Cuba has long remained a mystery to Americans. An island less than 100 miles off the coast of Florida, travel to Cuba was a American’s daydream. Until now. In 2015, the Obama Administration changed the rules. Here’s how to travel to Cuba as an American (legally):
What You Need To Know Beforehand
It’s still illegal to travel to Cuba. General tourism is not permitted, meaning you can’t travel to Cuba solely to have cabana boys feed you mojitos or fan you with palm leaves at a resort. However, you can travel to Cuba if your visit falls under one of 12 travel categories. Most of these are vague, but you can find more details on the U.S. Department of Treasury’s website.
I chose the “people-to-people” category. This basically says, “I want to travel to Cuba to learn about Cuban people and culture!” You’ll choose this when you book your flight, I flew JetBlue, but American Airlines, Southwest, and Delta have flights too.
Nobody checked my license. Nobody even asked why I was going to Cuba. Nobody said a word when I returned home and went through customs and immigration, but I’d rather be safe than sorry, so I created an itinerary detailing my daily activities.
Visas & Health Insurance
Health insurance is mandatory and it’s included with your flight purchase. Super easy, but double check with your airline. The visa process takes about 2 minutes, you fill out a form at check-in and boom, you lose $50 bucks, but you have an important piece of paper you show no one.
Money, Money, Money
There are two currencies in Cuba, the Cuban Peso (CUP) and the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC), pronounced “kook”. As a tourist, you’ll be using CUC. Make sure you always get CUC back, NOT pesos when in Cuba.
American ATMs and credit cards. If you convert USD to CUC, you’ll be charged a 10% tax. I recommend getting Euros from your bank and converting Euros to CUC when you arrive. It seems like a process, but you save money doing it this way. I was in Cuba for 8 days and brought 730 USD, which is roughly 730 CUC. I wasn’t budgeting like I normally do, I spent money how I pleased, and it was enough for souvenirs, excursions, and food.
Where To Stay:
Airbnb is now a thing in Cuba, but Cubans don’t have easy access to Internet, therefore it may take a few days for them to respond. Sometimes they cancel, sometimes there aren’t reviews. You could always wing it and wait until you get there to find a Casa Particular, Cubans rent an extra room to tourists.
Breakfast and dinner are sometimes offered, depends on your preference, I had dinner made by Yaima in Trinidad and it was AMAZING. She could be a chef, thinking of her pumpkin soup makes my mouth water. Always be considerate of your host as resources in Cuba are scarce.
Transportation: Bring It Around Town
Ride in a maquina (the old vintage cars) or ride a little orange around town, as pictured below. Taxi rides within Havana were 8-10 CUC. Don’t get stuck in a “government” taxi. If there’s a meter, get the f out. They’ll charge double.
If you’re traveling between cities, we paid about 140-150 CUC one way from both Havana-Viñales and Havana-Trinidad. It’s cheaper if you can split it. My host hooked me up with Rolando, who was the sweetest man and a serious lover of Reggaeton. He stayed overnight in Trinidad and the following day drove us back to Havana for 60 CUC.
If you need it, or you have a mom like mine who requires proof of life ASAP, you can find Internet in Cuba. One moment you’ll be walking down the street and suddenly, you stumble into a hoard of people on their phones, tablets, computers. These are WIFI hotspots where you can buy an Internet card for 3-5 CUC for an hour. My advice: disconnect completely, print out maps or pre-download before traveling to Cuba.
Overall, traveling to Cuba was pretty easy. 100% a country worth visiting and absolutely one of my favorite trips yet.
Traveling to Cuba? Have questions, or want contact info for where I stayed, my drivers, or whatever? Send me an email firstname.lastname@example.org or find me as KristinaPerdida on social media.