There are some questions which come up time and time which I get asked on email and so I thought I would answer some of these questions.
The simple answer is that yes, Cuba is safe. It is in fact statistically one of the safety countries in the Caribbean, according to official statistics, and this is logical in that Cuba is a country where a lot of controls exist in the society here and in addition to the negative side of these controls, it has meant that crime is very low. This is not to say that some petty crimes cannot occur when you visit but, as a visitor, you are generally going to be as safe here as any other country you are likely to visit. You can also read more from the page I wrote specifically on this topic recently.
This comes up often and this I think is because many of you have heard all about the ‘casas particulares’. Casas particulares are quite similar in many ways to a British B&B (bed and breakfast) or a Guest House in the United States. The difference in Cuba is that these accommodations are state controlled i.e. there are strict controls on the people who run these places and restrictions on how they are run. This is likely to change in the future as Cuba most likely becomes a more open and democratic country, but for now, they are still state run. All of the Airbnb options in Cuba which were recently announced are in fact all ‘casas particulares, i.e. they are not run in the way that airbnb accommodations are run in other countries.
Casas Particulares are a great option though, if you want to stay with a local family and feel as though you are at least trying to live like the locals and experience some of the local culture. If you are in a coastal resort, then a resort hotel is often your best option in all honesty. For stays in cities such as Santiago de Cuba and Havana though, casas particulares can be worth trying. Do be warned though that the standards can vary greatly, so be open minded and just enjoy the experience.
It is difficult to escape the American influences, which have affected some of the ways in which Cuban society runs. One such way is via the tipping system within Cuba. If you are in a decent restaurant you might want to tip an average of 15%. In many bars and smaller places I tend to just leave the change, as Cubans themselves are not into tipping per se.
One of the most common questions of all which I get asked, and quite understandably so, concerns how to pay for things and what money or type of credit card to bring. As you may have heard recently, American Express and Visa have now stated that they will accept payments by credit card in Cuba. So do take your credit cards as these are becoming commonly used.
In terms of currency, there are two types of currency you need to consider and this can sometimes create confusion, because locals and tourists often use a different currency, but sometimes as a tourist you can use the local currency. Confused? You can only purchase the local Cuban currency (the peso) once you are in Cuba and purchases made with peso, you will generally find, are cheaper than the other tourist currency. The tourist currency in Cuba is called the CUC (Cuban Convertible Pesos) and this you can purchase before you arrive in the country. Generally speaking, I would recommend just to stick with the CUC to make your life easier.
You do need an entry visa to visit Cuba and some visitors do fall foul of this requirement. The requirements differ greatly according to where you are travelling from. From the UK, for example, the holiday company you use will often include sorting out your visa as part of the package and you thus have little to do yourself. You do need though to make sure you meet the visa entry requirements to get into Cuba from your given country. The best visa normally, for holiday purposes, is the tourist visa and this lets you stay in the country for up to 30 days.
You can drink the tap water and many Cubans do but, as a tourist and not used to the water here, I would strongly recommend to play it safe and always drink bottled water. You can usually easily buy bottled water in your hotel or from any supermarket.
How good the food is or not is a subjective question, but personally the food is one of the reasons why I most love visiting and spending time in Cuba. The traditional dishes are quite basic, almost like staple foods, and I love the very simple cooking which allows you to taste the ingredients, as opposed to foods in some countries where you can only taste the numerous sauces which saturate the food. More on Cuban food.
I am always really hesitant to answer this question, because it is another very subjective question. The logic behind the question is clear to understand though of course, because you need to be able to plan for your visit and to have some idea of what to expect in terms of costs. The key question I would ask is what type of traveller are you? Are you a backpacker looking to use casas particulares, eat in local side street eateries and eat the meal of the day or eat street food – or are you looking to stay in one of the luxury resort hotels, try your hand at various water-sports and eat fresh fish every night? Very generally speaking, without accommodation, I would recommend USD$30 (GBP£20) a day as backpacker or $150 (£GBP100) for a luxury stay for the average person.