Havana is no ordinary city and I was lucky enough to cross it off my bucket list earlier this month. A place stuck in time where most locals know nothing more than enjoying the simple things in life. Its colorful old-fashioned buildings going as far back as the 1500s, extremely talented musicians in every other corner and the iconic 1950’s Chevys in every color you can imagine. La Habana is like no other Carribean capital city. Its vibrant vibe and culture can’t be replicated. Smiling faces everywhere you go, curious locals who speak to you as if you are their longtime friend and other’s who even invite you inside their homes.
A video collage of various 1950’s Havana clips from different resources and clips that I filmed during my visit in April 2019. Music is a combination I put together of the original “I like it” by Pete Rodriguez and the instrumental to “I like it like that” by Cardi B.
First Things First! Getting to Cuba!
Can Americans travel to Cuba? The most common question I received simply answered, YES! Many had the understanding that Americans could no longer visit Cuba. This is not the case and below is all you need to know to make your getting there as smooth as possible.
After purchasing your flight the three most important things you will need is a valid passport, travel insurance, and a visa! Travel insurance is usually included in your flight fee. Check when purchasing your ticket. There is a breakdown at checkout of what you’re actually paying for or you can contact your airline to double check! Being my first time traveling to Cuba I was worried about the visa so I went ahead and purchased it from a travel agency here in Houston for $100 ahead of time. I didn’t want to risk anything going wrong. When I arrived at Ft. Lauderdale, Florida I confirmed that you can easily purchase the visa for $75 at a kiosk outside your gate. This is the case with most airlines, but it’s better to double check and make sure (I flew with Southwest Airlines). If you are flying directly to Cuba, then purchasing your visa ahead of time might be the best option for you. Another option is purchasing it directly online through Cuba Travel Services which services most airlines and have your visa mailed to you.
What are the visa requirements? The reason for your trip to Cuba must fall within one of the 12 categories which I have listed below.
- Family visits
- Official business for the US government, foreign government and certain intergovernmental organizations
- Professional research
- Religious activities
- Public Performances
- 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 export transactions
- Educational activities and people to people travel
The most common category is “Educational activities and people to people travel”.
What exactly does this mean?
- Learning the Cuban culture and history by visiting their historic sites, museums or perhaps taking a tour around Old Havana in a vintage car.
- Meeting with Cuban people to exchange, talk about life in the United States and learn about life in Cuba. This is something that naturally happens because the one thing that stood out the most to me is that Cubans socialize all day, every day. They approach you with the warmest welcoming. They want to share their stories and want you to know what life in Cuba is all about.
Things to Know Before Your Trip!
This part is important!
- As an American YOU WILL NOT have access to your bank or debit card what so ever. I mean it. You won’t even be able to log into your account at all. You won’t even be able to visit the website. ATM’s will reject your card. Bring cash ONLY! Lots of it! $100 per day is recommended. Although you may not use it all, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
- There are 2 currencies in Cuba. Cuban Pesos (CUC) and Cuban Peso Nacional (CUP). Cuban Convertible Peso is the currency used in the tourism industry. Always make sure you receive your change in CUC (It’s worth more). As of April 2019 100 US Dollars equals to 86 Cuban Pesos. You can exchange money at the airport, hotels, or Cadecas (Casas de Cambio). Read more about the Cuban Currency HERE!
- The Havana airport is very small and unorganized. Expect to wait quite a while for your luggage and don’t expect it to come out of where they tell you it will come out of.
- If you will be booking a hotel it’s important to know that in Cuba they charge you for how many people stay in the room, therefore when booking the room make sure to enter the correct number of people who will be rooming or you will be surprised with a much higher rate. Ouchie!
- It’s recommended to find somewhere to stay near Old Havana. Places are walking distance and there is a lot to see, do and eat!
- Airbnb is available in Cuba. There are also “Casitas” locals who welcome travelers in their home and happy to host and guide you.
- Do not expect luxury. It’s Cuba. The hotels and buildings are old and everything is limited from toilet paper to water, but the workers are kind and do their best to accommodate you.
- Wifi access is limited and practically non-existent. Fortunately, the hotel I stayed at offered it complimentary, but if not there are little areas (usually parks) where locals/visitors purchase wifi cards ($2 CUC for an hour) and they hang out and use their phones, but even then the connection is weak.
- I recommend downloading the app Maps.Me. You can download your map before arriving and literally look up anything from restrooms, museums, parks, hotels, banks, restaurants, etc! A must! (Also useful in other countries.)
- The chance of experiencing violent crime in the United States is 23 times greater than in Cuba. Although locals will approach you often and nicely ask you for things or money, not once did I feel unsafe or threatened.
- Carry change for tips. Tip the Cubans! They greatly appreciate it and are very accommodating people.
- Toilet paper is limited and some public bathrooms won’t have any, carry paper towels in your purse.
- You can get REALLY AMAZING meals for very cheap! I’m talking a big plate of chicken and pasta with a huge glass of fresh mango juice for like $5 (easily $20 in the US) or a Cuban sandwich (delish) for $4. Drinks are very affordable as well…Water .70-$2, Coffee for $1.50, Beer for $1.50 or 2 mojitos for $5.
- Negotiate taxi rides. Aside from hotel and travel, we spent the most money on transportation because the hotel we stayed at was a little far off… then eventually we figured it out…TRICK: Tell them you only have an exact amount of money left and have no more. We did this and had no issues.
- Yes! You can bring back Cuban cigars- no fee. (100 cigars max per person) Yes! You can bring back liquor- no fee. I’m not sure that there is a limit as to how many bottles, but I did see some people bringing back about 5-10 bottles at once. I brought back one… no issues, no fees. You will need to put your items in your check-in bag. (You can buy more at the Havana airport and carry those in your carry on.)
- Hop in for a ride in a vintage car! This is an amazing experience. You get to request the car you would like to ride in and the driver will take you around Havana sharing stories and the history of the sites! They’re even kind enough to snap a few pictures as well! The price ranges from $65-$80 for your group. (Not per person)
- Visit Old Havana! The Havana vibe is like no other! Cafes, restaurants, religious sites, historic sites, museums, parks, gardens, entertainment, and the nightlife! You will fall in love!
- You can’t go to Cuba without taking a trip to its amazing beaches! The closest and quickest option from Havana is a strip of beautiful beaches by the name of Playas del Este and they are located about 20 km east of Havana. You’re able to get there by taxi for $20 CUC or hop on a bus from the central plaza right in front of the Hotel Inglaterra for only $5 CUC round trip! The water is a bright aqua and you can purchase a coconut for only $2 CUC.
Now that you have all the deets, I hope that you share your adventure with me! Tag, comment, message me!
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