Okay ladies, so you’ve seen visuals via Instagram of the vibrant fruit markets, the signature woman with colorful head wraps, smooth beautiful dark skin, dressed in stark white holding a Cuban cigar with a FAB turban, and photos or videos of beautiful vintage Ford drop tops and you’re all ready to pack right?! RIGHT!
Now that you’re ready, let me share a few things to remember as you prep for your trip – by sharing with you the ultimate go-to travel indulgence also known as the chic girls guide to Cuba experience!
Below I have provided some tips on what I’ve learned from planning trips overseas, particularly to countries with underdeveloped areas such as Cuba, my curated looks for the trip, and how to ensure you’re prepared for anything that’ll try to inhibit you from SLAYING THE SCENE!
One time for all my ladies in the place with STYLE and GRACE…
Do remember to pack your passport and make sure it is a U.S. passport – Make sure your passport is up-to-date and in good standing. Cuba does not play games and will delay your check-in asking for further U.S. verification to head toward the gate and get through Customs – this if only if of course you’re flying back to the U.S. If you’re flying elsewhere with another another passport, you’re good.
- Do remember to purchase a Visa. You must have a visa (Tourist Card) to even get on a plane going to Cuba. If you don’t have a visa, you won’t be allowed to board the flight. You can purchase a Visa after checking in for your flight so be sure to arrive to the airport at least 2 hours before your flight time.
- Do take out enough cash to spend for the duration of your trip! I cannot stress this enough. Take all the cash you’ll need, because the only places you can use a debit or credit card is in hotels and resorts. Consider what you want to spend on food, drinks, transportation, and activities and add a little cushion just in case. You can only withdraw cash from a bank or ATM with a debit card that has absolutely no affiliation to a US bank (which includes the majority of British banks).
- Do pack toiletries. Outside of the norm of packing toothpaste, a toothbrush, deodorant, lotion, and sunscreen I packed the to-go packets of moistened toilette’s, Imodium, Aleve, and makeup wipes and other essentials. My mom has been keen on telling me to have all you need so you don’t have to ask others and I’ve made sure to remember that LOL. I have dry skin and Cuba’s water seems to make it even drier so if you’re like me – fill up a 3 oz. bottle with some Eucerin lotion.
- Do pack a pair of sneakers. Now this is by preference but you will do a lot of walking and I wore sandals most times but traveling to and from Cuba you’re changing climates and you never know if the weather will be in your favor.
- Do bring face towels, if you’re staying in an Airbnb. You don’t get the hotel experience with all of the toiletries and bath items already included so you’ll be thankful you did.
- Don’t skip out on packing snacks! You may not be a picky eater, but having had a chance to go into the local Cuban supermarkets there weren’t many options in late night treats outside of candy. Double up on your favorite treats at your local bodega or you’ll pay three times the price at the airport before boarding your flight!
- Do decide whether you want a hotel or apartment experience. Once you book your flight, chat with your girls about if you’d like to stay in a nice apartment or beautiful mansion – with an additional $5 – 10 CUCs a day added on to your stay they’ll throw in an amazing breakfast spread every morning! Or if you’re the type of gals that like to have service in food, toiletry needs, etc readily available at all times opt for a hotel. I’d recommend the Saratoga or Parque Central located in centre Habana Vieja which is all in Old Havana.
- Don’t forget to exchange your U.S. dollars! The girls and I decided we would exchange our money at the airport Currency Exchange before our flight to Euros and then change the Euros to CUCs (Cuban convertible peso, pronounced ‘cook’) when we landed in Cuba. This allowed for the lowest exchange rate. There are two types of currency in Cuba; the CUC (Cuban convertible peso, pronounced ‘cook’), which is the tourist currency and the CUP (Cuban peso) which is the local currency. You cannot buy Cuban currency outside of Cuba, so you must take all the cash you need (I took £350 for 5 days) with you and convert it when you arrive. Don’t get embarrassed like the two young ladies on our flight to Cuba asking to randomly exit our flight before we took off only to return and we later found out they didn’t take out cash – do your research!
- Do pack clothing that best reflects the look you want to project during your stay. I personally wanted a no fuss, comfortable look with subtle accents of flare and color. Take a peek at my shopping looks below for some inspo if necessary! Monroe was gracious enough to plan different activities for each day which helped me to curate my looks according to what the day looked like.
11. Don’t drink the tap water. The locals don’t even drink it. If I’ve shared how it affects my skin, then…you realize you should digest it haha. Always buy bottled water from local stores. It shouldn’t cost you more than $1CUC.
12. Do not use your phone. Okay, maybe that’s a little far, but for phone calls and data – turn it off. There’s no 3G, no 4G, its QUIET for Instagram, Snapchat, etc. Once you land turn OFF your roaming data – trust me, you don’t want to come back to a very expensive bill! You’ll only find Wifi in the 5* hotels, and often you have to pay for it. There’s also very little phone service and you’ll only have it on certain phone networks. Just take fab photos and videos and post one you’re home – you’re in Cuba so enjoy it! If you must use your phone you can purchase Internet cards in hotels or cafes.
13. Do explore your neighborhood and go into town! By recommendation of our Canadian neighbor in our apartment building we came upon the lovely Cafe Arcangel which was a morning staple before we started our day since it was just around the corner from where we stayed. He also recommended we have dinner at Casa Cantabria which had a long wait time but was absolutely delicious and well worth the wait!
14. Do ride in a classic car! Head to the Hotel Nacional or the Parque Central, and you’ll see dozens of Classic Cars all lined up. Choose which one you want and negotiate a price. We always randomly flagged one down to take us from one place to another – typical New Yorkers, always in a hurry. You can negotiate to have them drive your around for a tour if you’d like.
16. Do dine at Paladar la Guarida! For great cuisine and strong drinks this is definitely a restaurant and bar you don’t eat to pass up. It’s costly compared to other restaurants with dishes priced around $18-$25 CUCs.
17. Do have drinks with your fab friends at Floridita! Enjoy the rum filled frozen daiquiris, live singers and ambiance. After having drinks you can check out young artist displaying their art along the streets.
18. Do visit the Ballet Nationals de Cuba. It is vast, filled with spiraling staircases leading into an open art gallery of photos of dancers, a grand ballroom with sunlight spilling into the room from the balconies, and a beautiful theatre of deep red plush seating and an ornate chandelier. During times of dismay and despair the arts served as outlet for Cubans and I’m fortune to have witnessed it!
19. Don’t forget to give back! People in Cuba don’t have the luxuries of buying nice clothing, shoes, and even variety in food. People are so welcoming and helpful that if you’d like to pack a few extra items of clothing, candy, or toiletries as Monroe did to give away you absolutely should!
Believe me when I tell you that Cuba is amazing! I only wish that our trip was longer so that we could’ve explored Trinidad and the vast open land and rum factories in Vinales as well. All the more reason to come back and see more of this beautiful country before it becomes commercialized and loses any authenticity or culture.
I hope you guys found this guide helpful! If you have any further questions or recommendations, feel free to leave a comment below! To see my review of the full trip check my post on day 1, day 2, as well as the 3rd and 4th day of our trip! Keep up to date with new blog post notifications by following me on Instagram and Twitter!