There has been a recent uptick in interest for Americans to visit Cuba. This is likely due to the accessibility of Cuba now that many major airlines are allowed to fly to Havana (HAV) from large metropolitan cities all over the United States. This makes visiting Cuba significantly less costly than it had been in the past, as one would have to make their way (usually) to Mexico before finding a flight to Cuba and required Canadian travel agencies to make such arrangements, even if one did have a legitimate reason to visit.
Today, it is a simple as going to AlaskaAir.com (or American Airlines, JetBlue, Southwest) and book a ticket. Most flights are direct from places like Los Angeles (LAX) or Miami (MIA) with carriers offering connections from San Francisco (SFO) or New York (JFK).
If this peaks your interest, read on!
The List (of Musts):
1. A valid reservation for air travel to Cuba
2. Belonging in one of the 12 categories for travel
3. Have a passport that’s valid for more than 90 days past the time of your travel
4. Have a visa valid for your visit to Cuba
5. A location (address) where you will stay (Casa Particulars, relatives, etc.)
Remember, you must still fall into one of the 12 categories. I won’t enumerate what they are here, but you can find a nice write up by AlaskaAir here. Once you have determined your category, you must then also apply for a visa. Cuba Travel Services (http://cubatravelservices.com/) is a great way to help you obtain your visa and likely this is the only way you can obtain your visa. I’ve heard different stories about how much this visa is and where you may be able to obtain it while at the airport. However, I recommend that to be safe, you should obtain this in advance. It takes about 2 weeks once you complete the online form on Cuba Travel Services so definitely plan ahead.
You also will not find traditional lodging the way that you had found lodging for elsewhere in the world. Airbnb recently begun hosting Casa Particular type experiences so I would highly recommend that you stay with a Cuban host. Not only will you gain greater appreciation of the Cuban culture, but you will also be supporting the Cuban people.
Money, money, moneeeaaaaayy
Cuba uses two types of currency, a visitor version and a local version. The visitor version is called Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC). This should be roughly 1 to 1 for USD, however, in practice this is actually 1 USD to 0.85 CUC so you should avoid bringing USD if you can. Currently (March, 2017), the exchange rate for Euros to CUC is also 1 to 1 so I suggest bringing Euros instead. You will also find a local currency that many Cubans use called Cuban Pesos or CUP. 1 CUC ~ 25 CUP. You likely won’t need to know this conversion because you will rarely see it posted in the places you visit. However, it’s useful to have some CUPs if you visit a place that gives you change as local joints will only accept CUP.
How much will you need?
This question largely depends on your standard of eating and living. Generally, you should always buy bottled water which is roughly 1.5 – 2 CUC per 2 liter bottle. A meal with a proper portion of protein and carbs will cost anywhere from 5 CUC to 15 CUC depending on how much you like to eat and how much you like seafood. A beer is around 3 to 4 CUC for a 12 oz pour or so but local beers can be cheaper if not on draft.
I will try to cover other parts of traveling to Cuba in my next post!