Heading out on vacation always creates a little worry – where did you put the passports, will the hotel be like it says online, did you bring enough money? You certainly shouldn’t let the idea of heading to the Cuban capital for the first time worry you anymore! Follow out guide to experiencing Havana for the first time, and it probably won’t be your last!
Getting passport ready
Getting passport ready means not only finding your passport in the first place but making sure you have all you need to get to Cuba too. For most visitors, that means you’ll need a tourist visa, sometimes also called a Cuba Tourist Card, and for most, this is a simple and painless procedure.
You can, of course, head to your nearest Cuban embassy, but citizens of European nations, the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand can all apply online at Cubavisas.com. You’ll need proof of a return ticket before starting. If you’re arriving from or via Mexico, Central America, or the Caribbean, visas are also sold at airports in these countries, though make sure to check this refers to your airport first!
Despite what you’ve probably heard, things aren’t that different for American visitors either. The basic difference is that you’ll receive a different colour (pink) visa, which many US airlines sell as part of the check-in process.
Get currency ready
First and foremost, do not rely on credit cards, debit cards, or cashless payments systems when traveling to Cuba. Not only are credit card facilities limited to the largest hotels (and cashless payment pretty much non-existent at present), but if your service provider is a US-based company, it won’t work in any case!
The one rule to Cuba is that cash is king. You’ll need to bring all the money you’ll need for your trip with you as actual currency. A further slight spanner in the works is that the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) can only be exchanged within Cuba itself, so you’ll have to bring your cash in another currency. British pound sterling or Euros are best for this as they have lower fees attached to them. While the CUC is pegged 1:1 with the US dollar, all sorts of extra charges make it much more sensible to carry pounds or Euros with you, even if you’re arriving from the US.
Get accommodation ready
Although travelers do it, Havana is not the sort of destination where it’s okay to arrive without having accommodation pre-arranged, particularly if Spanish isn’t a strong point of yours. The good news is that even smaller independent and family-owned casa particular bed and breakfast accommodation establishments are creating an online presence, so you can book ahead of time from home. It means a family member will be at home waiting for your arrival with a hearty welcome prepared, and you don’t have the lingering worry of whether you’ll find anywhere within your price range before dark!
Get activity ready
We get you’ll want to explore Havana on your own, especially as it’s your first time, but we also know from experience that Havana is a place where it is easy to overlook sights that might look unpromising from the outside yet hold a wealth of atmosphere within. How can you get around this conundrum? One way is to hope you bump into a friendly English-speaking local over a mojito or two in a cocktail bar which leads to them showing you around their home town. Another is to consider taking one or more day trips in Havana. That way you get the friendly English-speaking local, and probably the mojitos too, but you get to replace the hope that this might happen with a guarantee it will!
Get WiFi ready
Pretty much anywhere else in the world getting WiFi ready would be the matter of switching a button on your cell phone, tablet, or laptop. But not in Havana! To connect you’ll need to buy a WiFi card from either direct from a store of the state telecoms provider ETECA, or from a hotel, where they are also frequently sold. Then you need to find a public WiFi zone since coverage isn’t universal. Central squares are common locations, as a park. If you’re unsure, just ask, everyone will know where it is!
Get transport ready
Ready to move on from Havana? Looking to make it to the city’s further reaches? For trips within Havana you can’t fail to fall for the lure of the vintage taxi fleet – just make sure you agree on a price (in CUC) before you head off. Without renting a vehicle or being part of a tour, for journeys further afield you’ll be relying on the scheduled bus services of Viazul, a trustworthy but more expensive version of the public transport system everyday Cubans use.
Still worried about your first time in Havana? You shouldn’t be! With our short guide, you’ll know all the tricks you need to banish the worries and have a great time in the Cuban capital!