If you haven’t noticed, Cuba is one of the most popular travel destinations for the year. Since taking a Caribbean Music course in college and being a lover of history, I’ve been wanting to visit the island. I’ve asked friends, read several blog posts and even joined Facebook travel groups to be informed of what to do, where to stay and what to eat. Since it’s much easier to travel to Cuba vs years past, here are five tips if you’re planning a trip to go.
Check Entry Requirements
First things first as an American, traveling to Cuba for tourist activities are not allowed. Before planning, check to see if you fit in one of the 12 categories of travel issued by the Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). As a travel writer, I had the ability to select ‘journalistic activity’, but since my cousin was coming with, we chose the “people-to-people” category. In addition to our personal belongings, we brought clothing and household items to give to our hosts and danced salsa with locals in Old Havana. You can view the full list of categories & current facts about visiting Cuba on the Travel.State.Gov website.
Get a Visa (Tourist Card) & Cuban Health Insurance
After determining you’re eligible to travel to Cuba, you would need a Visa (Tourist Card). This can be purchased at departure airport for $50. When filling out the card make sure to not make any mistakes lest you purchase a new one. Cuban Health Insurance guarantees your visit to a doctor in the event of sickness or injury. For our flight with Delta, there was a stamp on our boarding pass showing proof of the health insurance. Two blank pages are required on your passport for entry/exit stamps.
The Government of Cuba treats U.S. citizens born in Cuba as Cuban citizens. If you are born in Cuba after January 1, 1971, you must travel with a US passport AND Cuban passport to gain entry.
Bring cash and make sure you know how to budget. Your U.S. credit and/or debit card WILL NOT WORK. Depending on the market, you can exchange your dollars for Euros or CAD (Canadian dollars) to avoid the 10 percent fee for U.S. dollar conversions.
Great news! You don’t have to travel to Canada, Mexico or other Caribbean islands to travel to Cuba anymore. If you’re already in these locations, by all means, travel from there, but there are commercial flights with US airlines available. Here’s a list of US Airlines providing services to the island and the destinations:
- Camaguey – American Airlines, Jet Blue
- Cayo Coco – American Airlines
- Cienfuegos – American Airlines
- Havana – Delta, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Southwest, Jet Blue, United
- Holguin – American Airlines, Jet Blue
- Santa Clara – American Airlines, Southwest, Jet Blue
- Varadero – American Airlines, Southwest, United
You can also visit Cuba from the US via cruise. Below are cruise lines leaving from the US to Havana and other ports of call.
WiFi & Phone Calls
If you need to connect to the internet, wifi is available at specific hotspots and hotels. You need to buy wifi cards and they cost between 1.5 and 5 CUC depending on the length of time purchased. Calling home or abroad is very expensive and it is not possible to use Skype or FaceTime. Instead, use Facebook Messenger and Whatsapp. Another popular option is IMO, another messenger service that runs well with the slow connection. Had I traveled to Cuba alone I would’ve purchased a wifi card, but my cousin and I accounted for each other well.
Over the Memorial Day weekend, we stayed a total of 6 days between Havana and Varadero. We faced good and bad experiences, but it was still a memorable trip. Make sure to check back next week as I share more about our visit including lodging and transportation options.
Have you been to Cuba or are you planning to visit anytime soon?