Like most travel destinations, it’s always best to have something resembling a plan to enjoy the best holiday outcome, and Cuba is no exception. In fact, because of the combination of communist rule, developing country politics, revived American sanctions and a general lack of English, forward planning is essential. Here are five tips to make the best of your stay.
1. Be inventive with your flights
On average, it costs around R25 000 to fly directly to Cuba, but thanks to the KLM and Air France routes, you can save on costs and take in the views of the Eiffel tower en route. Our writer flew to Spain for around R7 000 and then on to Havana for R6 800, saving R11 000.
2. Know your visa procedure
A lot of countries’ visas are a pain, but thankfully Cuba is not one of them. The only tricky part is knowing where to apply, depending on your flight connection. If you are going via the US, you have to apply at the US airport from which you depart. If you fly in from anywhere else, you apply at your closest Cuban embassy. It costs R270 and takes about three days.
3. There is practically no internet
The only Wi-Fi available is sold at a premium on strips of paper from hotels or in the street. Furthermore, what little Wi-Fi Cuba does have is accessible only at some hotels, government tourist shops and public parks. If you’re used to Googling your way to guide you where you wish to go, rather download an offline map app such as maps.me. And make sure to pre-programme in your accommodation!
4. Learn some basic Spanish
Even though some shop owners may know basic English, you’d be better off learning a few essential words in Spanish. Get the Bravolol Spanish app, which comes with common phrases for shopping, eating, transport and even romance. And if you can’t wrap your tongue around the pronunciation, just play the app’s recording out loud.
5. Know your money
Owing to the collapse of the Red Russian State, Cuba propped up its economy in 1994 by making two currencies: the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) for tourists and the Cuban Peso (CUP) for locals. The CUC is roughly a dollar or euro and is worth 24 CUPs. If you are given large-denimation notes when you land at the airport (you have to do your foreign exchange there, but go to departures, as the line is shorter), your stay is greatly hindered as smaller vendors and shops will be unable to break your bills. Failing this, go to bigger, wealthier hotels and break big bills into smaller cash, preferably by ordering mojitos.