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Cuba is a country that defies expectations, even for some of the most well-traveled jet setters. Before venturing out into the lush wilderness in Viñales or meandering the streets of Centro Habana, here are some things you should know before traveling.
“Don’t expect to find anything you think you should be able to. Stock up on water when you find it. Bring contact lens solutions, tampons, and all your toiletry items, because they are hard to find. I was expecting to see mini-marts and small stores with these items, but they are really hard to find. And definitely don’t expect WiFi.” —Janette Casolary, Photographer
“Leave expectations at home. Bring your open mind. Go with the flow. Embrace moments that don’t go as planned, because something better always pops up. Enjoy the moment. When you get frustrated about something, Cubans will always find a way to help you. Things will be okay.” —Rocio Yepez, Founder of Fisheye Journeys
“I was very surprised that so many people speak English. In the Dominican Republic, most people only speak English in the touristy areas. Cuba is very similar to the DR, for me. Cuban foods have been surprising. I didn’t know what the Cuban cuisine was, except for maybe a Cuban sandwich. You should definitely try the ropa vieja. But also, beef is really expensive here.” —Patricia Santos, Chemical Engineering Student
“On a positive note, I’ve felt safest in Cuba than any other country in Latin America. I don’t feel like I have to really protect my cell phone or bag all the times. In Chile, I don’t put my backpack on my back, I put it on the front. I feel more protected here. But that may have to be because of the penalties [for harming tourists]. It sucks that the penalty is so strict, but it works.” —Leah Shoup, Instagram Influencer and Spanish Translator
“Exchange your U.S. dollars to euros or Canadian dollars before you get here. There’s a 10 percent fee for converting directly to CUC [Cuban Convertible Peso]. Toilet paper is very scarce. Putting your toilet paper in the trash can was probably the biggest surprise. Like, ‘my poop is just going to be sitting there in the trash can?’ That’s a little weird [for me]. Also, make sure you know Spanish, at least a little bit, to get around. ” —Antonio E., Traveler
On traveling without WiFi: “It’s been really great to embrace living in the moment. It’s been so interesting to actually roam the streets and be fully present. Sometimes when you think of WiFi, you think of just Facebook or email, or texts—social media. But make sure you print out all your itineraries and where you’re staying. Download an offline map (like maps.me), so that you don’t get lost. You won’t be able to look up restaurants or hotels without it.” —Janette Casolary, Photographer
“Most American cell phone companies don’t have international plans with Cuba due to the embargo, so using even 1GB of data can cost you thousands of dollars. WiFi is very hard to come by, and can only be purchased in certain kiosks and accessed in public parks. Be prepared for a complete immersive travel experience, and to be technologically cut off from the rest of the world for large portions of time. ” —Amber C. Snider, Home and Design Editor at Culture Trip
Special thanks to Fisheye Journeys for providing an immersive travel experience and insight into the art and culture in Cuba.