1. CASH IS KING
In a world full of credit cards and tap-and-go, it’s important to know that Cuba is a cash society. Cards are barely used, apart from in the hotels and major tourist shops, so make sure to carry cash with you. I allowed myself $100 Canadian Dollars a day and converted my money at several intervals to ensure I didn’t lose too much changing back. And when it comes to getting cash out, don’t hold your breath looking for an ATM because they’re rare in Cuba. Instead, try the Cadeca, but go early in the morning and avoid the weekend so you miss the long lines.
It’s also important to note that Cuba uses two monetary systems:
- The Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUCs), which is used for tourists in major hotels, hotel particulars, restaurants, shops and tourist taxis.
- The Monedad Nacional (MN), which is used by the locals and state shops. 1 CUC is equal to 24 MN, so make sure to change about 20 CUC to MN at a time to use for the taxi particulars and state-run shops.
2. CATCHING A RIDE
With their rumbling engines and smoking exhausts, old American cars known as Chebis, are the best way to ride. If you want an authentic Cuban experience, make sure to opt for the taxi particulars: they’re crowded, they’re hot and they’re fun. These licensed taxis operate along a fixed route and are communal, holding up to 8 people at a time. I loved these taxis because they’re an amazing way to meet new people, see different areas and so cheap at about 50c a ride.
To hail one is simple:
- Stand on the sidewalk in the direction you wish to go and put out your hand to flag down a driver.
- If the driver’s hand is out the window pointing straight ahead, it means they will keep going straight and if they point to the left or right, it means they’re turning at the next major street.
- When they stop, tell the driver where you want to go and he’ll either flick his head for you to get in or drive off in a cloud of smoke.
3. GETTING OFF THE GRID
If you’re like me and a moment without your phone feels like the loss of a limb, be prepared for the uncertain hotspot that is Cuba. Be aware, most overseas mobile phones will not work and buying a local SIM is almost impossible.
Also, the internet is very slow and you have to pay to use. You can buy usage per hour at the hotels for anywhere between 5-10 CUC or you can buy a WIFI card from the resellers in the parks or on the streets for about 3-4 CUCs. In most parks or anywhere you can see people congregating on their phones, there will be a WIFI public spot where you can use your WIFI card access code to log on, but beware: the internet is very patchy and you can get kicked off at any time.