If you're planning on going to Cuba before the 'American invasion', here are some top tips for your trip:
It is strongly recommended to get your Cuban visa before flying. Some airlines offer the visa service when checking in, but not all of them do.
It is best to go in person to the Cuban embassy in London to get your visa if you can to avoid additional fees. The visa costs £15, but an additional £19 processing fee is added if a third party gets the visa for you, or if you apply by post.
The Cuba visa office is located at the Cuban embassy at 167, High Holborn (nearest tubes Holborn and Tottenham Court Road). Contrary to what it says on the embassy website, you only need your passport, proof of your accommodation and airline ticket reservation to get your tourist visa.
Cuban banks do not accept debit or credit cards issued from American banks (for example, American Express). Cuban currencies are not traded internationally and cannot be bought before you arrive. It is best to take sterling with you in cash and change it at the airport in Cuba. There is a bureau de change in the arrivals lounge in Havana.
Cuba has two currencies, Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUCs) for tourists and the Peso for locals. As a tourist you will struggle to find many opportunities to pay in Pesos and CUCs will serve you well throughout your stay.
Travelling around Cuba
Bus is the best option for tourists who wish to travel around Cuba. Air conditioned Viazul busses are run almost exclusively for tourists to and from a large number of destinations up and down the island. It is best to book your journey a few days ahead in person at a local Viazul office as the busses can get booked up.
In Havana the queue at the Viazul office south of Vedado can be up to an hour so it is best to arrive early to book your ticket reservation. On the day of travel you will need to queue up again (depending on the size of the terminal) to trade your reservation in for a ticket to travel before you board.
Cuba: in pictures
Staying in a Cuban’s home is the best way to see and experience the country, but booking a Casa Particular can be difficult due to Cubans' intermittent internet access. It's best to book ahead before your stay and ask the hostel owner to meet you off the bus with a sign. Ring ahead to let them know if your plans change once you arrive – it is much harder to email in Cuba as few places have Wi-Fi.
Although Cuba has tried to distance itself from American culture, tipping is not uncommon. It's a good idea to carry coins to tip bathroom attendants. Viazul employees may also ask for a tip for looking after your luggage. Tipping in restaurants is at your discretion and there is no minimum amount expected.
What to wear
Women do not need to worry about covering up and are free to wear shorts and tank tops. Men will be pressed to find a restaurant or hotel where they are required to wear a blazer. Well-to-do Cubans tend to wear cotton shirts and chino.
Cuba has few supermarkets and almost no corner shops. It may be easier to pay a few CUCs more for bottled water at your hostel than walk to find the nearest shop. Tourists are advised not to drink Cuban tap water.
Leaving the country
Remember to keep 25 CUCs spare for the airport when you fly home as you will have to pay an ‘exit tax’. At Havana airport you can pay the leaving fee at the bureau de change once you have checked in and before you clear customs. A stamp to confirm you have paid will be marked on your boarding card.
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