What is the food like?

It is safe to say that Cuba is not renowned for its local cuisine, – that is not to say that it isn’t tasty, indeed it is often delicious, however there is not a great deal of variety in what is available, primarily, chicken, pork, rice and beans, and you do need to know where to go.

Restaurants in Cuba are either government owned or private establishments run from the propietors’ home, known as a ‘paladar’ and these are highly recommended if you wish to experience some delicious home-cooked cuisine. In Havana, new restaurants and paladares are opening up all the time, a number of which have built up an excellent reputation for their innovative and tasty dishes.

What is the main currency?

Cuba has a dual currency system: the Cuban Peso Convertible (CUC) and the Cuban Peso or Moneda Nacional (CUP). The exchange rate between the two: 1 CUC = 24 CUP’s. Tourists always use the CUC currency and virtually all services are priced in that currency. There are very few opportunities for tourists to use the CUP other than perhaps buying fruit or fast food from street vendors or using the local transport. In any case, the savings between the two is minimal and not really worth the hassle. If you do come across something priced in the CUP currency you can always pay for it using CUC, just be careful you are paying the correct amount! If you happen to see a street side vendor selling sandwiches or pizzas with prices shown at what looks like $10 or $20, this ALWAYS means CUP, and in CUC would be the equivalent of around 50 cents. The only places you would pay for a pizza at that price in CUC would be at one of the 5 star hotel restaurants.

Is it easy to take money out using cards?

Cuba has very few ATM machines, and the ones that are available do not always work or can on occasion run short of money at inconvenient times. It’s therefore best to bring out as much money with you in cash, preferably Stirling which has the strongest exchange rate, followed closely by the Euro. The USD should be your last option as it carries a higher penalty on the exchange rate. Cash can easily be exchanged upon arrival at the airport, banks or at any of the CADECA exchange offices dotted around Havana, where you can also withdraw money over the counter on your credit or debit cards. One important thing to make sure of is that your credit card or bank has no association whatsoever with any American bank. (Virgin, Egg or American Express will not be accepted and do not work anywhere in Cuba).

What is the shopping like?

Anyone coming to Cuba for a shopping spree will undoubtedly be disappointed at the variety and quality of goods available. Havana offers the best opportunities for shopping by far but even here the products that are available are primarily geared towards tourists, a small community of foreign diplomats and workers and the small minority of Cubans with the means to earn hard currency. Your best bet for the very few luxury stores that do exist is in the old town on Calle Obispo and around the Plaza Vieja. In short, you should expect any spending to be focused almost entirely on local handicraft souvenirs and Cuba’s main exports; rum, cigars and music, however it is safe to say that you won’t go wrong here given they are of world-class quality.

What is the Cuban nightlife like?

Cuba is famous for its long and rich musical history, as essential to life as eating and breathing and you will hear it pouring out from virtually every restaurant, bar and home on every street. Music and dancing runs in the blood of every Cuban and is a natural form of expression here, even down to the way people move and talk. Even if you are a complete novice to Cuban music it is virtually impossible to sit still and not feel happy when you listen to this uplifting sound that is so full of energy. The main concentration of nightlife on the island is centered in Havana, followed closely by Santiago and Trinidad and there is no shortage of places to go to listen to live music or go dancing.

Do I need a visa to enter Cuba?
Yes, you will require a visa before boarding your plane in the UK. Visas can be acquired through your travel agent or the Cuban Consulate in London. There are two identical parts to the visa form, both of which you will need to complete. Upon arrival in Havana, one part will be taken at immigration, and you will need to keep the other part which will be taken from you at immigration on departure. Losing it could cause unnecessary problems so it is wise to keep it safe with your passport at all times. When checking into hotels or casas particulares (private Cuban homestays), you will be asked to show your visa. At casas, the owner may ask you to give them your visa which they have to legally take to local immigration offices. This is perfectly routine and they should not need it longer than a day at most, just remember to ask for it if it isn’t returned to you automatically.
Do I need insurance to travel to Cuba?
As of 1st May 2010 it is a legal requirement that all foreigners entering Cuba have valid travel insurance including, more importantly full medical cover for the entire duration of your stay. Make sure you check any exclusions and that you are covered for any special activities you may wish to do during your stay. You may be asked for this document upon arrival in Havana so make sure you have a printed copy to show at immigration in Havana. If you do not have full medical cover as part of your travel insurance you will be required to purchase this from Asistur S.A., a local government owned company that provides insurance that helps tourists in need of assistance, including the provision of insurance at the cost of around 3 – 4 CUC per person per day. We will ask you to supply us with details of policy, including the name of the insurance company, policy number and emergency 24 hour telephone number supplied by your insurers.
What is the the best time of year to go to Cuba?
This really depends on how heat tolerant you are. Cuba is a tropical country and therefore it is hot almost all year round with some variation in temperature and weather conditions. The rainy/ hurricane season traditionally falls between June and November, although the last major hurricanes to hit the island occurred in 2008, so it is not a guaranteed yearly incident. It is likely that you will encounter tropical rainfall and storms during these particular months although they do not last long. August to October are certainly the hottest months of the year with temperatures at around 34 degrees centigrade and high levels of humidity. December to June is cooler with much lower humidity and quite warm but pleasant by UK standards with temperatures around the 25 or 26 degree centigrade mark. Read more about climate under Useful Information.
What is communication like in Cuba?
Internet access is restricted to Cubans, although the island does have an intranet system which locals can use to receive and send emails and visit restricted pre-approved sites. Tourists have full uncensored access to the internet, with facilities available in most hotel lobbies or business centres, available at extortionate prices and often excruciatingly slow connection and download times. You can buy internet cards from the hotels which are sold at around 10 CUC for around one hour’s usage. The cheapest facilities are available at around 5 CUC though you can safely expect price related performance. Internet is also available through some of the ETECSA centres (the Cuban government owned communications company) at around the same price. You may be asked to show your passport at any of the hotels or ETECSA centres in order to use the facilities, unless you are a hotel guest. Mobiles must be tri or quad band and you will need to check with your service provider as to whether they have roaming services available in Cuba to avoid finding yourself not being able to make or receive calls during your stay. There are facilities to make calls back home from hotel business centres but expect high charges.
Is there anything specific I should bring to Cuba?
There are a number of international pharmacies in Havana however these do not prescribe everything you may need as many items are unavailable or out of stock. If you are using any specific prescription drugs regularly you should bring these with you, along with a copy of the prescription and doctor’s letter to explain your condition in case you are asked to do so at customs. As a rule it is advisable to bring anything with you that you cannot do without and assume that you will not be able to buy it in Cuba. Toiletries, and in particular women’s toiletries and feminine hygiene products can be thin on the ground so it is recommended you bring this with you rather than assume you can buy it in Cuba. Mosquito repellant is also advisable, particularly during the humid season. Read more about what to take under Useful Information.
Do I need any specific vaccinations for Cuba?
There are no specific vaccinations that you will require for Cuba however it is always best to check with your Doctor. They may recommend you are covered for Typhoid Fever, Hepatis A, Polio, Diptheria and Tetanus as a general safety precaution and will inform you of any updates for the Caribbean area. Remember to do this as early as possible before you go. We recommend you avoid drinking tap water and eating any food you are unsure has been prepared/stored correctly.