Before we dive in to this discussion on Cuba, please note – this article was intended for American citizens, who until recently, were not able to travel to Cuba, by legal means, at least.
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So you are an American citizen, and you are reading this article because you would like to go to Cuba, correct? That’s good news! If you are still wondering whether you can travel there, how to get there, and when – you came to the right place. In the next few paragraphs, we will explain everything that you should know about Cuba, as an American citizen.
How to get there:
Pretty much all of the major U.S. airlines are now flying to Cuba on a daily/weekly basis. They are (in an alphabetical order):
- American Airlines
- Alaska Airlines
- Delta Airlines
- Frontier Airlines
- Southwest Airlines
- Spirit Airlines
- United Airlines
You might have also heard that you need a visa to go to Cuba – and yes, you are correct. However, the process of obtaining one could not be easier nowadays. All you have to do is fill out a special visa form at the point of check in for your flight, with your airline company, and pay a $50 visa fee. You will have to check off the reason for your visit to Cuba on the form, so you should familiarize yourself with the 12 available choices prior to your arrival to the airport. They are:
- family visits
- official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations
- journalistic activity
- professional research and professional meetings
- educational activities (most popular choice)
- religious activities
- public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions
- support for the Cuban people
- humanitarian projects
- activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes
- exportation, importation, or transmission of information or informational materials
- certain authorized export transactions
Shhh, whatever reason you choose – it’s simply a formality, no one will really care or check upon you.
Now, let’s talk about some other things that you should definitely know prior to boarding your flight to this magical island.
Cuba’s Do’s and Don’ts:
- Do try to exchange your Dollars to Euros or British Pounds, before you leave to Cuba – as these currencies get a much better conversion rates to Cuban pesos, rather than American Dollars.
- Do expect a high currency exchange commission rates (10-20%) regardless of the currency value.
- Do try to find a local taxi driver at the airport who will accept your foreign currency as a payment. The line to the currency exchange kiosk at the Cuban airports is miles long. Do not waste your precious vacation time standing in that line. A one-way ride from José Martí International Airport (in Havana) to the city center costs around $35 USD (in 2017).
- Do not forget to bring enough cash with you, as your credit and debit cards will not work in Cuba.
- Do know that you can exchange your currency in any hotel, in addition to any local banks. Just inquire at a hotel’s lobby. All exchanges are controlled by the Cuban State therefore all transactions are standard and are regulated.
- Do buy your internet card (unless you want to switch off and unwind) at any hotel’s lobby. Just do not forget to ask about the hotspot coverage area, as it doesn’t just work anywhere in town. Please note – there is no such thing as free wifi in Cuba. The only way you can access wifi is by buying a prepaid wifi card which normally lasts for an hour.
- Do take a ride in the World-famous and classic “Cuban car”, which can be found everywhere in Havana. Just don’t forget to negotiate the rate with a driver, prior to getting in the car.
- Do not go on a horse carriage ride – horses are not treated properly in Cuba (and many other places in the World), they are not fed during the day, and they are forced to work 12-16 hours, in the heat, every single day.
- Do try to pack everything into a carry-on bag to avoid checking in any luggage. Otherwise, you might get stuck in the airport, waiting for your bag to arrive on the carousel for at least an hour or… five, if you were to believe some tourists.
- Do stay in airbnb to get the best local, Cuban experience possible. As you will quickly find out upon your arrival, Cuban people are one of the most friendliest and nicest people in the whole World! You’ll see.
- Don’t stay in a hotel – all hotels are controlled by the Cuban government – by the Castro family, you might have heard of them.
- Do carry small currency bills on you. There is a lot of poverty and need in Cuba, and a few bucks from a kind stranger can feed the whole Cuban family. Be that kind stranger, earn good karma.
- Do bring a lot of patience with you. Cuba is a very special, communist country. Expect long lines almost everywhere you go. Except museums, fancy restaurants and some touristic buses.
- Do take a double-decker bus to get the best first-time overview of Cuba’s major cities (such as Havana, Varadero, Viñales, and others).
- As with most other places in the World, we do not recommend wearing expensive jewelry and flashing stacks of cash bills on the streets of Cuba. Do not attract crime-seekers, and the crime will not find you. Though, overall, Cuba is quite a safe destination – whether you are traveling with a group, or even on your own.
- Do walk everywhere in Havana’s Old Town. Just don’t forget to put on some sunscreen, a hat, a pair of sunglasses and grab a big bottle of water to go.
- Do book your tours when you arrive in Havana, and not online, as they are much more expensive on the internet. There are some info/tourist centers in Havana, and you can also inquire about the tours (and for the directions to an info center) at any hotel’s lobby.
- Do download an offline map of the Cuban cities that you intend on visiting, to your phone. As you already know, wifi connection is very limited in Cuba, and having an offline map with directions is very convenient and will help you a lot. Try maps.me.
- Do read a book on Cuba before you go. Some of the books that we recommend, among numerous others:
- “The Cuba Reader: History, Culture and Politics” by A. Chomsky, B. Carr and P.M. Smorkaloff
- “Havana Real: One Woman Fights To Tell The Truth About Cuba Today“ by Yoani Sanchez.
- Finally, do not be afraid of anything, go, have fun and enjoy it! We are 100% sure that you will love Cuba as much as we do!
When to go:
Now. Go there now. Or better yet, yesterday. Go there before an influx of American businesses, such as Starbucks, McDonald’s and Hilton ruins the skyline of Cuba forever. Go there now because you will be one of the first Americans to visit the long-forbidden island. Go there now before the new government implements any restrictions, or God knows what. Who knows. Just book your ticket and go!