A little local know-how goes a long way in Cuba. Here you will find all the essential advice and information you will need during your stay.
Cuba, as a rule, is incredibly safe. However, petty theft occurs, so be careful when carrying cameras and other valuables loose on your shoulder. It is best to keep all of your valuables in sight at all times.
Be wary of pickpockets on public transport and in crowded city centres. If you have anything stolen, report the crime within 24 hours to the nearest police station and take your passport with you. If you need to make an insurance claim, get a copy of the crime report (denuncia). Contact your embassy if your passport is stolen, or in the event of a serious crime or accident.
Be sure to bring any medicine you know you will need during your stay. It is also wise to bring a small medical kit with you. If you need additional medicinal supplies, seek out one of the country’s International Pharmacies (Farmacias Internacionales) or, if needed, local pharmacies (farmacias).
Emergency medical care for visitors is given at International Clinics (Clínicas Internacionales), and at local hospitals. You will need to show your medical insurance documents. You may be charged a nominal fee for any treatment that you receive, but you may be able to claim the money back later. As such, it is important to arrange comprehensive medical insurance.
Smoking is banned in many enclosed public spaces, including restaurants, but few establishments adhere to the policy, which is rarely enforced. The possession of illegal drugs is prohibited and could result in a prison sentence as Cuba has zero tolerance.
Cuba has a strict limit of 0.05 per cent BAC (blood alcohol content) for drivers. This means that you cannot drink more than a small beer or tot of rum if you plan to drive. Drivers who cause an accident and have a BAC in excess of this limit are likely to be given a prison sentence.
By law you must carry identification with you at all times in Cuba. A photocopy of your passport photo page and tourist card should suffice. If you are stopped by the police you may need to present your original passport within 24 hours.
Cuba is a tolerant country but attitudes are still rather conservative. Nudism and topless bathing are not allowed on most beaches.
Although Cuba is still a one-party state, Cubans today are politically engaged and you will find them happy to discuss the intricacies of their political system.
Most churches and cathedrals permit visitors during Sunday Mass and entrance to churches is free. Although Cuba is officially a secular state, it retains a strong Catholic identity, and Afro-Cuban religions such as Santería are even more firmly entrenched.
When visiting religious buildings ensure that you are dressed modestly, with your knees and shoulders covered.
Wi-Fi is widely available in most hotels and parks, as well as a few cafés and restaurants. All users must purchase a scratch card issued by Etecsa, the state telecommunications company. The card includes a username and password for a specific number of hours’ use. A few hotels offer free Wi-Fi, while others charge their own rates.
Visitors bringing mobile phones should check with their service providers to determine if they will work in Cuba and if they will be subject to roaming charges. A SIM card can be purchased from Cubacel offices for local calls and messages within Cuba. Note that an activation fee also applies.
Stamps (estampillas) are sold at all post offices and prepaid postcards are sold at many state-run souvenir stalls. Cuban post is notorious for its unreliability, and letters and postcards often take over two weeks to be delivered, depending on the destination.
No taxes apply on purchases in Cuba, nor is there a departure tax. However, many paintings incur a $3 fee by Customs at the airport upon departure.
Consider an organized tour with a reputable agency, such as Captivating Cuba, if you prefer your travel arrangements to be pre-arranged. Cuba Unbound tailors trips to allow you to pursue a special interest. “People-to-people educational programs” from the US, such as with National Geographic Expeditions, are often accompanied by a Cuba expert and offer an in-depth insight into Cuban culture.
National Geographic Expeditions
Need to know Getting Around
Need to know Practical Information
Daylight Saving Time (DST) runs second Sunday in March to first Sunday in November.
Water purity is unreliable so, to be safe, drink bottled water.
Need to know Practical Information
Check out Cuba’s national tourist board website at www.cubatravel.cu.
This is an engaging monthly online magazine, with a weekly calendar, found at www.oncuba.com.
With offices in most towns, this agency runs tours and offers accomodation advice, at www.cubanacan.cu.
Book a tour with this eco-tourism agency through www.ecoturcuba.tur.cu.