7 Things To Know Before Traveling to Cuba
Thinking of traveling to Cuba, but worried about how to get there?
We got you.
Traveling to Cuba is still totally possible and legal. We think now, more than ever, is the time to go. Cuba is in the midst of a complete revitalization and there’s truly an energy in Cuba that can’t be beat!
So what are you waiting for? After reading these seven tips, you’ll be ready to jet to charismatic Cuba and experience its one of a kind allure.
1. Yes, you can still visit Cuba legally—just don’t expect to sunbathe all day.
Sure you’ve heard President Trump recently made some changes to the way Americans can legally visit Cuba, but American travel to Cuba is absolutely still legal and should be taken advantage of in the near future.
So what exactly is the deal for those looking to travel to Cuba?
First, you have to meet the “Support for the Cuban People” requirements (“Educational People to People Travel”, how most Americans were traveling prior to the announcement, is no longer the best option).
Each day, you must spend at least 6 hours doing activities that “intends to strengthen civil society in Cuba.” These activities include shopping at small businesses, eating in local (not chain) restaurants, conversing with Cubans, etc.
Essentially, don’t expect to head straight to the beach, mojito in hand, and sunbathe all day.
Being a “tourist” won’t cut it and is actually illegal for US citizens—but being an engaged traveler, yearning to learn more about the country you are visiting, absolutely will.
Be sure to keep records of your trip for five years after your visit, which you may be asked to provide to the government at any time. Save any receipts, emails, ticket stubs, etc., and file them away once you are back.
Hire a tour company for your travel needs, and let them take care of everything for you, from making sure your travel itinerary is legally compliant, to storing away your travel documents in the case of an audit. It’ll mean taking the hassle out of traveling to Cuba, so you can just enjoy the experience.
2. Make meaningful connections while staying in a casa particular.
Looking for a fully immersive travel experience? There’s no better way to appreciate a country’s culture than by staying with the locals in their home.
When you’re considering accommodations, be sure to check out casas particulares for an authentic Cuban homestay. Not only will this provide a culturally authentic experience, but if you’re an American this will also ensure that you’re staying legal, as there is an explicit list of Cuban hotels that are considered unlawful.
Casas are private family homes; since 1997, families have been able to register with the government to open their homes to guests and share their lives with visitors. Use a lot of Airbnbs while traveling? Many casas particulares can be found through Airbnb but traveling with a tour operator will help you find the best ones.
Beyond providing a top-notch experience, the host of your casa will also be a great resource, giving you inside tips on where to (and not to) go around Cuba. They’ll enlighten you about Cuban culture and answer any questions you may have. And if you feel so inclined, take a stab at practicing some Spanish!
3. It won’t be as hard as it sounds to schedule six hours of activities.
Walking around museum after museum, day after day, is no one’s idea of a good time on vacation. When traveling to a new destination like Cuba, you have the opportunity to have new, exciting and authentic experiences. While six hours of activities may sound like a lot, there’s lots of flexibility to find activities that best suit your interests and keep you legally compliant.
Take a spin in a classic convertible to get a tour of Cuba and discover the country’s history for an educational, yet totally authentic way to see the sprawling city. Or go shopping for vintage finds in the many little shops around Havana. Conversing with the shop owners will both satisfy travel requirements and offer you another perspective on Havana.
Want to learn to salsa dance? Where better than Cuba! You won’t have to look far for an instructor, so be sure to take advantage of learning this energetic dance from an actual Cubano, and if you’re feeling bold, test your new skills at a local salsa club!
FYI: Staying at your casa particular doesn’t count towards your hours. So you do have to get out and be active, but in Cuba, it won’t be something you’ll find too difficult.
4. Venture to Viñales Valley in Cuba’s charming countryside for incredible views and Cuban culture.
Get outside of the vibrant city for a calmer, charming vibe in Cuba’s countryside. If this kind of experience appeals to you, no place is better to experience Cuba’s heartland than Viñales Valley. Not only is it absolutely gorgeous (it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, after all), you may be surprised to find there’s a lot to do there, too.
Did you really go to Cuba if you didn’t smoke a Cuban cigar?
Tobacco fields and farms paint the countryside of Vinales Valley. Stop by one to find out why the commodity is so special, and even get a lesson in rolling one. You can even take a horseback ride through the lush fields of tobacco.
Cuba’s largest cave system is here. Explore the Cuevas de Santo Tomas by foot or boat. A must-see scene is the front of the Mural de la Prehistoria, painted right onto limestone.
Whether you’re looking for nature, culture (or maybe a little bit of both!), you’ll find it exploring Viñales Valley.
5. As you learn more about the locals, you’ll learn something about yourself, too.
In this day and age, getting to know others—especially those from different backgrounds—is more important than ever. In Cuba, be sure to talk with the locals.
Chat with your salsa instructor.
Learn all about your casa particular host.
Get to know your server.
Taking a few moments to chat with someone from another culture can be incredibly rewarding and challenge you to expand your perspectives.
You won’t only meet locals when you travel to Cuba, you’ll come across plenty of other travelers, too. Cuba is a booming tourist destination where you’ll likely cross paths with travelers of many backgrounds and nationalities. Strike up a conversation; find out what brought them to Cuba. (You know you have at least that in common!)
6. Find a flight from the States with your favorite airline.
Just because there are travel restraints on going to Cuba doesn’t mean it will be any more difficult to get a flight. Most major airlines in America have flights to and from Cuba. And if you use a tour group, they can even help with finding the right flight for you.
Of course you need a passport to travel outside of the States, but you’ll also need a visa to go to Cuba. Take time to check all travel requirements for getting to and from Cuba well in advance of your trip to ensure you’re good to go.
Finally, while it comes at an extra cost, it’s always worth getting travel insurance when you’re going abroad. When traveling Latin America, always expect the unexpected.
7. Travel companies really do make a difference when traveling to Cuba.
If you’re seriously considering traveling to Cuba, we recommend finding a travel operator that can help you navigate, literally and figuratively. More than any other country, there is so much to consider while making preparations.
Government jargon isn’t the easiest to read when you aren’t used to it. Don’t spend hours and hours figuring it all out on your own, feeling stressed out and confused. You don’t want to be worried about whether or not the itinerary you created actually counts toward the new travel requirements.
Save yourself some time (and even money) by booking your trip with a travel company. Rest easy knowing your trip to Cuba is totally legal and have the most fun while you’re there.
To really ensure you have a successful trip, and make meaningful connections, consider letting the professionals do the planning for you. Then all you have to do is sit back, relax, and enjoy one of the greatest cultural experiences of your life.
See yourself in Cuba?
Travel is so much more than a new stamp in your passport. Travel is an opportunity to experience other cultures, to challenge our notions and to ultimately grow as individuals.
El Camino Travel strives to do this through highly curated itineraries that promise our travelers the most authentic travel experiences while facilitating social bonds with like-minded travelers to give you the trip of a lifetime.
Did we mention all our group trips have a professional travel photographer on board, too? Yeah, we do that, too.