Hi Paradise Seekers! So you want to sip Mojitos and ride in antique cars? Read on, because this is what you need to know before traveling to Cuba. I found that planning my trip wasn’t as easy as 1-2-3. There are still many unknowns about Americans traveling to Cuba and some of the information out there can be misleading or confusing. Since I was going to be disconnected from the world for a few days –because it’s very hard and expensive to have Internet access in Cuba– I wanted to make sure I knew everything I possibly could before I left Miami.
And…because sharing is caring, I decided to write this post as a Cuba Travel FAQ so your trip can be as smooth as possible. I have included some of the questions that were sent after my Instagram post so if you know anyone that’s going there soon, be a darling and share this post.
- What documents do I need to travel to Cuba?
Technically Americans cannot travel to Cuba for tourism. But don’t fret; you can still book your trip by traveling under the Education category license specifically the “People-to-People” section. You will also need a Visa, which you can purchase at the Airline counter when you check-in for your trip. If you book your flight with JetBlue, you will receive an email with a link to fill out a questionnaire (a.k.a an affidavit); this document will be in your itinerary records so you will only need to show your passport at the airport and pay $50. Other airlines, like Southwest, allow you to order your Visa online but you still have to pick it up at the check-in counter.
- How early should I get to the airport?
You should anticipate arriving at the airport three hours before your flight. Remember you will need to buy /pick up your Visa at the check-in counter, and while the process is easy, traveling to Cuba is becoming more popular. The lines may take longer and you don’t want to be running across terminals hoping the plane hasn’t left without you. Count on the same amount of time coming back.
- How much money should I take for my vacation?
I recommend about $100 USD per person per day. This should be enough for meals (assuming you have breakfast where you’re staying), taxis, your drink quota (if you’re not planning to completely pass out by noon), museum visits and some souvenirs.
My advice is to take enough to have a comfortable cushion. Credit cards won’t work over there and it’s more of a pain to try to get more money out of an ATM.
Also, exchange your USD for Euros in the States and then exchange the Euros to CUC once in Cuba. By having Euros, you will avoid paying the high exchange tariff for American dollars. Keep in mind CUC is the currency for foreigners in Cuba and CUP is the local currency. Pay attention when making the exchange.
- Where should I stay?
You have the option of staying at a Government-run hotel or at a private home, bed-and-breakfast-style, called a casa particular.
- Some iconic hotels, like El Nacional where the likes of Winston Churchill and Frank Sinatra spent their Havana Nights, are located in the Vedado neighborhood and have nice views of El Malecón. The Saratoga, located in Old Havana and made famous by Jay-Z and Beyoncé’s visit, is more extravagant but beautiful… your budget will dictate your splurge.
- My recommendation is to stay at a casa particular. These are a much less expensive alternative and you will immerse yourself in the Cuban culture more. Experience Cuba like a local and get a delicious breakfast with your stay! I stayed on Obispo Blvd. in the heart of Old Havana and it was walking distance to many must-see places. **Don’t expect luxurious lodging, space may be tight and you won’t get a variety of amenities like you might at a hotel, but I assure you the experience will be much more enriching. You can book a Casa Particular through a specialized travel agent or on Airbnb!
- How do I get around?
If you’re staying in Old Havana, you can get to the area’s main sites by foot. However, you should definitely try to tour other neighborhoods like Vedado and Miramar and drive along the Malecón. You can hire a driver with an antique car. He can take you around everywhere and serve as a guide. Your alternatives include, taxis (usually $10 CUC per ride); coco-taxis (motorcycles with an attached two-seater carriage, usually between $8-10 CUC) and bike-taxis ($4-5 CUC). Make sure to establish your rate before taking the ride.
- Where should I eat?
There are government restaurants and paladares particulares (privately-owned restaurants, usually in people’s houses). The menu everywhere is pretty much the same: choice of protein + rice and beans with a side of veggies. Be flexible, as some places may have a menu item out of stock, this is typical.
- Government restaurants are usually cheaper (around $10-15 CUC per lunch, no drinks included) but the quality may be diminished.
- Paladares particulares are typically more expensive, as they cater more to tourists (lunch may be between $15-17 CUC and as high as $25 CUC). However, portions are much larger and the owners pay more attention to quality, flavor and experience.
Some of my recos for paladares include La Familia in Old Havana and La Casa in Vedado. For dinner, I highly recommend La Guarida, an iconic Paladar in Havana that offers gourmet-style dishes. The decor is gorgeous and the view from the balcony is mesmerizing (dinner for two ~$80 CUC).
If you’re expecting pastelitos on every corner or croquetas for an appetizer wherever you go, you will be disappointed. I was… I wanted to try an authentic Cuban croqueta in Havana but didn’t see it on any menu. If you venture out to a local cafeteria and find some, please please please let me know for my next visit!
- What’s the Wi-Fi situation?
Not easily available and very expensive where accessible. I suggest you disconnect and immerse yourself in the culture. You won’t regret it. (I suggest you take a printed map of Havana though since you won’t have access to Google Maps.)
- Should I venture out of Havana?
If you’re doing a quick weekend trip, which is what I did, take advantage of what Havana has to offer. You will be able to experience the spirit of the people and the city by walking the streets of Old Havana, visiting the Revolution and Fine Arts museums, exploring the multiple plazas, enjoying live music on every corner and touring nearby neighborhoods and tourist sites. You can also take advantage of the nightlife by going to Fabrica de Arte Cubano for and artsy-modern-club-scene.
If you’re going for a week or more, I definitely suggest venturing out and exploring the countryside or the beautiful beaches of Varadero. I will definitely be doing this on my next visit.
Do you have other questions? If so, comment below or shoot me an email!