How to Get to Cuba (U.S. Citizens)
Just over a year ago I was welcoming 2016 in Havana, Cuba. Since then, many of my friends and acquaintances have asked me how I got there and all I could muster was a, “I don’t know because my friend did most of the work” response.
Cuba was one of the most fascinating countries I have ever traveled to and I had the time of my life with the people I went with. I want everyone who is interested in visiting Cuba to have just as fun as I did, so I decided to link up with my friend who did most of the Visa and accommodations work in order to compile a list of all that you need to know before you go to Cuba.
Below are five of the most frequently asked questions I’ve received in regards to how to get to Cuba, followed by some tips on what to do and see when you are there, followed by some external resources I wish I had come across before I left.
***Please note: This list is directed towards anyone with a U.S. passport and wishes to visit Cuba solely for the tourist experience. U.S.-Cuban relations are continuing to normalize after half a century of isolation and with the election of Donald Trump and the death of Fidel Castro, future relations remain uncertain. I am not sure how valid this information will be a year from now, but I am answering the best to my ability.
1. How do you go about getting a visa?
You can obtain a visa here:
- Cuba Travel Services
- 10833 Valley View St. Suite 250
- Cypress, CA 90630
- Main Office: (800) 963-CUBA (2822)
- Fax: 310-645-9460
2. What do you list your reason as on the "12 reasons for visiting" document?
“People to people exchange.”
3. Did you go independently through a travel agency, or with an organized group?
We went independently
4. Did you have to schedule your activities?
No, and there is no longer necessary for a “guide.”
5. Were you asked any questions back at US customs about said activities?
Yes, but no serious interrogations.
Now once you get your visa and your airfare in order, here are some useful tips and information to know once you are in the country.
Cuba has two currencies. Locals use pesos ($1=20 pesos) and tourists are only given convertible pesos called CUC ($1~1CUC). There are no ATMs there so what you bring with you is what you have for your stay. My advice is to TAKE MORE MONEY THAN YOU THINK YOU NEED. I pride myself on being a budget traveler so I only brought the lowest amount after I factored in food, drinks, and accommodation, but I didn’t factor in certain things like cab fares and tips. Overall, things in Cuba are pretty cheap, especially if you stay away from touristy areas.
Internet is extremely limited. It is typically only available in business centers or Western hotels, and costs about $5-10 for thirty minutes of Wi-Fi. Let your friends and family know that you probably won’t be able to communicate with them for the first couple of days in the country.
Lodging: From my friend’s experience (who visited Cuba back in 2013) there are super nice/expensive hotels ($200-400/night) and super trashy/cheap hotels ($40/night). What my friend did this time was rent out a house called casas particulares, which are luxury and comfortable villas. There were about 10 of us and it cost us $50 a night and we had hot showers, a pool, and an in-house maid. This also gave us the opportunity to interact with the house manager, the maid, her family, and other locals around the neighborhood.
There is a huge shortage of basic necessities in Cuba so pack as if you are going camping. There are no convenience stores to get sunscreen, lotion, conditioner, etc.
You MUST go outside of Havana. One of my favorite days was visiting Valle de Vinales, which is famous for tobacco farms and produces world's best cigars (now you can bring back $100 worth of them to US). The beauty of the countryside is also spectacular.
GO WITH SOMEONE WHO SPEAKS SPANISH, or practice it yourself. While English might be the lingua franca of Europe, don’t expect anyone to understand your native English tongue in Cuba. Before I left, I was practicing some basic Spanish, and I was told that Mexican Spanish is way different than Cuban Spanish. If you hear someone say this, IGNORE THEM. My friend Suzie speaks four languages, has an Armenian accent, learned Mexican Spanish, and was able to do everything for us from getting a tour guide to ordering pizza at our villa. Even I was able to bargain with a Taxi driver and talk about Stevie Wonder in what little Spanish I knew. If you have any knowledge of Spanish, start practicing before you head out.
Visas are important but easy to navigate once you know what to write down.
Bring more money than you think you need.
Don’t expect to upload any pictures on Instagram while you’re there.
Practice your Spanish!
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