World

Five things to know about Cuba

As US-Cuba relations strengthen, it is inevitable that Cuba will soon be on everyone's bucket list of travel destinations - if it isn't already.

Mr Barack Obama became the first sitting US president in 88 years to visit Cuba as he touched down in Havana for a historic trip aimed at ending decades of Cold War animosity.

The nation is known for looking like time has frozen from its beautiful architecture to its vintage cars.

But with increased tourism and the opening up of Cuba to foreign businesses, how long will that last?

Clearly, there is no better time to visit Cuba than now.

And if you are interested, here are five things you may need to know.

1. Flights

After more than 50 years, US and Cuba officials signed an aviation pact last month to resume direct flights between the two countries.

Analysts and experts have said that these increased flights will lead to more competition, which will benefit budget-conscious travelers.

Forbes has predicted that ticket prices may drop by almost 50 per cent.

Currently, anyone looking to travel to Cuba has to transit in other countries such as Mexico, Canada, Panama, Ecuador and Bahamas and a plane ticket would cost from about US$220 (S$299) to $420.

But when direct flights resume from the US to Cuba, expect more competitive prices and you would have more options to pick from.

While Singaporeans currently need a visa to enter Cuba, it is possible that this may not be the case in the future.

In June last year, then foreign minister K. Shanmugam, who visited Cuba on a diplomatic visit, also signed a bilateral Visa Abolition Agreement with Cuban Minister of Foreign Affairs Bruno Rodriguez Parilla.

Visas can be obtained at the Cuban embassy here in Havelock Road.

The agreement will ease travel between Singapore and Cuba and encourage more trade and people-to-people links.

2. Accommodation

If you're a fan of Airbnb, you are in luck. The US government announced ahead of Mr Obama's arrival to Cuba that Airbnb has been given the green light to accept bookings in Cuba from non-American customers.

Prior to the announcement, Airbnb listings in Cuba were only available to US customers.

The short-term accommodation website currently has 4,000 listings in Cuba.

An alternative to Airbnb would be Casa Particular, which is the Cuban version of Airbnb. It allows you to stay with a Cuban family to get a more authentic experience of your visit there.

And if you want to live it up in a hotel like Jay Z and Beyonce did, you can stay at the luxurious Hotel Saratoga just as they did during their controversial trip to Cuba in 2013, when many people thought the celebrities had breached a travel embargo.

3. Bring cash

Don't rely on your credit and debit cards in Cuba. Cash is king.

There are two currencies that are used in Cuba.

One is the CUP (Cuban Peso), which is the currency locals use.

And the other is CUC (Cuban Convertible Peso), which is the tourist currency. The latter is what tourists use during their trip.

Forget about changing money before arriving in Cuba. You can only exchange your money into CUC's once you are in Cuba. It's preferable to bring British pounds or US dollars - Singapore dollars may not be accepted. 1US$: 1CUC

4. Wifi

You are in a country that's know for its reputation of being frozen in time, so Wifi should not be a concern.

But if you do feel a need to share your photos immediately on your various social media, do not be surprised to learn that Wifi is not widely available in Cuba.

It is only available in pricey hotels and at the airport.

Otherwise, travelers have to purchase Nauta Wifi cards that can cost up to S$9 per hour.

Yes, they are only available for an hour before you need to purchase another one. So remember to switch it off when not in use.

5. Getting around

Arguably one of the cooler things in Cuba is its vintage cars.

And it won't cost an arm and a leg to experience a ride in one of these cars.

There are both government-owned taxis and privately-owned taxis as well - and both options are pretty affordable.

But remember to set the price before you head off for the trip.

Depending on the distance, this can cost as much as S$30.

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