So you want to go to Cuba? I have some tips.

So you want to go to Cuba? I have some tips.

One of the most rewarding and relaxing vacations I’ve been on was to Cuba. I was burnt out, tired, and looking for a vacation deal so I could relax on white sand and dip in the gorgeous blue water. In my online search a last minute deal to Cuba won my attention. For C$700 (plus tax) I dragged my mom, kicking and screaming (not really, she was packed and ready to roll before I was), onto the plane! There are some similar deals right now!

Don’t expect 10-star resorts and super high end food, instead, enjoy the local cuisine, beautiful smiles, and as much seafood as you can handle. I didn’t have any expectations on arriving in Cuba. Our tour guide was entertaining and friendly, and kept us laughing all the way from the airport to our resort, Tryp Peninsula Varadero.

Why are all the signs inside our tour bus in Chinese and Spanish? It came from China and even the air conditioning is intermittent because of the humidity.~tour guide

Our resort was beautiful. The staff and security guards were super-friendly and genuinely interested in life outside of Cuba. One guard at the beach, was fascinated with my iPhone as his wage was equal to C$25 per month and was not able to purchase one himself.

Our housekeeper greeted us warmly with an amazing flower arrangement that she had a friend make for us. This beautiful bouquet stayed fresh during our entire 7 nights.

My absolute favourite day was an excursion to a “deserted beach” by catamaran. Nothing beats being out on the water surrounded by happy people enjoying the warm sunshine. We swam with the dolphins, snorkelled, relaxed on a white sand beach, and enjoyed a fresh lobster and pasta lunch. I did not want to leave!

Another wonderful day trip we booked was to Havana. You can’t go to Cuba without seeing Havana. It was a long bus ride from Varadero to Havana, but the countryside was engaging so the time passed quickly.

Life in Havana is tough. We met many people who begged for soap and gum (see tip #6 for how we distributed items). I was quite taken aback by museum staff grabbing my camera to take a photo of me and Mom and she wouldn’t give it back to me unless I gave her gum. Just be careful. I was very firm and demanded my camera back, and she complied. That was my only unpleasant experience, which is minor.

Tips for Travelling to Cuba

  1. Visit Cuba with no expectations. You will be surprised by how much you enjoy the simpler things.
  2. Bring your own beach towel. Our resort had a limited number of beach towels for guests and we found that because of the humidity, ours did not dry (even out on the balcony overnight) unless we put them in the hot sun at the beach. I recommend bringing a light-weight diver’s towel that will dry quickly.
  3. Bring your own travel mug. There isn’t staff at the beach or by the pool to bring you drinks all day, so in order to avoid spending all day standing in line for a small plastic cup, bring a travel mug with a lid.
  4. Enjoy THEIR cuisine. I had no complaints about the food, though I know other travellers were not happy with the choices. I ate fresh seafood everyday for lunch and dinner, I was in Heaven. You’re in another country to experience their culture and taste Cuban food. Enjoy it!
  5. Make sure you buy the correct currency. In Cuba there are two currencies and you can’t buy it before you arrive. mostly you will be using the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC). The second currency is the Cuban Peso (CUP) which can be used for street vendors and paying taxis. CUC is recommended and accepted by everyone, so CUP is not needed. When tipping…always use CUC. Watch carefully when receiving change, you may receive CUP instead of CUC. Check the difference at cubacurrency.com.
  6. Gifts for Cubans. Many of us like to bring gifts for our housekeepers at the resorts, or to give to children on the street, or in schools. What we found to be the best way to share these items is as follows. For our housekeeper we left nail polish, pretty scents, soaps, and personal care items in our room, a few at a time. These can easily be picked up at your local dollar store. For the children in the community, we found it best to give items to a teacher or local church, to distribute to the children as rewards. Some good examples are colouring books, crayons, pencils, hair ties, chewing gum, and candy—smaller items that are easy to pack in your suitcase.
  7. Meet as many locals as you can. Cubans are beautiful people full of laughter and enjoy chatting with visitors to their beautiful country. Make sure you meet them! Leave your resort and enjoy yourselves!
  8. Unplug. This may not be your choice, but internet and cell service are rare and slow in Cuba. I was able to send text messages but no photos, no social media, and even buying time at the computer in the resort was slow and frustrating. Alternately, I turned off my phone, “ziploced”  it (yes, I kept it in a ziploc bag because of the humidity) and enjoyed my time at the beach.

If you’ve experienced something different than me, please add your comments below! I’d like to hear other experiences in anticipation of my next visit.

Cuba-Pinterest pic

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  • ooh fantastic tips and photos! I’m on my way to Cuba and have been browsing for inspiration so this post was SO timely 🙂

    Sher
    http://www.shershegoes.com

    • That’s perfect!! There is so much to see in Cuba and my photos barely cover a portion of it. When do you leave? I am looking forward to seeing your pics on Instagram!

  • Cuba looks so cute and colorful! Would love to go one day to photograph. I want to visit with no expectation but the more photos I see the more difficult that will be.

    • It is!! The expectations around food are what I hear about the most. I was very happy with seafood everyday. 🙂

  • Such beautiful pics!! And love your tips… Wouldve never thought to bring my own travel mug! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  • Lily Flowers

    I love this post! And I love that you take gifts, what a great idea! Havana looks like the colorful city I’ve been waiting to meet, and cannot wait to visit. Did you wander alone or were you with a group? Did you always feel safe? We wouldn’t do a resort, more city travelers so I’m curious on the safety of the cities.

    • Thank you Lily! We took a tour into Havana to cover more ground. We mostly stuck to our group because of the time constraint on a tour. I’m sure there are unsafe areas of the city, also, but from others’ experiences, it is a very safe country.

  • So true about Havana! Our guide told us to not give to beggars.. because then you’d have a trail of people following you. It was tough.. but a tough life there too for many people.

    • It is so tough not to give them something, even something small, when they ask. One lady continually asked us for soap. 🙁

  • Kristen Kellogg

    I love the idea to go with no expectations. That’s the best way to explore in my opinion. Beautiful images and thanks for the great info Sherri!

    • You’re welcome Kristen!

  • Abby Castro

    I agree with Kristen – traveling without expectations definitely allows you to enjoy a site more since you can embrace whatever experiences you have along the way. Your photos are wonderful. Love the beautiful and vibrantly colored architecture. That would be a photographer’s dream!

    Abigail of GlobalGirlTravels.com

    • Thank you so much Abby! Cuba is definitely a photographer’s dream. I’d like to go back soon and visit more of the country. 🙂

  • Cuba sounds amazing! We would love to go someday. Your tips are great – especially the cup, zip lock bag, gifts and towel tips. I wasn’t aware that humidity was that bad! We also have to keep in mind not to give gifts to beggars don’t want a trail of people following us around.

    • Thank you for your comment! I highly recommend visiting Cuba and am going back again in the near future. 🙂

  • Sasha

    Amazing. I so wanted to visit Cuba this time last year but I was at the end of a multiple month trip through Central America and was low on cash and at the time could not find any information on how much everything would cost etc. I regret not going so much but all your photos defnitely still make me want to visit!

    • Thank you Sasha. I definitely recommend it and want to go back to visit other parts of the country. One week was not enough for me!

  • Ah man, Cuba looks incredibly colourful – it’s definitely one for the list… Good tip about the travel mug, i honestly wouldn’t have thought about bringing that with me! I remember watching an episode on Cuba recently on the Travel Channel and the food definitely looks like it doesn’t disappoint!

    I didn’t realise there were two currencies in Cuba!? What?!?

    • I know, crazy right? I need another trip soon… there’s so much to see!

  • oh Cuba is on the top of my list! Your photos are breathtaking, they are making me want to book a trip asap!

    • Thank you so much, Katie! You should book a trip, there are some great travel deals now! 🙂

  • Cuba is gorgeous! I love the colors and the vintage cars. I think I’d also put the catamaran cruise as my favorite activity, being a deserted island with great people sounds like a great experience. The fresh lobster and pasta lunch made me crave for some. :p

    • I agree with you! The catamaran cruise was amazing. It was so nice to be out on the calm water in the sunshine for the day. 🙂

  • Jean Bean

    Cuba looks gorgeous. I’ve never considered taking gifts to give to housekeepers or street children. maybe that’s my Australian heritage!

    • We heard from other Canadians who went to Cuba, so we followed that lead. 🙂 It was worth it!

  • Vishal

    With what is happening in Cuba (new flights, new treaties between them and USA, FC’s death) a lot of people will be searching for tips about a Cuban visit. Your article is a good reference document and I can see it can give detailed information to a lot of 1st time visitors to Cuba.

    • Thank you very much Vishal!

  • Skye

    Wow this looks amazing. I love that you took in the culture and got some time to relax by the pool and at the beach. That’s definitely the way to do it. That deserted beach looks incredible. Some great tips in this guide. It will be interesting to see what changes now. I guess you may need to go again to check it out 😉

    • Thank you! It was such a great trip and I definitely do need to go back again like you said! 🙂 We only touched 2 cities but there is so much else to see.

  • I wish to visit Cuba one day! I love the photos a lot! 🙂 Joanna- travelingslippers.com

    • Thank you so much!! I highly recommend visiting Cuba! Everyone I met was so nice. 🙂

  • Can I just say how wonderful that photo of the Cuban woman smoking tobacco is?! Cuba really is a one of a kind destination! It’s like traveling back in time.

    • Thank you so much! I agree, it is like travelling back in time. I love all the old cars and genuine people.