About 2 weeks ago I took a cruise to Cuba with my hubby and my parents. It’s been on my bucket list to visit, not only because it appeared so photogenic from all the photos I’ve see, but heard such wonderful things about the Cuban people. When I saw that cruises were starting to make Cuba a destination, the four of us jumped on the chance to go visit. Amazing is the first word that comes to mind!!! It exceeded any expectations we had and the Cuban people are so friendly and willing to help lost American tourists. My husband and I had such an amazing time that we are already planning a second trip there for next year.
When we returned, I received so many messages on and tagged in various posts on how to travel to Cuba and things one should know. I figured I would add that here for those interested in making a trip to Cuba. If you just want to see the photos of the people, architecture, and of course the cars, just scroll down past the text.
1. Visa and Passport – You do need a visa and valid passport to travel to Cuba and your travel must be one of the 12 authorized categories. One cannot go to simply see the beaches or be a tourist. People to People Education is the easiest we found which means you have to go to learn about the Cuban culture and about the people that live there. It means going to the different museums there, I highly recommend their art museum, learning about the cuisine, educating yourself on Cuban music, talking to the locals, and learning the history of Cuba. It’s not hard to do, there are lots of tours available that can help one fulfill the requirements. You do have to make note of what you do and keep records of it for 5 years.
You can get the necessary travel Visa through the cruise line or the airlines. It will cost roughly $50-$100 per person depending on where you go to get it. I have found American Airlines and Southwest are the easiest airlines to travel to Cuba. For cruise lines, we used Norwegian but I know there are others that travel to Cuba too.
2. Money- There is two currencies in Cuba and the one you will use is CUC, which is equivalent to the American Dollar. You won’t be able to exchange money until you are in Cuba. There is a penalty of 10% to exchange US dollars to CUC, so some decide to first exchange their money to Euros before leaving. Make sure the money you receive is CUC and not CUP. I’ve heard some places might try to trick tourists. They do not take american cc there, so it is best to bring more than enough cash to cover all your expenses.
3. Accommodations – If you decide to stay in Cuba directly, meaning not a cruise ship, I recommend using AirBnb as it will be much cheaper than staying in a state run hotel. Those can range from $200-$600+ per night. Staying in a private home can run under $100 a day or much less.
4. Food – We ate at a home restaurant and was a wonderful experience. The food was yummy and really gave us a sense of what true Cuban food is like. Plus it is much cheaper than eating in a state run restaurant. There are lots of home restaurants as the Cuban people are allowed to run businesses out of their home. We paid a man selling carriage rides to take us to one, don’t be afraid to ask one of them or a taxi driver. Also don’t be afraid of vendors selling food on the streets, the churros are yummy btw!!! Never turn down a fresh coconut (if you like coconut water and aren’t allergic) as it is a good way to stay hydrated.
5. Taxi – Always negotiate the rate with a taxi driver before getting in. They are super easy to flag down, any time I took a picture of one, they would ask if I needed a ride.
6. Music – You can wonder the streets as night falls and see musicians setting up at various restaurants to play. Things really come to live in the streets of Havana at night.
7. Rum and Tobacco – From what I read, each person is allowed to bring back $100 in alcohol and tobacco. We stuck to that amount and at no issues at customs. The rum ranged from $5 to $10 a bottle and cigars $5 to $20 a cigar. Do buy from a legit state run shop so you can make sure you aren’t being sold a fake.
8. What to buy – Of course when going on any trip buying souvenairs is always fun. I highly recommend the art flee market in Old Havana, You can find all sorts of goods and paintings. Of course, hide valuable belongings so you can better negotiate with the vendors. I took a camera bag that was tiny and didn’t look like a camera bag and I left all my jewelry at home. It made it very easy to talk them down on artwork and walked away with a couple of paintings for a very reasonable price.
9. Insurance – I always recommend travel insurance. It is required to get international health insurance with traveling to Cuba. I did hear someone say that it is included in an airline ticket but I’m not so sure about that.
10. Have Fun!!!!!!!!
I hope I touched on most things people have questions on, if I missed something, please feel free to comment and ask :).