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What You REALLY Need To Know Before Heading To Cuba

BY ALYSSA RAMOS

Villa Tarara Cuba

Cuba is not like any other destination you’ve probably traveled to. Since it’s a communist country, and most of the people and businesses are very poor, you’ll often either not be able to find something, get hustled into buying something, or have no idea why someone is mad at you for not giving them money.

SEE ALSO: 10 Non-Touristy Things To Do In Cuba

Here are a few travel tips that might come in handy if you happen to head to Cuba. With flights and ferry services from the U.S. opening up, it may be sooner than you think!

1. Bring your own toiletries.

Nothing that you use at home will be available for purchase in Cuba. Although the U.S. embargo has technically been lifted, don’t expect suppliers to just be able to rush the shelves of stores in Cuba. By the way, that includes things like tampons and condoms.

toiletry bag travel

2. American outlets work in most places.

I couldn’t find anything online that said what adapter is needed in Cuba, and that’s because they use mostly U.S. plugs. Ironic since they haven’t been allowed to import U.S. goods for the past 70 years… Anyway. They mostly use American outlets.

macstories.com electronic device charging

Photo: macstories.net

3. Tip for toilet paper

Before you walk into a public bathroom, check to see if there is toilet paper in the stalls. A lot of places have a person sitting out front ripping pieces for people to use before they go in. Don’t forget, that’s their job, so you need to tip them approximately 25 cents if possible.

Cuba tips

Photo: Alyssa Ramos

4. Don’t put silverware on tables

Anytime I put my silverware on a table, our Cuban guide would freak out, grab them, and clean them off or replace them with his. I don’t know if the tables are extremely dirty, or if that’s part of the protective culture. Just in case, don’t do it.

Flickr Daniel Carlbom silverware

Photo: Flickr/Daniel Carlbom

5. Buy beverages from stores.

Whether you’re staying in a Casa Particular or a hotel, the beverages they will offer you in the rooms are probably twice as much as they are at a store. You can find a little convenience store (you won’t find an actual “grocery store”) in town in Centro Havana and stock up from there.

Fun Fact: Havana Club rum is only about 4 CUC for a bottle, which is around the same price you’d pay for a Cuba Libre (rum and cola) at a bar.

beverage Cuba

Photo: Alyssa Ramos

6. DO NOT rip your money.

This is the stupidest, most annoying rule that I encountered in Cuba. Apparently if there is a rip or a tear in your money, it will NOT be accepted anywhere, and people will freak out if you try to give it to them. I actually got chased down by a taxi driver at Hotel Nacional because my bill had a tiny rip in the corner, which was HIGHLY embarrassing since I didn’t understand what his problem was.

The only solution to a ripped bill is to go to the local bank during the week, and wait for two hours while they examine it, glue it to a piece of paper, do some more unnecessary procedures, then finally give you an un-ripped bill.

Flickr amateur photography by michel cuba money currency

Photo: Flickr/amateur photography by michel

7. Exchange money at a bank or hotel.

If you exchange your money at the airport, they take a larger portion of it than they do at a local bank or a hotel that exchanges money like the Hotel Nacional or Presidente.

Fun Fact: If you happen to run out of Cuban Convertibles (CUC) before you can make it to the bank or a hotel…you can typically get away with using U.S. dollars because it’s worth more to them anyway.

Michael Yamaoka photographs SHOP JST.COM

8. Cat calling is “normal.”

If I didn’t know Spanish, I would have been convinced that I was either wearing a name tag that said “Linda”, or a real life princess. For girls, don’t be surprised if you hear a slightly creepy “linda” or “princessa”  whispered as someone walks by, and guys, don’t jump on the bandwagon just because all the Cuban guys are doing it.

To avoid being targeted you can say “buenos” which most people say as you pass them on the streets in the neighborhoods…that way they’ll at least think you know some Spanish and won’t try to whisper (not)sweet nothings in your ear.

10 - Vinales Cuba

Photo: Alyssa Ramos

9. Tip musicians.

If a musician, or group of musicians comes up and starts playing during your meal or while you’re sitting down somewhere; they’ll typically expect a tip, and probably deserve one anyway. They’ll most likely hold out a hat, so go ahead and give them 50 cents/1 CUC.

9 musicians cuba

Photo: Alyssa Ramos

10. J-walking is legal.

I’m not entirely sure it’s actually legal to J-walk in Cuba, but everyone sure as hell does it anyway. The only thing you need to be careful of is the majority of the cars are older manual cars, which means stopping isn’t exactly easy. Plus, they’re made out of heavy metal so if you get hit by one…it’s going to hurt.

Cuba j walking

Photo: Alyssa Ramos

Bonus: Bring stomach meds.

I hear a lot of people say the food in Cuba is terrible, but I really didn’t think it was that bad! Then I attempted eating pizza. According to my uncle I shouldn’t eat because “the cheese is made of condoms”. Of course, I did anyway, and started vomiting an hour later.

They do not have over-the-counter meds in Cuba, so definitely invest in some Pepto-bismol pills or travel-doses so you don’t end up puking pizza like I did.

Facebook Pepto-bismol

Photo: Facebook/Pepto-bismol 

Alyssa Ramos contributor profile

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