So you want to go to Havana, but you don’t even know where to start. Here’s some basic info to hopefully dispel a few fears and provide a few answers to your questions.
Did you fly direct from the US or through a third country? I flew direct from Orlando, Florida, USA on Jetblue.
Do I need a visa? How do I get it? (I’m an American citizen so I can only speak to that) Yes, you will need a visa. I chose to get mine at the airport prior to my flight as this was an option through my carrier, Jetblue. I arrived three hours before the flight and applied for the visa at check-in. It was a very straightforward process and I received the visa.
Did you have problems with the visa when you arrived in Cuba? Were you detained and questioned? Nope, and nope. I had no difficulties at immigration once I landed in Cuba. Easy peasy.
Where do I stay? For first timers I would suggest Havana Vieja. It is an area of Havana which has many tourists and as such is a safe place where you can find hotels, restaurants, taxis and also is completely walkable. I opted to rent a serviced loft apartment which had it’s own entrance, etc but was serviced like a hotel. The loft included breakfast upstairs on a terrace in the morning, and daily room cleaning.
Can I use my credit card? If you’re American, no. Plan to bring plenty of cash as you will not want to run out while there. It is possible to have money wired, but from what I understand it is quite difficult. I would exchange your USD to Euros or Great Britain Pounds before arriving. This can typically be done at your home airport.
Do I have to speak Spanish? No, but it is helpful. I had cab drivers who did not speak English, some waiters who did not, and also some of the staff at my apartment did not. I don’t think it’s imperative to speak Spanish, but it is helpful. I spoke Spanish about 90% of the time- partially out of necessity and partially because I enjoy practicing when possible.
Is there wifi? Yes, but it is limited and it is not free. You have to use cards to access wifi (de bejucal wifi cards)- these cards are about 4 euros each – $6 – and are good for one hour. Once you’ve secured the cards you have to find places that have access to wifi – some hotels, some public parks, and other random spots. Typically if a hotel has wifi it is pretty easy to spot as you will see a queue of people standing outside the hotel to use the wifi.
Where do I buy the wifi cards? You can purchase them at a few hotels, and I bought all of mine at the same place – Palacio del Marques San Felipe y Santiago. This spot was great because you could purchase the cards, use wifi there in an open air area, and order g+t’s or other snacks. (It is required in most all hotels to order food/drink when using the wifi. This is why you will see groups of people standing outside hotels to use the wifi for free.)
Dietary Restrictions/Food Allergies. I am gluten free and dairy free and I survived just fine. I mentioned in my What To Pack For Havana post to bring snacks, which was a major help for me as GF/DF snacks were not readily available near my apartment.
Other useful info:
- When arriving in Havana, the money exchange is outside the airport – when you exit baggage claim it will be outside and to the right. *Look for cambio*
- A taxi to Havana Vieja should be $30ish
Helpful Spanish words (by no means an exhaustive list, but good to have handy. I assume you guys know por favor and gracias):
- la cuenta, por favor the bill/check please
- cuanto cuesta how much does it cost
- cuantos minutos how many minutes (helpful when taking taxi elsewhere)
- no, gracias no, thank you
- donde esta ___ where is ____
- el baño the bathroom
- quiero ir a I want to go to
- cambio word that can be used for change (helpful for both money exchange and asking a person if they have change – taxi / waiter)