So you are ready to book a trip to Cuba? Here are a few things you should know before departing for your trip.
Under the US embargo, travel to Cuba for US citizens is still not prohibited, unless your trip falls under one of the twelve categories below.
1. Family visits
2. Official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments and certain intergovernmental organizations
4. Professional research or meetings
5. Educational (people to people) activities
6. Religious activities
7. Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions and exhibitions
8. Support for the Cuban people
9. Humanitarian projects
10. Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes
11. Exportation, importation or transmission of information or information materials
12. Certain authorized export transactions.
In order to get into Cuba as a U.S. citizen, you will need a visa. You can contact your airline carrier to determine how to obtain a visa for Cuba. Cuba Travel Services is the company that handles the visa process for American Airlines. The cost of the visa by mail is $85. If you decide to get it at the airport, the cost increases to $100.
Another thing to note is that in Cuba the Cuban immigration officer will stamp your tourist card, not your Passport.
Update: The visa cost for both Southwest and JetBlue airlines when purchasing your in advance is $50.
The Cuban government requires that all travelers have travel insurance to cover medical expenses. Your airline carrier should offer insurance when you book your trip. You can also do a google search for travel insurance.
There are two currencies in Cuba, CUC and CUP. CUP (Cuban Pesos) is the local currency primary used by locals. CUP’s are highly used in the neighborhoods of Havana and amongst local taxi drivers. CUC (Cuban Convertible Pesos) is the national currency. CUC is the currency you want to exchange your money for.
You can tell the difference in CUC and CUP by the color and imagines on each. CUC is brighter and has monuments on the front, while CUP is duller in color and has people on the front. When being given change, make sure you are given back the correct currency.
1 CUC = 4 CUP, and 1 CUC = 1 USD.
To avoid the 10% penalty fee charged for exchanging US dollars, it is best to take Euros to Cuba. Before departing for your trip exchange your dollars for Euros at your local bank. Most major banks keep Euros on hand. If you are with a smaller bank like a Credit Union which may not have Euros or the ability to get them, head to Wells Fargo. Wells Fargo will exchange dollars for Euros for noncustomers for a $7 fee.
Once you arrive in Cuba, you can exchange your Euros for CUC. Your passport is required for all currency exchanges. To avoid getting counterfeit money, do not exchange with anyone on the street. Any remaining CUC you have once your trip is over can be exchanged at the airport.
If you decide to take US dollars to Cuba make sure they are new, with no rips, tears or markings. American credit or debt cards are not accepted in Cuba, so be sure to take enough money.
You can arrange airport pickup with your Airbnb host or hotel. Cost of an airport pickup should cost between 100-125 CUC's per car, with a max of 4 people per car load.
Local taxi’s are the classic cars that will pick up multiple people along the way. These taxi's will cost 1 CUC per person max. Yellow taxis will cost a bit more than the local taxi’s. You can expect to pay between 3-7 CUC for the same ride in a yellow taxi.
If you are adventurous and traveling light buses are another option. The buses get super packed, but should cost no more than .25 CUC.
Your Airbnb host or hotel Manager are good sources to use when determining how much you should pay for a taxi.
Booking lodging can be done online for both hotels and Airbnb’s. One of the good things about using Airbnb to book is you get to pay in advance for your lodging using a credit card. Most hotels will require you to pay upon check in. Lodging cost will vary depending on size and amenities.
PHONE / INTERNET
When visiting Cuba you will have to learn to be ok with being disconnected. As of October 2016, American phone carriers do not provide call plans for Cuba. T-Mobile will allow you to text for $0.50 a text.
To connect to the internet in Cuba, you have to a buy wifi card which can only be used within a Wi-Fi zone. Some homes are equipped with Wi-Fi, but you must have a Wi-Fi card to access the internet. There are also Wi-Fi zones located throughout the city in places like the park.
You can purchase Wi-Fi cards at hotels or at the airport. Wi-Fi cards cost 2 CUC each. One Wi-Fi card provides you with 1 hour of Wi-Fi time. The cards sell out quickly so secure as many as you need when they are available. Connection to the Wi-Fi in Wi-Fi zones may still be spotty, don’t expect 4G speeds.
The Hop On Hop Off bus is the cheapest and easiest way to see most of the city in a day, at only 5 CUC per person. The tour bus operates from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm, on a half hour schedule.
Your Airbnb host is a great source for booking tours. They can connect you to someone who offers tours, or they will serve as your tour guide. Depending on the tour, from Havana, you can expect to pay 160 – 200 CUC per car, max 4 people per car.
Popular tour spots include stops at Plaza de Revolucion, Mosaic neighborhood also called Fusterland, tour of Old Havana, Christ of Havana, Muraleando, and Callejón de Hamel. Day tours to Varadero for the beaches, Vinales for the beautiful mountains and cigar farms or Trinidad.
(Prices mentioned based on my visit in September 2016.)
For more 1st hand information on Cuba, be sure to join us at Sisters Traveling Solo on Facebook and IG @sisterstravelingsolo