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Thinking of Cuba for winter 2023 vacation...suggestions welcome

Thinking of Cuba for winter 2023 vacation...suggestions welcome

Old Oct 5th, 2022, 07:58 AM
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Thinking of Cuba for winter 2023 vacation...suggestions welcome

I'm beginning to explore Cuba as a possible winter 2023 option. While we like beaches, we both need more activity than that and like to get to know the culture and residents whenever possible. I have a ton of questions...hoping some of you can chime in.
1. In general, is Cuba still safe for American tourists?
2. Where would you recommend staying (e.g., location, type of accommodation, locally-owned vs. international chains)
3. Would you exchange all money to local currency once there or is the U.S. dollar welcomed/useable?
4. Where are the best beaches?
5. Is it safe to run, bike, walk without a guide?
6. Are there particular things one MUST see or do if interested in the culture?
7. What is the local cuisine like and how would might a vegetarian do there?
8. Any recommendations related to flights or travel insurance are also welcome...or anything else you think would be good for us to know.
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Old Oct 7th, 2022, 03:53 AM
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It's been a few years since I was in Cuba and I'm not American so cannot answer if it is safe for Americans. Not sure why it wouldn't be. In Havana we stayed at the Iberotel Parque Central, due to the location right on the edge of the old town & its rooftop swimming pool but there are several other hotels which would be just as good. Locationwise, being in or close to the old town would be recommended. As far as I remember, we changed money when we arrived, did not have any US dollars not any US credit cards eg Amex. We walked all around Havana without a guide, people were very friendly and helpful. At night, we took taxis to restaurants and back, the taxi waited all night for us, reminds me of Moscow in the 1990s as they would do that as well, and the vehicle, well, if you have ever been in a Lada you know it won't be comfortable. Again that might have changed. There is alot to see in Havana, it is a fascinating crumbling city with surprising interiors. Easy enough to get a taxi to take you on an excursion eg to Hemingways house outside Havana. Dining at a paladare or two is a must, we visited a couple but the one I remember is Vistamar in Miramar, food was very good and the paladar a complete contrast to the outside and surroundings, a gorgeous house. But food in general is not good at all, it is not a place to go for food, I doubt veggies would do well there. One of the best beach is in Varadero but the area is a purpose built area with lots of hotels, rather characterless and you need all inclusive, unless restaurants have cropped up since I was there.
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Old Oct 7th, 2022, 02:56 PM
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More or less what Balthy said. We spent 3 weeks in Cuba in about 2014 and loved it but it isn't the sort of place to go to if you want everything ti be perfect and easy to negotiate, especially if you are DIY travellers. It may help you if I say what we did - 4 nights in a casa in Havana [not luxurious but perfectly acceptable] - 3 nights in Vinales [transfer by private taxi booked though the casa owner] [had to ,move casa as the first one was horrible - this is more difficult than you might think] - 3 nights in Cienfuegos [transfer by coach booked at an office in Vinales ] - 4 nights in Trinidad [transfer by taxi booked though the casa] - 3 nights in Sancta Spritus in a hotel [[taxi transfer again] - 3 nights in Remedios - 2 nights in a different casa in Havana via a very memorable clash transfer which included a lecture on the importance of Che Guevara from the bus driver.

Unless otherwise specified we stayed in casas and paid cash as we went along. We took cash with us, but in fact we found that we could draw the local currency from ATMs.

In Havana I think that a vegetarian would be ok but I'm not sure about suitable food outside Havana, There are plenty of cultural activities in each of the places we went to, and elsewhere, and you can usually organise tours through a local tourist board which is what we did when we went to Santa Clara and to the beaches on the north coast which are generally agreed to be the best. However they are heavily developed and touristy. We also went to a beach on the coast near Trinidad which was terrific. Casas will usually organise taxis for you.

This is all some time ago and details may have changed but i doubt if the basics have.
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Old Nov 7th, 2022, 04:58 AM
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Thanks to both of you for your help. I really appreciate it.
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Old Dec 18th, 2022, 04:22 PM
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Me and my husband just cameback to the UK from Cuba a few days ago and I hope our experience could help you.
1. In general, is Cuba still safe for American tourists? - it's very safe for everyone, doesn't matter from which country you are. We walked in Havana and Varadero everywhere, 4-6 km every day, sometimes we cameback quite late and never had any problem. We've met an American women at the hotel, she travelled alone, stayed at a small hotel outside Havana and has been amazed how friendly cubins are in general.


2. Where would you recommend staying (e.g., location, type of accommodation, locally-owned vs. international chains). -- We have been in Havana and Varadero only and staying at international hotels both times. (4 and 5 stars) - it was OK. But in Havana we felt constantly pressured from people at the hotel and on the streets and taxi drivers to take their service , help and give them a tip or buy something, and they all wants euros or USD and it's not cheap. We are not used to this in England and didnt like it. Travellers from US may be OK with that. In Varadero we felt much more relaxed. Some others Travellers from England in our second hotel stayed at a small hotel in Havana, used a cheap taxi from the hotel, had help from an owner and really liked it. So it's up to you 😏

3. Would you exchange all money to local currency once there or is the U.S. dollar welcomed/useable? - we've been told every where that hotels and banks doesn't accept American bank cards, also our UK credit cards didnt work either, so definitly take cash. US dollars and Euro cash is accepted most places (euro was most common currency requested, but $ was widely accepted). It is possible to pay in Canadian dollars also. We recommend to have enough cash for all time you are going to stay in Cuba. Don’t exchange all your cash to CUP cuban Peso immediatly since you cant change back and will loose the mo ey if you dont spend it. Most places prefer to take euros or USD directly. The best is to check every time what the bill will be in CUP or euros and then decided in which currency will be better to pay. At the hotel official exchange is 120 CUP to 1 euro, official bank rate is 25 CUP per Euro so ot sure what you woukd get from a Cunan ATM (our cards didnt work), but on a black market from market traders it could be 140-160 CUP to 1 euro (160 was the best we got). Restaurants have their own exchange rate- from 90 to 140 CUP to 1 euro. Most often they use 100 CUP per Euro or USD, so your defiantly better off exchanging to CUP from a local market trader

4. Where are the best beaches? - we have been only in Varadero and all the beaches are perfect- that's the only reason I would like to come back to Cuba.

5. Is it safe to run, bike, walk without a guide? - it is safe, we walked a lot without any guides in Havana, in old town too, after 11pm once and it's alright. But for Havana you need to be aware of the scam - be aware of people who wants to be your friends and take to some places or saying on the street that they are working in your hotel and recommended to go to specific restaurants - its all scam, you will pay a lot more or even for food for your new friends. Some people from our hotel end up paying £100 bill for food and drinks they even didn't have. In Varadero we have seen a lot of runners and bicycle riders there, it's completely safe to walk alone.

6. Are there particular things one MUST see or do if interested in the culture? -- We didn't like the cubian .usic show that has been sold to us from our tour guide (€35 each), but many restaurants have bands playing cubian music and it's really good.

7. What is the local cuisine like and how would might a vegetarian do there? The food in Cuba is not interesting at all, especially there is still many problems with food suppliers. We had food poison at our first buffet breakfast at 4 star Hotel and we both ended up at the hospital (on a drip for 6 hours), but others Travellers at that Hotel were OK. At the second 5star hotel I had few dishes with cockroaches, and have been sick, our friends experienced diarrhoea all the time. But many others was alright. Food in general is very bland, doesn't have any spices. We recommend not to have buffet and go to the town and find some good restaurants. We've seen many vegetarian dishes at restaurants, so you could be OK, but most of the vegetables dishes are very bland and overcooked.

8. Any recommendations related to flights or travel insurance are also welcome...or anything else you think would be good for us to know. - travel and health insurance are must have. Cuba is not a cheap country anymore- taxis are more expensive than in London, in a good restaurant you could pay €40-50 euros for dinner for 2, souvenirs are expensive too, so bring enough cash with you. Cubans are very nice people in general (all the bar staff, waiters in the varadero hotel we very helpful) but be very careful with scammers - they are everywhere in Havana.
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Old Jan 22nd, 2023, 04:39 PM
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We're American and are also planning a 2023 trip to Cuba. You may already have looked into this, but you'll need to select a specific reason to be allowed to visit. The most common (and easiest to satisfy) is "support for the Cuban people". One of the requirements is that you stay in casa particulars (basically homestays or BnBs) rather than in large hotels. Not sure if it's applicable to your situation, but thought I'd mention it.
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Old Jan 26th, 2023, 09:08 AM
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Originally Posted by olesia5704
Me and my husband just cameback to the UK from Cuba a few days ago…..
Brits (& other nationalities) need to be aware that if they’ve been to Cuba since Jan 2021 that they can’t enter the US under the visa waiver ESTA scheme. They have to apply for visas.
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Old Feb 20th, 2023, 05:55 PM
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visit cuba

In general, is Cuba still safe for American tourists?
Yes, Cuba is a safe tourist destination for American tourists. However, it's important to keep basic safety precautions in mind just like anywhere else.

Where would you recommend staying (location, type of accommodation, local ownership vs. international chains)?
There are many accommodation options in Cuba, from luxury hotels to private homes. The choice of the place of lodging depends on the interests and budget of the tourist. Regarding the location, it is recommended to stay in Old Havana to experience the cultural and street life of the city. As for accommodation, private houses are a good option for those who want to have a more authentic and economical experience. There are also local and international hotel options in the main cities.

Should I exchange all the money to the local currency once there or can the US dollar be used?
It is advisable for the American citizen to bring enough cash since for reasons of the American trade embargo to Cuba, American bank cards do not work on the island. Once in Cuba, you can go to a bank branch and make your change to the value of 1 dollar. for 120 pesos

Where are the best beaches?
Cuba has beautiful beaches, and some of the most popular places to visit include Varadero, Cayo Coco, Cayo Largo, and Guardalavaca.

Is it safe to run, bike or walk without a guide?
In general, it is safe to run, bike, or walk without a guide in Cuba. It is important to take basic safety precautions, especially at night.

Is there anything in particular you should see or do if you are interested in culture?
Yes, there are many cultural activities that you can do in Cuba, such as visiting museums, art galleries, theaters and live music shows. It is also recommended to participate in a walking tour of Old Havana to learn about the history and culture of Cuba, or the popular classic car tours around the island, especially in Havana.

What is the local cuisine like and how would a vegetarian do there?
Cuban cuisine is rich and varied, drawing influences from Spanish, African and Caribbean cuisine. There are vegetarian options in restaurants, such as rice and beans, salads, fried plantains, and other vegetarian dishes. However, it is important to note that the Cuban diet traditionally includes meat.

Do you have any recommendations regarding flights or travel insurance, or anything else you think is important for us to know?
It is important to search for flight options early to find the best deals and book tickets early. It is also recommended to purchase travel insurance before you leave to be covered in case of medical emergencies or any other problems during your trip. Also, it is important to research travel regulations and entry requirements for US citizens.
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Old Sep 23rd, 2023, 04:29 AM
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Originally Posted by olesia5704
At the hotel official exchange is 120 CUP to 1 euro, official bank rate is 25 CUP per Euro so ot sure what you woukd get from a Cunan ATM

There is ONE official rate, which is set by Banco Central de Cuba. $US1 will buy you 110CUP in cash or from an ATM. Other hard currencies that are traded there fluctuate in relation to that 110:1, according to the global rate.
Hotel desks will give marginally less (as happens worldwide), but banks and CADECAs trade according to the BCC rate.
Unofficial/Street rates vary - there is no set unofficial rate. They change from day to day, but currently and for the past couple of years or so, you get considerably more CUP for your €,$,£ etc.

UK cards I have that work fine are Halifax, Nationwide, Barclays, Monzo. Sometimes it's a machine/cash availability/connection issue rather than a card issue.

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Old Sep 30th, 2023, 04:16 AM
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Lots of good advice has be posted here.

USD should work out the majority of times for you. Some restaurants will only take CUPs so if you don't get the "informal" i.e. black market rate, you meal may be quite expense, but if you really want to eat there and you don't have CUPs, your waiter MAY take your USD and pay for the meal on their card.

If you are staying in an all inclusive, and going to the buffet, you can ask the cooks and servers if the meals are vegetarian. Their English may be good enough to understand what you are saying. Be aware the soups may be vegetables only but made with meat stock. I once took some mashed potatoes and found out by taste they must have used water from a boiled ham to add to the potatoes so don't make assumptions if you absolutely don't want to take the chance of eating meat or fish. I have had shrimp in a dish of mixed vegetables!. Cubans don't usually throw much out.

If you are going in December or January, you might want to try the south coast, especially around Santiago. It is a few degrees warmer and in Dec/Jan Cuba can be cool. Remember Varadero is only 90 miles from Florida and Florida has cold snaps.

The Santiago area has a different vibe that most of Cuba. The beaches aren't as nice and are darker sand. The Afro-centric vibe and the religion Santeria is more common because Santiago was the port they brought most of the slaves into.

Check out a travel book from your library or buy one to pick out the areas you think would be of most interest to you. Havana and Santiago would have the most museums and music spots etc.

Personally I would never visit Cuba without spending at least a day or two in Havana. As long as you planning to go to Cuba more than once your first trip would not have to include Havana but Havana overall is a must see in my opinion.
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Old Oct 14th, 2023, 03:26 AM
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Originally Posted by olesia5704
At the hotel official exchange is 120 CUP to 1 euro, official bank rate is 25 CUP per Euro so ot sure what you woukd get from a Cunan ATM (our cards didnt work), but on a black market from market traders it could be 140-160 CUP to 1 euro (160 was the best we got). Restaurants have their own exchange rate- from 90 to 140 CUP to 1 euro. Most often they use 100 CUP per Euro or USD, so your defiantly better off exchanging to CUP from a local market trader
There is only ONE official rate for money exchange and it is set by the Banco Central de Cuba.
From August 2022, 110CUP can be bought with 1$US. This is the rate that will be dispensed from banks, CADECAs and ATMs. Hotel front desks tend to give a slightly poorer rate - as happens worldwide. Other hard currencies vary according to the global market rate of that currency vs the USD - eg £1 could buy you 133CUP one day and 137CUP another if the £ has strengthened.

Then there is a market for exchanging money unofficially - "en la calle". Currently you can get more than double the bank rate for various currencies. Overall, the easiest to exchange are US$ and €. In resort areas (and some cities) CAD are well recognised and shouldn't be problematic to exchange. GBP usually needs a bit of persuasion to exchange and to find someone that will give the value that GPB should yield.
There is no agreed unofficial street rate. It varies across the country, within cities etc etc. El Toque publishes an average they come up with by reviewing posts on places like Facebook and Revolico of people stating what they are buying and selling at. I doubt there is robust sampling modelling going into it, but it gives you a starting point for negotiating a street rate exchange.

I would say it is unusual for most to get as high as El Toque publishes. Bear in mind, street money changing is a business and money changers have to make money on their transactions - which they won't, if they're giving you the best rate. It's up to a traveller to accept the rate, try and find better or go to a bank or CADECA.

UK cards - Nationwide, Halifax, Barclays - credit and debit all work. The issue is likely to have been with the machine; possibly not enough cash in it, a limit imposed per transaction or something else. Monzo also works. Starling I will try anon (for purchases - not used an ATM in a couple of years), I have one but don't remember if I've used it.
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Old Oct 20th, 2023, 09:24 AM
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My girlfriend (who is Cuban born) and I (American) visited there a few years ago. Cuba is as safe as anywhere else as long as you're a smart traveler.

Because of the US restrictions we actually traveled to Costa Rica first, then flew to Cuba. Cuban immigration doesn't stamp your passport (which could get you in trouble in the US), rather, they give you a separate doc with your visa.

One thing to consider is Cuba is in pretty desperate times right now. They have difficultly getting access to the most basic supplies, so pack accordingly.
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Old Oct 22nd, 2023, 09:59 AM
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Re #12. Your government knows you went to Cuba. They just don't care. A stamp in your passport isn't relevant. It's very easy to fly direct from the USA. No need to fly through another country.
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Old Oct 23rd, 2023, 10:02 AM
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Lance, to add to what Simon wrote, since your girlfriend is Cuban, she could legally go to Cuba under the "visiting family" category. And you probably could too, especially if you live together...
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