I have been getting tons of questions about Cuba lately! It is an amazing country and one of the most vibrant places I have ever traveled to. I visited in February 2017, right before our government decided to enforce more restrictions for U.S Citizens. Here are the major differences:
Can U.S Citizens Go to Cuba Independently?
The short answer is….YES. We can still travel independently under ELEVEN categories.
In 2017, I went under the “Support for the Cuban People,” category, which is still an option! Previously, people traveled under another classification, which is now only a possibility with a licensed tour group. Currently, Support for the Cuban People is the more popular category Americans travel under independently. According to the Department of Treasury Cuba Fact Sheet, your visit must have a few aspects present to qualify under Support for the Cuban People,
The new Cuba travel policy increases the need to focus on traveling like a local and spending your money in local establishments run by private citizens. The more you support and engage with locals, the less likely you’ll be to hit any snags related to the new policy.
Essentially, I could go to Cuba right now with my exact itinerary from last February and be fine! Please have a detailed one and keep all your receipts! It is best to be safe than sorry with our current government.
In addition, here are a few Cuba Tips I wrote that still apply….
BUDGET CAREFULLY. US bank and credit cards are illegal in Cuba. All the physical money you take over there will be all you have. You can take and exchange USD to their tourist currency, CUC, but there will 10% penalty for exchanging US money. I took over Euros and ended up with 630 CUC. I spent 629, after paying for food, souvenirs, drinks, tours and activities.
Pack tissues, wipes, hand sanitizer and soap. If you plan on taking a trip out of Havana, I highly suggest this! During my day trips to Varadero and Vinales, there was rarely any.
Use Airbnb! I feel like my experience wouldn't have been as rich as it was if I stayed in a hotel. Not only that, but Airbnb's are very affordable. I shared a room of a two bedroom apartment for four nights for $65 dollars.
Fly an airline that makes the visa easy and cheaper. As an American, you need a visa to go to Cuba. I flew JetBlue to Ft Lauderdale, and Ft Lauderdale to Havana. I bought my visa for $50 directly from them right before boarding my flight to Havana. I wasn't asked any questions and felt the visa process was a breeze. I have heard of some airlines going through a 3rd party provider to supply visas and they can charge up to $100.
Pay for things in advance. After going once, I probably won't do this one myself again, but I highly suggest it for folks who are going for the first time. I paid for three of my tours before I got there through Urban Adventures. It was another $175 that I did not have to worry about being in my budget. Same with Airbnb, I was able to totally pay for housing before heading out there. It made things a bit more manageable.
Save your itinerary and receipts. It upsets me to see people tell other folks that they don't have to have an established itinerary or worry about being questioned. We just don't know if that’s the case. You can be questioned for up to 7 years after your trip. With this administration, you need to have your stuff together, just in case!
Download Maps.me beforehand. Maps.me is an offline map app that lets you download a city's map to your phone. You will be able to get directions from one place to another without having to use data or the internet. This saved me AND my taxi drivers, a few times.
Be okay with being unplugged. The internet in Cuba is an absolute joke. That is not necessarily a bad thing. I enjoyed not having the ability to be caught up on Instagram, Facebook or whatever else I waste my time on everyday. I was able to buy internet to tell my parents that I was okay, from Hotel Habana Libre for 5 CUC for 1 hour. That 1 hour includes loading time, so it was really only about 40 minutes and you can forget about uploading videos.
Stay somewhere central to save on taxis/budget for them. This is one thing that I can say that I was not prepared for. Cabs are expensive! Anytime I had to go somewhere by myself, I took a hit because one, they target tourists/people who don't speak Spanish and two, I had no one to split the cost with. Most of the time, I had my tour guide or host help hail a taxi for me and they were less brutal with the price quote.
Take lots of photos. I seriously took the best photos out there! It such a colorful place. The buildings are dated, but you can feel the history. I wish I had my camera then. I would have taken a lot more, but I ran out of space on my phone :(
*I am not an expert or travel agent. If you have any more questions its best to contact one at ViaHero.com
I have always wanted to travel and after years of aspiring, I am finally able to see the world! Join me as I explore, learn, discover and most importantly, LIVE!