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Cuba Guide & Travel Advice

Getting there

There are direct flights from London Gatwick to Havana with Virgin Atlantic. A number of European airlines also service Havana on connecting flights through their respective hubs. These include Iberia, Air Europa, Air France, KLM and Air Canada. It is strongly recommend not to fly to Cuba via the United States as officials will deny entry on arrival in the US once seeing your final destination and Cuban Tourist Card.

Flying times from UK

Direct flights take around 9½ hours. Connecting flights can take up to 15 hours.

Time zone

Cuba is -4 hours behind GMT.

Visa requirements

When travelling to Cuba, UK citizens require a visa which is known as a Cuban Tourist Card. This will need to be obtained and completed before you travel to Cuba and can be collected in person from the Cuban Embassy in London or applied for by post. Please note that your passport must be valid for 6 months from your return date of travel.

Do’s and don'ts

Try to learn a few words in Spanish as this will help you greatly – especially in rural areas.

Although a relatively safe country, it is best to leave valuables in a hotel safe and avoid carrying large amounts of money when sightseeing.

Relax and remember that the country operates on ‘Cuba time’!

Cuba’s infrastructure is outdated and resources limited so flexibility is required as plans can change.

Money

Cuba currently operates a dual currency system – the Convertible Peso (CUC) used by tourists and the Cuban Peso (CUP) used by locals. You will not be able to exchange CUC outside of Cuba, before or after you travel. It is advised to travel with cash and exchange most of it when you arrive at Havana airport. Pound Sterling can be exchanged for CUC outside of the airport at banks and cadecas, the official currency exchange offices, in most cities and large towns or at your hotel. Banks and cadecas may have long queues and unusual opening hours, even in peak season, so be prepared to wait around or return later to exchange your money. Please note that in Cuba you will not be able to use your debit card to make cash withdrawals or payments but credit cards are now more commonly accepted as long as they are not American-owned or affiliated. It is always advisable to contact your bank before travelling to check if your cards will work in the country.

Tipping

Although not compulsory, a tipping culture has developed in Cuba and small amounts given for services are now mostly expected. The general rule is to tip 10% for hotel porters, taxi drivers, musicians and waiters in restaurants. However if you feel the service you received was excellent then a more generous tip will be appreciated. Please use the following as a guide:

Tour driver                          CUC/10 per journey       

Tour guide                          CUC/10 per person per guide

Hotel porter                        CUC/2 per suitcase

Room service                     CUC/4 per night

Food and drink

Dining in Cuba is all about the experience rather than the food so a gastronomic experience should not be expected. Most restaurants are state owned and the country continues to experience occasional food shortages so menus can be limited. However, the situation has started to change for the better. The quality, variety and presentation of meals cooked for you in a casa particulars is significantly better than state owned restaurants and over the last few years a number of independently owned paladares have opened. These small atmospheric eateries are usually located in a family home and offer a unique dining experience. Most Cuban meals consist of chicken, pork, rice and beans and few spices or vegetables are used. Rum is the iconic Cuban spirit and forms the base of many alcoholic beverages including the mojito and daiquiri. Guarapo, a sugarcane juice drink, is extremely popular throughout the country.

Holidays, festivals and celebrations

Many of Cuba’s national holidays and unofficial celebrations honour Fidel Castro and the overthrow of the Batista government. Triumph of the Revolution and Victory Day is celebrated on the 1st and 2nd January throughout the country with particularly raucous celebrations taking place in Havana and Santiago de Cuba. The Revolution Anniversary, Day of the Rebellion and celebrations for these national holidays take place in July annually. Music and art make up a large part of Cuba’s cultural identity, so carnivals here are vibrant and colourful. The Santiago de Cuba carnival takes place in July and the Havana carnival in July and August. Both are amongst the most iconic annual festivals in the country. Other events include Festival de la Trova Longina in Santa Clara in January, Trinidad Cross Procession on Good Friday and the well-regarded Havana Biennial which is held in May and June.

Shopping

There are few opportunities to shop in Cuba but there are a few higher-end stores in Havana and larger hotels. Cuba is known for its cigars and rum and there will be ample opportunity to purchase both should you so wish. Art produced by local artists is also commonly found.

Suggested reading

Rough Guides, Lonely Planet and Eyewitness Travel have excellent guide books and Lonely Planet also produce a helpful Latin American Spanish phrasebook. Marco Polo, Michelin and National Geographic all publish comprehensive maps of Cuba. Further literary suggestions include:

‘The Motorcycle Diaries’ by Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara

‘My Life’ by Fidel Castro

‘Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life’ by Jon Lee Anderson

‘The Old Man and the Sea’ by Ernest Hemingway

‘Our Man in Havana’ by Graham Greene

‘Dreaming in Cuban’ by Cristina Garcia

‘Havana Fever’ by Leonardo Padura

‘Slow Train to Guantanamo’ by Peter Millar

‘Breath: Stories from Cuba’ by Leila Segal

‘Cuba: A New History’ by Richard Gott

 ‘One Minute to Midnight’ by Michael Dobbs

‘Cuba: A History’ by Hugh Thomas

‘Cuba and Its Music: From the First Drums to the Mambo’ by Ned Sublette

Health

Your doctor is the best person to advise you on staying healthy whilst abroad. For current information on health advice you may wish to visit the Medical Advisory Services for Travellers Abroad (MASTA) www.masta.org. The NHS ‘Fit for Travel’ website http://www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk is also a useful resource.

Travel advice

For current travel advice on Cuba the best resource is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice) which is a comprehensive resource and updated regularly. We would also recommend visiting the Safer Tourism Foundation website (https://safertourism.org.uk/) before you travel and will be happy to address any questions or concerns you may have.

Cuba Holiday Ideas

Cuba Holiday Review

I want to say thank you again for all of your help in arranging our dream honeymoon.

We LOVED every second of it and were desperate for it not to end. I can't quite believe we have ticked Cuba off our bucket list. Amazing!

TR & RW - Cuba - April 2018

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