Those looking into taking a weeklong holiday down somewhere hot and sunny will hear Cuba enter the conversation alongside the likes of Mexico, Hawaii, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and others.
You really ought to go. Not only does Cuba give you some of the most pristine beaches anywhere in the Caribbean at a value, all-inclusive price, but there are added charms and a fascinating history unique to this island nation you won't find anywhere else.
However, if you're not prepared for some of Cuba's idiosyncrasies, Albertan vacationers might be in for some small surprises.
Many of the items on this are due to the trade embargo imposed by the U.S. just over 55 years ago in response to Fidel Castro's Cuban Revolution. Prior to that, Cuba imported 70% of its foreign products from the United States—toilet paper being a prime example.
Therefore, when heading out on a day trip to Havana or an outdoor excursion to the cenotes, you'll want to bring your own roll of TP in your backpack as it is often not provided in public bathrooms.
Unlike Canada and the US, most of the electrical outlets in Cuban hotels are cleverly designed to fit both flat North American and round European plugs. But before plugging your gear into these powerpoints, make sure that the device or charger says AC 110V-240V~50Hz/60Hz since Cuba outlets run 220 volts compared to our 110V. Hairdryers, straighteners, and flat irons will likely need a power adapter to avoid getting damaged.
Forgetting your toothbrush, shampoo, or sunblock usually isn't a big deal when you travel. A convenience store or pharmacy is usually close by. But in Cuba, due to the trade embargo, certain toiletries can be tricky to find for both Cubans and visitors. Be sure to pack extra in your suitcase before heading to the airport.
First, for daily purchases on the resort and out on excursions, you're best served using cash instead of debit or credit card. ATMs and card machines, even in urban areas, can be hard to find. As for type of currency, tourists are encouraged to use Cuba Convertible Pesos (CUC). You can exchange or buy them at the airport or resort. 1 CUC is worth $1 US. Cubans are also happy accepting Canadian dollars and Euros, too.
Although internet and mobile phone service is available in Cuba, it's not as widespread, affordable, or consistent as it is in other Caribbean countries. Wi-Fi is available at most resorts, but is not always free. Use this as an opportunity to take your eyes away from the screen and enjoy your vacation in the moment.
The food across Cuba is delicious and of good variety—particularly the fresh meat, fruit, and vegetables. However, there are days when resort buffets will run out of certain items, like ketchup, mustard, dressings, and hot sauce. If you love using certain condiments, just pack them in your bag to avoid missing out.
After sipping a few Cuba Libres, you might notice that pop tastes differently than what you're used to back home. That's because all soft drinks in Cuba are sweetened with cane sugar instead of the high-fructose corn syrup used in Canada and the US. Many people tend to prefer the lighter taste of Cuban (and Mexican) pop. Bring home a bottle for your friends and see if you can taste the difference in a blind test.
Tipping is certainly encouraged for resort staff and helpful locals you encounter in Cuba. Cash is great, but Cubans (who are some of the poorest people in the Western Hemisphere) will most appreciate receiving daily items that can be hard to come by or too expensive to purchase, such as toothpaste, tampons, soap, and even articles of clothing. Make a quick stop at the store and leave some extra room in your bag. Those you tip will be extremely grateful.
Many Cubans, especially those around resort areas like Varadero and Trinidad, owe their livelihoods to Canadian tourists. And since Canadian tourists tend to be more polite and open-minded compared to other travellers, it's no wonder you're likely to see Cubans sporting clothing with the maple leaf and “Canada” proudly on display. (That merchandise was probably donated, too.)
AMA Travel is currently offering direct flight package deals from Edmonton and Calgary to Varadero, Cuba.