Plan a Trip to Cuba from the UK
A jaunt to sunny Cuba can be a wonderful trip from the UK. There are a few more logistics to work out than a quick trip down to Spain or a weekend in Italy, but your effort will be rewarded by the friendliness of the locals, the feisty salsa beats, and the warm Caribbean sun. Follow this guide to navigate all the red tape with ease as you plan a trip to Cuba from the UK.
Your first step should be to book your flights, which is pretty easy to do, especially if you look for the best deals on a site like booking.com. There are many flights between London and Havana; most flights have one or two stops along the way, but Virgin Atlantic offers a direct flight. Flight time is about ten hours if you go nonstop.
If you’re willing to make a stop, you’ll have many more options for airlines. Eurowings, Air Canada, British Airways, Iberia, KLM, and AirFrance all fly to Cuba.
Tip: When booking flights, look carefully at where you have stopovers/change planes. If you fly from any U.S. airport to Cuba, you will be subject to additional rules that you don’t need to worry about if you travel from any other country. (See more on that here.)
Next, figure out where you’re going to stay on your trip to Cuba. You can choose from casa particulars, hotels, and hostels.
You’ll spend less than you would at hotels and get a more culturally enriching experience by staying at casa particulars. Casas are rooms rented out in private homes by local Cuban families. Most hosts are friendly and eager to spend time chatting with guests. If you’re open and friendly, you’ll quickly start to feel like part of the family. Breakfast is usually offered for about 5CUC and dinner for around 10CUC. Breakfasts usually consist of fruit, eggs, toast or pastries, and coffee. Dinners vary widely but expect staples like rice and beans as well as traditional favorites like ropa vieja. You can book casas in advance on sites like Airbnb.
Hotels may offer more amenities like air conditioning and internet access (often on a computer in the lobby for a fee), but they’re still not as luxurious as hotels you might be used to in the UK. Plus, they can feel kind of sterile compared to the life on the streets outside. But a couple of nights at a resort can be a nice treat if you really just want to grab a few days at the beach or you’re not used to staying with a host family.
Hostels are increasingly available in Cuba, but you won’t find them outside of big cities. A hostel could be a good budget choice in Havana. The cheapest dorm beds are around 6CUC per night. Some include breakfast with your bed, others offer breakfast for a fee, and a few offer no food at all. But if you need to save money, try a hostel and enjoy meeting other travelers.
Get your Cuban Tourist Card
All British travelers visiting Cuba for tourism need a Cuban Tourist Card (sometimes called a Cuba Holiday Visa or Cuban Visa) to enter the country. The card is valid for 30 days from the date of entry into Cuba and can be renewed once while in Cuba.
Most airlines sell the Cuban tourist card at the final airport before you land in Cuba, but some do not. For this reason, it’s essential that you check with the airline before departure. If your airline does not sell tourist cards, then you can order one online from a third-party company like Cuba Visa UK.
IMPORTANT! If you’ve booked a flight plan that makes a last stop in the U.S. before continuing to Cuba, you need a PINK tourist card. If you’re flying direct from the UK or via any other country, then you need a GREEN tourist card. This is due to the strict travel regulations between the U.S. and Cuba.
Prepare Your Money
Bring cash. Don’t plan to swipe your debit or credit card at the cash register in Havana. Nearly every establishment is cash only, especially privately-owned places like paladars/private restaurants.
Cash machines are also few and far between, and sometimes don’t accept foreign debit cards. Cirrus and Switch cards do not work throughout most of Cuba. No cards from American-owned banks are accepted.
When you have the opportunity to withdraw cash, withdraw enough for several days or more. Or bring all the cash you’ll need with you (in Pound Sterling) and exchange it once you arrive in Cuba. Just keep in mind that bank hours are also very short. Most close by 3:30 pm on weekdays and don’t open at all on weekends. Bank notes from Scotland and Northern Ireland cannot be exchanged in Cuba.
If you plan to use your debit or credit card even once, make sure your bank knows that you will be in Cuba. While it’s always important to notify your bank when you travel, it’s especially important on a trip to Cuba because it will be very difficult to get in touch with your bank back home to remove a hold on your card.
Purchase Appropriate Medical Insurance
The Cuban government requires all travelers to have medical insurance that’s valid in Cuba before entering the country. Your plan must cover medical emergencies, emergency medical evacuation by air, and repatriation (return of your body to your home country in the event of your death). A few companies like World Nomads offer this kind of insurance.
You may also wait and purchase insurance upon arrival in Cuba, before clearing customs. There’s a booth there where you can pay a daily fee of about 4CUC per day.
Don’t forget: If you purchase in advance, bring proof of your travel insurance policy and all necessary information for using your coverage with you to Cuba. If you forget it, you’ll have to purchase insurance again before being allowed to enter the country.
Complete Your Itinerary
While you don’t need an itinerary for Cuba, it’s incredibly helpful to have your trip planned out in advance. It’s difficult to get on the internet to do research while you travel like you might in other countries.
ViaHero travel planners can help you put together a full itinerary based on your travel preferences. The itinerary will even include personalized maps that work offline in Cuba, travel tips, and off the beaten path recommendations.
Don’t forget to pack:
- Your prescriptions. Many medicines are unavailable in Cuba. Bring any other medications you might need like painkillers or cold remedies, too.
- Sunscreen and bug repellent. The sun is hot and the mosquitos can be fierce, yet these items can be hard to come by in Cuba, so bring your own from home.
- Extra contact lenses and lens solution, plus your glasses. You’re not going to be able to easily replace your contacts if you lose them.
In case of emergency:
- British Embassy Havana: +537 214 2200
- Emergency numbers in Cuba:
- Police department: Dial 106
- Fire department: Dial 105
Driving: You can drive in Cuba with your UK Driving License for up to six months after your initial arrival in Cuba.