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What you need to know about Cuba

Cuba holidays

It's fair to say that Cuba is a place for the more intrepid explorer, and is quite different to other Caribbean countries. In fact, we could go as far as to say that it cannot compare to any of the other Caribbean islands. You’ll discover plenty of cultural experiences and beautiful beaches that you won’t find anywhere else, all with their own Cuban charm. As with any holiday, you'll have a bundle of stories to tell friends and family. However, if you’re looking for that typically relaxing experience, where nothing unexpected happens, then Cuba potentially isn’t for you. Cuba is most definitely for the adventurous soul. 

We want you to enjoy your experience in Cuba, but it’s important to be prepared for the adventure you’ll have. The standard of service can be up and down, road journeys can be longer than anticipated, and dining choices can be limited. However, we feel that any deficiencies are outweighed by all the cultural experiences, tropical beaches, and incredibly friendly people you will encounter; and suggest a flexible approach to travel when visiting the country.

Before you go

  • Hotels in Cuba do not usually supply bath or sink plugs in room facilities. Should you wish to have a bath, you may need to bring your own. Be prepared for showers, and if washing / shaving, you will not be able to fill up the sink.
     
  • Please ensure that you have your Visa(s) when going to Cuba. If booking online, please call 0344 557 4321 to order this; or just speak with your agent if booking over the phone. If making your own arrangements, please note that any mistakes in your Visa will require new Visas to be purchased separately.
     
  • Whilst 5V hotels in Cuba offer fantastic facilities, the ratings in Cuba are not the same as other Caribbean islands. Hotels rated at 3V / 3V+ are a part of our ‘value collection’, and are great as a base. These hotels still offer great options, along with multiple pools and bars to indulge in during your stay.
     
  • Please ensure that your travel insurance is up to date, as this is required.
     
  • Beach towels – all our hotels have beach towels but when they are busy can be a bit slow in getting supplies back from the laundry. It can be handy to travel with your own beach towel in case you find the supply has run out that day.
     
  • Tea and Coffee – now we know that the British enjoy a cup of tea or coffee in their rooms, so to avoid disappointment with local brands, we recommend bringing your favourite supplies with you! Cubans drink their tea and coffee black, so you might want to bring some milk powder too. Avoid bringing a travel kettle or heating element, as this can cause delays and paperwork at Customs on arrival which can be frustrating.
     
  • Pharmacies in Cuba don't always stock the products we're used to in the UK. Make sure you stock up on essentials that are required when travelling to a more exotic location.

At the airport

  • On arrival at Havana airport, immigration and baggage delivery can be slow. We recommend that you buy some drinking water at Gatwick (after security) and save it for your arrival, to make sure you stay comfortable whilst you wait as there are no shops in the arrivals hall.
     
  • Adaptors – some plug sockets are US style, whilst others are European. We suggest you travel with a multi adaptor to cover off all eventualities. If you forget then don’t worry as these can be purchased on your Virgin Atlantic flight.

Arriving at Havana Airport

  • Make sure that you have passports and Visas to hand on arrival. Do not worry if you aren’t asked to show the insurance documents we asked you bring. Officers ask to see these on a random basis.
     
  • If at all possible, avoid changing money at the airport as the exchange facility is outside the terminal, in the open and it isn’t a very quiet place to be waving your notes around. Don't worry - you can exchange currency at every hotel.
     
  • There is no official porter service at Havana airport, so please don’t be fooled by well-meaning locals who dress to look like porters. They can be persistent about helping you with your luggage as they are eyeing up a hefty tip!
     
  • Your Virgin Holidays representative will be waiting for you after you exit Customs in the arrivals hall inside the terminal. Look for uniformed staff and Virgin Holidays signage! 
     
  • Havana airport can be quite slow to get your baggage to you – don’t worry about this as your Virgin Holidays representatives will wait for you. Be aware that sometimes luggage is delivered to both carousels, although your flight number has only been assigned to one. Also, to prevent congestion on the carousel, luggage is often moved to the floor. If yours is taking a while to appear, we recommend you check the floor area and the other carousel.
     
  • At baggage reclaim there are trolleys available, free of charge. They aren’t always that easy to find though.
     
  • After Immigration, all hand luggage is x-rayed on arrival. 

Whilst you're there

  • Out and about – we recommend that you are as careful in Havana as you are at home when visiting, say, London. Leave your heels at home, as the pavements can be very uneven, and the old town is cobbled. Be sensible, and don’t wear expensive jewellery, and be careful with your wallets and handbags to keep pickpockets at bay. As in any city, we don’t recommend you leave the main, well-lit areas when walking at night. All of our hotels have safety deposit boxes in their rooms and we recommend that you use them and avoid wearing gold chains whilst walking around in Havana.
     
  • We suggest exchanging your money in small amounts throughout your stay, rather than all in one hit. This saves you carrying around larger amounts of money, and potentially losing out on exchange rates before you come back to the UK. Only change up what you'll need.
     
  • Tours in Cuba are part of the experience and, without a doubt, are the best way to have an adventure and take in a lot of what the country has to offer. However, these experiences can be subject to change at short notice, due to unavailability of transport or accommodation. Changes to hotels aren’t guaranteed to be like-for-like, so take this into consideration when booking a tour. 
     
  • In addition to purchasing / including your Visa when travelling to Cuba, please note that any excursions or day trips away from Cuba (such as to Mexico) will also require a separate Visa. This information is usually available in resort, should you wish to check. Please be aware when making your own arrangements for tours etc.
     
  • Your guide book might advise you that you need to pay a 25.00 CUC departure tax per person at Havana airport on the day you leave Cuba. This has changed and you no longer need to do this as you will have already paid for this tax on your flight ticket.
     
  • Health & Safety standards might not be the same as the UK. However, all of the hotels and excursions that we feature are reviewed by our UK based H&S team to ensure they meet our requirements. Please note that we don’t promote the Dolphinarium in Varadero as they do not meet the standards that we expect.
     
  • We know that the cars in Cuba are fascinating and you may be tempted to go out for a drive one day. We do not recommend these vehicles, if you do decide to go for a drive then please check your travel insurance covers this and that the cars have seatbelts.
     
  • In line with our H & S standards, we also don’t recommend car hire or moped hire in Cuba. We consider the popular yellow “coco taxis” to be mopeds and don’t recommend our customers to hire one. They aren’t stable and drivers often carry a supply of gasoline in a bottle at the back.
     
  • WiFi/Internet can be slow or sporadic. and you will usually need to purchase a WiFi card from the hotel you're staying at. Hotels have a limited supply of these cards, so we recommend getting up early to get one, if you know you'll need it. You will certainly appreciate your high-speed internet when you return home! There are also higher chances of power cuts whilst in Cuba, as opposed to other destinations. Be prepared and potentially consider packing a small torch or light source just in case.
     
  • Tipping is customary in Cuba when you receive good service. We think it is nice to reward the junior staff members who carry your heavy luggage to your room on arrival and departure and also the staff who deliver your room service tray, you may notice other nationals tip at the bars and restaurants to get quicker service, which is unfortunately out of our control.

Food and drink

  • As with any trip to a more exotic location, food quality and standards can vary greatly from those in the UK, with availability of many items being seasonal. We recommend being vigilant and sensible when checking out any street vendors, and take extra precautions when dining outside of your hotel. Ensure that your food has been thoroughly cooked and is still piping hot when served and, as always, wash your hands before and after your meal. 
     
  • Carry a bottle of hand sanitiser with you. This may come in handy whilst out and about on any excursions or tours, and before handling any food or drink.
     
  • Always use bottled water for drinking (and brushing teeth). Avoid iced drinks wherever possible, and always when outside of your hotel. There aren’t any guarantees that ice has been frozen from boiled water.
     
  • Avoid salads, as you don’t know if the salad has been washed. Similarly to iced drinks, even if the salads have been washed, there is no guarantee the water is from a ‘safe’ source.