As the door to travel to this lovely island has only recently re-opened to many Americans, I often hear get a lot of questions regarding how to go about planning for a trip to Cuba.
In this post I’ll go over the basics for traveling to Cuba, such as travel document requirements (e.g., Visas), selecting the time of year to visit, finding a flight, selecting a place to stay, and general tips on what to expect when you’re there.
So if you’ve ever thought about heading to Cuba, this article is for you. While this article will be geared to those readers who are traveling from the U.S., it will include content relevant to any traveler to this country as well.
Getting There | Travel Documents + Flights
As an American traveling to Cuba, it is still technically illegal to travel to the country as a tourist. Given this fact, you will need a special license in order to get into the country. Most travelers heading to the country for general purposes will select the “Support for the Cuban People” option, but you can find the list on the US Embassy in Cuba website.
Once you’ve identified your purpose for travel, you’ll need to keep that in mind, as you’ll be asked to provide this information on several occasions. I had to provide this information when booking flights. I provided it again when I filled out my information for by Cuban Visa.
All travelers to Cuba are required to obtain a visa before entry, and there are three ways that you may do this:
- Purchase the visa at the gate in the airport before the last leg of your flight to Cuba. The cost of the visa will vary by the airline that you take, but you can expect to spend $50 for the visa plus a processing fee, which is about $25 – $35. This is probably the easiest method, and the option that I selected for my flight to Cuba.
- Purchase the visa directly from the Cuban embassy in your country.
- Purchase the visa from a travel agency or a website such as cubavisaservices.com.
*Note that the exact cost and method of receiving the information does vary by airline. Remember to check with your airline on the appropriate procedures as soon as you book your flight!
You can now book flights direct from many major cities in the US, such as NYC, Miami, Atlanta, Charlotte, and LA. Additionally, most major airline carriers fly into Havana, including:
- American Airlines
- Alaska Airlines
- United Airlines
- and more!
When to Visit | Peak and Off-Peak Season
Peak season for traveling to Cuba is from October through April. During this time you’ll experience the most pleasant weather, with less humidity and little rain as this is the dry season. This is also the time when you’ll experience the most tourists, as they’ll be looking for the pleasant weather as well.
The rainy season falls from May through September, but this does not mean that you’ll experience monsoon-type rain. I visited for a week last May, and we only experienced rain on one day, and it only lasted for about an hour. My personal preference is to visit during the end / beginning of the off-peak season to avoid being there with many other tourists, but still miss the heavier rain periods.
Where to Stay | Casa Particulares and Hotels
You have several options for stay in Cuba. When traveling most think of staying in a hotel in order to get the most amenities, but I highly recommend staying in a Casa Particular while there. Also, due to new restrictions posed on travel to Cuba by the current administration, there are now many restrictions for hotels that Americans may stay in. You can find the complete listing here.
The benefits of staying at a Casa Particular is that you get some insight into what daily life in Cuba is like. When I visited Cuba last May with my friends, we stayed in this Casa Particular in Central Havana and were very well taken care of. We had the option to get breakfast every morning and were also able to coordinate in-room massages and excursions with the owner of the house. We left feeling like we were part of the family!
The benefit of booking via Airbnb is that you can pay in advance. I will note that they typically are a bit more expensive, on average, than some of the other listed sites. But if you are interested in a private space, rather than a shared house, you are more likely to find those in Airbnb. It’s all a matter of preference.
What to Expect | Money, Activity Planning, Getting Around
One important factor to consider when planning for a trip to Cuba is money. As an American, you are not able to pull out money from ATMs once you arrive in the country. You are not able to use American credit cards for purchases neither. For these reasons, it is necessary to pull out all the money that you’ll need for your entire trip and bring it with you.
My friends and I purchased as much as we could before arriving (e.g., activities), and then set a budget for each day on what to spend. We then tacked on enough for an additional day in case of emergencies. We found that budgeting $100/day was enough, but that amount will vary by how you choose to spend your time in Cuba.
There are so many unique experiences that you can have while in Cuba. During my visit to Cuba, we spent time learning how to salsa, touring Havana, and visiting the beach. We leveraged the Havana Tour Company site and Cuba-Excursions.com to find and book our activities.
If you like to be a bit more spontaneous with the activities that you choose, it is a good idea to reach out to the owner of your Casa Particular or hotel concierge to get help in booking excursions. Many Cubans who work in the tourist sector are well-connected and more than happy to help you with this.
For a more detailed view of top activities for Cuba, check out this post!
Getting Around Havana:
Havana is a pretty walkable city, especially if you stay in Old Havana. This is the most tourist-friendly part of the city. If you stay a bit further out, it is relatively easy to find a cab.
We stayed in Central Havana and used the latter option quite often. When hailing taxis, be sure to negotiate the price up front. Most taxis will try to raise the fare a bit if they recognize that you are not local.
Planning for a trip to Cuba | Final Thoughts
As you can see, there are a lot of things to keep in mind when planning for a trip to Cuba. But with this post (and the downloadable checklist above), you should not have any trouble!
Cuba has a special place in my heart – I’ve never felt more welcomed by strangers in any other place I’ve visited. I highly encourage you to interact with the locals as much as possible when you visit Cuba. Allot some free time in your schedule just to do this. I’m certain you’ll feel as enchanted as I do with this island if you do.
For those of you who have visited Cuba before, what tips do you have? Share them in the comments below!