What to Know About Cuba

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Cuba is a very unique country and due to its close proximity to North America, we know many people who have gone and have built their own opinions of the country.  This post covers just tips that we feel are necessary to know if you are planning a trip to Cuba.

  • Visas – As Canadians, we didn’t have a problem entering or exiting the country.  We were told we needed to have medical insurance upon entry, but our documents weren’t even looked at.  When you are leaving Cuba, make sure you have $25 CUC in cash (per person) for the exit Visa – you have to pay this before you go through security.
  • Food – Many people told us that the food wasn’t great in Cuba and even told us to bring our favourite hot sauces or ketchup.  Sure, even a few days at a resort buffet can bore you, but our experience with the food outside of the resort was fine.  Restaurants and paladars are all over and generally fairly priced.  Many of our favourite meals were had in Havana and involved lobster, shrimp and fresh fish. While I didn’t find it necessary to bring condiments, others have had different experiences. Though, you can’t deny a restaurant with a nice view and a cold cerveza!
  • Tipping – The tourist currency (CUC – Cuban convertibles) is highly valued by the Cubans and many will stand on their head to get a tip from the visiting tourists.  In Matanzas we were entertained for half an hour by two men and their acrobatic wiener dog.  After the show, we couldn’t help but to pass on a tip to show our appreciation.
  • Scams – Generally we found things to be alright, although, as always, be wary when traveling.  One Cuban couple tried their hardest to get us to buy some ‘Russian milk’ for their baby which a store down the street only sold to tourists…we found it odd that they didn’t want money and instead were trying to usher is into a specific store.  We also had read about Cuban cigar scams where if you bought cheaper ones off the street, they not only wouldn’t be the authentic Cohiba you were looking for, but would be made up of bits of pre-smoked cigars. Ew!  If something just seems fishy and you don’t feel right going along with things, then follow your conscience.  It’s better than kicking yourself with regret later on.
  • Safety – Despite the warning of scams above, there really isn’t a big concern for safety in Cuba, provided you stay smart and take care of your belongings.  Cubans are a friendly people and, for the most part, really aren’t out to scam you or force you to tip them. We never felt threatened or in danger, ultimately a very safe place to travel.
  • Language – Having a foundation of French and then taking a Spanish course a few years ago prior to a trip to Spain, it was easy for us to dust off the usual ‘hello’, ‘good-bye’, ‘please’, and ‘thank-you’ (though we were definitely a bit rusty!).  As we were in tourist-centered locations, we really didn’t have any problems getting around.  It seems like many Cubans know multiple languages which helps!

I would definitely go back to Cuba; we need to see the southern and eastern sides of the country.  Whether you are looking for a relaxo resort in a tropical dream, or a cultural jolt fairly close to home, I would say Cuba is an excellent bet!

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