Dos and don’ts in Cuba, an essential guide!
Whenever we think of Cuba, the archipelago consisting of a group of islands, two of the most common things come into our mind, a pink vintage car and a freshly-cut, rich scented Cuban cigar. Everyone wants to be that guy who wants to smoke that cigar while driving down the sleek roads of Havana, a pink vintage car.
Well, Cuba is far more than just cigars and cars.
Cuba has a rich history of Latinisation and politics. Starting from the early to mid 15th century, when the Spanish colonies first laid their flags in Cuban soil, which was followed by widespread cultural change. In the last 70-80 years, it has seen a sole communist government rule, which has largely shaped its foreign policies and changed the face of tourism.
Whenever you travel to the tropical island country, these are 25 things of Dos and Donts in Cuba that you HAVE TO attend to:
Dos and Donts in Cuba: Dos in Cuba
1. Learn a Little Spanish:
Although Cuba is close to the USA and some English speaking nations like Trinidad & Tobago, don’t expect too many Cubans to speak English. Not many civilians need to learn or speak English, except the ones catering to their guests in Casas, hotels, taxis, and restaurants. Besides that, speaking a few phrases of Spanish, throwing around a few words like, gracias, amigo, por favor, Como Estas, will earn you some brownie points.
This is one of the most notable inclusions in the “Dos and donts in Cuba.” Carrying a relevant currency is important in Cuba. Since Cubans do not directly accept dollars or any other currency, you need to exchange it for the local currency, for spending. There are two types of banks in Cuba, the national bank and the currency exchange kiosk.
The national bank deals with the currency CUP, which is used by the residents of Cuba. The currency exchange is responsible for issuing the CUC, which is convertible pesos, that is exchanged in return with the currency the tourists are carrying. If you are carrying USD, the exchange rate will not be kind to you, and a 10% penalty along with a 3% exchange fee will be incurred to you.
There in return of one USD, you will only get 0.87 CUC. So, it will be smarter if you exchange with a currency like Pounds (GBP) or Euro, where penalty won’t be incurred to you.
3. Drink Bottled Water:
Although tap water will be available throughout the country, it is not advised to be drunk, possibly because of chances to get a stomach ache and sickness due to change in the water. Plus, the bottled water is well mineralized and purified, and would not give you tropical sickness. So carry enough water bottles around, as you can easily get dehydrated in the dry and tropical climate of the country.
4. Travel Insurance:
This is an essential point of “Dos and donts in Cuba.” Having travel insurance that is clubbed with medical or Health Insurance is mandatory when traveling to Cuba. Get your insurance issued from reliable and responsible agencies. The Cuban healthcare system is well structured, but it won’t let you leave the country with outstanding medical bills.
So, having insurance is in the best of your interest. Furthermore, individuals who will be engaging in dangerous activities or sports like mountain climbing and sky diving need to get an additional cover on the policies. Proof of insurance is asked for on arrival at the international airport.
5. Internet or Wifi:
This point is mentioned in every “Dos and donts in Cuba” list, and for a good reason. Do not expect wifi to be available at your casa particular or hotel. Although there might be exceptions where wifi is available at some hotels, the signal and speed will not be strong.
Since late 2015, a local telecommunication company called ETECSA starting registering and giving out Nauta cards, which are wifi cards, that can be bought in a few CUC (Convertible Peso). These cards are used to access wifi in wifi parks that have been set up by this particular company is a few major cities in Cuba.
The wifi speed won’t be incredible, although it will be enough for essential communication with your relatives and friends.
6. Dos and Donts in Cuba, Phone Calls:
When in Cuba, either you’ll have to make an international call from an international phone center, which will cost you, or you can also rent a Cubacel sim card, which will be made available to you at the airport on demand and production of your passport.
A nominal rental fee per day of 3 CUC is supposed to be paid for the sim card along with the fixed amount for the card. Be sure to carry a mobile phone that will support the sim card.
Get print outs of all the essential documents that you may need to produce in Cuba, before departing your home country. Along with internet cafe, printing service is hard to find in Cuba. Back up digital copies of all your documents into your phone as well. The boarding pass is essential and will be needed to produce at the airport as your proof of stay and travel under a visa.
Since internet access or wifi service is not a comfort that you are sure to get in Cuba, download offline maps for Cuba, or the cities that you have planned to travel to so that it will be easier for you to navigate and not get lost in the streets of Havana and Santiago.
9. Dos and Donts in Cuba, Touring:
Private cabs will be waiting for you at the airport, but they will be expensive and can rip you off by taking you through long routes. That is why downloading offline maps is a good thing.
Taking shared cabs is a good alternative to traveling alone in a cab, plus the rent for the cab can be shared. There is also a local city bus service that runs through major cities in Cuba and connects various cities. You can board the relevant buses from the bus station, and it will be super cheap.
It is a top contender in “Dos and donts in Cuba.” Many tourists prefer to stay in with local residents at their homes by renting a room. Even entire apartments can be rented for a daily fee.
Although hotels are being run in the major cities of Cuba, many of them are state-owned and do not provide services that are on par with the amount that is to be paid for them. For a more local and Cuban experience, most of the tourists prefer to stay at a Casa Particular.
There is an important thing to note: Foreigners are allowed to stay only in Casas that have a blue sign painted or board outside the house and not the orange ones. Also, the act of Couchsurfing, not the application, is illegal in Cuba and can land you and your host in jail.
If you do not want to spend huge amounts in cab fare, you can also choose to walk for shorter destinations.
12. Drink and Smoke:
You are in Cuba! It is a popular getaway for many in the world on a budget. Go to a club, immerse yourself in Salsa, take shots of ethnic rum, smoke a genuine Cuban cigar, and feel its flavor!
13. More Cash, Avoid Card:
Bring sufficient cash with you for exchange and keep some spare dollars with you. Credit and debit cards are still not widely accepted in Cuba, so do not risk your situation with low cash.
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Dos and donts in Cuba: Donts in Cuba
1. Don’t Rent a Car:
Many tourists from Western countries prefer to hire a driver along with his own car on a per-day fee basis. This route is more recommended than renting a car for oneself.
Although renting a car is an option, there are increased risks involved, related to getting in accidents, losing track of directions and getting lost, damage incurred to the car will be recovered from you and the charges will be hefty, chances of getting scammed or the car being stolen and many more.
2. Don’t Buy From the Street:
This is an essential inclusion in “Dos and donts in Cuba.” Although supporting small businesses and street-side vendors is a good thing to do, you should not buy Cuban cigars from the street vendors!
They may sell you the cigars for cheap, but they are either not genuine or very bad quality cigars. The same thing applies to souvenirs that you want to take back home.
3. Don’t Overpack:
Before traveling to Cuba, make an itinerary and only pack stuff in your bag that you really need there. Go through the essentials list again and again, till you are sure what you need is in the bag and nothing extra. The reason is, you might want to shop and buy for yourself in Cuba, and in case the bag weight is over the limit, it will cost you!
4. Don’t Forget Your Shampoo and Aspirin:
General stores in Cuba are present, but the brand of medicine that you prefer or the good quality shampoo and body wash that your use, might not be easily available in Cuba. So, do the smart thing and pack your shampoo, body wash, and other toiletries with you. Also, don’t forget to pack your necessary drugs like aspirin, flu medicines, etc.
5. Don’t Take Pictures of the Police:
It’s a must mention in every “Dos and donts in Cuba” list. Taking the pictures of the local law enforcement force and the military is illegal and getting caught, in case you did take pictures will be considered as an offense and you may be accused of espionage. So, mind your own business and enjoy your mojito!
6. Stay Away From Politics:
Cuba has been a communist country since the early ’50s. Leaders like Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, Raul Castro are idols to the Cubans. Do not engage in political arguments or debates with anyone and do not criticize the government. Some people might take serious offense and report you to the police.
7. Lay Low:
Although Cuba is a safe country, like in any developing country, petty crimes are a regular occurrence, and the most common victims are the tourists who flash around their cash and jewelry and dress up too fancy. It is advised to dress light and casual in the hot tropical country of Cuba. It would not make sense to be dressed in expensive Armani outfit, sporting costly watches, and purse.
8. Don’t Blow Your Nose:
Okay, you can blow your nose, but do not do it in public. Instead, find a private place or a restroom and do it there. Cubans find it culturally inappropriate and rude when someone blows their nose in public. No wonder it needed to be added to the “Dos and donts in Cuba” list.
9. Beware of Scam Artists:
As previously mentioned, Cuba is a developing nation, and therefore many people are unemployed or engaged in petty crimes, tourist scams, and touting to make an extra buck. So, it is best not to trust that charming stranger, Hernandez, who is offering to carry your luggage for you to the hotel or is offering to take a picture of you and your sweetheart.
10. Don’t Dine in State-run Restaurants:
Throughout the country of Cuba, most of the restaurants are run by the state departments, as it provides cheap food for the working class. Although, as a tourist, it is best to avoid such restaurants because of the lack of quality of food and water, which can give you tummy bugs. Instead, dine at privately-owned restaurants that provide a decent meal.
11. Don’t Ride in Random Cabs:
Tourist taxis are supposed to be licensed and run on a metered basis. The fare is pre-coded in meter devices in the cabs, and therefore a nominal fee for rides is charged. If you travel in unlicensed cabs, there is a good possibility that you will be charged more than the actual rate, and the meter won’t be used either.
12. Don’t Forget About the Departure Tax:
Another honorable mention in “Dos and donts in Cuba” is that the tourists are supposed to pay a departure tax before leaving Cuba, which is 25 convertible pesos per person. Do not forget to keep this money aside for yourself, or they won’t let you leave!
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Whenever we think about Cuba, the scene from Scarface plays when Tony Montana, a regular life Cuban, with a heavy Cuban/Creole accent, and big dreams, decides to risk it all in and travel to Miami to make it big.
Cuba is a beautiful country with vast beaches and landscapes, a traveler’s paradise. Do you think we have missed any points that can be an excellent addition to this list of top 25 dos and donts in Cuba? Answer in the comments!