Cuba has long been on my bucket list and I was determined to check it off the list this year. I got an extra incentive to visit when the Obama administration started to normalize US/Cuba relations in 2015 and opened Cuba to “People to People Exchange” aka Tourist visa. Unfortunately for me I didn’t book my trip until this year. Shortly after, orange man came along with his Making America Great Again tirade by re-imposing travel restrictions.
Well Americans, the good news is, you can still visit Cuba because the travel restriction is built like everything else orange man creates – no substance. Here’s the skinny on what you need to know before you book your flight to Havana. It’s a week before I arrive in Cuba so here are a few things you should know.
First and most importantly – rely on the professionals where you don’t know what to do. Connect with tour guide companies with specialized knowledge in Cuban travel. Within the UK, I’m using Trailfinders and LikeACuban for local Cuban accommodations and tours.
Policy – While the current policy no longer has a provision for “People to People Exchanges”, it does have 9 or so other categories that may apply.
- (1) Family visits (see §515.561);
- (3) Journalistic activities
- 4) Professional research and professional meetings (see §515.564);
- (5) Educational activities (see §515.565);
- (6) Religious activities (see §515.566)
- (7) Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions (see §515.567);
- (8) Support for the Cuban people (see §515.574);
- (9) Humanitarian projects (see §515.575);
- (10) Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes (see §515.576)
Local travel companies have no problem building you a fit for policy itinerary. There are some financial disclosure rules requiring US citizens to save travel receipts.
Every foreign visitor needs to get a Cuban travel card before entry. It’s simple to get from your local tour company. Make sure you have your airline and accomodations confirmed before you apply for the card. Depending on the travel service you use, it will take anything from a few hours to a few days to get your travelcard. I got mine same day with Trailfinders
Cash is king! If your American don’t rely on using debit or credit cards – they won’t workin Cuba. If you’re anywhere else, walk with lots of cash but you have the option to use your card for some large purchase (intra Cuba flights, Hotels etc).
I booked with Virgin Atlantic for a round trip direct flight. However, all the major airlines fly into Havana. Prices range from £400 – £700 depending on the time of year, airline and route (direct or with stops). Instead of booking directly, I used Trailfinders who are also helpful with travel insurance and my travel card. Yes, the theme here is – rely on the professionals.
Intra-Cuba travel – If you’ve traveled in the Caribbean, you’d know that there are few small airline carriers. Same goes for Cuba. The only intra Cuba airline available with regular flights to different parts of the island is Air Cuba. Locals avoid the airlines because they’re too expensive and opt for cheaper 10 hour long overland journeys. Because of that they have limited flights a week so be sure to book quickly. I wanted to go to Santiago de Cuba but they were all booked for the days I wanted to go. And the price could be as expensive as £400 round trip depending on where you’re going.
Where to Stay?
Hotels – there are a few good hotels in Cuba. While I can’t offer personal account of Cuban hotels my co-workers have stayed at a few while in Havana and in Trinidad and were very happy with their stay.
Airbnb – this is a great alternative hotels. Work with your local Cuban tour companies to assist you with this. It can be quite overwhelming to use the app without local knowledge.
Wheels up in seven days. I’ll post an update with all my exciting adventures.