Hot for Havana? 5 Travel Hacks for Cuba in 2016
Culture Managing any travel itinerary can be overwhelming, but TripAdvisor's tips for visiting Cuba can help minimize the stress so you can maximize your experience.
Cuba has become one of the hottest places to travel. For American travelers, the recent easing of restrictions by the U.S. government has made it possible for more people to visit. We asked users of TripAdvisor’s forums who have already been to Cuba for their advice on how to best experience this intriguing destination.
1. How to get there
The U.S. government allows U.S. citizens, legal permanent residents and persons in the United States to travel to Cuba if their trip falls within one of 12 categories, which include family visits, educational activities and humanitarian projects. However, travel for tourism remains restricted. If you don’t want to go it alone, you can join a people-to-people tour, which is an educational exchange trip to Cuba. Travelers can find more details on travel guidelines to Cuba at the U.S. Treasury Department’s FAQ.
Currently, flights to Cuba from the United States are almost exclusively chartered flights. However, major U.S. airlines have announced plans to restore commercial flights between the two countries. Airlines are required to verify that the travel falls into one of the 12 categories of authorized travel.
2. Where to stay
Visitors can stay in hotels (many of which are all-inclusive), or in private rooms, houses or apartments, known as “casas particulares.” Of course, you’ll have more opportunities to truly mix with locals if you stay at a casa; the quality of casas varies widely, however, so read reviews before you book.
"Late April and May are the best months to visit Cuba. It’s not yet overly hot or humid, there are no mosquitoes and the water temperature is pleasant."
To the extent that travel is permissible, the coastal town of Varadero is a great option for first-timers, as the beaches are gorgeous and the location ideal—a short bus ride from the airport and two hours from Havana. Resorts here range from two to five stars, and there are casas as well. The city Holguin is more authentic, but too far from Havana for a day trip.
To get further into the island’s culture, book a casa in Guanabo (a suburb of Havana), or in the beachside village of La Boca, just outside Trinidad.
3. When to go
Late April and May are the best months to visit Cuba. It’s not yet overly hot or humid, there are no mosquitoes and the water temperature is pleasant. From June to November you’re likely to encounter storms, or even hurricanes.
4. Getting around
A rental car is a great way to travel, but it’s not for everyone: You have to be familiar with a manual transmission, and you must know how to change a tire. Beware of driving outside cities after dark, when you might suddenly come upon an oxcart in the road.
Sound too hair-raising? Take in the flavor of the country by sharing a bus, truck, train or even tractor with a group of locals. (Many Cubans speak a bit of English, but it certainly helps to know some Spanish.)
5. Money matters
Cuba has two currencies, the convertible peso (CUC), and the Cuban peso, or moneda nacional. Carry euros, British pounds or Canadian dollars into Cuba, as U.S. dollar exchanges involve a surcharge. You’ll often get the best rate at a bank or a Cadeca, the official government currency exchange offices.
Tips are appreciated in Cuba: Give CUC$1 for good service at a hotel or bar, about 10 percent in a restaurant or taxi.