I am going to Cuba in 2 days! I can’t wait! As I mentioned in my previous post, Cuba travel has been on my husband’s bucket list for quite some time. Once I decided to plan a trip to Cuba, I started doing research on all the options. Since Cuba travel is not yet open for tourism from the U.S., it takes a bit more effort to plan a trip there. In this post I will share with you everything I have learned. I will show you how to plan a trip to Cuba in 10 easy steps. I will also include relevant links to assist in your research and planning.
1) Check the 12 categories of authorized Cuba travel:
Check the government guidelines to see if you fit into any of the 12 approved categories. As a travel writer I fit under the journalism category. Most people I know that have been to Cuba recently used the “educational activities” and “support for the Cuban people” categories. Link up with a civic, educational or religious group that does work in Cuba. You can travel with them or participate in one of their activities while in Cuba. I am even aware of travelers bringing donated items from various organizations for Cubans and this meets the “support” criteria.
2) Getting There:
***UPDATED*** US Carriers such as Jet Blue, American Airlines, Delta, Southwest now have direct flights to Cuba-Check their websites for more information. You must still fit into one the 12 categories listed above.
In order to plan a trip to Cuba you must decide how you are going to get there. Commercial flights on major US airlines are now available. You can also fly directly to Cuba from Canada, Mexico and certain Caribbean islands. I will be flew through Cancun last year based on proximity and the availability of daily flights. On the Interjet website you can book non-stop flights from Cancun to Havana in advance using your American credit card. Don’t forget to purchase your visa AKA a tourist card in order to enter Cuba! They cost $25 and can be bought from your gateway city or may be arranged by your tour company or airline. How about a cruise? Cuba Cruise operates from Montego Bay Jamaica to Cuba. Fathom tours and Norwegian also have cruises to Cuba from the U.S.
3) Solo travel Or Group:
Decide if you want to go solo, with a group or with a tour company. If you decide to do Cuba travel solo the easiest and most affordable plan is to book your own flights and stay at a “casa particular” (discussed below). As a solo traveler, be sure to read “An American’s Travel Guide for Cuba”. It is written by an American black female who gives detailed advice on traveling to Havana solo. If you decide to do Cuba travel with a group, there are several large and well known tour companies that offer escorted tours to Cuba. These include Gate 1 Travel, Insight Cuba, Intrepid Travel and Friendly Planet. When researching these tours, I found them to be quite pricey based on the time you actually spend in Cuba. Since I was traveling to Cuba with my husband, I wasn’t sure a casa particular was right for us. In addition, I did not want to be with a large group of people that I didn’t know. I also wanted to travel around the island without worrying about transportation. Therefore, I contacted Cuba Travel Network to arrange our own customized tour of the island. Their package included air from Cancun, hotels, tours and private transfers. The total price with our flights from Atlanta to Cancun was less than the larger tour companies and for a longer period of time. Another option is to travel with smaller privately owned tour companies such as DiasporaES . They offer cultural and educational tours to Cuba. They can also arrange participation in events and tours once you are in Cuba.
4) Cuba Travel Accommodations:
In order to plan a trip to Cuba you must book accommodations. In the post referenced above, Torrey describes her experience staying at a “casa particular”. For a low cost you can rent a room in a Cuban family’s home or even rent the entire home our villa. It is a great way to support the Cuban people. AirBnb has many options for casa particulares with reviews available. If possible, get referrals from people who have stayed in one. Email the owner and discuss your stay and payment. If you choose to stay in a hotel, TripAdvisor has several listings with reviews of the facilities and the location of hotels. Be aware that a 4 star hotel in the U.S. is more like a 3 star hotel in Cuba. When I was checking back in December for our trip in March I found that most of the hotels were booked. But, thank goodness Cuba Travel Network has relationships with hotels and casa particulars all over the island so they were able to find us accommodations. Since American credit cards and debit cards are not accepted in Cuba, be sure to book and pay in advance from the U.S. or bring the cash equivalent.
5) Havana Only or Tour the Island:
Another decision in your planning process is figuring out if you only want to visit Havana or tour the island. There are many other cities to explore such as Trinidad, Matanzas, Vinales-known for its tobacco farms, the beach area of Varadero, Santa Clara, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba. I decided that I wanted to see several of these cities and not have to worry about transportation around the island. My package included private transfers and tours to the cities we visited.
If you do decide to travel on your own around the island there is public transportation available such as buses and taxis. Negotiate and confirm the cost to your location prior to getting in the taxi cab. Your hotel or owner of your casa particular may also be able to provide you with a driver. If you are staying in Havana, there is a convenient hop on and off bus. Chanel of CulturalXplorer wrote a great article on getting around Cuba.
7) Global Entry, Health & Travel Insurance:
Once you decide to plan a trip to Cuba, add global entry to your to do list! Global entry allows for easy entry back into the U.S. You can avoid a customs agent and the questions usually asked about your travel. The process is easy and takes less than a month depending on available interview times in your city. Some people have asked about getting your passport stamped. My U.S. passport was stamped when I entered Cuba. They also stamp your tourist card/visa. If you travel through another country, you will have two entry stamps in your passports for that country. Without global entry a customs agent may ask where you were in between. If you were in Cuba legally this should not be an issue. In addition, Cuba travel requires health insurance. Although I know of several travelers who did not obtain health insurance for their trip, it is not expensive to do so. I found out that my American health insurance has coverage for Cuba travel. However, I obtained travel insurance from World Nomads which included health insurance coverage.
8) Learn Spanish:
Unlike many places you may have visited, English is not commonly spoken or understood in Cuba. You will find that those in the tourism industry do speak English as well as many Cubans in Havana. If you plan to stay in a casa particular or travel around the island on your own, it will help to learn basic Spanish. Download the free “Duolingo” app and have a travel book book with common Spanish phrases.
9) Packing tips:
In addition to bringing your customary travel items, pack an electrical converter, all OTC and prescription medications, toilet paper and soap. Toilet paper and soap can be in short supply during Cuba travel experiences. You will also need enough cash to get you through your stay. Be mindful that American credit cards do not work in Cuba. At the time there was a 10 % penalty tax on U.S. dollars. Therefore, I took Euros with me. This no longer applies but you may still get a better exchange rate with Euros vs U.S cash. The best exchange rates will be found at a Cuban bank vs. at the airport. There are also money exchange places in Cuba. Be aware of the currency differences in Cuba. It is also customary to bring gifts for Cubans especially if you are staying in a casa particular. These items, such as T shirts with American brands and even gum, can also be used for bartering.
10) Helpful links:
You are on the last step! I told you this post would lay out how to plan a trip to Cuba in 10 easy steps and I hope I have accomplished that. I am ending this post with helpful links for your research and planning. If you enjoyed Cuba travel, please add your advice in the comments below.
Be sure to read my other informative posts on Cuba and Havana!
Dr. Nadeen White is a "Blogger by Day, Physician by Night". She is an award-winning travel blogger, Amazon bestselling author and speaker. The Sophisticated Life Blog covers affordable luxury travel, culinary travel and wine. Her domestic and international travel guides gets people to the destinations of their dreams. So, if you are living the sophisticated life or desire to do so, this is the blog for you!