Unless you are staying in or near a top hotel, don’t expect to be able to connect with your phone at all. You might just be lucky enough to find one of the few public wifi spots or patient enough to queue at one of the small number of internet cafés – where the connection will be screen-gazingly slow and the rates usually exorbitant.
So unless you do all your online research before you leave home, one of our best Cuba travel tips is to bring a guidebook.
Find out in advance where the night spots are, be prepared to spend some time travelling between them – especially in Havana where they are greater in number but dotted sporadically over a huge area (you’ll probably need to use taxis). If you find a venue you like, stick with it.
Explore our guide to the best things to do in Cuba for lots of ideas on how to spend your Cuban holiday.
You’ll pay for most goods and services in convertible pesos, twenty-four times more valuable than national pesos; depicted on these banknotes are national monuments but their values are printed as pesos, just like their counterparts. The words pesos convertibles only appears in a smaller font below the value.
Paying in convertibles and getting change in nationals is the most popular trick and there are a few spin-off scams along similar lines. Just remember one of the most useful Cuba travel tips when it comes to money: twenty-four men equal one monument.
A nation of sleeping chefs and restaurateurs have now awoken from their enforced slumber and unleashed a wave of mouth-watering menus and creatively-designed venues. When eating out, the best Cuba travel tip you can follow is to stick to paladares, rather than state-run restaurants, and you should eat well.
However, whilst President Obama may have done what he can to end the 55-year standoff between the two countries, until Congress lifts the economic blockade of the island you’ll need to be prepared for the practical consequences of visiting a country with which US companies are still, in the most part, forbidden to do business.
At the time of writing, this means, amongst other things, travel is only permitted under the terms of a US travel license and there are no scheduled flights. There's also a 10 percent fee for buying Cuban currency with US dollars, your US credit and debit cards won’t be usable and your US cell phone won’t work either.
Always withdraw money when you can. Cash machines are scarce, those accepting foreign cards even scarcer and problems with them are frequent; not all banks can process foreign currency transactions and the opening hours of those that can rarely extend to the weekend or past 3.30pm in the week, especially outside Havana and the beach resorts.
From a security point of view it’s not ideal, but whenever you withdraw cash you’ll likely save yourself some hassle if you take out enough for at least a few days, especially on a road trip into the provinces.
Bear in mind that if they’re selling cigars they’re probably going to be fakes, and if they offer to take you to a paladar or casa particular their commission will be secretly added to your bill. Then again, some people really do just want to chat – so keep an open mind.
In a country where every block has a Committee for the Defence of the Revolution, the eyes and ears of the Party and informing on your ‘unpatriotic’ neighbours has traditionally been a state-sanctioned obligation, some do not feel comfortable being openly critical of the regime.
Be sensitive, and understand that tour guides and hotel staff, as employees of the state, are less likely to voice any strong criticism of the Government.
For example, a taxi on the meter means the driver works for the state and a tip is appropriate; most taxis don’t have a meter as they are privately owned and paying your fare, which you should negotiate in advance, is enough. Similarly, the hosts at a casa particular wouldn’t expect a tip, though if they employ cleaning staff a tip for them is always a nice gesture.