With a shortage of fresh ingredients and limited access to imported goods, Cuban food is bland, heavy on meat and carbs. Fortunately, dining is cheap. You’ll eat heartily, if not well, for about $10 a meal, though vegetarians or those with special dietary requirements may struggle. The most innovative cuisine is served in private dining rooms, called paladars, or in the kitchens of the casa particulares, which will whip up anything from the Cuban staple of pork, beans and rice, to lobster thermidor for between $7 and $12. Do not drink tap water and only drink bottled water.
Although Cuba has tried to distance itself from American culture, tipping is not uncommon. It’s a good idea to carry coins to tip bathroom attendants. Viazul employees may also ask for a tip for looking after your luggage. Tipping in restaurants is at your discretion and there is no minimum amount expected.
Films for cameras are expensive so make sure you take plenty of film with you. Batteries are expensive and hard to get, so make sure you have plenty of spares for the likes of your cameras, MP3, Ipod etc. An underwater disposable camera is one of my ‘musts’, you can get some fabulous pictures of the coral and fish. If you have a digital or video camera – remember to pack your chargers
You should only ever need usual summer attire, but in the months of Nov/Dec through to March/April you may find that a thin/lightweight long-sleeved top, cardigan or sweat top may be useful for a chillier evening – you will most certainly want a sweater on the flight home, the planes can be quite chilly after the hot Cuban climate. Take plenty of sunscreen, various factors and after-sun.
Most of Cuba is tropical and warm, permanently humid, with sea breezes. Due to Cuba’s location close to the Tropic of Cancer, Cuba is sunny throughout the whole year. Temperatures are generally high. The annual average temperature ranges from 24 ºC to 26 ºC in the plains, and higher on the east coast with the west coast a fraction cooler. In the mountains, the average temperature is under 20 ºC. The highest temperature ever reached was in 38.6 ºC in Guantanamo (1969), and 0.6 ºC in Bainoa (1996). November to April is the dry season, which is Cuba’s winter. May to October is summer and this is when Cuba experiences hurricanes and large waves along the coastline. The temperature is high and 80% of the country’s annual rainfall happens during these months. During summer, most of the rains and inclement weather occur in the afternoon and usually for short periods of time. When there is a hurricane, cold front, or tropical waves predicted, everyone, including tourists, will be advised well in advance and preparations are made for everyone’s safety. The relative humidity is close to 80% on average, with 90% at sunrise, and 50-60% at midday. The most humid areas are the western and central regions, and the mountain territories. No matter what time of year you travel to Cuba, it is suggested you have a raincoat handy and wear cotton clothes for comfort like the locals do.
Cuba makes the world’s finest cigars. Buy the real thing at factories such as Real Fábrica de Tabacos Partagás in Havana, which also sells fabulously ornate cigar boxes. Other official outlets called Casas del Habano sell authentic wares as well. Cigars from street vendors will probably be fakes or factory rejects.
You will find a mix of electrical currents and plug types used in Cuba. Around 90% of the hotels use a 110-volt current with standard U.S.-style two- or three-prong outlets. However, some outlets are rated 220 volts, particularly in hotels that cater to European clientele.
Cuba has two official currencies: the Cuban convertible peso (CUC) and the national peso (moneda nacional or MN). Transactions involving foreigners almost always take place in Cuban convertible peso. When receiving change after a transaction, be aware that the national peso is worth substantially less than the Cuban convertible peso. Australian dollars cannot be exchanged in Cuba. The US dollar is not accepted as legal tender in Cuba, and attracts a large commission fee at exchange. Australian travellers often experience problems accessing funds in Cuba. To avoid being caught without money in Cuba, you should ensure you have a variety of ways of accessing your money. Do not rely on one source of funds. Credit cards, debit cards and travellers’ cheques are not accepted in Cuba if issued by US banks or Australian banks affiliated with US banks. This includes all American Express cards, and Visa and Mastercard cards depending on the issuing bank. Westpac Bank cards are not accepted in Cuba
For Australian passengers also travelling to Cuba. You will need a visa to enter Cuba. A tourist card, which is considered a visa for entry for tourism purposes, can be obtained through your nearest Embassy or Consulate of Cuba.
Leaving the country
Remember to keep 25 CUCs spare for the airport when you fly home as you will have to pay an ‘exit tax’. At Havana airport you can pay the leaving fee at the bureau de change once you have checked in and before you clear customs. A stamp to confirm you have paid will be marked on your boarding card.