Close your eyes and imagine your Cuban holiday. You can hear the gentle waves lapping on the white sands, possibly with some delicate salsa music blowing in on that soft warm wind. You can taste the mint in the mojito and there’s an aromatic scent of cigar smoke in the air. Now open your eyes. Darn it. You’re not in Cuba yet. But it hopefully won’t be too long before you discover the island for yourself. There are a few things you need to know before you go – super useful information that will result in the best holiday of your lifetime (possibly until your second trip to Cuba, that is).
- Book Ahead as Much as Possible
While Cuba is not quite a victim of its own popularity as is the case with many fantastic destinations, it’s certainly becoming more and more popular. This is largely due to the increasing ease with which Americans can travel to the island nation. Booking ahead can remove a certain degree of spontaneity from your travel plans, although you don’t have to arrange everything down to the smallest detail before you arrive. What you need to do is book accommodation as far in advance as possible, and this becomes more critical during peak times. Casa Particulares (Cuban homestays) offer the best value, but it’s a case of making an enquiry, getting a reply, and then making a booking – all of which can take place via email over the course of several days (and it’s a good idea to confirm the booking before you leave for Cuba). So, make sure you book ahead.
- Arrange Your Finances
You really need to check that you’ll be able to access your finances while in Cuba. It’s perhaps not as straightforward as you’re used to. You will need to pay in cash for most things, as businesses that accept credit or debit cards are rare. Accessing an American bank account is problematic due to the sanctions imposed against Cuba by the U.S. There have reportedly been Americans who have tried to access their money while in Cuba and have had the account temporarily suspended, so be cautious. It can also be the case that other international banks with tangible links to American banks have access issues. So please don’t assume anything, and check with your bank or financial provider to confirm that you will be able to use your card while in Cuba. There’s always a way around it though – such as a preloaded travel card that allows you with withdraw money.
- Check the Weather
Cuba has two types of weather. Hot and really hot. July and August are typically the hottest months, but the Cuban idea of winter is going to be warmer than summer in many parts of the world. May through October is classified as the rainy season, when you can sometimes expect a brief tropical downpour (which is rather refreshing in all honesty). Make sure you pack appropriate clothes for the temperature, along with items that will help if you happen to be there in the rainy season. A plastic rain poncho makes a nice addition to your packing, as does mosquito repellant, since they can become a little annoying in rural parts of the country when their breeding is at its peak (during the rainy season).
- What to Know About Internet Availability
Cuba always had a bad reputation for accessing the internet, although this is slowly changing. You still will need to look around for wifi zones and internet kiosks, but it can be done. Walk past Parque Fe del Valle in central Havana and you will see small crowds of people all staring at their smartphone – in one of the city’s public wifi zones. You’ll need an access card (sold at many stores) and you will probably also be offered them by charming hustlers on the street (at a mark up, naturally). Just be aware that you will not be able to be online as much as you’re used to, although this doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
- Do Your Research (Which You Already Are)
Part of the magic of travel is that of discovery – finding new and exciting places seemingly quite randomly. You can (and should) do this in Cuba, but it’s the sort of destination that warrants some extra research. Read as many articles about Cuba as you can, and a guidebook wouldn’t go amiss either. You’ll want to have an idea about what to expect once you get there, as well as learning some useful, practical things (such as the importance of finding out the location of the nearest cash machine after you check in at your accommodation, and why you should use an intercity bus instead of a train). But still, even armed with the necessary knowledge, Cuba is always going to a captivating surprise.