Considering Cuba? Here's Your Essential Travel Guide
Culture Between rolling mountains and breathtaking shores, fine cigars and vintage cars, here’s what you need to know before booking a trip to Cuba in 2016.
From open-air bazaars in Havana to museums and resorts in Varadero, Cuba offers a wide array of accommodations, restaurants and cultural attractions.
- 1,524 B&Bs and inns
- 690 specialty lodging
- 98 hotels
- 619 in Havana
- 99 in Trinidad
- 94 in Varadero
- 42 in Vinales
596 things to do
- 184 sights and landmarks
- 117 parks
- 95 outdoor activities
- 89 museums
- 84 tours and activities
Friendly Planet is among the top U.S. tour operators offering legal travel to Cuba. Read co-owner and Cuba expert Peggy Goldman’s tips for travelers.
1. Don’t obsess about the beach.
Cuba is not a beach destination for Americans who want to travel legally. Take advantage of the ample opportunity to experience the rich culture, music, art and history.
2. Licensed travel is still required for legal visits to Cuba.
You still need a licensed reason to visit Cuba, and the easiest type of legal trip is called “people to people”, where you spend your time meeting Cubans where they live, work and play, experiencing Cuban through Cuban eyes.
3. American credit cards cannot be used in Cuba—yet.
It’s still not possible to pay with credit cards in Cuba. Until US banks work out the wrinkles in money matters with Cuba (hopefully soon), cash is still the way to pay. Fortunately, most Cuba tours are prepaid prior to travel, so most of your expenses are already covered. Bring enough cash to cover your souvenirs, including fantastic art at bargain prices.
4. The Zyka virus is not in Cuba.
Even pregnant women can visit the island safely, because the pesky mosquito that causes Zyka is not found in Cuba. Perhaps it will migrate from other Caribbean islands over time, but for now, Cuba is a safe haven among the many other Caribbean destinations with Zyka.
5. Select a small group tour for the best experience in Cuba
Wandering around Havana’s Old City, Trinidad’s colonial streets or the countryside of Viñales, you’ll be hard pressed to enjoy if you’re in a group of 30 or more people. Stick to small groups for maximum enjoyment.
6. Bring comfortable shoes and a small flashlight.
If there was ever a place where high heels are completely inappropriate, Cuba is it. Cobblestones are everywhere, and “walking sandals” or other walking shoes are a must. Along the same lines, the streets are poorly lit in the evenings, and a small, battery-powered flashlight is very helpful for navigating at night. Be sure to take some extra batteries with you.
7. Yes, you can bring home rum and cigars.
Just limit your purchases to $100 worth, combined, and you can bring home previously forbidden treasures from your visit to Cuba.
8. Drink only bottled water and drink a lot of it.
Cubans will tell you that the water is perfectly safe to drink from the tap, but don’t take any chances. Drink only water that comes to you in a sealed bottle. Water is available everywhere, and on many tours, several bottles are provided daily for each passenger. Be sure to drink plenty every day, because Cuba is a toasty place and you’ll need to drink a lot to keep hydrated.
9. Wi-Fi in Cuba? Maybe.
A trip to Cuba, at least for now, requires that you come to terms with being a tad disconnected from your gadgets. There is wifi in most hotels, but it isn’t going to zip along at the speed you’re accustomed to, and you’ll have to pay to use it in your room.
10. Will your smart phone turn stupid in Cuba?
The good news is that you’ll be able to receive text messages and see email whenever you’ve got a wifi connection. Calls are another matter. If you absolutely have to be attached to a phone while you’re there, you should rent a Cuban cell phone upon arrival, or rent one from a reputable carrier who’ll send you a phone that’s equipped with the right service for Cuba.
Join superchef Jean-Georges Vongerichten as he hosts this Croqueta and Champagne celebration, during the South Beach Wine & Food Festival.
Croqueta and Champagne
Spend the night dancing to the beats of Latin Rock Band Suenalo, savoring delicious food and sipping free-flowing Champagne Henriot.
Where: Palm Court 140 NE 39th Street Miami Design District
When: February 24-28
Can’t go? Cook your own Cuban feast while listening to our favorite Latin songs.
Cuba is one of the most important sources of music in Latin America. Set the tone with these tunes. (Claves not included.)