1. Bring American or Canadian Dollars, or Euros
Due to the government changing their currency, Cuban Pesos (CUP) inflation is high. Many local stores will refuse to take anything but U.S. dollars and deny you service if you try to pay CUP or credit card. Bring USD to pay for goods and services and withdraw some CUPs for tips. This will allow you to have the freedom to explore Cuba without any concerns.
2. Avoid people selling you stuff on the street
There are going to be many people selling you stuff on the street. They will spot you from across the street, come by, ask you what time it is. Friendly at the get-go, they will offer to sell you some cigars, taking you to sketchy places if you follow. They will also try to lure you to local restaurants. Remember, life in Cuba is hard, and this is only one of the ways people hustle to make some money.
Our guide and hotel staff recommended not to follow these people as the cigars are not legitimate and the restaurants not so great. That said, they are not dangerous.
A simple “no, gracias” and walking away will do.
3. Eat local and support the local community
Let me be frank, Cuban food is FANTASTIC. But only if you have it in local restaurants like Teniente Rey and Varadero 60. So, why do so many people complain about Cuban food?
Many Cuban places try to serve our North American food to please our taste buds and fail. Tasteless hamburgers, odd constructions called tacos, and pasta with no taste.
Our recommendation: eat local. Cuban sandwiches, soups, pulled beef, and street pizza will show explosive flavours. They will also show the ingenuity and talent of the local chefs.
Skip the hotel and eat out.
4. Tip well to get good service
Cuban service asks for tips.
If you tip well, you will get excellent service.
For excursions, we recommend tipping 10-20 USD. For full service at the restaurant and bar, 200-300 CUP. 20-50 CUP for the food and drink service: bar, coffee, snacks.
At the end of the trip, all hotel staff knew me as I tend to tip well and brought me my drink of choice, Havana Club 7, neat before I even asked.
Don’t skimp on tips, and the staff will not skimp on service.
5. Specify the brand you want in your drinks
Your drinks will be diluted, and the bar staff will use local Cuban alcohols instead of more delicious and expensive Havana Club or Olmeca. Always specify the brand of rum and tequila you want to improve the taste of drinks tenfold. You can also ask to make them extra boozy.
All content in the post, including recommendations and opinions, are our own.