Cuba is one of those places that evokes a curiosity too strong to ignore. For many Cuba will forever remain nothing more than a mystery, but those who make the journey will find a land stuck in limbo between two eras. From the bustling capital of Havana to the sprawling, prehistoric foothills of Vinales, Cuba is full of history and culture that is unlike anywhere else in the world.
UK citizens do require a visa to visit Cuba. Firstly, your passport will need to be valid for 2 months beyond the proposed duration of your stay. The single-entry visa/tourist card permits you stay in Cuba for up to 30 days and costs £39. You will need to obtain the visa from a Cuban embassy prior to arrival or from your departing airport (location depending). Before being granted entry you will need to provide proof of return flight.
WHAT TO SEE & DO
Cuba's capital city is everything you want it to be and so much more. It was like stepping back in time. The cars, the building, the whole city is just full of character and energy. It's safe to say that Havana is a city unlike any other.
The Jurassic Park style landscapes of Vinales will never fail to amaze. The Vinales Valley is a national park and UNESCO site. You can spend your days horse riding, visiting cigar factories and enjoying a simple, rural lifestyle.
La Plata -
Visit the headquarters of Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and their rebel army. The grounds remain largely unchanged offering an authentic experience.
It will come as no surprise that Cuba is home to many spectacular beaches. The beautiful white sand and crystal-clear, blue water that is synonymous with the Caribbean. Some of the best beaches are Varadero, Bacuranao, Tamara and Guanabo.
This romantic, little colonial town still retains its authenticity despite the recent influx of tourists. Wander the charming cobblestone streets, take in live music and enjoy the Cuban way of life.
BUDGET & MONEY
Despite popular opinion to the contrary - Cuba is NOT cheap. On average, for 2 people, we were spending about 92 CUC (£73.60) per day. That figure includes accommodation, transport, activities, food and, of course, rum. It's worth us mentioning that we were splurging a bit in Cuba as we were on the backend of our 9 month adventure in South and Central America and in desperate need of relaxation and a loose budget. Even if you travel Cuba as cost-effectively as possible, you'll struggle to do so on less than 60 CUC (£48) per day.
Cuba has two official currencies. The CUC, which is what you'll mostly use as a tourist, is pegged at the exchange rate as the USD. Although, thanks to diplomatic relations with the US, there's a 13% commission/tax when exchanging USD for CUC making Euros and Mexican Pesos the more favoured currencies to exchange. The second currency is the CUP or MN (Moneda Nacional) which is valued at 1 CUC = 24 MN. This currency is mostly used by locals for small purchases such as street food. Always check your change as its not uncommon for tourists to be given CUP as change when paying with CUC. Remember this - CUC notes have monuments and CUP notes have faces on them.
Casa Paticulares are the best form of accommodation in Cuba. Privately owned houses where the owners rent out rooms. These are always of a decent standard, a great experience and are a way of supporting the local people. Expect to pay a minimum of 25-30 CUC (£20-24) per night.
You can pick up a snack or small meal from a street vendor for 15-25 MN (£0.50-0.85) but would advise caution if you have a weak stomach. For a meal in a local restaurant you're looking at paying 3-5 CUC (£2.40-4) and in a tourist-orientated restaurant you'll pay a minimum of 15 CUC (£12).
Buses in Cuba are by no means luxurious but they aren't as bad as we were expecting. The country's infrastructure network is pretty poor and roads leave a lot to be desired. There is only one bus company available for tourists and the average cost for an hour of bus travel is 3 CUC (£2.40)
- Havana to Valadero - 3 hours - 10 CUC (£8)
- Valadero to Trinidad - 7 hours - 20 CUC (£16)
- Trinidad to Holbein - 9 hours - 26 CUC (£20.80)
- Havana to Vinales - 4 hours - 12 CUC (£9.60)
There are only a limited number of trips per day between destinations so make sure to book in advance.
For the most part Cuba is pretty chilled out. The risk of any serious or violent crime towards tourists is very low but there is still a fair amount of pickpocketing and petty theft. Try not to make yourself a target by not being flashy with cash, jewellery or electronics, avoid being out alone after dark and only use registered taxis which staff in most bars, clubs and restaurants will call for you.
As with any destination on the backpacker trail you need to keep a sharp eye on your belongings on buses and in and around stations, cities and major attractions as petty crime and bag theft is always a concern.
Final thing; make sure to have these numbers saved in your phone -
- Police: 106
- Ambulance/Fire: 104/105
- Your Embassy (UK): +53 7 214 2200