2017 is almost over. How did that happen? It seems like only yesterday that you took a nap on the couch in front of the TV instead of playing sports, even though you were watching sports, so it’s kind of like you stayed true to your New Year’s resolution. At least that’s what we tell ourselves. If one of your 2018 New Year’s resolutions is a promise to travel more, then you have made the right decision, and this is definitely not a resolution to forget about. If 2018 is going to be the year when you finally experience the charms of Cuba, there are a few things you need to know.
The Importance of Planning
Being spontaneous can be a fun way to travel (in some instances), but this can be unwise when it comes to your accommodation options in Cuba. The country is more popular than ever, with the number of annual visitors increasing substantially each year. Around a million foreign visitors came to island in 1996, and this number increased to almost three million 10 years later, with the figure expected to climb even further in subsequent years. While it’s not true to consider Cuba a victim of its own popularity, it does mean that you can’t be too casual when it comes to finding a place to stay, at least for the first portion of your holiday (for example, if you planned to spend some time in Havana before exploring other, yet undecided parts of the island). Accommodation in the more popular parts of the island can reach capacity in peak season, so it’s crucial that you book ahead to avoid disappointment. Despite the outdated notion of Cuba being beyond the reaches of the internet (something that is rapidly changing), many places can in fact be booked online. It can be wise to confirm your booking prior to your departure as well (which can be handled with a quick email).
A Note About Hurricanes
Cuba bounced back after 2017’s Hurricane Irma with admirable efficiency. This was most evident in places that were damaged by unprecedented storm swells (such as Havana herself), though were not directly affected by the astonishingly strong winds produced by Irma. Some more isolated parts of the country are likely to take some time to recover, such as villages in the Villa Clara province. While this is not likely to be a major concern, it’s something to be mindful of if you were looking to get off the beaten path. The hurricane made landfall at the Camagüey Archipelago, a popular tourist region, and the resorts here were quickly repaired and pressed back into service. So essentially, it’s best to make some enquiries if your proposed itinerary was to take you anywhere that might still be undergoing repairs. It’s not to say that you should bypass these areas (and tourist dollars are perhaps needed now more than ever), but some changes to your plans might be needed with regards to how long you planned to spend in a certain place.
Online and Offline
While the internet is not as accessible in Cuba as it is in most other countries, this is quickly changing. You won’t find an internet connection in private homes, although there is an expanding network of public wifi zones across the country. Located in public spaces (noticeable for the density of people hanging around and playing with their phones), you just buy an hour’s worth of access from an applicable vendor and use the zone as needed. Still, you won’t be online all the time in Cuba, and this can be refreshing. It requires some forward planning, because you probably don’t quite realise how dependent you are on this connectivity. You should download some maps of the cities you plan to visit (that are accessible offline). It’s easier than a paper map and means that you’re unlikely to become lost, ensuring you don’t miss out on any of those gems in Cuba you were dying to see. You might also wish to download a selection of movies and TV shows for your tablet or other mobile device (particularly if you’re travelling with small children). This distraction can be very useful if you end up travelling by bus from city to city.
Something that catches many visitors to Cuba off guard is the fact that some items can be difficult to track down once you arrive. It’s not as though toiletries and medication are impossible to find, and yet it can require some effort. This effort can be bypassed by remembering to just bring these things with you from home. So when packing for Cuba, please don’t forget your toothbrush, dental hygiene products, deodorant, beauty and grooming products, cosmetics, shampoo/conditioner, contraceptives, feminine hygiene products, insect repellent, and any over the counter medication you might need (such as aspirin or allergy medication). It’s one of the weird things about Cuba that you are advised to bring these items rather than rely on the sparse and sometimes elusive stock that can be found in Cuba itself, but it’s only a problem if nobody told you about it. So, you’re welcome.