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Apps For Cuba – The Top 5 You Need to Download Now

5 Essential Apps For Cuba

best apps fo cuba

Millenial Cubans on their phones

In an island nation where dial-up is just starting to be introduced, your 2018 digitally dependent self has to know what essential apps for Cuba.

As you might know, data really doesn’t exist in Cuba yet but WiFi does exist in public parks and hotels. See my guide to learn how to get on the internet in Cuba.

That doesn’t really help when you’re walking around La Habana or going to Trinidad or on the beach in Varadero now does it?

You’ll need to download applications that run while being offline. Luckily for you, there are a few essential apps for Cuba and even some developed in Cuba by Cubans (years! tech start-ups are a thing in Havana!).

Maps.Me

If there is any app you need to download for your trip to Cuba, its this one. Maps.me allows users GPS without being connected to the Internet.

Maps.me isn’t just your normal offline map, its pretty accurate with up-to-date information on where bars, restaurants and attractions are.

To get the map of Cuba, after you download the app you must go in, zoom into Cuba and download the map of Cuba.

You’ll thank me later.

Apple. Android.

apps for cuba - offline map

Maps.me best offline map of cuba

A La Mesa

A La Mesa is yelp a lo Cubano, kind-of. It lists all the restaurants in specific cities, their prices, and their contact information.

Developed in Havana, a La Mesa is one of the first Cuban made apps.

Apple. Android.

app for cuba - food app for cuba

ALaMesa, Cuban made app

IMO

IMO is Cuba’s Skype. Seriously, if you’ve been to Miami or know any Cuban-Americans you probably know its ringtone. I swear, it haunts me.

But IMO is awesome to have to video chat your friends and family back home. Its much more reliable than Facebook Messenger video or WhatsApp.

To use IMO, make sure your loved ones also have it. Once you enter their numbers in your contact list, they should pop up. That easy!

Apple. Android.

best apps for cuba - video chat in cuba

Cubans using IMO to see their loved ones

Google Translate

I think this is a pretty much no-brainer if you don’t speak fluent Spanish just make sure you download the Spanish dictionary before your flight to Cuba.

But don’t rely to heavily on Google Translate for everything. Cubans have our own unique way of speaking eloquently.

Apple. Android.

Zapya

Want to share a photo with your new Cuban friend? Or perhaps get that cool reggaeton song they have? Alas, Zapya. Cuba’s version of hacking the capabilities of sharing the internet without being on it.

Zapya allows you to connect remotely and internet-freely other devices around you using Bluetooth system. Its like Airdrop for Apple but works between any system! It’s a great way to share anything from device to device.

Apple. Android.

My 2 Cents

As the internet is slowly penetrating Cuba, change is happening both socially and politically. More Cubans can see how people live outside. With apps like IMO, we can now connect with your family members everyday if we wanted to.

The emotional farewells at Jose Marti are softened now knowing you can see your loved one in just a few hours.

All this being said, apps bring the once isolated nation a little closer to 2018.

Travel Inside Cuba: The Non-Confusing Guide

How to Travel Inside Cuba: The Non-Confusing Guide to Cuban Transportation

When it comes to travel inside Cuba, the island isn’t your typical get-a-way to the Bahamas.  It isn’t even your typical eco-adventure to Costa Rica. Cuba, is unlike any place in the world in EVERY aspect, including even the most basic: getting around.

One of the biggest questions I get is how to travel while inside Cuba. How can you get from one city to another? Should you rent a car or hire a driver? Or is there public transportation?

With the lack of information out there on transportation, making plans to go around the country can seem really daunting.

Before I get into the different ways, it’s important to know why Cuba doesn’t have an easy transportation system.  Gas is expensive and well, so are cars.  Transportation is a HUGE “lio” (problem) for EVERYONE. Tourists are no exception to that.

There is silver lining, though.  You, unlike the majority of Cubans, have more money to get around. So let’s see what the options are:

how to get to city to city inside cuba

Guide To Travel Inside Cuba

 

Travel Inside Cuba by Renting a car – The most flexible option but can be the most expensive

Renting a car allows flexibility, plain and simple. You can get in your car and drive to the next city, then the next without a schedule or itinerary to follow. With that kind of freedom, you’re now open to see parts of the country the tourist route doesn’t go to.

Be aware that depending on where you’re going, roads can be pretty tough. Some roads, especially in Oriente and far west Pinar del Rio haven’t seen new pavement since Castro came along.  But between Pinar del Rio (city) to Camaguey, its pretty solid and clean.

How to reserve a rental car: There are a few companies (all government owned) where you can get your car from. Here are some

Price: Depends on what you prefer, when and how many days.   Economical cars are the cheapest and renting in low seasons (summer) is cheaper than during high (winter). Also, car companies will charge you less per day if you rent more days.

You have to rent at a minimum 3 days.  

If you rent more than 7, the price per day drops. Same with 10 and so on. Check the websites to see the price

Travel Inside Cuba Rental Car

Rental Car in Cuba

 

Hiring a Driver in Cuba- Ride around without the worry of where you’re going

Hiring a driver is an excellent option for those who really don’t want to drive or figure out the roads of Cuba.  Drivers can either stay with you during your trip (usually if you do a one day trip like to Vinales) or can take you to the next city.

If you want to hire a driver to take you on a round trip (meaning Havana to Vinales back to Havana), you can contact me here.

hire driver in cuba

Hiring a Driver in Cuba

Cuban Collectivo – cheap and fast way but not always the most comfortable

If you are planning on going to the next city and don’t mind sharing the car with other tourists or locals, here’s what you can do:

  1. Go to Omnibus terminal
  2. Outside on a side street are various cars parked outside – ask the drivers how much
  3. Don’t be afraid to barter! Make sure you want a collective car (collectivo) and be prepared to pay a bit more than your Cuban counterpart in the same car. Sorry, that’s just how it goes for tourists in Cuba!
shared taxi in Cuba

collectivo rides in Cuba

Bus in Cuba- for tourists only

Going on a bus like Viazul is your last option you have as a tourist in Cuba to see different sites.  The downfall to this is that many times bus departure times, like everything in Cuba, is not always accurate.

If you want to travel by bus, it is the cheapest option you have as a tourist for city-to-city, especially long distances. You can check out times and fares at Viazul’s website.

Note: Cuban nationals can ride with you on the tourist buses!

public transportation in cuba

Tourist Bus can take you around

Public Transportation in Cuba- inner cities only

Public busses are for everyone in Cuba but only in inner cities.  Riding the “guagua (bus)” with other locals is totally fine and you should definitely do it to get a better experience!

However, if you’re wondering if you can take a bus from city to city with other locals the short answer is “no”.

Cubans ask anyone going on a public bus for their carnet (ID) and because you don’t have one you most likely won’t be able to get on, that is, if you don’t know how to pay the chauffer off.  If you can manage to do that, you can score a bus ticket anywhere from $5 – $10 per person depending on how much you’re willing to give.

 

Just have a good time!

When in Cuba, you have to remember you’re in a totally different society with different cultural norms. It may not be easy to accept that you have to wait a couple hours to get going, but that’s just how it Is in Cuba! If you except to have an amazing time from city to city, just be sure you are flexible and have a “go-woth-the-flow” type of attitude. Anything can happen in Cuba, ANYTHING!

 

If you want to see Cuba like I do and experience it culturally (or however you want) and don’t want to plan all the confusing details, you can book a tour with me here.

Travel Cuba Legally in 2018: Here’s How

Malecon in Habana

View from Hotel Nacional, Tourist Hotel.

Despite Travel Warnings and Trump Reversals, You can Still Travel to Cuba Legally in 2017

Here is How:

After a significant change in US-Cuban relations under President Obama in 2015, Cuba experienced a wave of fresh Americans willing to see their closest Caribbean neighbor.

It was a new era.  People whispered quietly passed the ears of the CDR their hope Cuba’s economy would change for the better with the influx of tourism.  We waited and waited hopeful that Obama would officially end the 60 year (ridiculous) embargo.

We waited. Then waited some more.

Then Obama came. Here is comes!!!!! Finally!

…….Nope.

It’s okay, we thought. People are still coming, one day. One day.

Then November 2016 happened. President Trump months later reversed everything we had hoped for.

As if we clung on to the little hope we could finally see our families without diplomatic problems, send money to them without ridiculous fees, and call them to hear their voices only 90 miles away without being one of the most expensive places to call in the world.

President Trump, with one speech and one signature later, removed the essential visa category that made traveling to the island much easier. The individual “people-to-people” category.   This category was extremely vague in its description and did not require American citizens to officially sign up with a tour group.

Regardless of the removal of this category, going to Cuba is STILL LEGAL using different visa categories.

Legal visa to travel to Cuba

Cuban tourist visa

Let me break it down for you if you plan to come to Cuba from point of entry inside the United States or US territories.

Before we start, it is important to note that Cuba does NOT have an embargo against the United States. Regardless of what passport you carry or what country (if you come from a third country i.e. Cancun to Havana) in from, Cuba will welcome you with open arms, café, and most likely dance lessons.

Under current 31 CFR 515.560 law, Americans can use one of 12 reasons to enter the Cuba.  Here are the three most Americans can apply for:

  1. Support the Cuban-People visa

Provision found in § 515.574 of the CACR, US government.

It defines the visa as activities are recognized human rights organization, independent organizations designed to promote democracy or individual’s organization that promote independent activity intendent to strengthen civil society in Cuba. Provision § 515.574(A) to this means the traveler must have a log of their itinerary for up to 5 years.

In English?

It means this visa has to record that you kept a full schedule seeing individuals or organization that directly help or show Cuban society.

You can’t you use your bank card to it, as that evidence against “supporting the Cuban people”).

But this visa category is extremely vague.  The OFAC does not or will have a list of such organizations or individuals that promote “democracy” or “civil society” in Cuba.  Nor can the OFAC track your cash money on the island.

What you need to do to fall under this category?

Like all categories, you must have a log of your itinerary for up to 5 years (501.601).  It also means that itinerary has to show at least 8 hours of cultural experience.

Itineraries of such activities can include several tourist experiences. Curating a local tour with a local guide can be considered a “support of a Cuban” person.

Going to local paladar (restaurant) can be considered “support of the Cuban people”

Will you get caught?

There is a EXTREMELY rare chance that American customs will care that you went to Cuba. In fact, the last person who got fined was over 10 years ago.

Unless you caused extreme disturbance while on the island, you will be fine.

 

  1. Educational Activities Visa

Provision § 515.565.  This one is a bit trickier since most of you will not be enrolling in a college class in Habana or a university sponsoring a class in Cuba.

But there is a provision to the law under § 515.590( B) that states:

General license for people-to-people travel. The travel-related transactions  not involving academic study pursuant to a degree program are authorized, provided that:

(1) Travel-related transactions pursuant to this authorization must be for the purpose of engaging, while in Cuba, in a full-time schedule of activities intended to enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba, or promote the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities

(2) Each traveler has a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities that will result in meaningful interaction between the traveler and individuals in Cuba;

(3) The predominant portion of the activities engaged in by individual travelers is not with a prohibited official of the Government of Cuba, or a prohibited member of the Cuban Communist Party,

(4) For travel conducted under the auspices of an organization that is a person subject to U.S. jurisdiction that sponsors such exchanges to promote people-to-people contact, an employee, paid consultant, or agent of the sponsoring organization must accompany each group traveling to Cuba to ensure that each traveler has a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities;

 

En Ingles?

Visa requirements include, like the Support of the Cuban-People, to obey the record keeping laws and record activities that engage Cuban people and have educational elements to it.

For example, if an individual plans to travel to Cuba to engage with local artists and have extended dialogue with farmers in Cuba and can demonstrate those activities in a log for up to 5 years, you fall under the visa category.

 

  1. Family Visa

This is probably the weirdest way to enter the country, but also the least recordkeeping needed.  Now, I know you’re thinking…wait, I’m not Cuban! I don’t have Cuban family in Cuba.

Well, you don’t. But that’s okay.

Under this general license, §  515.560 the US government states: “Persons subject to the jurisdiction of the United States and persons traveling with them who share a common dwelling as a family with them are authorized to engage in the travel-related transactions.”

You and those accompanying you can travel to a “close relative located in Cuba”

What’s a close relative?

According to § 515.339 a close relative is defined :

“as any person… who is no more than three generations removed from that person or from a common ancestor with that person”

Yes, you still don’t have anyone in Cuba.

But what is the likihood the US is going to commission a non-american to a DNA test? US has no jurisdiction to Cuban nationals.

This isn’t the “legal” way, but it is a way to get you out of logging things.

Tourists in Cuba

Americans enjoying La Habana!

 

 

Traveling to Cuba can be tricky, but we assure you that its possible and LEGAL. It can be even easier if you book a tour that provides you itineraries. I will be having set tour dates in 2018 that fall under these categories.  If you are interested, please reach out here:

And remember, you will only need the tourist visa to enter Cuba. The affidavit (where you put what category you are traveling on) will be provided to you at the embarkation point in the United States or abroad.  It’s a piece of paper you fill out and check what category. They keep the paper, you get the visa.  That is it.

 

When coming back to the US, customs MIGHT ask you where you came from and you say Cuba. They stamp your passport, and you go on your merry way.

 

For cultural and educational trips that go beyond tourist areas, check out my tours in 2018 here.

 

I can assure you, like yourself, Cubans are desperate to engage with Americans without this political nonsense.  It does nothing for either side when two nations cannot engage diplomatically.

In the end, it hurts relations for everyone.

 

But you don’t need to add to it. Come to Cuba worry free and enjoy your time in the most unique place in the world!

 

Nos vemos.

Mari.

Critical Items to Gift or Donate to Cubans

This blog post will help you know what you can donate to Cubans, how you can donate, and who you should donate to.

First and foremost, THANK YOU.

When it comes to tourists coming to on holiday to Cuba, a question I often get is “Can I bring anything?” “How can I help the Cuban people?”

There’s probably no better question I love answering than that one.

There’s several reasons why the economic situation in Cuba is the way it is. The combination of the economic embargo alongside the internal situation has stifled the country at low monthly wages at high cost of living.

Unfortunately, many items that are easy to find in other countries become extremely hard to find in Cuba.

But as I sit here trying to google “donations to Cubans” that search becomes just as hard to find as the items Cuba needs.

I’m shocked there isn’t more out there in form of blog posts given the almost 2 million Cubans living in the United States alone.

So that’s why I’m here.

Here is a list of essential items you can donate to Cubans –

Many of them you’ll likely be packing for your vacation anyways.

  1. Medicine

There is nothing more necessary in Cuba than medicine. Sure, there’s free health care but care is limited when vital medicine is in low quantity. And, its really no secret.

Over the counter medication is in high demand. Some of these include:

  • Tylenol
  • NSAIDs
  • Anti-inflammatory cream (Cubans love Bengay)
  • Cough syrup for children
  • Tums
  • Bayer
  • Eyedrops
  • Cough drops (!!!!!)
  • Sudafed
  • VITAMINS OF ANY TYPE!!
  • Other over-the-counter

 

  1. Bandaids

Bandaids, gauze, and medicine tape are very expensive. A roll of medicine tape costs around $2CUC (a huge expense if you’re making $20 a month).

Bandaids are extremely light and small to pack and probably the most important item to gift a Cuban household.

  1. Toilet paper

Outside your Cuban resort and/or Cuban casa particular, toilet paper is a huge luxury for a lot of Cuban families. Its 90 cents a roll an trust me, its no Charmin.   A few rolls goes a long way.

  1. Deodorant

If deodorant was a drug, it could kill. Sweat and Smell go hand in hand on that island. That $1 bar from the 99 cent store costs nearly quadruple.

  1. Soap/ Shampoo/ Conditioner

See above for explanation

  1. Shoes

Good quality shoes are essential, especially for kids. It’s not rare to see people outside barefoot or children running barefoot. Shoes are extremely expensive and very low quality.

Shoes break in 2 weeks if they aren’t an American recognizable brand. No joke. One time my shoes broke in the middle of the Olga Tanon concert in La Habana just by walking. No bueno.

  1. Brushes – Hair, Tooth

Here’s a story: It took me 3 days to find a hairbrush in Pinar. 3 days. Then it broke… 2 brushes later. #noesfacil

Toothbrushes and toothpaste are in huge demand as well. Children go nuts for the themed ones they sell outside the island.

  1. Sheet and Towels

Another two items that are in huge demand. You’ll likely see the same sheets in a Cuban home used for years.

  1. Other toiletries

Some items you’re likely already carrying are:

  • sun block
  • lotion
  • Wipes
  • Hair gel
  • Hairspray
  • Hair ties for the ladies!!!
  1. Feminine Products

Outside of high tourist areas like La Habana or Cienfuegos, many women have little to no access to choice within feminine products. Meaning, theres no tampons.

Tampons are light and small as well and will go a long way to helping any lady out.

  1. Toys

Children love toys and unfortunately toys are expensive in Cuba. The #1 item you can gift a girl of course is a Barbie. A boy? A soccer ball.   Move over baseball, soccer is HUGE in Cuba.

But most importantly are basic school supplies for Children: coloring books, pens, crayons, pencils, erasers.

 

How to Donate?

GOING OUTSIDE THE RESORTS- Tour Cuba Locally!

The biggest help you can give is is tourism.  Tourism helps the economy in so many different ways: From helping the taxi man earn more money, the the dancer on the street getting tips.  Its funnels through the economy.

There’s no better way to spend your time in Cuba than actually SEEING THE COUNTRY. Forget the cheap resorts you can find anywhere else in teh Caribbean. This is a unique island with unique culture and we’d love for you to see it as authentic as possible.

To get customized tours email me here. For small-group tours, you can see our itinerary. 

Cuba is tricky when it comes to donations. If you are bringing large quantities of 1 thing, Cuban government officials might get a bit suspicious you’re trying to supply black markets than donating.

Mari tip: If you are so kind enough to donate, please bring a variety of things. Do not bring 50 USB sticks or a luggage full of shoes.  

Who to Donate To?

Cubans are inventors, but you might not know there are different economic classes on the island like any other country. Most casa particulares owners are living very well off tourism and same goes with any tourist driven employee (that’s why its so hard to get a tourist license).

Mari Tip: I suggest if you want to give to please donate items to either a church in Havana or any family living in the countryside (not Vinales because, again, very touristy). Many Cubans are not as fortunate to have family on the outside that can send them remittances. Plus, you’ll get a very local and cultural experience doing it that way!

And as always,

GRACIAS!