Travel to Cuba - last minute worries.
October 5, 2012 12:58 PM   Subscribe

Cuba Travel Filter: I will be going on vacation to Cuba next week. I am finding conflicting information online about a few things, and would love some clarification before I spend the weekend worrying too much.

I've been to Cuba before but I'm not sure what has changed since then (I was there over 10 years ago). I called the company with whom we booked our vacation package but the agent wasn't exactly helpful.

1. Do we need to bring Cuban pesos with us? We will be traveling from Canada, so we will have Canadian money. Do we need to exchange anything before we go? Will we need to exchange money there?

2. It's my understanding that medical insurance is required for travel to Cuba. We don't have travel medical insurance. Will this be checked/is it really necessary? I didn't buy it because I thought I had travel medical insurance through my credit card, but I found out I don't. Theoretically (I promise), if we did travel without travel medical insurance, what would happen?

3. What is it like to drive in Cuba? We were thinking of renting a car and doing a little bit of driving, but I have no idea whether this is a nightmare waiting to happen.

Extra bonus round: Is there anywhere online that lists visa requirements for Cuba by citizenship? My partner is from Saudi Arabia, and while the airline stated that he didn't need anything other than the 'travel visa' you get on the plane (the same one I will get, as a Canadian), and while I did contact the Cuban embassy and I got a somewhat-solid confirmation (broken English) that he doesn't need to do anything in advance, I am just trying to confirm that this is the case.

Thanks for any insight or suggestions. I'd prefer firsthand experience from MeFites to aged information on a forum somewhere.
posted by gursky to Travel & Transportation around Cuba (8 answers total)
1. You can exchange your Canadian money there easily. I don't think there's any other option, actually, as I haven't seen CUCs available at currency exchange places outside of Cuba. Note that CUCs may be new since you were last there (I don't know when they were introduced): they're a currency used by tourists, tied to the US dollar, and they are separate from the regualr Cuban pesos used by citizens.

2. Legally you're required to have insurance. I've never had them ask me to show proof when entering the country, but I guess there's a chance it could happen. You might consider just buying insurance from whoever you bought your tickets from, it's not that much money....
posted by Paquda at 1:13 PM on October 5, 2012

1. You can get pesos there easily enough.

2. Get insurance. You can probably do it over the phone easily enough. When we went, we were never asked for it, but you are supposed to have it. And, for the price, it's probably good to have, just in case.
posted by synecdoche at 1:17 PM on October 5, 2012

Speaking for myself, I wouldn't do any driving. The roads (particularly in Holguin) are full of surprises: 12" deep potholes, Cows, Donkeys, Horse-drawn carriages and wagons, Chickens, etc.

Do a quick Google for horror stories - there's no shortage.
posted by HarrysDad at 1:50 PM on October 5, 2012

I usually get travel insurance from my bank (TD Canada Trust). It's really quite cheap (unless you're very old, or have a medical condition, perhaps), and one less thing to worry about.
posted by backwards guitar at 2:25 PM on October 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, go online to TD insurance and sign up on the spot. Its pretty cheap as long as you are under 55. Way better to be safe than sorry with health care!
posted by saradarlin at 7:15 PM on October 5, 2012

Nothing new to add except that I was there 1.5 months ago & everyone else is absolutely correct. You can easily exchange Canadian dollars there, either at the airport or at the major hotels (Hotel Nacional, Habana Libre).

You don't need to bring so much cash, however, as long as your credit cards are issued by a non-US bank with no financial relationship with a US bank.

For the record, the ONLY foreign currencies anyone will accept in Cuba are Canadian dollars, US dollars, Euros and Mexican Pesos.*

My insurance wasn't checked at immigration. There was an medical checkpoint, but they just waived us through. This seemed like an informal hit-or-miss experience, so I would advise buying the travel insurance.

No first-hand experience with driving, but I did see tourists driving themselves around, so it is done.

One tip: you can negotiate cab fares WAY down from the initial quote.

*You would think that the currency of the second-largest economy in Central America would be accepted in Cuba, but no, Guatemalan Quetzales are worthless there, so if you think you're being smart by bringing Guatemalan cash because you know your US-issues cards will be worthless you are in for a shock and the struggle of a lifetime.
posted by univac at 8:36 PM on October 5, 2012

3. I was in Cuba earlier this year and traveled by bus from Havana to Jaguey Grande, Matanzas and Varadero. Outside of Havana, the primary roads were in good condition and I wouldn't hesitate to drive on them. You will encounter unplanned obstacles (animals, brushfires, construction, broken-down cars, etc.), but you should be fine.
posted by Andy's Gross Wart at 6:41 AM on October 6, 2012

thanks, everyone. we had a great trip!
posted by gursky at 11:35 AM on October 26, 2012

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