Travel, Currency and Money saving tips for Cuba
Bereft of modern interference, Cuba’s colonial cities haven’t changed much since musket-toting pirates stalked the Caribbean. The atmosphere and architecture is particularly stirring in Havana, Trinidad, Remedios and Camagüey where grandiose squares and cobbled streets tell erstwhile tales of opulence and intrigue.
Come here to be mesmerised by the eclectic architecture, with a surprise around every corner; to sway to the Cuban rhythms in surround sound as you stroll; to be inspired by cutting-edge contemporary art; and to taste the creative cuisine of the next gastronomic capital of the world. And whatever you do, explore beyond the borders of beautiful Habana Vieja (Old Havana), to discover the city’s distinct neighbourhoods.
What currency to use in Cuba?
Bring cash on your vacation. And lots of it. American travellers should note that credit cards and debit cards issued by American banks are not accepted anywhere on the island.
If you’re coming from Europe or elsewhere, there’s a good chance that the ATMs at the airport and major tourist destinations will accept your card, but it’s best to doublecheck with your bank before travelling. Beware that ATMs in Cuba have massive fees.
Some hotels, car rental agencies, and instutitutions run by the government accept credit cards (again, non-American), but it’s best not to count on it. None of the paladares (small family-run restaurants), casa particulares (home-stays), or small tourism businesses accept credit card.
ATMs and credit card machines are notoriously finicky in Cuba and you don’t want to be stuck with $US100 for a two-week vacation.
The best plan is to carefully budget how much money you think you will spend on your trip and add 10% – just in case anything goes wrong. If you can, bring the cash in euros. While Cuban currency is pegged to the U.S. dollar, the government charges a 10% penalty when converting dollars to pesos.
How to get around in Cuba?
Bus travel is a dependable way of getting around Cuba, at least in the more popular areas. Víazul (www.viazul.com) is the main long-distance bus company available to non-Cubans, with fairly punctual and reliable air-conditioned coaches going to destinations of interest to travelers.
Renting a car in Cuba is easy, but once you've factored in gas, insurance, hire fees etc, it isn't cheap. Prices vary with car size, season, and length of rental. Bank on paying an average of CUC$70 per day for a medium-sized car. It's actually cheaper to hire a taxi for distances of under 150km. Driving here isn't just a different ballpark, it's a different sport. The first problem is that there are no signs – almost anywhere. Major junctions and turnoffs to important resorts or cities are often not indicated at all. Not only is this distracting, it's also incredibly time-consuming. The lack of signage also extends to highway instructions. Often a one-way street is not clearly indicated or a speed limit not highlighted,
Cuba is a cyclist's paradise, with bike lanes, bike workshops and drivers accustomed to sharing the road countrywide. Spare parts are difficult to find – you should bring important spares with you. Throughout the country, the 1m-wide strip of road to the extreme right is reserved for bicycles, even on highways. It's illegal to ride on sidewalks and against traffic on one-way streets and you'll be ticketed if caught.
The most important ferry services for travelers are the catamaran from Surgidero de Batabanó to Nueva Gerona, Isla de la Juventud, and the passenger ferry from Havana to Regla and Casablanca. These ferries are generally safe.
Travel tips for Cuba.
The vast majority of Cuba's tourists gravitate to the attractive arcs of white sand that pepper the country's north coast and offshore islands. But, explore beyond the beaches and you’re in a different domain, a land of fecund forests and crocodile-infested swamps, abandoned coffee plantations and rugged mountains as famous for their revolutionary folklore as their endemic species.