How to Travel to Cuba in 2017: A Guide for Americans

How to Travel to Cuba in 2017 - A Guide for Americans

UPDATE:  On November 8, 2017, the Trump Administration formally announced it implementation of changes to U.S. policy regarding Cuba, including:

-Eliminating the option for U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba independently for people-to-people educational trips. Instead, these must be done under thee auspices of a sanctioned tour group, after applying with the Treasury Department. Independent travel to Cuba will remain legal if your purpose fits into one of eleven remaining categories (see below).

-Emphasizing the Government's right to audit Americans within five years of a trip to Cuba to ensure all travel activities fit within the stated purpose of their trip. Remember, all visitors are required to maintain full schedules and keep a detailed log for five years.

-Restricting spending by U.S. travelers at any business that is benefits the Cuban military's business arm, Grupo de Administración Empresarial (GAESA). This includes some hotels, restaurants, and other entities. Click here for a complete list of restricted businesses.

Fortunately, you can still legally travel to Cuba as an American, albeit under heavier restrictions. And yes, you're still allowed to bring back rum and cigars.

 


 

For over 50 years Cuba was essentially off limits to Americans thanks to a 1962 trade embargo that made spending money on the island tantamount to treason. Despite being just 103 miles from Florida, it was easier for U.S. citizens to travel to Antarctica than Havana.

This all changed in 2014, when the Obama administration announced a reestablishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba. Soon, travel restrictions were loosened, and major airlines began offering direct flights from the U.S. As a result, Americans can now legally explore the people, places, and culture that make Cuba unique.

But this opportunity will not last forever. The influx of foreigners is rapidly transforming Cuba’s economic and social realities. Meanwhile, political uncertainties in the U.S. make it impossible to know if the borders will remain open.

With this in mind, I headed to Cuba for a 17 day trip in January, 2017. What I discovered was a country rich with laughter, oozing charm, and built on resiliency.

So fellow Americans, let me help you take advantage of the opportunity to travel to Cuba in 2017. I guarantee you won’t regret it.

How do I legally travel to Cuba as an American?

Every traveler must have a passport that’s valid for at least six months after the return date and a visa issued by the Cuban government. Thankfully, most airlines allow you to purchase your visa when you purchase your ticket.

Cuban Visa - Travel to Cuba in 2017

My visa to Cuba.

Unlike the citizens of every other country on earth, U.S. passport holders are not legally allowed to visit Cuba for touristic reasons. Group people-to-people tours of Cuba have been OK for some time, but if you want to travel independently, your trip must fall within one of these twelve categories:

-Family visit

-Official business of the U.S. Government, foreign governments, and certain -intergovernmental organizations

-Journalistic activities

-Professional research or meetings

-Educational activities and exchanges

-Religious activities

-Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic/other competitions and exhibitions

-Humanitarian projects

-Support for the Cuban people

-Activities of private foundations, research, or educational institutes

-Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information material

-Certain authorized export transactions

Since the categories are quite vague (perhaps intentionally so?), you shouldn’t find it too difficult to craft an exciting and legal itinerary. The only requirement is that you stick to your stated purpose and create a full-time schedule of your activities, as the U.S. Government has up to 5 years after your trip to request such documentation.

The penalty for illegally traveling to Cuba is $250,000 in fines and up to 10 years in prison, but you should be OK if you follow the above guidelines. Remember, it’s the U.S. government not the Cuban that is concerned with the embargo.

*I’m not a lawyer, and I don’t play one on TV, so please consult the U.S. State Department website for the latest rules and regulations involving travel to Cuba.

How should I get to Cuba from the U.S.?

While a number of cruise lines offer trips to Cuba, the easiest (and cheapest) way to get there from the U.S. is to fly. Until recently, all flights were expensive charter services, but recently a number of  American airlines started offering regular service to Cuba. As of February, 2017, the following flights went directly to Havana:

-Southwest Airlines from Tampa (1x daily), and Fort Lauderdale (2x daily)

-Delta Airlines from New York-JFK (1x daily), Atlanta (1x daily), and Miami (1x daily)

-American Airlines from Charlotte (1x daily), and Miami (varies)

-United Airlines from New York-Newark (1x daily)

-Frontier Airlines from Miami (1x daily)

-JetBlue Airlines from New York-JFK (1x daily), Orlando (1x daily), and Fort Lauderdale (2x daily)

-Spirit Airlines from Fort Lauderdale (2x daily)

Most international flights to Havana arrive in terminals 2 & 3 of José Martí International Airport. If you’re planning on meeting someone at the airport be sure you know beforehand where they will be as the two terminals are in separate buildings 2 km apart, and the cost of taking a cab between them is a flat fee of 10 CUC (the free shuttle bus is crowded and infrequent). Depending on your haggling skills, it should cost you anywhere from 25-30 CUC total to take a taxi from the airport to downtown Havana. There is no viable bus option.

Terminal 3 Jose Marti Airport Havana - Travel to Cuba in 2017

Terminal 3 at José Martí International Airport. Havana, Cuba.

 

When should I go to Cuba?

December to May is the best time to visit Cuba, as the weather is dry, sunny, and temperate. From June to November, the island is frequently hit with rain storms, and the humidity can be unbearable (think a trip to Florida sans air conditioning). Hurricane season runs from August to October, in case you’re into that kind of thing.

 

How long should I stay in Cuba?

Cuba is not a country you want to rush through. Taking it slow seems to be a way of life here. At the same time, the Cuban way of doing things can be somewhat overwhelming for Americans who are used to order and comfort. A 7 to 10 day trip is a safe length for first-timers, providing enough time to appreciate the country without over-fatiguing. 

Where should I go in Cuba?

Traveling is not easy in Cuba, so I would suggest limiting yourself to just a few cities, even on a multi-week trip.

The best place to start is Havana. Not only are there a ton of direct flights, but the city is a Mecca for lovers of music, salsa, and twentieth-century history. With a wide-range of neighborhoods and activities, you can easily spend five days there without feeling a hint of boredom.

Next, I would head to Viñales, a quant village in western Cuba. Located in the heart of tobacco-growing country, Viñales provides a visitors with an up-close look at Cuban agriculture. Hike into the mountains, explore the extensive network of caves, take a horseback ride to a tobacco plantation, or visit the impressive Mural de la Prehistoria—all of it is great!

Vinales - Travel to Cuba in 2017

Enjoying the landscape in Viñales, Cuba.

Finally, I would stop in Trinidad, a perfectly preserved colonial settlement on Cuba’s south-central coast. Built on the fortunes of nearby sugar cane plantations, Trinidad was left untouched for 150 years after the industry collapsed in the 1800s—much to the delight of modern visitors who are greeted with pastel-colored mansions, cobblestone streets, and elegant squares.

Trinidad Cuba - Travel to Cuba in 2017

A monastery's tower dominates the cityscape of Trinidad, Cuba.

Other cities worth mentioning are Cienfuegos, Baracoa, Santa Clara, Santiago de Cuba, Holguin, and Varadero.

Where should I stay in Cuba?

To save money and get the most authentic Cuban experience, I strongly suggest staying in Casa Particulares, the private residences available for rent throughout the island. Not only are these less expensive than hotels (the cost of a single hotel room ranges from $50-300+ per night!), but they allow you to interact with Cubans in their own homes. Depending on the location and your haggling skills, a private room in a Casa Particular will cost anywhere from $15-35, which you can split with travel companions. Just ask around when you arrive in town and you’ll quickly get a feel for the price range. If you want to eat breakfast (recommended, as few places on the street offer food in the morning) or dinner at your Casa, an additional $3-5 per meal will be added to your bill.

Outside of your first night in Havana (which you can book on AirBnB.com or on other, speciality sites), there is no need to find your Casa Particular in advance. Tourist busses are almost always welcomed by homeowners eager to house you, and more and more Casas are opening every day. If you prefer finding a place on your own, all Casa Particulares hang a blue and white symbol outside.

Casa Particular - Travel to Cuba in 2017

Note the blue and white symbol outside this Casa Particular in Viñales, Cuba.

Hotels in Cuba are expensive, outdated, and lacking in atmosphere. Yet the limited number of hotel rooms on the island means finding a room can be tough, so book early!

How should I get around Cuba?

Getting around Havana is fairly straightforward. You can walk almost everywhere if you have the time. And taxi collectivos—the shared cars that loop around the city—offer a cheap alternative to private cabs and city buses. To hail one, simply stand on the side of a main road, arm extended, and tell stopping drivers where you’re going. If it’s on the way, they’ll motion for you to jump in. A ride should cost no more than $1.

Traveling between cities can be a bit more challenging. The domestic train system is a non-starter, renting a car is dangerous (if you get in an accident you may have to stay until the end of the trial), the domestic airline is the most accident-prone in the world, the tourist buses are crowded, and the taxi cabs are slow.

Yet, you’re going to have to learn to use this system if you want to get anywhere. Viazul arranges air-conditioned coach rides between most of Cuba’s main tourist cities. However, they are frequently sold out for days, and tickets cannot be bought online in advance, basically eliminating them as options for short layovers.

A more convenient—and slightly less expensive—option is to take a taxi collectivo. If your Casa host is unable to arrange a collectivo for you, there should be a number of drivers fighting over your business at the bus station. Ask a few people to gauge the price, and haggle your way to a number you’re comfortable with. You’ll almost certainly be riding in a vintage American car—colloquially known as a Yank Tank—sans seatbelt or air conditioning. Collectivos are a great way to meet fellow travelers and there’s something incredible about riding in a car that’s probably older than your parents.

Taxi Collectivo - Travel to Cuba 2017

A well-stocked taxi collectivo.

 

How do I pay for things in Cuba?

There are two types of currency in Cuba—the Cuban peso (CUP) and the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC), with 1 CUC ≈ 24 CUP, and 1 CUC  ≈ 1 USD. CUC are for tourists, and CUP are for locals, although you will often get CUP in return when paying on the street. Be careful, however, as a tricky merchant may try and give you incorrect change. Always double check, and remember that CUC have pictures of monuments, whereas CUP have pictures of people.

Cuban Currency - Travel to Cuba in 2017

At left a CUC, and at right a CUP.

If your bank has any connection to America (chances are that’s a ‘yes’), then your credit and debit cards will not work. As such, you’re going to have to bring all the money you need for the whole trip with you. Over 17 days, I spent under 800 CUC, and could have easily spent less.

Carrying that much cash may seem risky at first, but it doesn’t have to be. Theft is very rare in Cuba, and if you divide your cash among your possessions and travel mates, you will only end up caring a little bit at any given time. Still, use common sense and watch your wallet, purse, or money belt carefully.

You should exchange your currency into CUC at the airport. The exchange office is located to the left of terminal 3’s main entrance. It is better to bring Euros as they get a better rate than U.S. dollars. And be sure to covert your remaining CUC to Euros before you leave the country, as it’s impossible to do so abroad.

How can I stay connected in Cuba?

It is not easy to stay connected in Cuba. Your cell phone probably won’t get service (despite your provider telling you otherwise), and if you do it will be extremely expensive. If you absolutely must have a working phone, you can buy a sim card from Cubacel at the airport or purchase a special roaming phone in advance from a site like CellularAbroad.com.

Internet access is also hard to come by. Very few private residences in Cuba have the internet (although this is slowly changing), and so the best place to connect is in a luxury hotel lobby, an Internet cafe, or at a special designated WiFi location. The latter are easy to locate; just look for a big group of people staring at their phones (Here's a map). To use this WiFi, you have to buy a one-hour pre-paid card from ETECSA, which you can get either at one of their offices (1 CUC) or from a vendor on the street (3 CUC).

Internet Card - Travel to Cuba in 2017

An ETECSA Internet card. The other side has login information.

If you can, I strongly recommend avoiding the Internet completely while in Cuba. You’ll sleep better, feel less stress, and better focus on your trip. Since I spend so much time working online at home, I was worried about my ability to disconnect entirely for the 17 days I was in Cuba. Surprisingly, it was easy to avoid the Internet—save the one time that I logged on to see how it worked.

What should I pack for a trip to Cuba?

Normally I recommend packing as little as possible—the argument being that you can buy anything you need at your destination—but this isn’t the case in Cuba. Basic necessities like toothpaste or soap can be difficult to find. If there’s anything you cannot live without, bring it!

***Packing Checklist for Traveling to Cuba in 2017- A Guide for Americans***

What should I drink in Cuba?

Thanks to fresh ingredients, skilled bartenders, and delicious rum, Cuba has some fantastic cocktails; you’d be a fool not to try them! Local favorites to look out for include the Mojito, Cuba Libre, Canchanchara, and DaiquiriHowever, Cubans will tell you—as they give you a glass—that the only proper way to enjoy their rum is neat.

Mojitos at El Bodeguita - Travel to Cuba 2017

A bartender makes Mojitos at slightly-overrated El Bodeguita. Havana, Cuba.

The coffee is also excellent in Cuba. The most popular coffee drink is the café cubano, which is espresso mixed with sugar. Delicious!

Cuban beer is less spectacular. The best of a mediocre bunch is Cristal, a light lager. Skip the heavier Bucanero.

While Cubans pride themselves on public health policy, tap water can still be dangerous in Cuba. Always drink bottled water. A 1.5 L bottle should cost around 1.5 CUC, depending on location. Quality bars and restaurants should use bottled or purified water to create their ice cubes for cocktails but there are no guarantees.

What should I eat in Cuba?

Before I came to Cuba, everyone told me how dreadful the food was. That nothing had flavor and everything was the same. Thankfully, this was only partially true.

I quite enjoyed the food I ate in Cuba. It’s true that there isn’t a ton of ingrediental variety—almost every dish is some combination of rice, beans, and grilled meat—but there are a number of ways to prepare such items. Local favorites include Rope Vieja, Vaca Frita, Platanos Maduros, and Moros y Cristianos. None of these dishes are heavily spiced, but good ingredients allow you to avoid this. And if you have to have that extra kick, you can always bring a bottle of Tabasco or Sriracha.

Ropa Vieja at Palador Dos Amigos - Travel to Cuba in 2017

Ropa Vieja at Palador Dos Amigos. Havana, Cuba.

All restaurants—even the best ones—have limited menus, meaning that about half the items listed will not be available on any given day due to shortages. So don’t get your hopes set on one particular dish before you order!

Also, there’s not a ton of non-Cuban food on the island, but street vendors throughout the country sell pizza that tastes OK. If you frequently have cravings for ethnic food at home, bring something to hold yourself over with. And since food isn’t always readily available, pack a few stackable items (I brought Clif Bars because they’re easy to pack and nutritious).

How do I stay safe in Cuba?

Cuba is not dangerous. Whether out of a fear of governmental retaliation or general kindness, muggings and other violent crimes against tourists are basically unheard of. Theft does occur, however, so keep a careful watch on your personal possessions, especially in busy areas.

Outside of regular cat-calling, Cuban men will respect women’s space, especially if they are told that you have a boyfriend, husband, or fiancé. Sometimes that request to dance to the next salsa song is just a friendly gesture from an ever-hospitable nation.

The biggest threat to your safety in Cuba is contaminated food and drink. As I mentioned before, buy bottled water to drink and brush your teeth with. Watch out for sketchy-looking street food and only eat fruits and vegetables that you can peel. If you have a particularly sensitive stomach, start a probiotic regimen before you leave home and bring anti-diarrhea medication.

What should I bring home to the U.S. from Cuba?

Cuban-made items are still banned in the U.S., so stock up on the essentials like rum and cigars. For the cheapest prices on tobacco, buy directly from the plantations or at the duty free shops at the airport.

Tobacco rolling in Vinales - Travel to Cuba in 2017

A tobacco farmer rolls a cigar outside Viñales, Cuba.

Havana Club is the most popular brand of rum in Cuba, although all the locals I spoke to said Santiago de Cuba is a better rum at a lower price!

There are also lots of talented artists and woodworkers in Cuba that offer their pieces at a reasonable price. If you have the luggage space, take advantage of this.

Most importantly, bring back memories. Share the stories of the people you met and the things you saw. You can play an important role in molding the stateside narrative regarding the Cuban people. Take advantage of this power.

Musician in Vinales - Travel to Cuba in 2017

A cheerful musician in Viñales, Cuba.

Any more advice for a first-time traveler to Cuba?

For a start, try to leave your assumptions about the Cuban people and their government—good or bad—at home. Despite a lack of material goods, the majority of Cubans live lives that are as happy—if not more so—than ours. Objects don’t equal bliss.

Likewise, we hear a lot about the Castro regime in the U.S., and most of it is very bad. I’m not here to defend the actions of Fidel and Raúl, but I think it’s important to draw your own conclusions based upon what you see. Notice the things that work and those that don’t.

Fidel - Travel to Cuba in 2017

A sign honoring Fidel Castro. Santa Clara, Cuba.

Do be careful what you say, however. I haven’t heard of any Americans being punished for speaking critically of the regime, but I wouldn’t test your luck. Plus, it’s rather rude to openly criticize another country while traveling. I don’t think very many Americans would appreciate a foreigner coming to the U.S. and lambasting the Trump administration (OK, some might actually join in). Cubans may face harsh consequences for speaking ill of their government, so be careful what you ask them something, and respect their conversational limits.

Perhaps the most important thing to have when traveling to Cuba for the first time is an open mind. Things will be different. Many of the creature comforts you have at home—such as hot water, air conditioning, or the Internet—will be lacking. But you’ll be surprised at how quickly you can forget about these things when you embrace the Cuban way of living. Instead of surfing the web, dance the night away and sip mojitos!

Drinking a cocktail Vinales - Travel to Cuba in 2017

Visiting Cuba is like stepping into a 1950s time warp that’s been somehow infected by the year 2005. The buildings, cars, and music remind Americans of the Cuban Missile Crisis or the Godfather, Part II, but all around you there are hints that things are changing. The people have cellphones—albeit a few generations older than yours—and plasma TVs.  Forward-thinking youths use flash drives to spread the latest TV shows and uncensored world news throughout the country. Reforms are allegedly occurring in the government, and in a year Raúl Castro will step down. Foreign visitors are coming in increasingly large numbers, bringing a boost to the economy and providing locals with a direct contact with the outside world.

Cuba will, undoubtedly, change. Perhaps it will be gradual, taking place over a couple of decades. Or perhaps it will be swift. Perhaps it will take place in 2017.

We don’t yet know the exact timeframe, but we can see change on the horizon. This may be the only opportunity for Americans to visit the Cuba that we’ve grown up fantasizing about—the one with old cars, stinky cigars, and seductive salsa instructors. Do yourself a favor, and visit this year. Cuba may literally only be 100 miles from Florida, but they feel worlds apart.

Have you been to Cuba recently? Are you planning on going in 2017? Let me know what your experiences and/or expectations are in the comments below!

29 Comments

  1. Antoinette
    July 11, 2017 / 8:49 am

    Thank you for your post. It was an enjoyable read, and it included helpful tips. I hope to travel to Cuba one day!

    • Andrew Scott
      July 15, 2017 / 10:07 am

      Hey Antoinette,

      Thanks for the kind words–they mean a lot! I hope you are able to travel to Cuba as well some day. Let me know if you have any more questions. -Andrew

  2. Juli
    July 25, 2017 / 8:21 am

    I just spent 10 days in Havana and it was AMAZING! I totally fell in love with the country and am trying to figure out how I can get back there and explore more of it. Really nice article that lines up pretty well with my experience. :)

    • Andrew Scott
      August 3, 2017 / 10:20 am

      Hey, Juli–I’m glad to hear that you enjoyed your time in Havana! Like you, I too cannot wait to get back. What was the most memorable experience you had there?

      -Andrew

  3. GB
    August 19, 2017 / 10:01 am

    Wonderful blog. I just returned from this amazing place and wish I had read your article first.

    • Andrew Scott
      August 23, 2017 / 2:36 pm

      Hey, GB! Thanks so much for the kind words. It sounds like you’ll just have to take a return trip to Cuba then! :)

  4. catherine
    August 22, 2017 / 11:35 pm

    Hi, with the new travel restrictions, would I still be able to do a solo trip under support for the cuban people or is that the same as people to people? I’m a bit confused as I know people to people category falls under the education part but have also heard people reference the support for the cuban people as “people to people”. Thanks!

    • Andrew Scott
      August 23, 2017 / 3:16 pm

      Hey, Catherine–great question. According to the FAQs for the law, which you can find here–https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/Documents/cuba_faqs_new.pdf–‘people to people’ travel consists of “educational exchange activities intended to enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba, or promote the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities”, whereas ‘support for the Cuban people’ travel consists of “independent activity intended to strengthen civil society in Cuba.” As you can see, there’s not much difference between the two, at least in the way they’ve defined them. If you’re working with another organization such as a non-profit, I don’t think you will have a problem. Also, if you booked your trip prior to the announcement of the changes, then you are exempt from them. Otherwise, it does seem as though you may be taking a risk (major or minor, I cannot tell). Can you adjust your itinerary to fit another category just in case?

      • catherine
        August 24, 2017 / 6:43 pm

        thanks for the speedy response, it was very helpful! Do you know how feasible it is to travel under humanitarian travel? Any example of activities? I’m a public health student so I’d definitely be interested in visiting a local community health center when/if I visit Cuba. Unfortunately, I plan on visiting in March and with the possibility of the new regulations being in affect by then, I want want to make sure I don’t get into any trouble as a solo traveler. Thanks!

        • Andrew Scott
          August 27, 2017 / 12:38 pm

          Hey, Catherine. Happy to have helped. :)

          So I looked into it a bit more and it seems somewhat tricky to schedule a humanitarian-centric trip as a solo traveler. Because the internet is so bad in Cuba, the Cuban-based organizations with which you’d probably want to work with there have essentially no internet presence. Instead, it seems as though you have to work through third-party orgs, who charge you around $2000-$3000 to connect you with Cuban volunteer opportunities (and provide you with lodging). This is a tax-deductible fee. If you joined one of these groups, it appears you’d be–among other things–teaching English, helping in community gardens, landscaping parks, repainting buildings, and assisting the elderly. And of course there’s an aspect of cultural exchange as well.

          If you’re looking to be a bit more independent–and save some money–perhaps you could figure out which orgs these third-parties are assisting (either by asking them or doing some internet sleuthing) and try and reach out to them yourself. Alternatively, your University (or another academic who specializes in Cuba) might be able to directly connect you with a more-economical volunteer opportunity. I hope this helps!

  5. Ashley
    September 3, 2017 / 12:10 am

    Cuba is amazing! Everyone had me freaked out before going, but nothing was going to stop me. And all the bad things that people told me were totally wrong. I never felt unsafe. Havana is the cleanest city I have been to in any country. Sure some of the buildings are falling apart, but the government has a big restoration project going on to return them to their former glory. But there was not one piece of garbage on the ground! I looked hard. Barely even cigarette or cigar butts. Everyone was so nice. I was alone most of the time and never felt uncomfortable. I just got back yesterday and booked last minute as I saw a big price drop and I had zero issues. I booked a tour with fertours2cuba.com and it was the greatest day ever. My tour guide was so knowledgeable and passionate about Cuba. I spoke with other travelers who had taken other tours and I definitely got the best one. I learned so much. I was never bored for one minute the whole time I was there. I had that “5 year old on Christmas morning” when they first see all the presents feeling the whole time I was there. I have not one bad thing to say about my experience other than it was too short. I’m already planning my next vacation in April. Hopefully as long as a certain orange demon doesn’t mess it up. If someone tries to tell you something about Cuba and they have never been, just block out their words. You truly have no idea how wonderful the country and people are until you experience it yourself. I knew a lot of the bad things I heard were probably not true, but I had no idea exactly how much I would fall in love with it. I’ve travelled to many countries all over the world and Cuba is something special. I truly felt heartbroken when it was time to return. When I think about my time there is gives me those puppy love butterflies. Everybody go now! If you have been wanting to go but put it off for whatever reason, get out your cards and book it. You will not regret it. I could go on forever.

    • Andrew Scott
      September 26, 2017 / 10:25 pm

      Hey, Ashley. Thanks for sharing your story! It’s clear we share the same enthusiasm for Cuba and its people. And as you said, you cannot understand how magical it is until you visit. Have you decided where you will go next April?

      -Andrew

    • Alma
      October 6, 2017 / 12:04 am

      Hi Ashley, your post brought me comfort as I will be traveling there by myself last minute. Did you prearrange your accommodations? What tour did you do? Were you in Havana the whole time? Any recommendations?

  6. Alma
    October 5, 2017 / 10:30 pm

    Hi Andrew, thank you for all this information. I bought my flight before June 17 and had my sister traveling with me, but she has bailed out on me. Do you feel it’s safe for a female traveler? Did you have any issues going through customs when coming back to US? I’m so excited about going, yet I feel fear. I don’t want to miss out on this opportunity though.

    • Andrew Scott
      October 9, 2017 / 7:07 pm

      Hey, Alma. Great questions. I recently spoke to a solo female traveler who went to Cuba in August and she had no problems whatsoever at customs nor on the trip. Likewise, none of the women I met or traveled with while in Cuba had any issues whatsoever, when alone or with others. Yes, men would ask if they wanted to dance, but if they said ‘no’–or were only interested in dancing–they respected this decision. Whether this was due to a greater cultural respect for women or a fear of the consequences of running afoul with the government, I’m not sure. Having said that, I’m sure Ashley could speak more to what it is like to travel there as a female. I hope this helps!

    • Andrew Scott
      November 9, 2017 / 2:12 pm

      Thank you, Robin. I hope you’ll be able to make the trip there sometime!

  7. Juan
    November 27, 2017 / 9:36 am

    Thank you for the post. I am considering traveling to Cuba for the first time, since I have family there. My only concern is that I am a Cuban myslef (born there) and a naturalized US citizen, so I have a US passport that shows Cuba as country of birth. My parents escaped and defected in 1979, and haven’t been back since. Do I have reason to worry the government will know who I am and make things difficult? Do you know if the Cuban government looks at returning Cubans from the U.S. with disdain?

    • Andrew Scott
      December 7, 2017 / 9:36 am

      Hey, Juan! Sorry for the delay in getting back to you–I’ve been traveling myself for the past few weeks.

      That’s a great question. According to this article–https://www.cbsnews.com/news/cuba-to-ease-travel-restrictions-on-exiles-wanting-to-visit/–as of January 1, 2018 the Cuban government will start allowing people who have defected from the island to return using recreational vessels docking at either the Hemingway Marina in Havana or the Gaviota Marina in Varadero. It doesn’t say anything about allowing air travel to Cuba.

      Considering the potential seriousness of your question, however, I’d recommend contacting a immigration lawyer just to be safe.

      I hope this helps!

      -Andrew

  8. Mark Bonsignore
    December 3, 2017 / 11:11 pm

    Hey Andrew, your post is amazing and greatly informative!

    I am currently planning to travel to Cuba at the end of December for 12 days (leaving December 18th) and had a few questions regarding entry into Cuba and re-entry back into the states.

    My flights from the west coast (US) are as follows:
    To:
    SFO -> LA -> Havana

    Return:
    Havana -> LA

    As of November I know that my reasons for travel need to fall under 1 of 12 categories. The ones I thought I could easily apply for would be either one of the below:

    – Support for the Cuban People
    (imagine is the easiest? seems you only need to stay at Casas Paerticulares and “support local businesses”.)

    – Professional Research
    (I work for an environmental engineering company and imagine can come up with a professional looking itinerary on a company letter head or something similar)

    As of now, it seems like I’d mainly want to visit 3 regions in Cuba (any suggestions would be appreciated):
    – Havana
    – Vinales
    – Trinidad

    That being said, I can come up with an itinerary of what I will be doing, where I will be staying and what my day to day would look like. (For “where I am staying” in the itinerary you mentioned that in most locations you can find a casa particulare once you arrive, so will I be able to simply state the city, not the exact address?)

    Do you suggest or have you heard anything as of late that would require my trip to have a more legitimate itinerary?
    Any suggestions you can provide would be a huge help!

    Thank you!

    • Andrew Scott
      December 7, 2017 / 10:00 am

      Hey Mark,

      So sorry for the delay in getting back to you–I’ve been traveling myself for the past 3 weeks and am just now catching up on website stuff. Anyhow, onto your question!

      There is no requirement to present an itinerary upon entry or re-entry on a trip to Cuba, although I think you’re smart to create one in advance just in case. The U.S. Government can ask you for an itinerary from your trip to Cuba for up to ten years after you return home, however, to ensure that you’ve complied with all laws. To what degree this will be enforced in the future, I am unsure. With this in mind, there should be no issue if you fill in the specific address of a casa particulare when you return home.

      I think that limiting yourself to those 3 cities is a good idea. Getting from place to place in Cuba isn’t as easy as it is in some other countries, and I’d allow a complete day for travel between each city (delays in departure and unforeseen mechanical problems do occur).

      In regards to what I would recommend you do in each place, your day-to-day really depends on what category you travel under. According to the latest U.S. Governmental documents (found here: https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/Documents/cuba_fact_sheet_11082017.pdf) to travel under the Support of the Cuban People exemption, you would need to “engage in a full-time schedule of activities that result in meaningful interaction with individuals in Cuba. Such activities must also enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba, or promote the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities. Renting a room in a private Cuban residence (casa particular), eating at privately owned Cuban restaurants (paladares), and shopping at privately owned stores run by selfemployed Cubans (cuentapropistas) are examples of authorized activities; however, in order to meet the requirement of a full-time schedule, a traveler must engage in additional authorized Support for the Cuban People activities.” I couldn’t find a similarly-detailed example for the Professional Research exemption. If you let me know which category you choose I would be happy to help you brainstorm some activities.

      -Andrew

  9. Paola Jesse
    December 5, 2017 / 9:07 pm

    Great article Andrew! very helpful! My husband and I are traveling to Cuba in December for New Year. We booked our trip in May. Staying in a casa particular. We are not sure about which category to travel under, with all the recent changes. Any suggestions? Did you have any problems in customs coming back into the US or going out of Cuba? Did you buy the health insurance that supposedly is required to travel to Cuba? Thank you so much for your help!

    • Andrew Scott
      December 7, 2017 / 8:56 am

      Hey Paola,

      So glad you enjoyed the article. :) I had no trouble with customs either way. It was the same as coming and going from any other country. When I purchased my ticket through Southwest Airlines, the required health insurance was included automatically. I’d check with your airline to see if this is the case.

      Have you booked or signed any contracts other than the flights and the casa particular? I ask because any contracts you signed prior to Trump’s speech on June 16 still fall under the Obama-era travel rules. So if you’d signed up for a People-to-People trip in May, you’d still be able to take it. If not, then the choice of category depends on what you want to do when you get there. To ensure that your travel to Cuba is entirely legal, you need to focus your trip on one of the approved eleven categories, meaning that if you travel under the Religious activities exemption you must maintain (and document, as the government could potentially ask for documentation of your trip) a full schedule related to religious activities. With this in mind, I would suggest selecting a category based upon what you’d most be interested in doing in Cuba. Is there something in particular that you’d like to do/accomplish in Cuba? Another option would be to join a certified people-to-people group tour–there’s one listed on this website for around the New Year http://www.usacubatravel.org/ — but you’ll have to pay a premium. I’m sorry there’s no easy answer to your question.

  10. Paola Jesse
    December 7, 2017 / 7:45 pm

    Thank you for your answer Andrew! we are traveling to Cuba from Guatemala because my family lives there and we’ll be visiting from Christmas. We are flying with interjet and they don’t sell the insurance but told us that we can buy it at the Cuban airport when we arrive. I think we are going to travel under the Support of the Cuban people category. We didn’t sign any other contracts before the announcement from the government but I’ve been reading that you can travel independent under this category as long as you do activities to support the locals (eat in paladares, interact with the locals, shop in stores run by self employed Cubans, etc.). We definitely want to experience the real Cuba! learn and share with the Cubans.

    • Andrew Scott
      December 9, 2017 / 8:22 am

      Hey, Paola! Happy to have helped. That sounds like a fantastic trip! OK, buying at the airport sounds fine then. I love your desire to experience the real Cuba, the way the locals live! :)

      Looking at the latest announcement from the U.S. Government, found here, to legally travel under the Support of the Cuban People exemption you must “engage in a full-time schedule of activities that result in meaningful interaction with individuals in Cuba. Such activities must also enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba, or promote the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities. Renting a room in a private Cuban residence (casa particular), eating at privately owned Cuban restaurants (paladares), and shopping at privately owned stores run by selfemployed Cubans (cuentapropistas) are examples of authorized activities; however, in order to meet the requirement of a full-time schedule, a traveler must engage in additional authorized Support for the Cuban People activities.” I’m not entirely sure what else that would entail, but I imagine it would mean simply filling the rest of the day with activities that support the locals (as opposed to relaxing at a Government-run resort, etc.). I hope this helps.

      -Andrew

      • Paola Jesse
        December 12, 2017 / 8:36 pm

        It helps a lot Andrew!! Thank you so much for all your help! One last question. Do they accept dollars? or is better to convert them?

        • Andrew Scott
          December 13, 2017 / 3:37 am

          You’ll want to convert currency into Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUCs) when you arrive. There’s a currency exchange at the airport and I think at some hotels. Your ATM card probably will not work, so bring all the cash that you’ll need for your stay. There’s a special 10% fee for converting US Dollars to CUC (in addition to the regular currency exchange fee of 3%), so bring Euros instead.

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