The Cuban capital is a fascinating place, and one that’s easy to spend a week in. Here’s what to know before you go to Havana.
Cuba is still a communist country
The Cuban government remains the same as the one which overthrew the dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959. Fidel Castro might be dead, but his brother Raul remains in power. Despite recent economic reforms that allow certain kinds of private enterprise, Cuba is still a communist country.
Change might be coming
These economic reforms have allowed for an explosion in entrepreneurship, from taxis to restaurants to fashion designers. Some commentators believe that further reforms might come when Raul Castro resigns as leader.
There are two currencies
Cuba is a rarity in that there are two official currencies on the island. The first is the Cuban peso (CUP), in which state workers are paid. The second is the Cuban convertible peso (CUC) which is used by tourists and those locals that have access to it. Make sure you familiarize yourself with the coins and notes so you don’t get ripped off; one CUC is worth around 25 CUP.
It’s best to stay in peoples’ houses rather than hotels
Another quirk of Cuba is that the main accommodation option is a kind of B&B known as a “casa particular.” Those that have a spare room are allowed to rent it out if they meet certain standards imposed by the government, and staying in them is a great way to get to know the locals.
There is no advertising
One thing that might be shocking is the lack of visual contamination from advertising in Cuba. You might see the occasional government billboard, but it’s a rarity even in Havana. In fact it’s quite a refreshing break from the bombardment of adverts in most countries.
The United States has imposed a trade embargo for decades
Since 1958 there has been a US embargo on Cuba in some form, and it was extended to include almost all imports in 1962. This has caused Cuba to be isolated from global markets and reliant on isolated deals with major allies such as the Soviet Union and Venezuela.
There are hardly any familiar brands
Due to restrictions on trade, you won’t see many recognized brands in Cuba. Heineken beer and the occasional can of Coca Cola aside, you’ll have to get used to eating and drinking local stuff, like Cristal beer.
Make sure you take everything you need
Travelers to most countries can reasonably expect to be able to buy anything that they forget to pack on arrival. This is not the case in Cuba, where everyday essentials such as toothpaste and shampoo can be hard to get hold of. Pack wisely.
Yes, people do still drive 1950s cars
If you thought that the photos were only taken for postcards, you’re wrong. The trade embargo means that new cars have been incredibly difficult to get in Havana, and most vehicles are old and patched up. You’ll see old 50s American cars, Soviet cars from the 70s and 80s, and a few more modern ones imported in recent years.
Don’t miss the Malecon
On the map it looks like a busy road facing the sea, but the Malecon is incredibly important to Havana locals. Every night of the week it is busy with fishermen, dating couples, and groups of friends who gather to share a bottle of rum by the sea. Don’t miss out on some of the best people watching in Cuba.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.