There are certain places you can travel to on a whim. Cuba, however, is not one of those destinations. It takes a lot of research and planning to have a successful Cuban expeirence. If you don’t want to do all that but you still want to go, you can book a planned tour through whatever travel company has trips going there. If you want to save a little coin and plan a trip yourself though, you gotta be willing to put in some work. I’m going to hip you to a few things I think that you should know:
You can still go to Cuba
So y’alls little president or whatever has rolled back some of the Cuba initiatives that Obama put in place during his term. There are 12 acceptable categories you can choose from when going to Cuba (see the official list here). Under Obama’s relaxed policies, most people were going under the education people-to-people category (which is the exact one the 5-year-old currently sitting in office is removing). You can still go to Cuba though. Pick another category, go in a group tour under the group people-to people, or go to another country and then go to Cuba. The only times I had to disclose my category was when I booked my Airbnb and my flight. Customs/immigration on both ends did not ask nor did they care about which category I was visiting under (these bammas in Cuba didn’t even stamp my passport!).
You need a visa
You can get a visa either before you go or at the gate at the airport, depending on which airline you’re using. I flew with American and they use Cuban Travel Services for the visas. A representative will call you before your trip and you can get one ahead of time for $85. I waited and bought mine at the gate in Charlotte (connecting flight) for $100. My friends flew with Jet Blue and theirs was only $50.
You can exchange money before you go… or not
Some folks suggest changing your USD to Euros before you go and then exchanging the Euros for Cuban pesos once you get there. They charge a 10% penalty fee in addition to a 3% exchange fee if you convert USD. If you exchange any other currency to Cuban pesos, there is no penalty fee. I would suggest looking at the exchange rates because you will probably lose some money going from USD to Euros anyways. Do the math, see what works for your pockets.
Get you a good map app
Maps.me is CLUTCH. You can use it without using data or wifi (be prepared to unplug for MOST of your trip). It will give you gps like directions on how to get from point A to point B. Download before you go and you can save the places you want to visit in the app for when you get down there. Google trips is another good one. You can look up and save places you’re interested in and you can also see reviews of restaurants. A combination of maps.me and google trips should do you right.
Hotels there are pretty expensive so staying in casa particulares is recommended. These can be found on Airbnb, hostelword, yourcasaparticular, homestay, etc. Use a map app (from above) to see the location of the casas you’re looking at so you know if they are in a good area. I stayed in Vedado which was a pretty good neighborhood and was easily accessible to a lot of attractions.
Be okay with being off the grid
Wifi is not readily available everywhere as it is here. They have wifi parks you can go to and buy a wifi card that will give you X number of hours of internet usage. I did that once so I could contact one of my Airbnb hosts but other than that it was no internet for me. It felt really good. You don’t always have to be posting and uploading and talking to your followers. Be present and enjoy the experience.
This is just a little starter list of things to keep in mind and prepare for. There is much more. Any questions or any other tips please let me know in the comments! For more pictures please head over to my instagram @thediasporian!