Cuba: A travel guide for independent travellers
What’s Cuba like to visit? Is Cuba safe for solo female travellers? Do Cubans really dislike the US? Here you’ll find travel tips and an unbiased review of a country which divides opinion. Some things may surprise you.
Location: Havana, the capital of Cuba, is located in the northwestern side of the island, 90 miles from the nearest point of the US coast. The largest purpose-built holiday resort in Cuba is Varadero, approximately 90 miles east of Havana, and is served by its own airport. European independent travellers whom I met in Cuba arrived through Havana’s José Martí International airport via Canada with the exception of British travellers who flew direct from London.
Visa: Check with the Cuban Embassy in your own country regarding visa requirements. As an EU passport holder I required a Visitor Card which cost €35 and was included in the price of my flight.
Language: Spanish is the official language of Cuba and I would highly recommend that independent travellers learn the basics of the language prior to visiting.
Currency: Cuba has two currencies: The Cuban Peso Nacional (CUP) used by the locals and the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) for tourists. At the moment, 1 CUC = 26.5 CUP. Some street vendors in Havana Vedado and Santa Clara gave me change in CUP but, by and large, businesses only want CUC from tourists, as this is the Cuban currency weighted against other international currencies. I had no problem exchanging my euros into CUC. My Irish credit and debit cards worked in Cuban ATMs but I cannot remember paying for anything using my cards. Cash is king in Cuba.
Accommodation: Hotels in Cuba can be expensive for solo independent travellers so the alternative is the Casa Particulare system where people rent rooms in their private houses. Casa particulares in Havana with central locations which come recommended are Elsa & Julio Roque’s Hostal Peregrino trio of buildings. The evenings meals cost extra but are an excellent opportunity to meet other independent travellers. If you are looking for a good Casa Particulare in central Varadero Margarita Llacuna Rasco’s twin bed room on Calle 33 is a good option. Her breakfast is amazing.
Safety & Security
So, is Cuba safe for solo female travellers? I’ll be honest, I didn’t feel safe a lot of the time. Harassment of women is constant, and the solo male travellers I met were equally pestered by female prostitutes, with the exception of a German cyclist who told everyone he was Russian!
Officially, driving in Cuba is on the right-hand side. Unofficially, driving is on any side. Signposting is sparse and GPS/SatNav is not permitted. For my sanity I chose to travel with Viazul, the bus company which only takes payment in CUC (i.e geared towards tourists).
More tips on Cuba travel can be found in Cuba: A dozen myths and truths
You should also check out these Cuba travel tips by US blogger Jocelyn Fielding.