Your Guide To Cuba

One of the most talked about destinations right now is Cuba, everyone wants to go but very few know exactly how they can get there. There is tons of information on the Internet telling us we can but the more we read, the less convinced we become that it’s actually possible. In this guide to Cuba, we share a personal experience and walk you through how you can do it too. Get ready to plan your trip to Cuba without having to spend all of your hard earned money on the information to get there.
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By now most of us know that as of last year, the U.S Embassy eased up on the regulations imposed on Americans to travel to Cuba. One of the main issues is that not all airlines or airports have gotten the clearance to start chartering flights (Things have slightly changed since so we gave you an update as well, keep reading). Below I share how I got there along with some tips for your stay.
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I flew to Cuba out of Miami. My flight to Cuba cost me $349 dollars. Aside from having a valid passport you will also need a tourist Visa which will cost you roughly around $100. If you do not live in Miami you will have to find a way to get there before your trip. In my case I flew from New York to Miami and got my Visa at the MIA airport. To obtain a visa to Cuba you can get it at an airport in any international getaway that offers service to Cuba. In this case, Miami Airport is an International getaway airport. If you are unsure if the airport you’re flying into Cuba from is an International getaway airport, just know that a “Gateway airport” is the final airport before departing the U.S. If your ticket goes: LGA>MIA>CUBA, the getaway airport is defined as the airport you leave FROM to get to Cuba, in this case: MIA.

Because I traveled during holiday season, my roundtrip ticket New York-Miami came out to $317. Making my total flight cost to $766.

I spent 2 weeks in Cuba and spent close to $800 which includes what I spent on accommodations, food, trips to the beaches and excursions. It was also spent on alot of mojitos, transportation methods to get around and souvenirs!

Getting There
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Travel Agency: Americamia
Location: Miami, FL

[Update: Earlier this year the president announced the loosening of travel regulations. Also, as of June 2016, airlines began to annouce service to Cuba which started as early as summer and we will see more of for this Fall. Because of this, you can self-certify that you are in one of the 12 approved categories for traveling to Cuba with no advanced proof required. The categories are pretty broad, see where you can fall under. Note that traveling to Cuba for “tourist” reasons is not permitted. What does this mean? Read below:

*Please note this advise doesn’t apply to Cuban Nationals*

-The 12 categories are:
1. I am a Cuban National and resident of Cuba
2. Educational activities, including people-to-people exchanges open to everyone
3. Professional research and professional meetings
4. Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions and exhibitions
5. Religious activities
6. Humanitarian projects
7. Journalistic activities
8. Family visits
9. Activities in Cuba by private foundations, or research or educational institutes
10. Support for the Cuban people
11. Exportation, importation, or transmission of information technologies or materials
12. Certain authorized export transactions including agricultural and medical products, and tools, equipment and construction supplies for private use

-Travelers are expected to have a full-time schedule of activities related to their category of travel. If your selected category is number 2, for example, make sure you include in your itinerary something that supports that. Just make sure you are covered in the event they ask to see your planned itinerary.
-You must have health insurance.
-You will need your passport and you will also need a Visa. You can buy your Visa at a getaway international airport (as we stated above). The Visa should cost you approximately $50.

So now that you know how you can get there here’s some additional information you must know:

– You’re only allowed 44 lbs so pack light and pack smart!
– The airport will charge you a $28 fee for your return, but this fee is charged in the U.S.
-Take the cash you need because Debit and Credit cards issued in the U.S do not work in Cuba yet.
– It’s important you take everything you need because Cuba lacks a lot of things and it will be impossible to find whatever you’re missing. Make a checklist before your trip!
– Book your stay before you go and make sure you have someone to pick you up at the airport. Know the address you’re going to.
-Remember you’ll need to have:
Passport, Printed copies of your itinerary, and Proof of Medical Insurance.

Casa Particulares, Hotels & Taxis
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Casa Particulares are common in Cuba: you rent a room in a house and get provided with home cooked meals. The average cost is $20-35 a day. Most will include the meals, others will charge you extra. For your first time in Cuba I will recommend to book a room near old Havana which is where all the main attractions are at. Another great option is in Vedado, a middle class neighborhood not too far from Old Havana, which is where I stayed. I found Vedado to be pretty easy to get around. More information on Casas Particulares HERE.

If you feel safer at a hotel, your best bet is to book any of the hotels that are by Parque Central (central park) which is right in the middle of everything you need to see. This is a more expensive option. Also note that everything is pricey in the hotels so steer clear from purchasing everything from them if possible.

Taxis from and to the airport will cost you 25 CUC (Cuba currency). Cuba has “shared taxis” you hail in the street and for 1 CUC can take you where you’re going. A private taxi will depend on the distance, but it shouldn’t exceed 15 CUC to a further destination, or 4-7 CUC if it’s within the neighborhood or nearby. Whatever the case may be remember to always negotiate, but keep it fair! If they know you are a tourist they will often try to get you for your money. However, remember they are also making a living so do not take advantage either. Always keep this in mind!

Taxis I used and recommend:
Andres (535) 250 2742
Daniel (535) 281 0424

Currency & Wi-Fi
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Cuba has two currencies: CUP and CUC. The CUP is the Cuban peso aka “money’s nacional” and the CUC is the Cuban convertible aka “dollar”. The CUP you can use in certain places like street markets, cheap eateries and to take public transportation. The CUC is generally accepted everywhere else. I exchanged my U.S dollars in the house I stayed in. They gave me $92 CUC for 100 dollars (1 CUC = 24 CUP “moneda nacional”). I would suggest asking if the place you’ll be staying at exchanges money. Steer away from exchanging your money at the airport because you will get less. For example, they were offering around 84 CUC for 100 dollars. If you exchange your money elsewhere, make sure you find someone/somewhere that’s trustworthy. Phone applications such as XE currency, help you know what a U.S dollar converts to in CUC.

Cuba has no accessible WiFi unless you buy a card and you’re at a hotspot. The cards are provided by Etecsa. The cards are called nauta and provide you with an hour of Internet. If you buy them directly from the agency they cost 2 CUC. You can also purchase them in the street for 3 CUC or from hotels for anywhere between 5-10 CUC. If you can’t live without your phone and being connected, you will learn how to in Cuba!

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Things To Do

Cuba has a tremendous amount of character and beauty. It is very raw and picturesque. Cuba is also very safe, the crime rate is very low and the punishment is severe. Always keep your eyes peeled on your things but don’t be too consumed with panic about getting assaulted or robbed, as it is not very common.

You’re finally in Cuba so…

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-Gett lost in the narrow streets of the different plazas and walk around admiring the old cars and architecture
-Check out the local artists and galleries
-Have ice cream from helado’d’oro and try flavors like almendron, guava or mojito. They are 100% natural and just 1 CUC a scoop.
-Check out the Museum of Bellas Arte for 5 CUC and the Museum of La Revolucion for 8 CUC. (Tip: we heard if you can get away with passing as a Cuban, that price can be paid in CUP which is a lot cheaper)
-Go to the Playas Del Este! The cheapest way to get there is to get a transtur bus in Parque central for 5CUC (roundtrip). These beaches are beautiful!
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-Go to El Moro and catch the views of El malecon, La plaza vieja and of course the sunset. There’s also a museum in there and many canyons that surround the area as well as local street vendors selling souvenirs, art and hand made items.
-Go to “El Cañonazo de las 9” ceremony. Price: 8 CUC but worth i! This takes place every night at 9pm in La Plaza de Armas. You will see soldiers, dressed in traditional uniforms, gathering to set off a canon.
– Ride the Havana tour bus for a full day for $10. Yes, you can get on and off as many times as you want!

Nightlife
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If you have any Cuban friends then you know they know how to party! Nightlife in Cuba kicks off on Wednesday with plenty of bar and some nightclub options. Here are some worth mentioning:

Fabrika de Arte: a multi-level space playing different music in different rooms while showcasing art.

Bolabana: popping bar that looks more like a club. If you are feeling like balling out Bottles are roughly $20 dollars! They have great music and I went dress to impress on a Wednesday night.

Clubs/bars in Miramar/ Marina Hemingway are good on weekends. I definitely suggest you check out “El Cangrejo”.

Maximo Bar has trap music and good mojitos. It is a cool afternoon spot near old Havana/El Malecon.

The bars along Calle 23 are also worth checking out.

In case you haven’t picked up on this by now, Mojitos are not only delicious but most are as low as $3! The best Mojito, in my opinion, can be found at El Nacional for $5, which is still cheaper than prices in cities such as New York.

Excursions & Trips
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Varadero is a must you can either rent a driver for the day that’s what we did for 100 bucks or take Via Azul a cheaper alternative I believe it’s 15 to go and 15 to come it’s a bus that’s found in Central Park

Trinidad is 5/6 hours away from Habana so is recommended to spend the night. Good for nature lovers and cigar lovers

Viñales is about 2-3 hours away, there are rivers, tobacco plantations, botanical gardens, museums and great local food. You can take a bus (via azul) or do a tour (transtur) and come back the same day. It is definitely worth checking out for at least a day.

Some More Key Takeaways
-Don’t let them hustle you, always negotiate the price if it’s not set in stone.
-Always eat away from hotels, you’ll find cheaper spots with the same, if not better, quality of food.
-Take sneakers and casual clothes! Local people don’t really dress up unless it’s to go out at night.
-Check your surroundings and be aware! In certain areas you’ll notice you are better off speaking either English or Spanish.
-Havana is a safe city but always keep track of your things and if you find yourself lost ask older people for directions instead of the younger crowd.

We hope this guide has served as a roadmap to your next vacation to Cuba. If you have any additional comments or questions feel free to leave them below!

Safe travels,
-Zulay Antonio
Twitter and Instagram:
@miiszstarr
Additional edits and info:
-Susi Garcia
@Suzzstravels

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3 comments Add yours
  1. Hello, I just booked travel through AA to Cuba for this fall and was wondering about the current restrictions including no tourist activities and no tourists on beaches. How can I get around this? Will the country require proof of one of the 12 reasons for visiting ?

    1. Hi Maria,

      At the time we wrote this we couldn’t self certify ourselves, meaning and agent was the one to set us up saying our visit DID fall under one of the 12 sanctions. Now you can self-certify that you are in one of the 12 approved categories for traveling to Cuba with no advanced proof required. The categories are pretty broad, see where you can fall under. Have a plan just in case they ask. “Support for the cuban people” is very broad and leaves alot of room.

      As stated above, the author visited multiple places including the beaches so it’s not like they’ll go after you to make sure you aren’t visiting them. Hope this helps.

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