Ahh Cuba. One of the few places left on the planet untouched by a McDonalds, Starbucks or KFC. Don’t forget the white-sand beaches and crystal clear waters. Truly one of the few unspoiled places left on this Earth. With the thawing of USA – Cuba relations, try to enjoy it while you can because it’s only a matter of time before that first Starbucks and McD’s opens up in Havana. But before you decided to visit be sure to have these items crossed off your list.
It seems obvious right? However, on the contrary, this is not a sun to be messed with, especially coming from the likes of the northern hemisphere. This sun will literally melt away your skin, so please be prepared unless you plan to drink yourself to sleep every night to alleviate the pain of the big, red ball in the sky. Sunscreen is NOT readily available. After three days, Jill and I were out and burnt to a crisp. We had to walk from resort to resort until we luckily found one that had a few bottles left. Load up before your go.
Drying off after coming out of the ocean seems like it would be easy enough right? Well, kind of. The resort you’re staying at will charge you 30CUC (about 30 dollars) if you lose the one towel that is provided for you. You got it.. One beach towel for the whole week. Although you can exchange it, personally, I like a few more towels on hand.
Simple, over-the-counter medicines that we take for granted in first world countries are a luxury in a developing country such as Cuba. Tylenol, Advil, Imodiums (stock up on those) and other standard medicines are simply not going to be easily available at your resort. If you have any type of prescription medicines, stock up before you head down because there will not be a pharmacy within a hundred miles from your resort. Even, if by luck, you do manage to find one, it will be doubtful that they will have your medicine in stock.
4) American? No problem! Just bring a few things…
Travelling to Cuba with my American wife was a unique experience. Before heading down, we were urged to keep her nationality discreet, but over time, we realized that not too many people seemed to care. In fact, she was pretty well received. As the relationship between the Cubans and the Americans continues to thaw, the more accessible Cuba will become. However, until that day where you can fly into Cuba from JFK, you will still need to fly in from Canada or Mexico. We flew in from Toronto. When Jill approached immigration, they asked for a copy of her hotel reservation and her Korean ARC (Alien Registration Card). Other than that, there wasn’t much she showed. Cuban immigration will not stamp your passport, so there shouldn’t be much of a problem when you return to the USA.
5) No Internet
Remember the days of dialup Internet? That screeching sound letting you know that you are now on the magical World Wide Web? Yeah, those days still exist in Cuba. If you are planning to upload those photos of you smoking a Cuban cigar whilst knocking back some Havana Club on Facebook, it should probably wait until you get back.
6) Water shoes
This was one of the best investments of the trip. A good pair of water shoes are an essential when travelling to Cuba. The beach in Veradero, although beautiful, was rocky in a lot of places. Also, I have this weird thing about walking in the ocean. The water shoes provided a lot of extra traction and kept my toes from charcoaling.
7) Pencils, Crayons, Paper, and other school supplies
This as a little surprising despite all that I had heard before heading down. In the “old days” meaning the early 2000s, bring these supplies were highly recommended as the Cubans lived below poverty. Although, they still do not have the standard of living, these supplies, which are hard to get in Cuba, as still as valuable as they were 10 years ago. A quick trip to the dollar store will give a little kid the supplies he or she needs for the upcoming school year.
Got some old clothes hanging in the closet that you haven’t worn since the Reagan administration? Bring them down and leave them for the staff or donate them. Cubans are always in need for extra clothes (even your old bellbottoms).
Cash is king in Cuba. The CUC (Cuban convertible Peso) is the currency of choice for travellers. The CUC is updated daily at your hotel and can be exchanged there. DO NOT RELY ON PLACES IN HAVANA! A few of the places we stopped at grossly overcharged for items such as cigars and rum. Also, as with the Internet, many places do not except credit cards. If you go on a private tour, please bring a lot of cash. Trust me, you don’t want to get stuck in Havana with nothing but plastico.
10) Wipes and Kleenex
I’m such a germaphobe. Living in Korea has really made me appreciate the cleanliness and sanitation we have in Canada and the USA. That said, Korean toilets look like a fucking king’s throne compared to Cuban toilets. On top of that, they charge you for using public restrooms. If you head to Havana, bring the wipes and Kleenex, especially for the ladies ( you guys have to sit on those things).
What did we miss? Anything you would advise to bring down? Leave a comment below!