Cuba: What You Need to Know
Cuba is a beautiful “old-timey” travel destination spot that’ll humble you quickly. Yes, the charming buildings and old Chevrolets are beautiful in pictures (and in person), but please do your research and learn about Cuba’s history and culture before visiting. That being said, Cuba is one of the safest places I have ever traveled to. I would go back in a heartbeat. In fact, I’m going to add that if you’re interested in solo travel, but you’re not sure where to go, look into Cuba. Just be sure to brush up on basic Spanish to get around easier. Here are my top five things to know before traveling to Cuba:
1. You must select a reason for your travels (remember it and stick to it!)
Before purchasing your plane ticket, you will be asked to select your reason for traveling to Cuba. Typically before you check out, you will have to choose a license. The current license options are:
515.561: Family visit
515.562: Official business of U.S or foreign Government, or intergovernmental organization
515.563: Journalistic activities
515.564: Professional research or meetings
515.565(a): Educational activities - for credit or in connection with degree
515.565(b): Educational exchanges - People to People
515.566: Religious activities
515.567(a): Amateur or semi-professional international sports federation competitions
515.567(b): Public performance, clinics, workshops, other competitions, and/or Exhibitions
515.574: Support for the Cuban people
515.575: Humanitarian projects
515.576: Activities of private foundations or research/educational institutes
515.545(b)(1): Activities related to the exportation or importation of informational materials
515.545(b)(2): Activities related to professional media & artistic productions
515.533(d)(1): Activities related to Department of Commerce licensed or authorized exports
515.533(d)(2): Activities of personnel in connection with the temporary sojourn of aircraft/vessels
515.559(d): Activities related to the exportation of medicines and medical supplies
515.571: Returning Cuban nationals
You are not allowed to travel to Cuba as a tourist, therefore it is important to choose one and stick to it. The license that will most likely fit every travelers' plans would be 515.574: Support for the Cuban people. A great way to support the Cuban people is by supporting entrepreneurs. Book an airbnb instead of a hotel. Buy handmade items, and eat at local restaurants near and around Plaza de la Catedral. Be sure to save all receipts or anything you obtain during your trip for five years. It is extremely important to save your itinerary, receipts or anything obtained from Cuba for five years, because authorities can question you if they feel as though you went to Cuba for reasons other than what you stated. When I visited, I saved everything I received, and I was sure to take plenty of pictures of the places I visited. It is unlikely that you will be asked about your travels, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
2. Make sure you get a Cuban Visa
Once you book your flight and select your reasoning for travel you are almost all set. When you travel, you will be required to obtain a Visa. All the airlines that I am aware of that provide a Visa (you have to pay for) are Delta, JetBlue, American, United, and Southwest. Personally, I flew Delta and my Visa was $50. I paid for my Visa when I checked in from my departing city, and I received my Visa in Atlanta during my layover. If you book with the previously mentioned airlines, and you are not booking a direct flight from a city that will provide you a Visa, the airline will send you to a city to obtain your Visa during your layover. If you are traveling to Cuba from a country other than the United States, I urge you to check the details regarding obtaining your Cuban Visa.
3. Plan for no internet!
One of the most known facts about Cuba is the internet is not as accessible as it is in other countries. While, you can get internet in Cuba, I think it’s important to live in the moment. Prepare yourself for no internet, and you will not be disappointed if you cannot access anything online at any given time. However, you should know that you can get on the internet with an internet card. The internet cards last an hour and cost 2 CUC. You will most likely be able to purchase these internet cards wherever there is internet. During my stay, I purchased my internet cards from a nearby hotel with a restaurant and from a local in Plaza de la Catedral. If you get an internet card from a restaurant, be sure to purchase something. From my experience, in restaurants you will only be able to buy one card at a time. Luckily, when I stayed, my airbnb was close to a hotel known as Hotel Presidente. Hotel Presidente has excellent internet if you must use it. Be sure to download an online map of Cuba before going so that you can get around easier when you’re walking. I used the “maps.me" app. What I liked about the app is that you can see what other users recommended within your areas. It was great for recommendations on where to eat.
4. Be kind to locals, and don’t be afraid to ask questions
During my stay, everyone I met was extremely kind. It would only make sense to return the same respect. It is important to be kind to locals no matter where you go. I also urge you to ask questions when you aren’t sure because, in my experience, locals have no problem giving you directions or helping you out. Unfortunately for my trip, my family and I spent tons of money on travel. You must know, that is not necessary. Once we spoke to locals, we learned that many of the places we visited were within walking distance from our airbnb or would still be accessible through a bus. I would also recommend bringing small toiletry items such as soap and toothpaste when traveling to Cuba and keeping them in your bag as you explore. During my visit, I had a few people that would come and ask if I had any soap or toothpaste to give to them. I’m not saying you need to buy tons and tons of toothpaste, however travel size toiletry items are fairly cheap for us and not easy for Cubans to obtain. If you can afford to buy extra, it would not hurt. If no one asks, then you can just bring the items back home. Personally, I did not bring small toiletry items, but I wish I did.
5. You’re going to have an amazing time
When I went to Cuba, I already knew I was going to enjoy it. However, Cuba is my first country out of the United States that isn’t Panama or Costa Rica (I have many relatives in both countries), so I was a bit nervous. The food in Cuba is delicious, my favorite restaurant was a few blocks from my airbnb and it was called Razones y Motivos. I don’t eat meat so I enjoyed having rice and beans for a total of 2 CUC. I think it’s also important to note that 1 CUC = 1 USD. You can definitely go to Cuba on a budget and enjoy yourself, you just need to be sure to make a plan and stick to it. When it comes to food, typically prices were pretty good. Things began to get pricey when alcohol was involved (as usual). I do not drink, but I did go for my birthday and I tried a mojito. I don’t think it would be fair of me to leave a review on the mojito because I’m not a drinker. My mom, on the other hand, said they’re great. A few places that sound simple, but will keep you busy are Plaza de la Catedral, Plaza de la Revolucion, and Palco Mall. Plaza de la Catedral is basically like a downtown area. There are many restaurants and activities that surround. Plenty of people hang around that area, and it was always busy. My family and I spent two days in Plaza de la Catedral and it did not feel as though we were experiencing the same thing twice.
Bottom line, prepare yourself the best way that you can and be sure to enjoy yourself! And as always feel free to message us if you have any questions or need additional recs. :)