There’s probably thousands of questions in your head, because of that Cuba trip, that you are planning. Everyone’s saying different things about how to get money, how to travel around, how to find wifi and so on.
Wherever you’re from – you’ll have the same question when it comes to Cuba 😉
Here’s a list of common questions about how to travel Cuba and our answers after an extensive trip to Cuba:
Question: Do I need a Visa for Cuba?
That depends on where you’re from. As an Austrian, German or US citizen you don’t need a visa. You’ll need a tourist card, which you’ll be able to buy directly at the check in counter at the airport. In our case we were standing in line at the check in and a uniformed airport official walked from passenger to passenger and sold the tourist cards. They cost about 20 dollars per person.
Question: How much money do I need in Cuba?
How much you’ll need will again depend on your personal needs. On some days we spent next to nothing, because we stayed in our All Inclusive resort in Varadero. On other days we spent 180 dollars on a private driver alone (to get to Viñales – in case you’re wondering).
We brought about 600 Euros per person worth of cash for 8 days. But we had to withdraw additional 200 CUC (more or less equivalent to Euros/Dollars) at an ATM later during our trip. Turns out: Getting around to really travel Cuba is more expensive than we thought.
Experiences like the vintage car ride can cost quite some money (in this case 35 CUC)
Question: Where can I change or withdraw money from my bank account?
Cash is king in Cuba. In the rare cases we saw credit card machines (think a 5 star hotel in Havana), they didn’t work because of connection problems. Or maybe they just didn’t want the machines to work, because the fees are too high. Nobody will ever know 🙂
That’s why: Bring enough cash!
But: Don’t bring dollars. Exchanging dollars costs an extra fee.
(We were in Mexico before, so we brought Mexican pesos which was fine.)
You can change the money you brought into CUC directly at the airport. Once you leave the terminal building there’s two change desks – one on the left and one on the right side. Both will have a long line in front of them. Better split up and stand in line at both sides if you didn’t come alone to travel Cuba 😉
CUC is the official currency for visitors in Cuba. You won’t get any CUPs (the local currency), but make sure that nobody hands you back CUP when you pay with CUCs. The difference is printed on the bills (on CUC it says “Pesos Convertibles“).
?? Pro tip:
You can also change money in some hotels, like the Iberostar Parque Central in Havana. But: Only if you are a guest. This does save you a lot of time compared to the lines at the airport.
This brings us to the next point:
Yes, ATMs work in some places, but there’s not too many machines. We were able to withdraw money at one of the 2 ATM machines we found in Trinidad with our Austrian bank cards.
The only working ATM we found in Trinidad (spot the line of people 😉 )
Question: How can I travel around the island?
Most visitors will want to see more of Cuba than just Havana or Varadero. But: The island is big and transportation isn’t cheap.
There’s basically these methods of transport:
We mention this first, because it’s quite common. Everyone does it in Cuba. Not only the tourists. Even (or especially) the locals. And of course the backpackers who travel Cuba. We never tried ourselves, because we also noticed that people will have to bring a lot of patience for this method of transportation. And that’s not our strong suit. But it’s of course the cheapest method of transportation – if only there weren’t always a shortage of cars.
- Viazul bus:
Viazul is the official tourist bus company in Cuba. Their schedules are on their website, but you’ll have to book well in advance. Price example: 20 dollars per person for the trip Varadero – Trinidad.When we were in Varadero we only stayed one night and wanted to go to Trinidad the next day. We hadn’t booked bus tickets in advance. So we asked our hotel concierge for help. He told us what we already knew: The bus is fully booked. He suggested to go to the Viazul station at least 2 hours ahead of the scheduled bus time to secure ourselves a waiting list spot. We did just that and got up at 5:30am to be at the station early enough. But once we arrived there we found another solution:
- Taxi Colectivo:
This is our preferred method of transportation to travel Cuba – shared taxis. At most bus stations, there will be local taxi drivers picking up guests. They’ll just wait in front of the building to find riders. Price example: 40 dollars per person for the trip Varadero – Trinidad. The advantage of this: While the bus stops in countless cities and takes up to 7 hours for this trip, the taxi only takes 3,5 hours. We were ok with paying double the price for this comfort. (Later we found out our co-riders only paid 30 dollars, because one of them spoke Spanish. This makes negotiations easier.) The disadvantage: The taxis only go if they are fully booked – so 4 passengers per car. We had to wait for two others to join us for the ride, but got lucky after only 10 minutes.
- Hotel shuttle busses (Transtour):
A lot of hotels offer shuttle busses between different destinations. We booked this method of transportation to get back to Havana from Trinidad. Price example: 27 dollars per person for the trip Trinidad – Havana.The advantage: You can book it directly in the hotel (in Havana for example) or at a local bus desk. Also: This bus picks you up directly in front of the hotel and brings you to the doorstep of your next hotel. The disadvantage: It does the same for all other passengers – which means countless stops and long travel times.
- Rental car:
You can rent a car to travel Cuba. But: Rental cars are quite expensive. We wanted to rent a car for 3 days and it would’ve cost us 400 dollars (gas excluded). At the bigger hotels they have rental car desks, but with limited availabilities (and the same crazy prices). Therefore we didn’t rent a car. Maybe that was a good idea in the end, because the roads aren’t in great condition and navigation might have been another problem.
This is a colectivo waiting for guests in front of a bus terminal
On our way in a Colectivo in Cuba (and yes, it rained that day!) 🙂
Question: How can I find Wifi / Internet?
Internet is probably the scarcest resource in Cuba today. Don’t expect restaurants to offer it, don’t expect hotels to offer it (at least not for free), don’t expect it to always work. Here’s what we experienced:
Our hotel Iberostar Parque Central offered complimentary wifi in the lobby (at least for guests in Suites). You’ll get scratch cards worth 5 hours of surfing at the business center. With the username and password you’ll be able to login and surf with decent speed. We used a couple of these cards during our stay 😉 If you finish a card you’ll just go get a new one. And: we got lucky! The wifi also worked in our room in the 5th floor.
Our hotel Iberostar Varadero offered wifi cards for sale. 1 hour costs 1,50 dollars. There was no connection in our room or in the restaurant. So we had to work in the lobby. It’s the same cards as in Havana. If we had known this we would’ve brought an additional card from Havana 😉
Our hotel Iberostar Trinidad offered wifi cards for sale. 1 hour costs 1,50 dollars. Here we only had connection in the lobby bar, which is therefore a very well visited place – also for non-hotel guests. It’s the same scratch cards again, so our tip is to stock up on cards in Havana when they’re complimentary!
We never managed to find any other good wifi. There is free wifi in some parks or public places in Havana, but it really didn’t work for us – but maybe we just didn’t get lucky.
The Iberostar Parque Central is the clear winner in the wifi category
These were the main questions we asked ourselves before our trip to Cuba. We hope this helps you sort out some of the questions you had about traveling to Cuba!
If you want to check our travel guide for Havana click here: