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Cuba Travel ~ 10 Things You Need to Know Before You Go

Before you book your flight, listen up

For more than 5 decades, Cuba has been the much lusted after – but unattainable – American vacation. Oh the torture to be so close to those glorious beaches, to a plucky, passionate nation that remains rooted in the 50’s with antique cars and slicked back hairdos. Despite being ruled by a dictator and ostracized by their closest neighbor, they opened their arms to the world and thrived.

time for a great beach vacationAlthough Americans have been allowed access to Cuba since 2011 through licensed tour operators, the recent lift of the embargo has hearts aflutter. But let’s be honest, it’s going to be a while yet before the average American can jet down for an inexpensive, quickie vacation, though things look good for more open American Cuba travel by the end of 2016. Some travel experts predict it will be 2-4 years before the tourism infrastructure in Cuba matures enough to support American vacationers en mass.

Travel & tourism in Cuba – prepare yourself with these tips

While you’re waiting for Cuba to ready herself for you, take a few moments to look – really look – at Cuba as a vacation destination. Cuba is home to a smorgasbord of unspoiled beaches, warm climate and passionate, hot-blooded culture, remember – but it’s still a very poor country and it’s had no exposure to American tourists for more than 50 years. Be prepared for some old-world practices.

Here’s what you can “really” expect when you book your Cuba beach vacation.

  1. great beaches in CubaCuban resorts and beaches – Miles of stunning beaches offer sun, sand and relaxation at its many resorts and tourist hot-spots. With money pumped in to build the tourism base, the resorts are beautiful but note their 5-star rating equates to an American 4-star. You’ll note a distinct difference to the affluence of the tourist areas and the off-resort surroundings.
  2. Pesticide protection – While some areas of Cuba (the most beautiful beach areas in our opinion) are part of a protected biosphere environment, you’ll still find an amazing amount of pesticide use. As your plane lands, a flight attend will proceed from the front of the plane to the rear spraying a government-mandated pesticide, which is apparently safe. Each night a truck tours the resort, creating a dense fog behind it that rolls everywhere.
  3. Beachside rooms – Unlike much of the Caribbean, a beachside hotel in Cuba is beach-facing – but it may not be 10 unobstructed steps to the shore. Instead, you’ll likely have 50-100 feet of very tall greenery outside your window (to preserve the dunes). But, once you reach those beaches ~ bliss!
  4. a passionate culture to explore220 Volt outlets – Don’t forget to pack a power converter before leaving home or risk going powerless – or worse, a fried cellphone – for the duration of your trip.
  5. Forget about the internet – Internet usage is closely regulated in Cuba and you can only buy very small increments of time. Trying to connect can chew up most of your time and be incredibly frustrating. Sign off of Facebook for the week and enjoy the disconnected bonus time canoodling with your partner!
  6. Cuban time – Things move much slower here. Much slower. Relax into the rhythm of the island and you’ll be fine.
  7. Currencies – There are two official currencies and they aren’t interchangeable. Cubans use the Cuban Peso, while tourists are only permitted to use the Cuban Convertible Peso.
  8. vintage cars everywhereBuffets & restaurants – Some people complain about the blandness of the food but we found an outstanding variety of food that includes salad bars, meats and side dishes. But most fruits and vegetables are canned, which can make your salad challenging…
  9. Water – At larger, chain resorts, water is filtered and considered safe for drinking. We drank tap water for a week at a Melia Resort and had no issues. But for sensitive tummies, the native bacteria may cause traveler’s diarrhea.
  10. Departure tax – On your way out of the country, you’ll be obliged to pay a $25 departure tax, payable only in cash.

Regardless of when or where in Cuba you visit, drink in the passion of this feisty little nation. The life and love here more than make up for any inconveniences you may experience – as long as you check that your expectations are based on reality, not fantasy.

And remember, even as Cuba prepares itself for Americans to visit, be mindful of the poverty you’ll encounter. We took soccer balls and footballs, branded ball caps, school supplies and cosmetics and toiletries in addition to our daily cash tips to servers, housekeepers, etc. They appreciate the thoughtfulness and respond with extra towels and water bottles at no charge.

Ever visited Cuba or wished to visit Cuba? On your bucket list?? We’d love to hear your thoughts. Drop a comment below or connect with the GoGirlfriend community on Facebook or Twitter!

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Over the last few years The $25 departure tax has been included in your airfare. Make sure you convert your cash at the airport so you can buy a cold beer on the bus on your way to the resort. They will take canadian money but not loonies and toonies.
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Thanks Gordon for the update ... and given most routes to the resorts on the coast are an hour+ and it's Cuban warm, that money for a beverage is a great tip!

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