The first thing you need to add to your Cuba Travel Checklist is, of course, that you need your passport to travel to Cuba. I know it seems like common sense to bring your passport, but here are a couple of other things to check. Make sure your passport does not expire within 6 months after your return date from Cuba. If it is going to expire then you need to go ahead and renew it. It typically takes about 4-6 weeks, and you can find more info about that here.
Your Cuban Visa/Tourist Card is typically very easy to obtain these days. This is not to be confused with the OFAC general travel license from the United States. The Tourist Card is a document required to enter Cuba. Most airlines will offer this to you when you leave for your trip. For airlines, you will buy this the day you leave for Cuba at your airline’s “Cuba Check-ins” counter inside of the airport. If you have a connecting flight before Havana, you may have to buy it at your final airport before Cuba. The Tourist Card usually costs around $50-100 depending on the service operators.
There are certain rules for people that were born in Cuba. If you were born in Cuba and need to get a visa, please contact us at Info@havanamusictours.com and we will help you. Depending on the year you were born you may have to get a Cuban passport from the Cuban consulate.
Within 72 hours of your flight, you MUST fill out this online customs declaration and medical form. It is called D’Viajeros. You need to save the document on your phone or print it. When you enter immigration and customs you will need to present the QR code to the doctors. You must know the address where you are staying in Cuba. The doctors AND immigration will want to know.
At this time (October 2022), Cuba does not require any testing or COVID vaccines to enter the country. Masks are also optional for tourists in the streets, music venues, and transport, with exception of the airport and likely hospitals and certain government buildings. You need to wear your mask in the airport when departing Cuba
If you need any further information about Cuba’s entry requirements specific to your case, you can find more details at TravelDoc.aero.
A detailed itinerary is required for United States citizens/residents traveling under most OFAC general licenses. Even if you are traveling from another country it is a good idea to create an itinerary. When you arrive in Cuba you may discover events or places you want to see. If you have a printed itinerary you can write down anything that may change during your travels.
There are a lot of things to see around Cuba, and a detailed itinerary not only keeps you legal (US citizens and residents) but also helps you to cover more ground and have a better experience. If you need help with your itinerary, Havana Music Tours can help with that too… We offer an itinerary design service that includes setting up reservations for restaurants, music venues, and transportation. Anyway you decide, we highly recommend a detailed itinerary!
Transportation in Cuba can be really fun, adventurous, and even frustrating. Here are our top recommendations…
All over the world, grabbing a taxi can be very convenient. In Cuba, there are all kinds of different taxis. There are the official taxis from Cuba’s transportation ministry called “Agencia de Taxi.” They are very obvious because they are bright yellow and have the name on the side. They have modern cars with seatbelts and even new sprinter-style vans. These are the taxis you will find at the airport when you exit. These days you can just pay around 25 euros or $30 USD to get to almost any place in Havana from the Havana airport. If you are going to another city you will need to ask. For example, it could be around $200 or more to go to Varadero from the Havana airport.
Cuba has a lot of cool vintage taxis and the best place to find them in Havana is at Parque Central (Central Park) in Old Havana near the capital building. There are many different types of classic cars and colors. You can find a vintage convertible or the 1955 Chevy Bel-Air, light blue that your grandfather had back in the day. You can hire these taxis per day or per hour. The most expensive taxis are convertible vintage taxis. The nicer it is, the more expensive it is. These can range from $50-100 per hour.
If you are looking for a more affordable type of taxi service and have access to the internet on your phone, we recommend you use the new “Cuban Uber” called La Nave, which stands for a spaceship in Spanish. Yeah! Cubans are really good are finding cool and clever names for their enterprises.
In the last few years, Cuban has been developing a few apps to manage online taxi services like Uber or Lyft. But, after a few months of personally experiencing their services, we consider that La Nave is probably the most reliable and affordable considering the regular Taxi prices. However, you will probably notice that some tourist taxis work for this type of service as well. So, maybe you are lucky and run into a nice vintage car while looking for an affordable taxi. Always make sure to have enough cash with you because this service is accepting only cash at this moment.
Don’t ride bicycle taxis, they are super expensive. Believe it or not…
The US state dept recommends not taking the yellow circular taxis called Coco Taxis. But we will leave that decision up to you.
If you are traveling with kids, or babies, or have any other safety concerns. We recommend the modern yellow official Agencia de Taxi because they have modern safety features including seatbelts. It can be rare to find a seatbelt in a vintage taxi.
Cuban drivers are also generally very safe. It is difficult to get your license and have the opportunity to drive a taxi. Many Cubans take that job seriously and are very cautious. Accidents do happen, but in Cuba, the drivers on the road are very good drivers.
One of the easiest ways to travel intercity around Cuba is by bus. The most popular options are Viazul and Cubancan. You can make your reservation with Viazul online here.
We recommend making your reservation at least a month in advance or longer. It could be sold out.
Another nice bus option, but slightly more costly is Cubanacan. You will need to walk into a hotel to make a reservation and they usually make multiple pick-ups at hotels around Havana. You could go to Melia Habana, Hotel Nacional, and others to make your reservation. A good option if you want to keep a flexible schedule.
We do not recommend renting a car in Cuba unless you are familiar with Cuba and have a very diverse driving ability. It is also important to understand Spanish and learn some basic differences in regard to road rules.
Travelers from Europe, Canada, and other countries may be able to use their credit/debit cards and make reservations inside Cuba or with another website. We recommend checking with your bank to see if your card will work in Cuba.
If you rent a car in Cuba be sure to read all of the rules and understand your rental contract. Be sure to ask the rental agent if there is any confusion.
There is mobile data and cell service in Cuba. You must buy or rent a SIM card from ETECSA and your phone must be unlocked. You can do this at an airport or an ETECSA location. It is around $10 for 2.5GB, but the offers constantly change.
Your cell phone should work in Cuba, but it is probably very expensive. I’ve heard of $2-10 per minute to talk on the phone in Cuba to the U.S with your home carrier. I would check with your carrier specifically for their Cuba policy. I recommend only using your phone if you really need to. Your casa particular host, tour leader, or hotel staff should be able to help you contact local restaurants and order taxis as you need.
Wifi in Cuba is very limited and you can only access it at certain hotspots, Casas, restaurants, and hotels around the country. The use of home-based and business internet is growing fast in Cuba. You must buy a WiFi card from an ETECSA (Cuban communication provider) store or a hotel. These cards are usually about one hour at a time for tourists and each card comes with a scratch-off username and password. You must type this in each time you want to connect at a WiFi park or hotel. Keep in mind that sometimes hotel cards can only be used at the hotels and not at the WiFi hotspots. I highly recommend getting all of your important internet-related activities accomplished before arriving in Cuba. It is actually a great experience to disconnect and really spend time learning about Cuban culture. The lack of WiFi could be exactly what you need to clear your mind!
Gps/maps like Google and Apple seem to be lacking in their information for Cuba. So, I highly recommend downloading an app called “Maps.me” and then downloading offline maps of Cuba. From my experience and to the best of my knowledge, this map app has the most destinations listed for Cuba. It will also give you offline walking/driving directions. But, I also recommend writing down or typing out the important addresses on your detailed itinerary.
CUP or Moneda Nacional is the currency of Cuba. You (the tourist) will exchange your home country’s currency (U.S. Dollar, Euro, Canadian Dollar, etc) for CUP to be able to purchase food, services, and products in Cuba. You can also buy a debit card at CADECA, the exchange at the airport and around the island. This is essential to buy some things, like in the MLC stores. These are foreign currency stores that have most of the items you may need to purchase to prepare your own food, etc. These places will NOT take cash, and many other places these days are not taking cash. Restaurants and taxis still accept cash. You could even negotiate a better rate with your foreign currency directly with restaurants and other vendors.
You WILL need to have plenty of cash as there are not many options to use credit cards or debit cards, especially for US travelers. All banks in the United States have blocked credit and debit card transactions in Cuba unless it is medical-related. So make sure to bring enough cash… We have seen people run out of money in the city and at the airport… You can always put the cash back into your bank and it is better than running out of money in a country where you do not have access to more.
What is enough money? We recommend around $30-100 U.S. dollars/euros per day depending on how many extra things like souvenirs and such you plan to buy. Anyway, definitely bring more… Again, Cuba is a place where you want to have extra money when you leave… Not $0.
Cuba is known for some really great paladares (private restaurants), you can read our top 5 recommendations here.
Now that the currency has changed from CUC to unify with CUP, there has been a bit of inflation in Cuba. Prices may seem more expensive at places like restaurants. The Cocktails, dishes, juices, coffees, etc can all be around 2-4 times more expensive than they were before the pandemic. This is mostly if you are paying with CUP (the national Cuban currency), but we have found that a lot of popular restaurants are offering alternate pricing for Euros and Dollars.
Why foreign currency?
MLC – Moneda Libremente Convertible (Freely convertible currency – Euros, Dollars, etc)
Cuba now has a lot of stores all over the country that only accept MLC on a credit/debit card. This is where you will find most of the products in Cuba. This is where restaurants and casa particular owners will likely need to buy many of their products to offer meals and drinks.
Remember that US debit/credit cards do not work in Cuba with exception of the COVID-19 clinics and tourist hospitals in general. Your best option is to load cash onto a card provided by the CADECA exchange at the airport. You can load foreign currency onto a temporary card to be able to use at MLC stores in Cuba.
If you are from Europe, Canada, or another part of the world. Check directly with your banking institution to see if your cards will work in Cuba. The MLC stores usually accept Visa and Mastercard.
This MLC card process could be a must for those who plan to prepare their own meals in Cuba. Maybe bring your own seasonings and oils to make the trip easier and more cost-effective. But, no worries, I have another solution for this.
If you are planning on doing homecooked meals or staying at home in general, Cubans now have a Delivery Services App that could be a great solution for you to order food or groceries. Even when some restaurants have their own delivery method through WhatsApp or direct phone calls, we recommend you use Mandao. We have been using the App for a few months now and it is very efficient. Cash Only until the moment if you are ordering while in Cuba.
However, this delivery service has a Desktop version for foreigners or Cubans leaving outside of Cuba to send food to people on the island. So, who knows? Maybe you can plan to go online shopping before your trip so you can have food, groceries, and others delivered to your Casa Particular (Bnb) after your arrival in Cuba.
Water in Cuba
Buying bottled water in Cuba can be a hassle, and you might have the best luck at an MLC store. All restaurants and a lot of corner stores should sell beer and water. But it can be costly to buy 1 small bottle of water at a time. A lot of times Casa owners will have bottles of water for sale as well. Hotels have bottles of water available as well.
If you are staying a while and want to buy your bottled water in bulk, we recommend going to MLC stores. Just ask your casa owner or anyone in the street. Where is the nearest MLC store, or “Donde está una tienda de MLC más cerca de aquí” if you want to practice your Spanish.
A long-term solution and one that we use on a constant basis is the Berkey Travel Water System. It can be costly, around $300, but the filter lasts 2-5 years. There is no need to boil water or anything. You can use this all over the world. If you travel a lot, it could really pay for itself quickly.
Cuba is known for some of the best healthcare in the world. Historically if there is ever a crisis in the Caribbean, Cuba will send multitudes of doctors to help their neighbors. They extend this universal form of healthcare to their citizens. Tourists can have access to it for a small cost. They even have tourist hospitals specifically for helping foreigners. If you are traveling from the US and possibly other countries, you must purchase health care, which is typically included in your airline fare (For US Travelers). It usually costs only $25 per person, and if you already bought your flight, you may not have noticed it.
When traveling to Cuba, we still recommend having all of your necessary medicines and vitamins. Finding things like aspirin or other drugs you may need can be more difficult. We recommend bringing enough soap and some to share with your new Cuban friends. Things like toothpaste, soaps, toilet paper, paper towels, and ointments can all be harder to find in Cuba and unaffordable for most average Cubans. We recommend bringing one or two rolls of toilet paper in your luggage and carrying some in a fanny pack or backpack during your trek around Cuba. In some places that you visit around Cuba, there may not be very much, if any, toilet paper available. So having some in a backpack could save the day… It is also customary to tip to use the bathroom in Cuba. At restaurants, music venues, bus stops, and more, a person usually watches after and cleans the bathrooms. They work to earn their wage by people leaving a small tip to use the bathroom and even purchasing toilet paper (if they have any). If you already have toilet paper, you may only need to tip as a courtesy.
Also, never flush toilet paper down the toilet in Cuba. Throw it in the trash next to the bathroom.
**Cuba has a huge lack of medicine in its hospital system. The brutal embargo, sanctions, and the pandemic have left Cuba with almost no medicine. If you are traveling to Cuba, as of December 2021 and into 2022, we highly recommend bringing extra medicine for Cubans. Antibiotics, pain relievers, ointments, and other rare or expensive medicines. This would help a lot of people in Cuba. And currently, there is no importation tax on medicine. You can bring an entire checked bag or 2 of medicine and food! If you need help organizing donations, feel free to email us, or go directly to check out our Cuba Fundraisers Page.
Travel insurance is always a good idea, especially if you are traveling internationally. For a relatively low cost and depending on which plan you choose you can buy insurance for your flights, cruises, tour costs, accommodations, flight changes, medical emergencies, and more. If you are in need of travel insurance no matter how or where you choose to travel. We definitely recommend checking out the coverages over at Travelex.
Cuba is definitely a place where you can dress up and go see some amazing live music or an incredible show. However, depending on when your trip is, it can be pretty hot and tropical during the day. The summer is pretty hot and humid, and in the winter it can be warm during the day but you may need a small jacket at night. Be sure to pack comfortable walking shoes and light-vented clothing for your daytime activities.
Most music venues and live shows require you wear certain attire. For example, at the famous Latin jazz club “La Zorra y El Cuervo” the men must wear pants and no one is allowed to wear sandals or flip-flops. In this case, you may want to prepare time in your schedule to go home and freshen up before going out at night.
It is okay if you do not speak Spanish, but knowing a few phrases and having a quick reference can definitely help. In the touristy areas, a lot of Cubans speak English, but maybe your casa particular host only speaks Spanish. If you use something like google translate, be sure to download the entire language to be usable offline before arriving in Cuba. It is difficult to download certain things on the internet. We also recommend investing in at least one or all of the following:
Also, this video is a great video to get a couple of useful Spanish words in the toolshed!