Cuba is well known for its white sand beaches, delicious rum, and world-famous cigars, but you might be surprised to learn just how much Cuba has to offer travelers. From incredible hiking destinations and wildlife preserves to fascinating historical sites and modern art galleries, Cuba is so much more than most visitors expect.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of confusion about who can travel to Cuba (hint: yes, Americans can travel to Cuba!) and how to travel to Cuba. Thankfully, Cuba travel is easy for just about anyone.
In this ultimate guide to travel to Cuba, we’re covering all the details about how to travel to Cuba, the best things to do in Cuba, and why you need to add Cuba to your travel bucket list. Plus, keep reading for all the inside tips we’re sharing about what to pack for your trip, and what to leave at home.
What You Need to Know
Who Can Travel to Cuba?
Everyone can travel to Cuba! – even U.S. citizens, or citizens of other countries traveling through the United States. U.S. citizens are required by the United States government to only spend money at private businesses (rather than government-run establishments) while there – which is quite easy to do. This guide has all the details.
Cuba uses the Cuban peso, valued at 24 pesos to $1 USD. However, since 2021 Cuba has been experiencing high inflation, and the official exchange rate is much lower than the one you’ll find if you exchange your money with a moneychanger. Check out our guide to currency in Cuba for more details.
Spanish is the only language spoken in Cuba, with English occasionally spoken in the tourism industry. Download Google Translate before your trip to help. Check out our guide to the apps you’ll need for travel in Cuba for more recommendations.
Cuba is known for being an extremely safe country, much safer than most other places in Latin America or the Caribbean. Take precautions that would generally when traveling – don’t be excessively flashy with jewelry, hold on to your stuff well in crowded areas, etc.
Some areas of Cuba use 110V electricity while others use 220V electricity, and you’ll find a mix of plug types in different places around the island. We recommend bringing along a universal travel adapter and electrical converter so you can use your devices while there.
Internet in Cuba isn’t everywhere yet, but it is generally easy to access, although slower than you may be used to. We wrote a complete guide to using the internet in Cuba with all the details.
We recommend using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) when using the internet in Cuba. Check out our complete guide to using a VPN in Cuba for more details.
Cuba requires that all travelers show proof of travel insurance coverage upon arrival. We recommend Visitors Coverage for American and Canadian citizens and World Nomads for those of other nationalities.
Preparing for Weather in Cuba
A tropical country, Cuba has two seasons: the wet season and the dry season. The heat will generally dip slightly in the winter months (November through April), but not much. While the dry season generally attracts more tourists, the weather is perfect for a visit. May is a good time to visit as well, with the weather still nice and fewer tourists.
- Dry Season: November – April
- Wet Season: May – October
Don’t forget, Cuba occasionally experiences hurricanes. Peak hurricane season is from mid-August through mid-October.
Peak Tourist Season
Peak tourist season in Cuba lasts from early December through the end of March. Peak tourist season generally starts with a huge spike around the holiday season, when many Cubans living abroad come home to visit family. Visiting around Christmas and New Year is when I’ve seen the greatest price increase in the price of flights and accommodations across the island – try to avoid these weeks if you can.
7 Best Things to Do in Cuba
#1 – Visit Havana
The craziest and most beautiful city in the world in our most humble opinion, Havana is like no other place on the planet. Many say it’s stuck in the 1950s, but they couldn’t be more wrong – Havana holds on to its history beautifully while moving forward in a wholly modern way that will leave you enchanted.
Some of the best things to when traveling to Cuba include exploring Old Havana, taking in the view over the city at the Cristo de la Habana, and ending the night with a drink and a show at the Fábrica de Arte Cubano.
#2 -Visit Cuba’s Beaches
Cuba is known for having some of the world’s most beautiful beaches. Not only that, but many of them are as close to virgin, untouched beaches as you can still find in the Caribbean, which makes for an unmatched experience. Check out our guide to the Top 10 Best Cuban Beaches to help you choose which to add to your itinerary.
Varadero is the best-known beach in Cuba due to its proximity to Havana – it’s the perfect getaway from Havana for those looking to spend time in both the city and at the beach. If you’re picturing crystal clear waters and white sand, you’re thinking of Varadero. While Varadero has a built-up infrastructure so you’ll have everything you’d want at your fingertips, there are also areas of Varadero where you can still get a slice of the beach all to yourself.
#4 -Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo
This incredible pair of ‘cayos’ aka ‘keys’ located on the north shore of Cuba are served by their own international airport and have about a dozen large international hotel chains between them. If you’re looking for an all-inclusive beach experience, I recommend checking out these two keys and some of the incredible hotels they have to offer. The beaches here are truly pristine – some of the best beaches in Cuba.
#5 -Playa Ancon – Trinidad, Cuba
This is known as one of the most beautiful beaches on the southern part of the island, and is close to Trinidad, Cuba, an absolute colonial gem of a city that will take your breathe away. If you’re looking to get outside of Havana and Varadero track, which most travelers visit, we definitely recommend considering Trinidad and Playa Ancon!
#6 -Ride in A Classic American Car
The cars in Cuba are absolutely enchanting. While they’ve been kept on the road mostly out of necessity, it makes for a car lover’s dream to see city streets packed with them. A ride in an old convertible along Havana’s famous malecón sea wall is a must while in Cuba.
#7 -Learn About the Cuban Revolution
Cuba is so much more than the Cuban Revolution! The evidence of the revolution is everywhere, certainly, but there is so much more you’ll see and learn here as you meet the people, try the food, and see the art here in Cuba. However, you’ll see evidence of the Cuban Revolution everywhere here, from billboards with Fidel and Che Guevara to the faces on the currency.
Learning more about the Revolution can be absolutely fascinating for visitors, and a great way to understand more of what you’re seeing and experiencing. Make sure to check out this free walking tour in Havana focused on the Revolution as a fantastic way to learn more about what you’ll see in Cuba!
Where You Can Stay in Cuba
Casas Particulares – or, guest houses – are a fantastic option for staying in Cuba. You can find an amazing selection of rentals of all kinds, from luxury beach houses to staying with a family in a spare bedroom or renting a simple city apartment. Not only do rentals usually get you a lot more for your money, but you’re supporting small business in Cuba and you’ll get a much richer cultural experience.
Airbnb is one of the most popular platforms for finding rentals, but plenty of others exist as well and many people rent their listings across multiple platforms.
While we always recommend staying in a casa particular over a hotel, there are more and more amazing options in Cuba these days. There are several new luxury hotels in Havana and in Cuba’s beach towns, but I recommend the boutique hotels which can be just as luxurious and offer a more personalized saty.
There are many all inclusive resorts in Cuba, especially from companies like Iberostar and Melia, and they’re especially lovely ones located in Varadero and the Cayos – the Keys – on the northern coast of Cuba.
What to Pack for Cuba
Cuba can be a tough place to pack for – you’ll probably be combining time in the city, on the beach, or in the countryside. Plus, there are a lot of things you just WON’T be able to find in Cuba no matter how hard you look, meaning you need to plan ahead!
These are the essentials you should plan to bring to Cuba:
- CASH – if you’re a U.S. citizen, you won’t have access to debit or credit cards while in Cuba.
- SteriPen – purify water from any source so you won’t get sick!
- Water Bottle (with water filter!)
- Comfortable and lightweight basics
- Toiletries – Cuba is not a place you’ll want to just plan on purchasing extra shampoo when you arrive – it can be challenging to find personal care products at times, so I highly encourage you to bring enough to last!
- Make a mini first-aid kit with a few bandaids, aspirin, triple antibiotic, and alka seltzer just in case!
- Reef-safe sunscreen
- Light clothing that will keep you cool in the sun
- Comfortable shoes – get ready for a lot of cobblestones and uneven sidewalks
- A menstrual cup or other period products- I have NEVER been able to find tampons in Cuba – and the period products I have had to purchase there are incomparably bad. Absolutely come prepared, ladies!
- A travel plug adapter and converter
- A tablet (we love the Amazon Fire!) pre-download some audiobooks and any TV shows or movies you’ll want to watch while you’re in Cuba… internet speeds in Cuba will make downloads slower than you’re used to or impossible.
- A spare memory card for your camera – also something that can be extremely challenging to find in Cuba!
- NordVPN or another Virtual Private Network service. Not a physical product, but something you shouldn’t travel without!
This article first appeared on Home to Havana.
Carley Rojas Avila is an avid traveler and the creator behind Home to Havana. Having visited twenty-five countries and spent years living abroad, she shares destination guides and travel tips to help travelers and digital nomads feel at home when traveling off the beaten path to Havana or beyond.