3. How much?
One of the most confusing aspects of Cuba I was most worried about getting my head around was the dual-currency system but it is not actually all that complicated if you consider that they have a local peso rate and the CUC (convertible peso) for tourists. One CUC is equivalent to one US dollar – just make sure you are paid your change in CUCs, not the local peso. We were told that most big hotels accept VISA/Mastercard but when there, Mastercard was rejected and only VISA was accepted. Hardly any other places accepted credit card so think in terms of a a cash economy. There are plenty of cash machines around Havana but not so much outside of the capital. There is also a limit as to how much you can withdraw each day so go prepared with cash and foreign currency (pounds sterling or Canadian dollars) to exchange money if you need to. It is also a wise idea to keep a handful of small coins at all times for tips. It becomes quickly apparent that everyone wants to work in tourism because of the fact that money made in tips can easily outstrip weekly or monthly set wages so keep this in mind – your tour guide or taxi driver may well be a doctor or a lawyer, taking advantage of the tourist cash economy.
4. WiFi – a luxury
Remember traveling before the days that smartphones were ubiquitous and selfies and “constantgramming” filled every second of your day? Welcome to Cuba – they do have WiFi but it is expensive (4-5 US dollars for an hour). You need to pay for a card with a code which lasts an hour at a time and is limited to WiFi zones. The good news is that your new found freedom will leave you plenty of time to really enjoy Cuba and any time you do spend online each day feels more like quality connections or necessary messages. If you are ever unsure of where the WiFi zones are, follow the groups of youngsters sat around hotels or restaurants as they all log on in the same way too!
5. Eating out
Before I went to Cuba, everyone warned me not to expect anything in terms of local cuisine and that the staples of fish, rice and black beans were as good as it gets. This just shows how much Cuba is already changing because there is actually a hip emerging food scene. This is one of the major advantages of traveling to Cuba as part of a tour as the organisers are in the know and are kept up to date of all the latest openings. Paladars are your best bit, which are privately-owned restaurants. I had everything from rice and beans to some of the best Ceviche I have tasted in Latin America. I would recommend always keeping some tissue/toilet paper on you as many restaurants/cafes give you a ration of paper as you go in, making you feel obliged to tip. Check out some of my tips for eating out, here, but the best one by far is La Guardia, made famous by the film Fresa y Chocolate. Expect to be surprised!