1) Cuban Visa / Tourist Card
This is essential to visit Cuba. The terms ‘visa’ and ‘tourist card’ are often used interchangeably, although they are technically different. Assuming you hold a passport from a European country, what you need is a Cuban Tourist Card. These can be processed online by accredited companies in a few simple steps, for more information click here: https://www.visacuba.com/blog/post/everything-you-need-to-know-about-cuban-visas
2) Travel Insurance
This is a very important for any foreign travel, and Cuba is no exception. In fact, upon entering the country you may be asked to show proof of your insurance. It should include coverage for medical emergencies and repatriation. If you have no form of travel insurance, then you will be required by the authorities to purchase it at the airport to cover for the duration of your stay on the island.
3) Backup bank card or cash
It is not possible to obtain Cuban currency outside of Cuba, you can only get it when you arrive in the country. The airport is well stocked with ATM machines and currency exchanges where you can easily take out Cuban currency. It is worth doing this at the airport as soon as you arrive, as cash is still king in Cuba. In recent years various establishments, especially those used frequently by tourists, have started to use international card machines for payment transactions, but it is always good to have some Cuban cash to hand.
Bringing a backup bank card or cash is advisable as it gives peace of mind in case you have any problems with your main source of funds, such as losing your card. Note that European bank accounts work fine in Cuba, but due to the US trade embargo it is not possible to use American bank accounts.
Cuba is famed for its healthcare system. There are more doctors per head In Cuba than in almost any other country in the world. As a tourist, you are likely to be seen quickly, and receive a high level of care and expertise.
That said, when it comes to medication it is highly recommended to purchase what you may need before you leave, instead of relying on buying it in Cuba. Whilst medical centres that cater to tourists tend to have pharmacies stocked with various necessities, it can be pricey and may not have everything you require. It is much, much easier to reserve a small part of your suitcase for a selection of medications that might come in handy. Definitely bring any prescription medication that you take regularly back home. A box of painkillers and a first aid pack are also well worth having too.
5) Sun Cream
The sun shines in Cuba all year round. Sure, there are sometimes cloudy days, but during your stay it is almost inevitable that at some point you will be exposing yourself to direct sunlight. Having a bottle of sun cream to hand will therefore be an invaluable asset, a great way to protect your skin and give yourself peace of mind during your stay.
That all said, if you have forgotten your suncream and have already boarded the plane to Cuba, don’t panic. Ask staff in the hotels and travel agencies and they should be able to direct you to somewhere that you can buy it. The main downside is that your options will be more limited, prices will be higher and it may take a while to find it. So much better to pack it before you leave, and not in your hand luggage as it is a liquid!
6) Loose-fitting clothing
The daytime temperature Cuban cities rarely drops below 20°C, even in the winter. In fact, in January and February, Cuba’s coolest months, the average maximum temperature in the daytime in Havana is still 26°C. In July and August it is 32°C. If you cannot live without tight-fitting jeans then go ahead and wear them. In fact, they are very popular these days with a lot of Cubans too. But bear in mind that the price you will pay can be a lot of sweat and discomfort, especially if you are spending your days outside actively sightseeing.
With all this in mind, it is worth noting that in the winter months the temperature does drop at nighttime. The average low in Havana is 18°C, but it can feel quite cool, especially if there is a breeze. For that reason, whilst preparing for the heat is a necessity, don’t forget to bring a jacket for the winter evenings. In fact, if you are planning to go anywhere with higher altitudes, then bring a sweater too.
Whilst many aspects of Cuban culture seem quite informal, there are certain places where there are some dress codes. Shorts and sleeveless vests are not generally allowed when entering theatres and cinemas. This is sometimes the case for certain exclusive bars and restaurants too. Therefore it is wise to remember that those comfortable shorts that you’re wearing for daytime sightseeing may not be appropriate for your evening schedule.
7) A Guidebook
The main reason why a guidebook for Cuba is so handy is that internet in Cuba is still not as widely available and fast as in many countries. For example, it is still not a given in cafes, some of which display signs saying: “we have no wifi, talk to each other instead!”. You can use hotel lobbies and various other places to get information, and should you need internet during your stay then it is there. But having a printed book is much more convenient, as you can use it any time anywhere. And you don’t need to wait for it to buffer!
Another reason guide books are great for your trip is that most of them dedicate a section to explaining Cuba’s culture and history. This island has seen it all, and brushing up on a few pages of Cuba’s cultural facets and turbulent history can really enrich your visit and help you make sense of this fascinating island.
One of the draws to the Caribbean for many decades has been a more relaxed attitude to time. Cuba is no exception. The plus side of this attitude is a chance for visitors to let go and unwind without constantly looking at their watch. The downside of this is that you may find yourself having to wait a lot longer for things that usually arrive instantly back home. This is particularly the case in Cuba where for multiple reasons shortages and queues have been a part of daily life. Whilst as a tourist you’ll generally avoid most of these delays, some things might be unavoidable. For example, you’ll probably have to wait a bit longer than usual at the airport baggage carousel, and might find that food and drinks orders take a while to arrive, even in the most upmarket establishments.
9) An Open Mind
Cuban culture is unique. It is an island rich in idiosyncrasies, and has a history that combines a wide range of outside influences with a vast amount of homegrown cultural phenomena. There is nowhere else on earth that can be easily compared with Cuba. What all this means is that for those with an open mind, Cuba never disappoints. On almost every corner there is something intriguing. For first time visitors, it may be a culture shock. If you arrive with expectations that things will look and function similar to back home, then you may end up bemused. But if you embrace Cuba’s quirkiness, then you are in for the holiday of a lifetime.