Beat the Winter Blues: Plan a Trip to Cuba from Canada
Updated January 3, 2018
A trip down to Cuba for some sun, dancing, and mojitos is just what you need in the middle of a cold Canadian winter (or when the Canadian summer isn’t quite warm enough for you). But what do you need to know before you hop on the plane? Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to plan a trip to Cuba from Canada.
Before your trip, make sure to check out:
- Cuba FAQ
- You Can Still Travel to Cuba: Update 2018
- Cuban Tourist Cards and Visas
- Our homepage on Cuba
- Contact us with your Questions
Step one to plan a trip to Cuba from Canada: pick your dates and book your flights. Spring is a wonderful time to travel to Cuba. Plane tickets are cheaper, the weather is fantastic, it’s not the busiest part of tourist season, and festivals abound. Although you can go any time of year, we think spring is something special.
When it comes time to book your plane tickets, sites like Skyscanner can help you find great deals on the best routes from Canada to Cuba. Westjet, Sunwing, Cubana, Air Transat and Air Canada all offer direct flights from Canada to Cuba. Numerous other airlines offer flights as well, but you’ll have to make at least one stop.
Plane ticket prices vary greatly but here’s a general guide for roundtrip tickets: From Toronto and Montreal, budget in the range of 400-600 Canadian. From Vancouver, 550-800. And from Calgary, 600-1000.
Hotel, hostel, or casa particular? For the best combination of price and cultural experience, stay in casa particulares as you travel around Cuba. Locals are allowed to rent out rooms in their homes to travelers, which they do at very reasonable prices. Plan on 20-50CUC per night depending on where you are in Cuba. Hosts are usually very friendly and cook meals for guests for a small additional fee. You can easily book casa particulares on Airbnb. Here’s an example of a beautiful casa particular in Viñales with a view of the valley and a host who offers three meals a day. Our local Cuban travel planners can also recommend some wonderful casa particulares.
You may also choose to stay in hotels or hostels. Hotels and beach resorts are expensive and rooms are often booked up well in advance. Be prepared to book ahead and spend 300CUC or more per night in Havana. Hostels are far cheaper, but they are only available in Havana, don’t expect to be able to stay in hostels all over the country.
Get a Cuban Tourist Card
All Canadians traveling to Cuba for tourism must have a valid passport and a tourist card. The tourist card/visa is easy to get before you depart for Cuba. Most of the time, you’ll get the tourist card on the airplane and the cost will be included in the price of your plane ticket. But you need to double-check because if this isn’t the case, you may not be allowed to board the plane if you don’t have your tourist card/visa.
If your airline will not be giving out your tourist card/Cuba visa on the flight, then you can purchase it in advance from places like CubaVisas.com or go to the embassy or consulate. Prices vary depending on where you get the card.
Make sure that you get the green tourist card if you’re going direct from Canada to Cuba or via Mexico. Get the pink tourist card if you have a stopover in the U.S. between Canada and Cuba. The tourist card should be valid for 90 days for Canadians.
Fill out your tourist card completely and legibly. Officials tend to be sticklers for neatness and any corrections needed on arrival will come with a monetary cost.
Prepare Your Money
You must make a plan for money when you plan a trip to Cuba from Canada. You can’t expect to just pop over to a cash machine on a whim. You’ll need plenty of cash and a plan for what to do if none of your cards work.
Here’s the deal with credit and debit cards:
- Debit and credit cards issued by American-owned banks will not be accepted anywhere in Cuba.
- Cards with no affiliation with the United States may work at banks, chain resorts, major hotels, and state-run restaurants.
- Cards of any kind will not be accepted at casa particulares, private restaurants, street stalls, and most shops.
The best plan: bring all the money you need in hard Canadian currency and exchange it in Cuba. You cannot exchange Cuban money outside of Cuba. You must change money when you arrive (and before you depart if you have Cuban currency left). The best places to exchange money are at the airport, at exchange houses/Cadecas, and at banks.
Cuba has two currencies, but you’ll mostly use the tourist currency called the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC). As of this writing, 1CUC is equal to 1.28 Canadian dollars. You can get up-to-date conversion rates on sites like XE.com.
Cuba’s other currency is called the Cuban Peso Nacional (CUP). Locals use this currency and you may get change back in CUP when you hand over CUC. Always make sure that you get the correct change because the value of CUP is very different from the value of CUC. At the time of writing, 1CUP is equal to 0.05 cents Canadian. Having some CUP can be useful for purchases at street stalls and local shops.
If you find the currencies confusing, ask a ViaHero travel planner to help you demystify them.
Purchase Medical Insurance
Cuba requires that everyone entering the country have health insurance that will cover any medical expenses you may incur in Cuba. Your Canadian insurance may be enough to let you cross the border into Cuba, however, it may not cover medical expenses sufficiently. For this reason, it’s best to get supplemental insurance to make sure you’re covered. Anyone with outstanding medical bills will not be allowed to depart Cuba until the debt is paid, that’s why it’s essential that you’re well-covered in case of accidents or illness. Companies like World Nomads offer travel medical insurance or you can purchase it at the airport upon arrival in Cuba.
Important: The insurance cannot come from an American-owned company.
Complete Your Itinerary
Cuba is a complex little country so it’s helpful to have someone who can do the heavy lifting of planning your trip. ViaHero trip planners who are also Cuban locals can put together a customized itinerary for you based on your interests and needs. They can recommend the best places to eat, the coolest secret beaches, the top sights and when to see them, and so much more. Just input your travel interests into a quick quiz to get started.
Other Important Info
Remember that hurricane season runs from June - November.
Embassy of Canada in Havana: (53-7) 204-2516
- police: 106
- medical assistance: 104
- firefighters: 105
Useful Spanish phrases:
- Please: Por favor
- Thank you: Gracias
- Hello: Hola
- Where is the bathroom?: ¿Dónde está el baño?
- How much does it cost?: ¿Cuánto cuesta?
- Do you speak English?: ¿Habla usted inglés?