Although wifi is limited in Cuba, and mobile phone and data access is not available to Americans, a few free apps are still worth downloading to prepare for your travels.
Before you even start packing, check out CubanFlow, a must-have to get inducted into the world of Cuban music, which has been influenced heavily by West Africa and Spain. The app offers the tunes of select artists and groups, new music sorted by the month and music categorized by four different genres: 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.
Another app that offers a good glimpse into Cuban culture is called Cuban Dominoes. As the name suggests, it’s the classic game with the black-and-white tiles, or “fichas.” Dominoes is the national game of Cuba, so if you’re headed to the island, you’ll soon find that it’s not just a game. It’s also a social event, combining camaraderie with competition. Surprisingly, the app is also fairly social because it’s played with other online players (by joining a game or starting a game) with turn-based play and an in-game chat. Traditionally, dominoes is noisy and boisterous, but while you won’t hear anyone yelling “Domino!” in a digital victory, you may still get a feel for this Cuban pastime through the app. 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 work offline, so you best download those two to enjoy to set the mood before the trip. There are, however, two fee apps that can be downloaded before traveling and used offline while in Cuba.
Cuba Travel Guide features Havana, Santiago de Cuba and a few other cities and popular destinations. It provides short descriptions and photos of sightseeing spots, restaurants, nightlife, shopping, etc. This app is by no way a comprehensive overview, and you’ll probably learn more by reading websites and print travel guides, but it does categorize items neatly and would be especially useful to find a restaurant or club quickly on the fly.
Cuba Map, an offline map, covers the entire island with slow, but decent detail in larger cities, showing grocery stores, gas stations, churches, parking, airports, banks, street names, etc. It’s a good app to have in your pocket should you lose your bearings. Another map, called 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.
We hope you find these smartphone apps useful and fun! If you have any additional recommendations, please feel free to share them with us on Facebook, Twitter or in the comments below.
Text by Lise Waring, insightCUBA
April 20, 2015