Random Night Out’s Nick McGlynn takes over our blog this week to talk about what to expect when traveling to Cuba
Don't go to Cuba for the food! Everything you know about Cuban food is an American version of Cuban food. Not only is good Cuban food hard to find, sometimes food in general is hard to find. It is common for restaurants to be completely sold out of many items on the menu by about 4pm. The default meat is pork, so if you want beef you need to ask for beef. Breakfasts are bland and nothing special: you will eat eggs and toast every day and there aren't really any other options.
Don't go to Cuba to go on a shopping spree! You won't be able to buy anything because shopping doesn't really exist. The few vendors there are sell the exact same goods as the other vendors: little wooden cars, magic boxes, magnets, and other small handmade items. There is a central market called San Jose, near the cruise ship piers. It's big and they sell stuff, but again mostly all the same tourist knickknacks over and over at each shop.
Don't expect to use your credit cards in Cuba! Credit cards won't work and aren't even accepted. Cash is king and the only form of payment accepted in most places. There are two currencies in Cuba, CUC and National. You won't use National at all and you won't get it as change. All transactions are made in CUC.
Don't go to Cuba for the beaches. They aren't anything special and there are better countries for beaches.
Don't expect to have Internet access. You won't find restaurants with free Wi-Fi or hotel lobby's or anything. Get over the fact you won't have Internet access and soak in the moment. There are a few street corners where you'll see a large group of people standing with phones and laptops paying by the minute to get online. If you absolutely must get online, the best place to go is the Hotel National. They charge 7 CUC for an hour and you type in a code and can go online while you sit in the AC. It's nice but the Wi-Fi will drop every few minutes and it will become annoying. You should really only bother trying to get on Wi-Fi if it's an absolute emergency.
Do get small bills! Most places won't accept a 20 or have change to give! When you convert your money, you must ask for 10 or smaller.
Do convert your American dollars to Euros before traveling to Cuba, as the exchange is much better. American currency is charged the normal 3% conversion plus an additional 10% fee, costing you 13% on every dollar you exchange. If you use Euros, you only pay 3%! Convert your money at the airport when you land. You'll only need $100 per day in cash.
Do expect to wait in a lot of lines! Everywhere has lines; the museums, restaurants, exchanges, clubs, etc. You'll get use to it.
Cuba is very safe! It's literary the safest country I've ever been to. I never felt nervous to walk down empty streets at night. Or get into a strangers car. Nobody is going to try to harm you. It's so safe it's weird.
Do carry toilet paper! The bathrooms don't have toilet seats and most don't have TP either. You may also have to pay a few coins to use the restroom at some places.
Do talk to the locals! Everyone is nice and helpful! If you need anything they will make it happen for you. It's very refreshing how helpful and kind every single person is