Travel Tips & Useful Info

Cuban cars - Cuba Tours - On The Go Tours

If you're planning a trip to Cuba, here's the place where you'll find all the answers to your pre-travel questions including what health precautions to take, what to expect of the local food and the lowdown on tipping and bargaining plus plenty more.

What vaccinations do I need for Cuba?

You should seek medical advice before travelling to Cuba from your local health practitioner and ensure that you receive all of the appropriate vaccinations. As a guide Tetanus and Hepatitis A are strongly recommended.

Do I need anti-malaria tablets for Cuba?

There is no risk of malaria in Cuba but there is a risk of dengue fever and there have been cases of the Zika virus, therefore take extra care to avoid mosquito bites. The best prevention method is to use a mosquito repellent that contains at least 50% DEET and to sleep under the protection of a mosquito net. For more information on travel health in Cuba visit the NHS Fit to Travel page or the CDC Traveler's Health page.

Is it safe to drink tap water in Cuba?

As tap water is not safe to drink in Cuba, only drink bottled mineral water which is readily available in hotels, shops and restaurants. You should also avoid salads which may be washed in unhygienic water, and ice in drinks.

Cuban sandwich - Top Travel Tips
A tantalising Cuban sandwich loaded with ham, cheese, pickles and mustard

What's the food like in Cuba?

In Cuba most dishes consist of beans and rice with chicken or pork. Black beans and rice is the national staple and is referred to as “congri” or “moros” or “moros y cristianos”. Beef is rarely found in non-government restaurants as cows in Cuba are owned by the government. Food can be plain at times as spice is generally avoided in the kitchen, so it is not a bad idea to bring your own condiments if you're a fan of flavour.

Possibly the most famous Cuban dish, and one that has made its way across the water and into the USA, is the Cuban sandwich. This monster meal is filled with pork, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard on Cuban bread. Ropa Vieja (literally meaning old clothes) is another popular dish and consists of shredded steak or some other kind of meat in a rich sauce, served over rice or with tortillas and vegetables. Often meals are accompanied by yucca (cassava) covered in oil and garlic.

With sugarcane being the main export of Cuba, there is a range of delicious sweet treats on offer all over the country. Cocos, made from shredded coconut and brown sugar, are a common find in Cuba and sponge cake is so coveted by the population that the state actually gives them, free of charge, to children on their birthdays until they turn 15.

The main tipple of the island is rum and this can be found in all different manifestations. The international sensation that is the mojito finds its roots here as does the Cuba Libre. In addition to cocktails, visitors to Cuba will find lager in abundance, particularly Cristal.

Safe eating while travelling in Cuba

Eateries in Cuba tend to be divided in to national peso and convertible peso restaurants. The national peso variety caters predominantly for Cubans and as such the food is a lot cheaper but also a lot more variable in quality. Sticking to convertible peso restaurants generally ensures better food. Paladars - restaurants that have been set up in people’s homes - are also a good dining option as the food is home-cooked to order. As always, use your common sense when eating food - if it looks old or like it has been sitting out in the sun for a while then don’t eat it.

Is it standard to tip in Cuba?

The living wage in Cuba is low so tips go a long way. Generally, a tip of 10% is appropriate in a restaurant, 15% for exceptional service. Most public toilets will have an attendant who will demand money. This is not a particularly pleasant job so, although it is annoying to have to pay every time you need to go, it is considered polite to leave a tip. Musicians are common in Cuba and often there will be salsa performers in the streets and a tip of 1 or 2 CUC (USD $1-2) is a nice gesture if you have been watching the performance. It is considered rude to listen to the music and then not to tip.

Cuban cigars - Top Travel Tips
A collection of Cuban cigars in open humidor, a perfect souvenir

What to shop for in Cuba

One of Cuba's most popular and highly regarded exports is its cigars. These can be found throughout the entire country and are usually good quality. Rum is another popular souvenir and Havana Club tends to be one of the better brands. Cuba is not usually considered much of a shopping destination but aside from cigars and rum, visitors might want to take home a CD of salsa music or maybe something from the huge array of Che Guevara merchandise.

Is bargaining acceptable in Cuba?

Haggling is certainly acceptable in some scenarios in Cuba. Restaurants, casas particulares, tourist buses and state owned taxis will generally have fixed prices but prices elswhere can be negotiated. Private taxis will often inflate their prices for tourists but this can usually be whittled down. Street vendors and markets are normally open to bargaining as well.

Travelling in Cuba as a solo woman

Cuba is very safe for women travelling alone. In Old Havana there is the chance you might get whistled at but that is about the extent of it. In other places foreign women on their own will probably just be ignored (in a good way). Generally speaking, women travelling alone won’t encounter any problems in Cuba but taking standard precautions, especially late at night, is advised. The discos and salsa clubs in larger cities are boisterous places so it's wise to be careful if you are partying after dark but nothing more so than you would back home.

What is the duty free allowance for Cuba?

The following may be brought into Cuba by travellers aged 18 years and over without incurring customs duty:

  • 400 cigarettes, 50 cigars or 500g of tobacco
  • 2.5 litres of alcoholic beverages
  • Gifts up to a value of CUC$50.99
  • Medicines required for personal use

Changing money in Cuba

The currency of Cuba is the Cuban Peso, which is usually abbreviated to CUP. For the latest exchange rates head to Oanda.

Cuba has a rather confusing economy with two parallel currencies. The currency you will use for the majority of your visit is the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC). The other currency used is the local Cuban Peso (CUP). In 2004, in response to tightened sanctions by the US, former president Fidel Castro banned the use of US dollars. The CUC was created in response to the ban so that the tourist market and 'luxury' items could remain under a separate and stronger currency.

It is best to take Pounds Sterling and Euros to exchange into Cuban Convertable Pesos (CUC) at the airport. Exchanging dollars is risky and attracts unfavourable exchange rates. There are ATMs in Cuba, however, these are very unreliable. Both types of Pesos are worthless outside of Cuba so unless you want them as souvenirs it is wise to spend or exchange them all before leaving.

Traveller's Cheques are not recommended as they're often difficult to exchange and incur high fees. If you have to take travellers cheques then please be aware that they cannot be used if they are in US dollars.

What do things cost in Cuba?

As a travel destination Cuba is much cheaper than other islands in the Caribbean but considered more expensive than countries in Central America. Hotels at the higher end of the scale tend to cost around USD $75 per night whereas casas particulares usually cost between USD $15 and $35 depending on whether you visit during high or low season. A decent meal will normally come to around USD $10 but street food can be as little as USD $2. A three course meal in state-run restaurants will amount to around USD $20. Car hire can cost anything from USD $50-150 per day depending on the size of the car but local buses can be taken for next to nothing, although they are usually crowded and uncomfortable.

When travelling on tour with us to Cuba, your accommodation and local transport is included, and we recommend budgeting USD $25-30 spending money per day to cover meals, drinks, souvenirs and extras.

What sort of plugs do I need for Cuba and what is the voltage?

Standard Voltage is 110v and plugs are the US style with 2 flat plugs. We recommend that you pack a universal travel adaptor.

Is WiFi widely available in Cuba?

WiFi is much less common in Cuba than it is in most of the rest of the world. Internet usage is closely controlled by the government and free WiFi is virtually unheard of. If you are lucky enough to find a connection it is likely to be painfully slow and very expensive. If you can go without internet for the duration of your trip you will save yourself a lot of hassle and money.

What time zone is Cuba on?

Cuba is 5 hours behind Greenwich Meantime (GMT). Cuba does not observe Daylight Saving.

Further reading for planning your trip to Cuba

To make the most of your time in Cuba check out more of our useful resources:

Best Places to Visit - what to see in Cuba and our top destinations
Best Time to Visit - a guide to the seasons and what weather to expect
Tourist Visas - information on visa regulations and procurement
Style of Travel - details on our Cuba tours including local transport