Are you planning an all-inclusive vacation to Cuba, or maybe you’ve already booked an all-inclusive resort and looking for travel tips and things to know for your trip? You’ve come to the right spot!
My first time in Cuba was an all-inclusive vacation at Gran Muthu Imperial resort.
I made sure to research as much as I can in planning and preparing for my first trip to Cuba, and I also learned so much before, during and after my trip.
In this Cuba guide, I will share my learnings including frequently asked questions, packing list, travel tips and things to know for your all-inclusive vacation in Cuba.
Travel Tips and Things To Know When Going To Cuba
Here are frequently asked questions, important travel tips and things you should know when travelling to Cuba.
Travel Requirements For Entering Cuba
As you get closer to your Cuba trip, one of the most important things to know are the travel requirements to enter Cuba from your country.
For US, you can find the Cuba International Travel Information here. For Canada, these are the requirements for Canadians for a seamless entry to Cuba:
- Canadian nationals with a valid Canadian passport or a Canadian permanent resident card can enter with their valid passport and tourist card (the visa), which is included in the holiday package and provided on board the plane or at the airline counter during check-in at Canadian airports.
- For direct flights from Canada to Cuba, passengers do not need to present a vaccination passport.
- Cuba requires medical insurance that covers all types of medical emergencies, including COVID-19. If there’s an emergency, the tourist will be responsible for all medical costs. As such, it’s advisable to have medical insurance for all types of medical emergencies.
- If you cannot obtain medical insurance in Canada, you can purchase it at the airport in Cuba or visit www.cubatravel.cu.
- Since January 1, 2022, all travelers going to Cuba must complete the customs and health declaration form.
- This can be done online through https://www.dviajeros.mitrans.gob.cu/, and it should be completed 48 hours before travel. Once completed, a QR code will be sent to your email, which you need to present in electronic or printed form to the authorities upon arrival.
- If you can’t complete the form online due to a lack of internet access, you can fill out a printed copy at the airport in Cuba upon arrival.
As travel requirements may change at anytime, be sure to check the latest information from the Cuba Tourist Board of Canada.
For outside US and Canada, you can find Cuba travel information and requirements here.
How Safe is Cuba?
Cuba is considered safe, especially in resort areas like Cayo Guillermo where the island is driven by tourists.
But like any other tourist destination, it is important to be cautious and aware of your surroundings, especially when carrying valuables.
What To Pack For Cuba
Here’s a packing list to know what things to bring for your Cuba All-Inclusive vacation:
- Sunscreen – It’s important to protect your skin from the sun, especially if you plan to spend a lot of time at the beach or pool.
- Mosquito Repellent – While the Gran Muthu Imperial is well-maintained, Cuba is still a tropical country where mosquitos and bugs are common. It’s always a good idea to bring mosquito repellent to protect yourself from any bites.
- Swimwear – If you plan to spend time at the beach or pool, be sure to bring a swimsuit or two. Find swimsuit for women here and men here.
- Light, comfortable clothing – Cuba can be quite hot and humid, so it’s best to pack light and airy clothing that’s easy to wear.
- Comfortable shoes – If you plan to explore the local area, be sure to pack a pair of comfortable shoes for walking.
- Water Shoes – If you plan to walk on the beach waters or do water activities.
- Cash and Credit Card – While the resort does accept credit cards, it’s always a good idea to bring cash for any purchases you might make outside of the resort or for tipping. Credit card is required when booking tours with your airline provider like Sunwing.
Note: US Credit Cards are not accepted.
- Medication – always a must! Never assume medicine and medical supplies to be accessible in any travels.
Things To Know About Currency in Cuba
The local currency in Cuba is the Cuban Peso (CUP). The Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) has been discontinued and is no longer accepted in Cuba.
At tourist areas and Cuba all-inclusive resorts like Gran Muthu Imperial, US dollars and Canadian dollars are both accepted, but Canadian currency is generally preferred.
However, an important thing to know is that fresh, crisp bills are needed as it can be difficult for staff to use or exchange wrinkled or torn bills in Cuba.
In fact, the staff will typically reject the bill if it’s torn or wrinkled.
When payment is only accepted with debit or credit cards, only Canadian cards are accepted, even when you are being charged US dollars in some cases (like the excursions).
Payments outside the tourist areas are typically all in Cuban pesos (CUP).
Customers who do not have a credit card can buy a prepaid card in Cuba at the airport or at any money exchange kiosks at hotels.
During my trip there, I was recommended to exchange Canadian dollars for Cuban pesos only as needed and only if I planned to travel OUTSIDE of tourist areas, since you will not be able to change the remaining pesos into Canadian dollars at the end of the holiday.
I didn’t have to do any currency exchange during my time there.
Is it easy to exchange currency in Cuba?
Yes, it is easy to exchange currency in Cuba, but it is recommended to bring Canadian or US dollars and exchange them into Cuban pesos (CUP).
An important thing to note is you need to have crisp and clean dollar bills as they will not accept the bills if they are torn or worn. They also do not accept coins.
You can typically make do currency exchange at the resort or at a currency exchange office.
For example, there is Currency Exchange House (aka CADECA) at the Cayo Coco Jardines del Rey Airport to the left hand side when you go outside the doors.
To get the best exchange rate (better than the official rate), I was advised by others to exchange privately like on the street, in the markets or from taxi drivers.
Note: As I didn’t have to exchange currency during my time so I cannot comment on these options. Do the option that you find is best for you.
Is it safe to drink the tap water in Cuba?
As a general rule, it is not recommended to drink the tap water in Cuba. You should only drink bottled water and make sure that the bottle is sealed when you purchase it.
All-inclusive Resorts in Cuba like Gran Muthu Imperial provides a bottle of water daily, but you can also purchase additional bottled water from the resort or from local stores.
Bring necessities or things you find important when travelling
When we travel, sometimes it’s easy to think that we can just buy the things we need or want at the destination.
An important thing to know about Cuba is this may not always be the case due to trade embargos. I’ve heard stories of shortages in supplies and food ingredients in Cuba, even at all-inclusive resorts.
This can be as simple as condiments like salt and pepper, ketchup packets, etc. But it can also be as important as medical things and medications.
So if you really need something or want something when travelling, be sure to bring it. Don’t let this mistake ruin your vacation in Cuba.
Cuba All-Inclusive Vacation Tips and Things To Know
Here are frequently asked questions, travel tips and things you should know about all-inclusive resorts in Cuba.
Things To Know about Tipping at Cuba All-Inclusive Resorts
The one main thing everyone wants to know about all-inclusive resorts in Cuba: What’s the tipping policy?
Tips are not mandatory at All-Inclusive Resorts in Cuba, but it is highly appreciated by the staff because it goes a long way for them.
Luckily, they accept both US and Canadian dollars.
It can be difficult to always tip with $5 Canadian bills so it is still okay to tip with Canadian coins. Just note that these coins are not usable to them and are meant as tokens for exchange into proper Canadian bills later on.
Staff at Gran Muthu Imperial will typically ask if you can trade their coins for bills once they’ve accumulated enough to exchange.
When tipping, also consider tipping staff members you have less interaction with such as the gardener, bellboy and reception.
Gifts for Cuban People and Resort Staff
The guests typically bring a lot of gifts for Cuban people and resort staff!
While gifts are not mandatory, resort staff in Cuba do appreciate them as certain resources can be expensive, hard to find or unavailable in the country.
Here are common gifts that people bring to Cuba:
- Toiletries: shampoo, soap, lotion, toothbrushes, toothpaste, shaving cream, razor and other toiletries.
- Snacks: chips, chocolate, cookies, candy, gum or crackers.
- Clothing and wearables: hats, shirts, sunglasses, shoes, shorts, and pants
- Tools: gardening, plumbing, electrical tools
- Office supplies: pens, pencils, paper, notebook, desk fans, LED flashlights, phone chargers,
- Feminine products
- Medicines: antibiotics, muscle relaxant, pain relievers
- Children’s items: crayons, coloring books, toys, medication, school supplies
- Baby items: Baby clothes, soothers, diaper rash cream, formula, baby food, etc.
- Bags and backpacks
- Kitchen: Kitchen, cooking and baking accessories, spatulas and spices.
It maybe hard to bring gifts if you are only doing a carry-on instead of check-in luggage.
Depending on which airline you use, you may have complimentary checked luggage instead of carry-on like Sunwing.
Travel Tip: Expectations VS Reality at Cuba All Inclusive Resorts
What I found was one of the most important things to know about Cuba all-inclusive vacations is to properly set expectations before going.
When I was doing my research for my first trip, I read polarizing reviews about all-inclusive resorts in Cuba.
I think the biggest dissonance when it comes to Cuba all inclusive resorts is the expectation vs reality: We tend to have glamorous notion of all inclusive resorts from media, from our past experiences in other countries, or from stories from friends and family.
The reality is we cannot compare Cuba all-inclusive resorts with other countries because it’s a very different situation and experience.
From what I learned, the star rating is different in Cuba: a Cuba 5-star resort is actually 3-star in other countries.
In Cuba, availability of resources, supplies and food can be scarce compared to others, and shortages are common.
Cuba all-inclusive resorts are perhaps the cheapest all-inclusive getaway you can find in North America, which is why they’re so popular.
The fact that I paid CAD950 (taxes and fees included) for my 7 nights at Gran Muthu Imperial with the Sunwing package says it all.
Mexico packages were ~CAD2,000 and cruises were ~CAD3,500 when I reviewed and compared alternative options.
With what you’re paying, do not expect the most luxurious experience. Go with the appreciation that you got a great deal for a tropical getaway, most likely away from the brutal Canadian winter.
My biggest travel tip is to come with an open mind and don’t expect too much.
Enjoy the moment and you’ll have a great Cuba all-inclusive vacation!
I hope this Cuba All Inclusive vacation planning guide gives you an idea on tips and things to know when travelling to Cuba.
If you have more travel tips, questions and things to know when visiting Cuba that you’d like to share or add, please let me know in the comments!