CUBA! What a beautiful place! Have you wanted to go to Cuba - has it been on your bucket list?! If YES keep reading to know tips on Cuba and how to travel there!
HOW TO TRAVEL TO CUBA?
So many people have reached out asking how did you travel to Cuba?! I mean lets be honest, Cuba has always been on my list of places to travel. With the permissions to travel to Cuba changed in November 2017, I thought I had missed the opportunity to be able to go to Cuba. However, it is possible I quickly found out!
We traveled to Cuba from Chicago to Atlanta to Havana on Delta and flew back on Southwest via Tampa. Technically US "tourism" is not allowed – it never really has been allowed. However, you can visit under one of 12 categories.
Previously under the Obama administration, US citizens could visit Cuba independently through the "People to People” category. With all the changes this category is no longer available, but individual travel and group travel is now available under a new category called "Support for the Cuban People".
This category is the most broad and easy way to travel to Cuba. You must spend a little time while there doing activities that support the livelihood of the Cuban people – buy some basic necessities for families; stay with a Cuban family, volunteering activities etc. However as there are other categories to choose from you would want to select the most applicable category that you are traveling to Cuba for. You are required to put together an itinerary/schedule for each day before entering the country and keep this schedule on record for up to 5 years if the US decides to verify that your visit met the requirements.
Once you have your category identified, you can book your tickets. Within 48 hours of booking you ticket you are required to identify the category under which you are traveling to Cuba. As any type of international travel, you are required to have an active passport that’s valid for at least six months after the return date and a Tourist Card issued by the Cuban government. Most airlines allow you to purchase your Tourist Card when you buy your ticket.
A Tourist Card is not quite the same as a Visa. If you're coming from North America, Europe, or South America you only need a Tourist Card, and not a Visa.
That being said, it is pretty simple on how to travel to Cuba. Know the rules and restrictions and follow them accordingly. Here are some tips on how to travel thru Cuba!
When should I go to Cuba?
December to May is the best time to visit Cuba, as the weather is dry and the temperature and weather are the most ideal. From June to November, the island is frequently hit with rain storms, and the humidity is high. Keep in mind that hurricane season runs from August to October – so would highly suggest not traveling then.
How much time do I need in Cuba?
Now that is quite a loaded question. I think first determining where you want to travel within Cuba is important to determine your length. If only doing Havana and a day at the beach 3 -4 days is adequate. If additionally you want to visit other cities like Trinidad I would suggest adding 2 – 3 additional days to your length of stay.
How should I get around Cuba?
Getting around Havana is fairly simple and straightforward. You can walk almost everywhere as well as having the option to take a taxi. In my opinion since I love walking, I would choose that option. But when we did take a taxi – it is reasonable! Ask the driver the price of the ride before and make sure that if the distance is not too far to ask for a more reasonable price.
To travel between cities – I would suggest booking a taxi as that is the easiest, safest and most straightforward way to get from point A to B. similar to above, ask a few people to gauge the price, and haggle your way to a number you’re comfortable with.
What is the Cuban currency and how to pay for things in Cuba?
There are two types of currency in Cuba—the Cuban peso (CUP) and the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC). Approximately the exchange rate is 1 CUC ~ 25 CUP, and 1 CUC ~ 1 USD. CUC are for tourists and CUP is for locals. Few helpful tips - be careful to make sure you are receiving the correct change back and always double check your currency. Remember that CUC have pictures of monuments on them whereas CUP has pictures of people.
Credit cards and ATMS if affiliated to a bank with any connection to America will not work. Therefore you will have to bring all the money you need for the whole trip with you. Over 4 days, we spent about 400 CUC but easily could have spent less.
Carrying that much cash may seem a bit overwhelming but worry not! Cuba was oddly very safe and theft is pretty rare there. Obviously be cognoscente to divide up your cash in different places – between your travel possessions and if traveling with others.
Where to exchange your currency?
There is a currency exchange right at the airport therefore I would suggest to exchange your currency into CUC right after you land. We landed in terminal 2 and the currency exchange office is right outside the exit doors to the right.
Helpful tips to remember:
· Do NOT throw away your tourist card, visa, or any other documents that were given to you upon arrival. You will need them when you depart and go thru passport control
· Print out or save any important documents on your phone
· Download any apps – (I suggest offline maps and a translation app if you are not fluent in Spanish) BEFORE entering the country because you will NOT have access to good internet connectivity
· To get internet connectivity, you will need to find certain areas / spots that have a hot spot connection. You can buy a card to use to connect to the internet thought the speed is about 2g.
· Do not drink the water - buy water bottles – they are super cheap and will be the easiest option!
· Talk to the locals – they can give you some helpful tips and gives you an opportunity to learn about their culture!
Major places to see
-Mercado San Jose - a huge market of art and souvenirs (and more haggling opportunities since there's SO many vendors)
-Parque Cristo - live music at night and wifi cards available here. Fun group of soccer players and basketball games going on to hang with the locals.
-Restaurant Floridita | Hemmingway made this place famous for saying they had the world’s best daiquiri.
-Libreria Vencia - It is in Habana Vieja, and I am pretty sure is on the same street as El Floridita (which is a tourist trap bar which Hemingway used to frequent and there's always a hundred million people trying to get a drink there) (Villegas by Plaza de Armas)
-Hotel Saratoga (Paseo del Prado #603 Esquina Dragones, La Habana Vieja, La Habana, Cuba). Rooftop pool with a view of the capitol and is close to the beach.
-Hotel Inglaterra Rooftop bar during good weather. It offers a stunning view of Habana Vieja, which is especially magic during sunset. Opens at 12 (416 Paseo de Martí)
-Jummah at Abdallah Mosque/Mezquita Abdullah (Oficious, Obispo, La Habana, Cuba)
-La Bodeguita Del Medio: This place was so cool, it’s crowded during the day and even more crowded at night. You can write on the walls, enjoy a good meal and listen to the live band as they make you want to stand up and dance. Birthplace of the mojito!!!
-Plaza De La Cathedral: So this is where you’ll find the old lady with a cigar and the old man with the cigar. They sit there all day earning a living by posing with us tourist!
-Hotel Florida: an upscale boutique hotel experience in the ultra charming Old Havana neighborhood (think: ceramic arches, tiled floors and palm fronds). There’s live Cuban music in the beautiful open-air lobby at night.
-304 O’Reilly: Small, Hipster, modern vibe and I had amazing vegetarian tacos, bruschetta and a fresh salad with yummy dressing! Julio and the other bearded guy make the best drinks. I also got a flower when I left from Julio.
-Malecon - It's just a nice walk, watch the sunset here. the building are iconic Havana. At 9pm every night they shoot a canon.
-Fabrica del Arte Cubano (or FAC) with Calvin - factory converted into an art gallery/restaurant/bar/music venue. It is located in Vedado. Go at night on Saturdays there are concerts. A fantastic night scene full of live music, art, and dancing. They are open Thursday to Sunday, 8PM – 3AM and it’s 2 CUC per person
-Museo del Chocolat; drink a chocolate, eat pralines and buy figures made of chocolate. I bought two chocolate cigars. Churros shop in front with amazing Churros for only 0,50 CUC.
-Hotel Ambos Mundos (Ernest Hemingway lived for 5 years, you can see his room)
-Hotel Raquel for green rooftop building (265 Mercaderes, La Habana by Plaza de Armas)
-Paladar Los Mercaderes for a romantic Cuban dinner
-Museo de Revolucion, Former presidential palace was decorated by none other than Tiffany & Co. and has beautiful neoclassical elements you can’t really see in many other places in Havana (closed Sunday but open this day?)
-Plaza de Revolucion - You can drive through this plaza, but it is a must see for the huge silhouettes of Che Guevara and Camilo on the buildings.
-Museo de Bellas Artes (Fine Arts Museum) (Next door to the Revolution Museum: Trocadero entre (between) Agramonte & Avenida de Belgica) (Closed Sunday but open this day?)
-El Del Frente: Watermelon mojito!!!! (O’Reilly entre Aguiar y Habana, La Habana Vieja, La Habana, Cuba). Across from O’Reilly 304 where I ate my vegetable tacos.
-La Guarida Havana Make a reservation for the top floor. Going to the top you will find a rooftop with a stunning view on imperfectly perfect Havana. Underneath you will find a cool bar with nice views and on the lower floors you will find La Guarida. You have to make a reservation and insist on sitting outside. For me as a picky vegetarian, La Guarida was heaven on earth. They had the yummiest avocado salad with sweet potatoes and a three chocolate cake fondue. La Guarida on Concordia Street is one of the most beautiful and famous places in Havana, thanks to the Cuban movie Fresa y Chocolate. The building itself used to be a palace, but now it is the home to many locals on the first few floors and the best restaurant in town on the top floor. The prices are around $15 to $20 for a main course, and be sure to keep room for dessert. My tip is to try the guava mousse.
-The Jazz Club La Zorro y El Cuervo (Avenida 23 b/n N and O street). Best nightclub in Havana.
-Hotel Nacional de Cuba (where Beyonce stayed, peacocks out front, members of the US mafia used to hang out here, has an underground tunnel and also has the Santa Clara Battery UNESCO World Heritage site).
Feel free to contact us with any questions. Hope this sold you on Cuba