Viñales Valley View
Cuba has long been a forbidden fruit for American travelers, but the tides are shifting. Over the past few years, there have been significant changes in U.S.-Cuba relations, making it easier for Americans to explore this captivating Caribbean island. In this blog post, we'll delve into the evolving landscape of Americans' ability to visit Cuba and what you need to know to plan your dream Cuban getaway.
Understanding the History
For decades, a complex web of travel restrictions and economic embargoes separated Cuba from the United States. However, recent developments have paved the way for increased travel opportunities. The 2015 reestablishment of diplomatic relations and the relaxation of certain travel regulations in the years that followed have made it more accessible for Americans to visit Cuba.
Purpose of Travel
The first step in understanding your ability to visit Cuba is identifying your purpose for the trip. Under U.S. law, travel to Cuba must fall under one of the 12 categories authorized by the Department of the Treasury. These categories include family visits, educational activities, humanitarian projects, professional research, and more. It's essential to ensure that your visit aligns with one of these categories to comply with U.S. regulations. The most general and most used reason given is support for the Cuban people. If you are just going for general travel purposes I would use this category. See American Airlines Travel Advisory for more info. https://www.aa.com/i18n/travel-info/international-travel/cuba.jsp
While restrictions have eased, some challenges remain. American tourists cannot simply hop on a plane to Havana for leisure travel. Travel to Cuba still involves specific licensing and documentation requirements. Be prepared to fill out a "Travel Affidavit" declaring your purpose of travel. Additionally, obtaining a Cuban tourist visa (known as a "tourist card") is a crucial step in planning your trip. Everyone entering Cuba must obtain insurance and a visa. I traveled to Cuba on American Airlines. The insurance required is $25 which was added to the price of the ticket. The visa required can be obtained at the Miami International Airport at the Cuba ready kiosk but is only available to those flying American Airlines. In the airport the fee is $100. Online the fee is $85. https://cubavisaservices.com/product/aa-visa-card/. If you are flying with Jetblue from New York, Fort Lauderdale, or Orlando you can purchase a visa at the Jetblue Kiosk. If you are flying other airlines you will need to check with that airline to see if they provide visas. If not you can purchase a visa entirely online through Ivisa. www.ivisa.com
Flights and Accommodation
Several U.S. airlines now offer direct flights to Cuban cities such as Havana, Varadero, and Santiago de Cuba. These flights provide more convenient access to the island. However, the availability of flights may vary, so it's wise to research and book well in advance. Regarding accommodations, Cuba offers a range of options from luxury hotels to cozy casas particulares (homestays). Booking in advance can help ensure a smooth trip. Americans can not support the Cuban government. The hotels are run by the Cuban government so your best bet for accommodations is to stay in a casa particulares or use Airbnb to locate someplace to stay. The listing for the place we stayed can be found here. https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/34474587? This was a great spot with an elevator. It was very clean and the host was great. We also booked 2 Airbnb experiences. One to Viñales https://www.airbnb.com/experiences/380249? and the other to the beaches of Varadero https://www.airbnb.com/experiences/1298619? I really like the Varadero area it is beautiful. I didn’t like Havana too much and I was glad we didn’t stay in the central Havana area. It is too chaotic and crowded for my taste. I think the area we stayed in was perfect because it was not far from the action but not in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Havana. We enjoyed all of our meals in Cuba but my my favorite restaurant was Antojos in Havana Sign at Antojos
Currency and Banking
Cuba has a dual currency system: the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) and the Cuban Peso (CUP). While tourists often use CUC, it's advisable to have some CUP for local experiences. U.S. credit and debit cards Will not work in Cuba, so it's essential to carry enough cash for your trip. Consider exchanging currency in advance or at the airport. My friend actually bought Euro from her US bank because we heard that they charge a surcharge on US Dollars in Cuba. We took EUROS as our currency to spend in Cuba.
Internet and Communication
Cuba's internet infrastructure is improving, but it can still be unreliable—just plan on being offline for the majority of your stay. We bought internet cards and they worked sporadically throughout our stay. More didn’t work than did work.
Important Note: Life can be difficult in Cuba and supplies can be hard to come by, so please bring your toilet paper, wipes, and soap everywhere you go. Imagine my surprise going into a public restroom to find no toilet paper or paper towels. Luckily my travel backpack always has wipes and sanitizer in it.
The ability for Americans to visit Cuba has become more accessible in recent years, but it's important to navigate the changing landscape with knowledge and preparation. By understanding the purpose of your trip, adhering to U.S. regulations, and making careful plans, you can experience the unique culture, history, and natural beauty of Cuba while staying within the bounds of the law. As the relationship between the United States and Cuba continues to evolve, opportunities for travel to this captivating island are likely to expand further, creating more possibilities for Americans to explore the Jewel of the Caribbean.
View from Varadero Beach