Basic tips before you go to Cuba
Usually, citizens of the vast majority of countries do not need any visa. Check here if you need to apply for a visa or not.
In case if a visa is not required, to enter the country you only need your passport and tourist card that you will receive at the airplane of authorized airlines (please, clarify well in advance, not to have any trouble on your way) or tourist card can be requested at Cuban diplomatic missions. This tourist card has to be filled out with necessary information and presented to the officer at the border control.
Since I at the moment of the planned trip I still was a student in Canada, I booked a flight directly from Calgary to Varadero with one stopover in Toronto. It cost me something around 260$ one way because on the way back I wanted to visit Mexico, so the roundtrip option was not convenient for me.
For US citizens I would just suggest traveling from Cancun or Mexico.
Couchsurfing is strictly prohibited in the country unless you are a close relative to your host or close friend. Government punishes violators very badly and usually people afraid of their neighbors, so if you send your inquiry people will send you rates for a room in Casas Particulares (guest house). And this is not because they are mean or greedy, this is just because they buy a very expensive license for any kind of activities related to tourism.
Depending on the demand you can either find a room right away or book something in advance, hostel, room is casa particular or hotel. Be patient if you have not received your confirmation forthwith. The Internet in Cuba is a rare phenomenon.
I came to the country a week before Christmass and I had a lot of rooms to choose and the prices were still low. I did not book anything in advance and had only one number to call in the case of emergency, Irina. You can write her on Couchsurfing and she will be happy to share with you all she knows about her beloved country and give suggestions regarding your personal travel route. So, for the room for 2-3 people, you will pay about 25$ and it does not matter if you are alone or with friends. My suggestion is to find a travel body to save some money sharing the room.
Border control is relatively strict. If you are a group of travelers having a reservation in advance you will be ok. In my case, I am a solo traveler, I was screened for an hour. The officer was trying to understand the purpose of my travel, why the young girl is coming to the country such as Cuba for the first time alone, with no hotel reservation. I had to explain to them that I know where to look for the room and I know Spanish. This was the waste of one hour and one-hour stress for me.
Cuba has two official currencies.
CUC – Peso Convertible or [SeUSe]. This currency is used everywhere where tourists are.
The rate is 1 CUC=1USD. Easy.
CUP- Peso Cubano. This currency is used at the local markets and by locals, but it is useful to have CUP in your pocket if you will go to the market to buy food.
The rate is 1USD=26-29CUP.
The exchange rate as everything is controlled by the government and it is the same almost everywhere. You can change your money right at the airport and enjoy the rest of your trip. Always check the change. Sellers may give you the change in CUP instead of CUC.
Do not rely on credit or debit cards, they might be useless in many places.
Public transport is cheap and pretty convenient in cities. The bus ride will cost you about 0.5CUP. A small minivan bus ride will cost you 5 CUP.
Also, Taxi Colectivo or shared taxi is a great alternative to the bus and taxi: the drivers have their own route and you can just clarify where you should wait for your Taxi Colectivo and easily get from suburban area to the city center. It will cost you about 20CUP per ride.
Traveling within a country is quite more complicated because there is only one company, Via Azul, that provides bus service and routes are not usually convenient, sometimes services are not daily. At least you can buy tickets in advance.
You can also take a taxi and it will cost you same as the bus or a little more expensive, the driver will find carpoolers himself. I would say that it is the least comfortable way to travel in Cuba but it is a good alternative too. I was so lucky, the driver did not find other passengers but he made a deal with me and gave his word to bring me to Havana. So, I was only one passenger in a retro car traveling in Cuba. That’s a nice experience.
Alternatively, wrest someone’s trike and be free for some time.
Just forget about it. You are on vacation and you need some relax from your emails and social medias.
If you cannot live without all of this you will have to pay 1CUC for 30 minutes access to the slowest internet in your life. No free Wi-Fi. At all. In Havana, you can buy the internet card in every store but to use it you will need to find a special location. I believe it is the center near a luxury hotel in smaller cities and in Havana there are several places where you can encounter the Wi-Fi spot. Just ask youngsters.
How not to get lost
Make sure that you have your Spanish vocabulary book or offline application of google translator (you can download any language you need) and a map application that works offline. I usually use MapsMe. Unfortunately, it does not provide the route on a public transport but at least you’ll have a sense of where you are.
Thank you, dear reader. If you find this post useful, please, like and share it. Many hugs. Hope your next travel will be posted here as well!