guevara sculpture
  • Hotel Nacional for a mojito
  • Almendares Park, the lungs of the city

Read next:

Viñales: 2 Days or Day Trip from Havana

Escape the heat of Havana as part of day tour or for a 2-day stay in Viñales.

Viñales is part of Cuba that looks like Jurrasic Park with its lush green mogotes and plantations.

  • Hire a bike
  • Hike a cave
  • Visit the botanical
  • Lunch at a farm
  • See the tobacco plantation
  • Buy cigars
  • Chill by the pool
  • Party in a mogote

Read the full guide

Playa Larga: 2 Days

Cuba is one of the cheapest countries in the world to dive and you can do it at Playa Larga.

Not a fan of the depth, why not try snorkelling in Cuba?

The historically imporant Bay of Pigs is also in this region.

Read the full guide

You may also wish to visit Cienfuegos which is in between Playa Larga and Trinidad or can be done as a day trip from Trinidad.

Trinidad: 4 Days

Trinidad is the town with the pastel colonial buildings and hot nightlife.

  • Salsa the night away at Casa de la Musica
  • Drink an original Canchanchara cocktail
  • Climb the bell tower
  • Take a day trip to paradise aka Playa Ancon
  • Hike to a waterfall.

Read the full guide

Vinales I Cuba Travel Guide

Viñales mogote and sexy classic car

Cuba Travel Map

Personal Experience

We visited Cuba as part of a long-term travel trip so limited by our budget.

Here’s what I would do differently:

  • Download the bus times between locations. Locals do not know the times and are quick to offer their family taxi colectivo service which starts to add up at 25 USD per ride, per person
  • Take note of recommended restaurants for each stop. Some restaurants are pretty bad and even Cubans will tell you this
  • Create a loose itinerary. We are so quick to connect to 4G, you will soon see how much you rely on it since you can’t have it
  • Consider activities. I thought I’d use the time in Cuba to switch off so didn’t bother planning anything which is unlike me!
  • Renting a car? You may have to wait a few days in Havana for one to come in but having that flexibility to move around will be liberating
  • Don’t visit Cuba as part of a big multi-destination trip. Not having a kitchen starts to take its toll
  • Accept that the Cuban hustle isn’t going anywhere! Sure, it’s tiring constantly having people trying to sell to you but this two-tier economic system has allowed Cubans to survive and thrive

Final Words

Planning on going to Cuba in the near future? Whether it’s for a Cuban beach resort vacation with day trips or a backpacking tour of Cuba, you won’t experience anywhere in the world quite like Cuba.

Did you find this article useful?

Why not pin it to your Cuba Pinterest board?

Cuba travel, Cuba tips, Cuba itinerary, Things to do in Cuba, Cuba beaches, Cuba packing list, Cuba culture, Varadero, Havana, La Habana, Vinales, Trinidad, Cuba budget, Cuba guide, Cuba map, Cuba cars

Over to you, any questions?

Leave them in the comments below.

31 thoughts on “Cuba Travel Guide: Tips + Itineraries

  1. Morgan says:

    This is a great vacation guide for Cuba! The pictures you posted here are great, and you give some good advice to follow for first-timers. Awesome post! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Lewis rAndell says:

    Hi everyone!
    I’m thinking of going to Cuba in feb and would love to go with someone! I’ve discovered that the casa rooms are booked for the room not per person so if we get a crew, it’ll be cheaper! AnYone keen? Send me an email [email protected] (I assume it’s ok to leave this?) and then we can give these wonderful people some info when we’re done!

  3. Lewis rAndell says:

    Thanks! Yeah that was the plan but then thought I’d be super organised and try on here first. Any tips on a two week trip so I spend less? Can you get boats to Cancun?
    Wish the pound hadn’t nose dived! Think it’ll go up or fall when article 51 is triggered?

  4. Charlotte says:

    Hallo 🙂
    Thanks for sharing all your good advices about Cuba. My boyfriend and I are going to Cuba for 18 days in march as ending on our 7,5 month travel. We are thinking about ending our Cuba travel at Varadero – relaxing and beachtime – before going home ‘to the real life’ 🙂 Where did you stay with all-inklusive and would you recommend it?

    • Gemma I Two Scots Abroad says:

      How fun. We stayed at Brisas del Caribe. It was alright but as the week went on and the rooms filled up more the (friendly) staff couldn’t handle the numbers. You had to queue for food (the clientele are pretty gross, be prepared to watch mountains of food to go to waste). They also ran out of large towels so we were drying ourselves with hand towels. Not really an issue for us but may be for others. I hope real life doesn’t hurt too much! You’ll be planning your next trip before you know it.

    • Gemma I Two Scots Abroad says:

      Hola! We stayed at the Brisas del Caribe. It was alright. They ran out of large towels by the end of the week (which didn’t bother us but may bother others) and also struggled to manage the hotel at full capacity (queuing at meal times). Staff were friendly and the hotel was clean though. Drinks were decent too! Hope reality doesn’t hurt to much, you’ll be planning your next trip before you know it!

  5. Cassie says:

    Hola ! Thanks for all the useful tips, I’m going to Cuba this July for 2 weeks and lots of your tips are really helpful.
    But my question is : can people in Cuba speak English? My Spanish skills are limited so I was wondering if you guys could speak fluently while in Cuba and if not, do people speak English? I really want to talk and share with the owners of the casas particulares I’ll be staying in, but that might be difficult if we don’t have a common language…
    Muchas gracias 🙂

    • Gemma I Two Scots Abroad says:

      Hola Cassie!
      We can speak very limited survival but we were travelling with a Brit who lives in Mexico and is fluent so she pretty much did all of the talking. Download the app Spanishdict! and try to learn a bit of pleasantries. Some speak English, more so in Havana and Trinidad where there are lots of tourists. You’re more open to being ripped off that’s the main issue I would say. Are you travelling solo? What’s your itinerary? We met the ex pat Brit in Viñales and travelled with her all the way through to Trinidad so it’s possibly you’ll meet fellow backpackers too!

  6. Livio Bestulic says:

    Wish I had found your post before I went to Cuba, but better late than never. My girlfriend and I visited Cuba for a month of shoestring outdoor travel activities earlier in the year (and visited many of the same places you mention).

  7. Monica Sharma says:

    Hey Geema, Great share, wonderful job.Really appreciate your efforts for sharing such a nice cheat sheet article on Cuba and such lovely photos really hyped my to visit Cuba.This will be helpful for us and will let us travel Cuba without any stress.Thanks for such a nice article.

  8. Darren says:

    Great guide and hopefully ensures more people get to enjoy this glorious island and warm people. My tip…..please tip. A CUC(peso) goes a long way in Cuba and will ensure you keep getting great service. (Although tbh, the service is genuinely great before any tip). Also, any toiletries and toys would be welcomed as gifts. Beware, Cuba can get under your skin, then you’ll never want to leave!

    • Gemma I Two Scots Abroad says:

      I find the toys and toiletries a weird one, we were never under the impression that any of our casa owners expected that.

  9. viki lewis says:

    i am suppose to do a travel guide for school i used the info from your site . there’s this question how to get to cuba but i have no idea of what to answer can you help me please thank you

  10. Karim Mahdavi says:

    I am going to Cuba for a few months. I have been going to Cuba for 5 years. This time I would like to go backpacking thought the island. Anyone would like to join me to do the same?

    • Gemma I Two Scots Abroad says:

      My best advice would be to start in Havana at one of the hostels if you are looking for travel mates. Have fun!

  11. Tim says:

    wrt your hostels advice I would be concerned about keeping all my stuff, er, mine. The idea of lugging everything into the shower with me etc doesn’t appeal. Comments?

    • Gemma I Two Scots Abroad says:

      Hey Tim! The dorm we stayed in had a bathroom in the four-bed dorm so you didn’t have to leave the room but yeah, you would keep your toiletries in a bag and take them in with you. Only for a few nights though and only if you want to make friends. If that’s not a priority just go straight to a casa.

  12. Tim Scottius says:

    Loved these tips and your itinerary 🙂 Will visit soon when this pandemic is over. BTW, what’s the best or are the best Cuban cuisines you have tried? Are they all worth it?

    • Gemma I Two Scots Abroad says:

      Cheers Tim! Ropa vieja for sure. We make it at home now once a fortnight! The cocktails are great too.

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