Things to Know Before You Go to Cuba

Striking the perfect harmony between planning and spontaneity enriches travel. This City Knows curates the essential things to know before you go to Cuba, enabling you to sketch your journey or veer off the beaten path.

Woman riding a vintage convertible in Cuba

Before setting off on your vibrant journey to the heart of the Caribbean, there’s one charming thing to know before you go to Cuba: the island is the proud home of the world’s tiniest aviator, the bee hummingbird, or as the locals call it, the zunzuncito. Measuring just under five centimeters and able to travel at almost 50 kph, this feathered marvel is considered a harbinger of good luck by those who’re lucky enough to catch a glimpse of it. 

And speaking of luck, let this tiny bird’s extraordinary existence be your first enchanting peek into Cuba’s wealth of natural wonders and cultural treasures. This City Knows sets the stage for an adventure filled with discovery and delight!

Planning Your Visit to Cuba

Embarking on a Cuban adventure unfolds a myriad of vibrant experiences— from salsa rhythms under the stars to tranquil mornings in lush tobacco fields. Navigating the essential things to know before you go to Cuba sets the tone for an unforgettable journey.

When to Go and How Much to Bring

We believe the best time to visit Cuba is during the dry season, from November to April, when you can enjoy sunny days and cool evenings. This period also includes lively festivals such as the Havana Jazz Festival held every December and the Festival del Habano in February, which is perfect for music and cigar aficionados. 

Do note, however, that Cuba’s dry season can still experience occasional rainfall, especially towards April. Additionally, the peak tourist season is really from December to March, which might lead to more crowded conditions and higher prices.

With that said, budgeting for Cuba tends to be a bit more unique. Daily expenses can vary widely depending on your travel style. For example, street food and local diners (paladares) offer authentic Cuban dishes at lower prices, while government-run restaurants and tourist spots are often pricier. 

Preparing a mix of cash for local spending and a budget for tours or unique experiences is always essential, concerning credit card acceptance is limited.

Where to Stay

Finding the perfect place to stay in Cuba can enrich your travel experience, offering a deeper dive into the local culture and lifestyle:

  • Casa Lamar la Habana in Havana: Immerse yourself in the vibrant heart of Cuba’s capital with a stay at this charming casa particular, blending comfort with authentic Cuban hospitality.
  • Casa de Willy y Aurora in Varadero: Escape to the stunning beaches of Varadero and enjoy the warmth of Cuban family life in this cozy homestay.
  • Casa Sofia Cabin in Trinidad: Nestle into the historical ambiance of Trinidad with a stay in this quaint cabin, offering a unique blend of rustic charm and local culture.
Classic cars on a street in Cuba

How to Get Around

Navigating Cuba is an adventure in itself. Of course, the most authentic way to explore is by using local transportation methods. Classic cars, known locally as almendrones, offer a nostalgic ride through the cities, while colectivos (shared taxis) provide a cost-effective way to travel longer distances. 

For exploring more remote areas, renting a car might be the best option, though booking in advance is recommended due to limited availability. Walking in smaller towns like Trinidad offers an intimate glimpse into the daily life and architectural beauty of Cuba.

Culture and Interaction in Cuba

Diving into Cuba’s rich tapestry of cultures and traditions is a journey of discovery, where every interaction and every street corner offers a new insight into the island’s soul. 

Understanding the things to know before you go to Cuba can truly open doors to deeper connections and enriching experiences:

Local Customs and Etiquette

Cubans are known for their warmth and hospitality. Greetings are usually enthusiastic, often coming with a handshake or a kiss on the cheek among friends. Dress codes are generally casual and according to the weather, and modesty is always appreciated, especially in religious or formal settings. 

When it comes to tipping, the practice is customary in Cuba, reflecting appreciation for service in restaurants, bars, and taxis—usually 10% of the bill or a small amount for services, so always keep your calculators handy.

Language Tips

While Spanish is the lingua franca of Cuba, making an effort to learn a few basic phrases can greatly enhance your experience and interactions with locals. Phrases like ¿cómo está? (how are you?) and gracias (thank you) are essential. Of course, English may be spoken to some extent in tourist areas, but carrying a Spanish phrasebook or a translation app can be incredibly helpful— particularly in more remote regions or for deeper conversations with locals. 

We’re not saying you have to be a polyglot, but embracing the language can be a gateway to the very heart of Cuban culture, inviting you into a more authentic and memorable journey.

Musician playing a guitar in Cuba

Exploring & Experiencing Cuba

Unlocking the heart of Cuba goes beyond its sun-kissed beaches, leading you to discover a country rich in history, culture, and culinary delights. 

Here’s what you need to consider in the things to know before you go to Cuba for a truly immersive experience:

Must-Visit Attractions

UNESCO World Heritage site Havana’s Old Town (Habana Vieja) offers a window into Cuba’s colonial past with its vibrant plazas and historic architecture. Venture to Viñales Valley for breathtaking natural landscapes and insight into Cuba’s tobacco farming traditions. Also, don’t miss Trinidad, a perfectly preserved Spanish colonial settlement where time seems to stand still. For something off the beaten path, seek out Playa Girón, which is known for its historical significance and excellent snorkeling conditions.

Beyond the timeless allure of its cities and landscapes, Cuba’s eastern gem, Santiago de Cuba, invites you further to explore. As the birthplace of rum and Cuban music, Santiago de Cuba offers a spirited journey through the island’s cultural heart. Here, the Castillo del Morro, a 17th-century fortress overlooking the Caribbean Sea, not only provides historical context but also spectacular views. 

While you’re at it, engage with the island’s musical roots at Casa de la Trova for an evening of authentic Cuban son— a genre that gave rise to salsa. This blend of historical depth and rhythmic soul epitomizes the Cuban experience, making Santiago de Cuba a pivotal chapter in your travel story.

Food and Drink

Cuban cuisine is a flavorful fusion of Spanish, African, and Caribbean influences. Must-try dishes include ropa vieja (shredded beef) and lechón (roast pork), best enjoyed at local paladares. For a more authentic dining experience, sip on a mojito or Cuba libre at one of Havana’s lively bars. Strict vegans also need not worry as dietary restrictions can be accommodated in larger cities, where international cuisine is increasingly available. 

Tourists enjoying a Havana sunset cruise

Local Experiences

Embrace the rhythm of Cuba by attending a live salsa session. You’ll never be disappointed as many clubs offer lessons for beginners. Further explore Cuba’s rich art scene with a visit to the Fábrica de Arte Cubano, a unique art gallery and cultural venue in Havana. For eco-tourism advocates, the national parks can also offer guided tours showcasing Cuba’s diverse flora and fauna. 

Of course, these unique experiences can vary in cost, with cultural tours starting at around $25, yet still offering valuable insights into Cuba’s vibrant culture and traditions.

Staying Safe & Healthy in Cuba

In Cuba, staying safe means staying informed. An important thing to know before you go to Cuba is that the country is generally safe for travelers. Still, as in any unfamiliar territory you visit, it’s always wise to be cautious of petty theft in crowded areas. 

Also, do avoid drinking tap water to be on the safe side. Anyway, bottled water is readily available in most parts and highly recommended. No specific vaccinations are also required for entry, but standard travel vaccines are advised. Do note that healthcare facilities can be limited outside of major cities, so travel insurance with medical coverage is a must for visitors.

Read More Things to Know Before You Go to Cuba with This City Knows

These essential things to know before you go to Cuba encompass a spectrum of experiences— from the island’s rich history and culture to its delectable cuisine and stunning natural beauty. After all, Cuba is a country where every journey becomes a story, and every meal a celebration.

Embark on your Cuban adventure with This City Knows as your guide. From the vibrant streets of Havana to the serene landscapes of the countryside, we’re here to ensure your travel story is one for the books. 

Plan your travels with us and uncover the soul of Cuba, one unforgettable experience at a time!

Patty O.
Author: Patty O.

A city girl through and through, Patty has always planned her adventures in and around urban areas. Through her travel writing, she aims to make a compelling case for the global city as a place of endless discovery and satisfaction. Her goal is to detail how urban exploration can fulfill the desires of anyone and everyone, from cultural and culinary adventurers to historical and supernatural enthusiasts.

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