So you’re doing it – you are traveling to Cuba, the rapidly evolving 58-year-old socialist state which may soon be another place altogether. I have had the privilege of traveling to Cuba twice and have accumulated several pro tips which may help you out on your next trip.
Note: this is by no means constitutes a comprehensive guide to traveling in Cuba and is rather intended to complement a lonely planet-type guide
Protip #1 Cellular Data & Wifi
Although you may have heard otherwise, it is entirely possible to get access to the internet in Cuba. You have several options:
- Pay in hotel: usually pretty expensive (would not recommend)
- Buy WiFi cards on street for access to government WiFi spots: the Cuban government operates numerous public wifi zones around parks and streets in Cuba. WiFi cards are legally sold at the state operated telecommunication store, called Etecsa. If you wish to avoid the line, simply go on the street, and ask someone if they are selling a WiFi card, for there exists a fledgling black market for WiFi cards on the street. It is usually possible to buy a WiFi card at any time of the day. If the person you ask does not sell WiFi cards themselves, they will be able to point you to someone who does. For one hour usage, WiFi cards sell for 1.50 Cuc at Etecsa, and sell for 3 Cuc on the street. While not directly encouraged by the state, it is nonetheless tolerated. You will most likely be approached when walking on certain streets, especially in Havana, and asked if you want WiFi. I have never heard of anyone encountering any legal issues with buying cards on the black market.
- Go to the government Etecsa office, and buy one WiFi card for all your time in Cuba. It is definitely more time-consuming to go to the government office to buy a card for phone or internet. However, it may very well be worth the time to buy one internet card for your entire stay in Cuba. You will need to estimate how many hours of internet you will need, and then buy said amount of hours. It will be cheaper and save you the hassle of having to buy WiFi cards off the black market each time you want to access the internet.
- Buy a sim card for data use on your phone. You can buy SIM cards off Amazon. The data is slow quite slow (2g in most places which gets you access to text based messaging, and 3g in cities, which allows you to get basic, but slow, internet). However, it is definitely useful to be able to consistently have the ability to message the other people on your trip, as well as people back home.
Protip #2: Where to Stay:
There are numerous hotels and AirBnB locations to stay when traveling in Cuba. Between the two, I would recommend AirBnB. From what I can tell, the hotels do not offer noticeably better service (the hotel I was staying at had the water stop working in the middle of the day) and AirBnB will allow you to meet and interact with locals.
Protip #3 Places to go to: There are many place to go to when traveling in Havana which you can find in a guidebook, but my #1 recommendation would be Fábrica de Arte Cubano. Fábrica de Arte Cubano is a seemingly straight out of Williamsburg half art, half music installation. The music is a mix of house, Cuban, and rap/R&B. The art is abstract but amazing. The drinks are incredible, and the whole feature is attended by an electric mix of Cubans and tourists.
Resources for use in finding places to go beyond LonelyPlanet:
- La Papeleta is another awesome resource to find local events and happenings around Cuba.
- Download alamesa to find out delicious restaurants to go to. Some areas of Havana are full of restaurants, but overall, restaurants can be fairly spread out around Havana so it is important to have addresses for good restaurants.
- https://conocecuba.com/ provides plenty of information on different places in Cuba to visit. Consider it as the ‘Yelp’ of Cuba.
Protip #7: How to travel around cheaply
Taxis are abundant in Cuba, and especially in Havana. However, it is easy to get overcharged, especially when you take a yellow taxi designated for tourists. Generally, taxi drivers will first offer you a trip for 10 cucs, which is quite expensive, as 10 cucs is half a monthly salary in Cuba! A general guide to getting a fare taxi quote:
- Download the app Triposo, which offers offline maps that you can use to figure out how far a certain destination is.
- If the destination is less than 5 minutes, try to pay less than 4 cucs.
- If the destination is between 5 minutes and 15 minutes away, a good fare would be between 4 and 7 cucs.
- For destinations, above 15 minutes, a good fare would be around 10 cucs.
Finally, you do have another option, a coche público, which is essentially the Cuban version of uberPOOL. Coches públicos will only cost around 1-2cucs max for trips less than 30 minutes. The way you take a coche público is to get on the side of road of the direction in which you want to travel. Raise your hand in the air and point in the direction of the traffic. Cars (they may be official taxis or they might be unmarked regular cars) will approach you and stop to see where you are heading. When this happens, either tell them a specific numerical address – not merely a destination. If the address is on their way they will invite you into the car; if it isn’t just try again!
Written by Sasha Podolsky