Over the past 18 months, Cuba has been in the news more than it has been in recent years. This is obviously due to the normalisation of U.S.A. – Cuban relations and the relaxation of the Cuba Trade Embargo. However, there have been many media reports pointing out that soon Cuba will be a changed country due to an influx of American tourists and goods; Cuba will be a homogenous tropical tourist destination, just like anywhere else in the Caribbean.
Of course, anyone who has been to Cuba knows that this is unlikely to be the case. Millions of Canadian, Australians, Europeans, Russians and Chinese people visit Cuba each year, bringing with them plenty of the culture these nationalities share with Americans. It surprises many people but in some regards, Cuba is more modern and developed than people realise. Here’s a quick run-down of what to expect and what to do when you get to Cuba:
You can get Coca-Cola! And Heinz ketchup, Nike clothes, Marlboro cigarettes, Disney toys and many other products by American brands. The products are usually manufactured or produced in Mexico or other Latin American countries but Cubans have access to these goods.
Not everyone drives a Lada or a 1950’s Ford. In fact, contemporary motors by European and Russian manufacturers are just as plentiful as classic cars.
Virtually every Cuban you meet will be bi- or tri-lingual. Spanish is the national language but most people can speak English as well as French or German. Prior to 1991, Russian was taught as student’s second language in schools so many Cubans are fluent Russian speakers too.
Cuba has the best education system in Latin America and the Caribbean. Cuba also dedicates more of its national budget to education than any other country in the world! Plus, education is free in Cuba which means most Cubans are highly educated to third or even fourth-level. However, the most sought after jobs in Cuba are careers in the tourism industry. Tourism jobs pay more than most jobs – partially due to tips, so it’s not unusual to be served by a barman who is a qualified doctor or has a hotel room cleaned by a fully trained teacher.
Salsa, mambo and other Afro-Cuban music are everywhere but Cubans also listen to modern rock and pop. There is a Beatles bar in Varadero and Beyonce is as popular in Cuba as she is everywhere else. You may even be serenaded by street musicians singing a Spanish-language version of Katy Perry or Ed Sheeran.
Service is limited but people have cell phones – including smartphones- and internet access. However, internet access in Cuba is amongst the most censored and expensive in the world.
Bring plenty of cash. Your credit and debit cards will not work in Cuba plus you won’t have access to ATMs. Cuban currency can only be bought in Cuba so you will need to convert to pesos once you arrive. You can do this in the airport though most hotels will have a currency exchange too.
Plumbing and facilities in Cuba are not great. Even bathrooms in public spaces will be below the standards most tourists are used to. Some places will charge users for toilet paper or even to use the bathroom facilities. Many places will also not have a high standard of running water so be prepared to not be allowed to flush toilet paper or do not have taps to wash your hands. It’s advisable to carry your own toilet paper and hand sanitiser wherever you go.
Bring small gifts for the locals, especially the staff working in the hotels and establishments you visit on your trip. By gifts we mean, toilet paper, diapers, shampoos, makeup, clothes and essential food items. These items are available for the locals but they are often priced outside what they can afford. Every Cuban has a rations booklet which allows them to buy these items but if they need extras before they are due their next allotment, it may cost them a huge portion of their weekly salary.
When you are on the beach or in other public spaces, you will likely meet locals trying to sell items, from cigars and rum to lobsters and chocolate. They may offer good deals but generally, it’s best not to purchase these as often they are selling cheap knock-offs.
What To Do!
Make sure to take a trip in a classic car. Most taxis are old fashioned American cars (appealing to tourism market!) and they are pretty cheap too. It’s not unusual to take a taxi driver for a long journey that you may do by bus somewhere else. It’s also not unusual to share a cab with strangers.
Go swimming and snorkelling. The beaches in Cuba are some of the best, unspoiled, white sand beaches in the world. Whether in the Atlantic and the Caribbean, be sure to hire snorkelling gear and take a look around the coral reefs.
Visit an animal sanctuary. Cuba is home to many exotic creatures like the Cuban painted snail, iguanas, the world’s smallest hummingbird, vultures, snakes and crocodiles.
Cuba is dotted with caves and deep swimming holes. It’s pretty spectacular – and kind of daunting- to go swimming in a 40ft deep cave and not know what lurks beneath. A must-do for the adventurous!
Of course, you must drink a mojito!
Wherever you are based for your vacation, find time for day trip to Havana. Old Cuba meets New Cuba in Havana and visitors will experience something truly unique and spectacular when in Havana where they history dates from Christopher Columbus to Hemingway and beyond.
Getting To Cuba
It’s pretty easy to get to Cuba unless you have an American passport as restrictions are still enforced for visitors from the U.S. All other visitors simply need a Cuban tourist visa. Visa First can help you get your Cuban visitor card quickly and easily. If you are planning a trip of a lifetime to Cuba, get in touch today to get started. We promise not to sound too jealous of your amazing holiday!