Although wifi is limited in Cuba, and mobile phone and data access is not available to Americans, a few free apps can help you prepare for your travels.
Before you start packing, check out CubanFlow, a must-have to initiate you into the world of Cuban music, which has been influenced heavily by West Africa and Spain. The app offers tunes by select artists and groups, new music sorted by month, and songs categorized by genre: Clasicos, Cuban Flow, Top Radio and Fiesta Fin De Año. If you’re familiar with Cuban music, you’ll recognize such artists as Chacal & Yakarta, Deguales, Osmani Garcia, Haila, Gente de Zona, Buena Fe and many others. The interface is easy to navigate and provides hours of listening. CubanFlow will get your hips moving and infuse a Cuban beat into your step before you even leave home.
As the name suggests, Cuban Dominoes is the classic game with black-and-white tiles, or “fichas.” If you're headed to the island, you'll soon find that dominoes is not just Cuba's national game: It’s also a social event, combining camaraderie with competition. The app is also fairly social because it’s played with other online competitors (by joining or starting a game) with turn-based play and in-game chat. Traditionally, dominoes is noisy and boisterous, but while you won’t hear anyone yelling “Domino!” in a digital victory, the app may still give you a sense of this Cuban pastime. And when you encounter people playing dominoes on the streets of Cuba, you’ll better understand the nuances of the game.
Neither CubanFlow nor Cuban Dominoes works offline, so you'd best download those two to set the mood before the trip. There are, however, two fee apps you can download before traveling and use offline while in Cuba.
Cuba Travel Guide provides short descriptions and photos of sightseeing spots, restaurants, nightlife, shopping, etc., for Havana, Santiago de Cuba and a few other cities and popular destinations. This app is in no way a comprehensive, and you’ll probably learn more by reading websites and travel guides, but it does categorize items neatly and would be especially useful for finding a restaurant or club on the fly.
Cuba Map, an offline map, covers the entire island. In slow-but-decent detail, it shows grocery stores, gas stations, churches, parking spots, airports, banks, street names, etc., in the larger cities. It’s helpful to keep on hand in case you lose your bearings. Cuba Offline Map + City Guides Navigation works better, with higher-quality vector maps that you can zoom in and out of quickly. It provides directions, performs searches, bookmarks favorite spots and more. The caveat with this app, however, is that only the first hour is free.
Text by Lise Waring