Cuba travel tips for Canadians
Updated January 2017
We’ve been lucky enough to travel to Cuba three times recently and I must say, I love it. We’ve had fantastic weather each time and overall had very smooth (and worry free) travel experiences. What definitely made this most recent trip even better however, was all the knowledge we had going in based on our previous experiences. A few friends asked for some tips, so I figured I would just put it all together here for everyone to benefit from:) If you’re thinking of going to Cuba, I must say – go now! Change is a foot in Cuba and if you’re afforded the opportunity to see it now, I would leap at the chance.
Tips for Cuba travel:
- Cash Money: You’ll want to bring $300-$500 (or more) Canadian cash with you depending on your budget. You will convert your Canadian cash into Cuban CUC (peso) either at the airport when you arrive, or in your hotel. We find it’s usually a better exchange rate at the hotel. This year the US exchange rate was actually better, so you got more bang for your buck converting Canadian to US before you left, and then converting US to Cuban CUC (pesos) when you arrive. You will use your cash for any adventures & food outside the hotel and tips…which leads me to,
- Tips: Tip everyone. It’s nice to do and means SO much more to the person receiving the tip than you can know. Even at an all inclusive. Tip your waiter, the omelette maker, the bartender, the staff who help you get sorted into your snorkel gear, tip the bus driver, and your tour guides. It’s not expected, nor is great service dependent on it, however it really does go a long way in making a difference.
- Language: If you know no Spanish at all, you will be 100% fine – however, I find it’s always polite to say ‘hola’ and ‘gracias’ …. a little effort goes a long way.
- Food: The food at Cuban resorts is nothing to write home about. The limitations on imports make spice and other food stuffs limited, so if you can’t live without your ketchup, shrimp sauce, or spice (hot sauce etc) I suggest you bring your own in a small travel sized container. We always find the best (on resort) food is the fresh cooked fish or chicken. But if you really want great food….
- Leave your resort: Leave your resort and enjoy a bit of Cuba. Venture into Havana, which is colourful and vibrant, and worth the effort to see. Eat at a Cuban restaurant. The food is amazing and very reasonably priced. As an example, only a five minute walk away from our resort we enjoyed lobster, shrimp, beans and rice, a cucumber and tomato salad, plantain chips, and beers for $20 CUC (which included a generous tip). Cuba is quite safe and there isn’t much crime, however have your wits about you and don’t bring expensive jewelry – especially if you’re travelling into Havana.
- Airport Shuttle: If you’re venturing to a resort or all-inclusive you will most likely be taking a bus with other guests from the airport to the hotel and back again. Be prepared to wait. Patiently. The buses won’t leave until they have their guests, so expect at least an hour if not two before your bus finally leaves the parking lot. We were prepared this year and had cash on hand to purchase beverages so we could sit, relax and enjoy the sun. When you know life is going to give you some lemons, you make lemonade:) The bus ride back to the airport from your hotel will usually leave close to the scheduled departure time.
- Gifts/Donations: Many people bring gifts or donations for the Cuban people. Colouring books and crayons for kids, educational materials, clothing, and toiletries. Shampoos, and feminine hygiene products are quite expensive in Cuba so are usually very much appreciated. This is not mandatory, nor expected – but again, it’s a nice thing to do if you are able. Depending on where you travel, you may find locals asking you if you can spare some products or clothing. Don’t feel pressured and know that giving a polite ‘no’ is okay. We tend to leave our gifts and give any items we are donating with the hotel staff we have met. It is quite typical to leave assorted products and clothing in your room as donations upon departure.
- Bug Spray: Pack lots of bug spray. While they don’t affect DH, I tend to get eaten alive if I don’t take some – I use it on the beach and in the evenings. What I’ve learned is the more you swim in the ocean, the less likely the bugs are to bother you. Never the less, I still use in the evenings and would suggest taking some after bite or benadryl to stop the itch – these are no Canadian mosquitoes, these little f&*^ers really sting.
- Positive Attitude: When travelling anywhere, not just Cuba, bring your smile and a positive attitude. If you are lucky enough to travel to another part of the world ….consider yourself just that, lucky! Embrace the experience, don’t be a dick, and know with any travel there will always be lemons (long lines, smelly people, stupid people, you know – other humans! LOL)…just make your lemonade and you’ll have a much better vacation:)
Other minor travel tips: you may find the bathrooms at the Cuban airport without toilet paper, come prepared with some tissues & hand sanitizer. Snacks: We tend to bring some of our favourite granola bars with us as a light snack if we need it. We’ve also added a jar of peanuts to our packing list, and it really staves off the pre-dinner hunger.