In January I traveled, with 4 of my girlfriends to Havana, Cuba! We truly had such an amazing time and I highly recommend a trip to this beautiful country! Below I answer some questions about traveling to Cuba, as well as provide some details around our 5 day trip. You can also check my saved Instagram stories here for more info.
Are American’s allowed to Visit Cuba? Yes! Per the US Department of State, you must select one of 12 categories to travel under, when obtaining your Cuban visa at the airport. We traveled under Supporting the Cuban People, and had no issues entering Cuba, or returning home. More details on the Cuban visa below under Trip Details.
What currency do you use in Cuba? Will my credit card work? Cuba has two forms of currency, a local currency, as well as a tourist currency (CUC). You must exchange money for CUC, as US credit cards do not work in Cuba. However, the exchange rate is higher when exchanging USD for CUC vs. Euros or even CAD. To get around this, we exchanged our USD for Euros in the US, then simply changed our Euro to CUC once in Cuba. Tip: When leaving Cuba, be sure to exchange all of your CUC back to Euro/USD at the airport, before going through security. You will not be able to use your CUC for a snack before boarding, and will have to pay in USD for a $20 can of Pringles.
Did you feel safe? Absolutely. I felt more safe walking down the streets of Havana than I do most nights in Chicago. Everyone was also super kind, helpful, and patient with us when we tried to string together enough Spanish to communicate. Tourism, especially since American tourism is relatively newer, is a very important part of the Cuban economy. They treated us as welcomed visitors.
Was Cuba expensive? Not really. Our flight was about ½ of our total expenses for the trip, coming in around $500. While that is expensive for short flight to the Caribbean, everything else on our trip was inexpensive. We would have spent much less if we picked an Airbnb a bit closer to Old Havana, as we spent more on taxis than we had budgeted.
Would you go back? Absolutely!
Getting There: Do not let the current travel restrictions for American’s deter you from going to Cuba. We booked our flight via Jet Blue, and the entire booking process was a breeze. At our layover in Ft. Lauderdale (one of a few US cities that you can fly into Havana through), we purchased a $50 travelers visa, which is needed to enter Cuba. After obtaining the visa, we were all set to board our final leg to Cuba! Once we landed, customs was a breeze, we exchanged some initial spending money, then we headed outside for a taxi. There were multiple taxis waiting outside, so just show one of the drivers your address, agree upon a price, and hop in. Welcome to Havana!
Where to Stay: The US Government does not allow Americans to spend money at any establishment that is owned by the Cuban government, which includes almost all hotels in Havana. However, after swinging by a hotel in Havana to meet up with a friend in the industry, he told us that around 40% of all his hotel guests are actually from the US. Because there were 5 of us, an Airbnb made more sense. We chose to stay at this wonderful apartment, which was spacious, clean, and centrally located. It was a quick 10 min taxi ride to old Havana, plus within walking distance to said taxis, and restaurants too…not to mention across the street from the Malecon. Our host Angeles was wonderful! She greeted us upon arrival, was available throughout our entire stay, helped us make dinner reservations prior to arrival, and was beyond friendly and helpful. If I were to return to Cuba, I would not hesitate to stay here again.
Where to Eat & Drink- Cuban food is amazing! We had breakfast at El Cafe, which offered everything from eggs, exceptional coffee, pastries, and fruit. The food was great, the location was perfect, and we liked it so much that we went twice! Our favorite lunch spot was El Dandy, where the tacos, cocktails, bartenders and patrons were yummy. Another great, centrally located spot. We had two amazing dinners at La Guarida and Paladar Dona Eutimia. Both were truly fabulous.
As for drinks, you must go to the home of the Mojito (Bodeguita del Medio) and the Daiquiri (Floridita). Both places had live music and were a treat. Speaking of treats, we were in search of a night club (eventhough we are definitely not night club people), when we stumbled upon some ice-cream. Make sure to add Heladoro to you list of places to eat while in Cuba. 5 cones were 5 CUC!
What to Do/See- If you do one thing in Cuba, you must dedicate a day to travel to Vinales. It is an absolute must. We chose to do a day trip via Airbnb Experiece, and found this wonderful trip! Ernesto was our tour guide, and he was perfect. I don't want to give too much away, but we rod horses through the countryside, ate amazing food, and interacted with some amazing people. Tip: reach out to Ernesto prior to the trip to see what you could possibly bring for the people you interact with on the trip. We came across this adorable little girl and I would have loved to have been able to bring her a toy.
Another must see in Cuba is the FAC art gallery. It is a gallery, bar, restaurant, and nightclub all rolled into one. We danced, drank, and took in the art. Great spot! Speaking of art, we purchased a decent amount of art work at Almacenes San José Artisans' Market. The first level had any souvenir you could possibly want to bring home with you. The second floor was all local artists. Be sure to stop here earlier in your trip to make sure you have enough CUC for the art you really want. We each bought a piece from one artist, so we have friendship art from Cuba!
A final must do/see in Cuba is a tour of the city in a classic car. Angeles (our Airbnb host) was able to set this up for us. We spent hours cruising around Havana.
Extras- The FLL Airport is pretty awful. If you have a connecting flight at a different terminal, you must leave the airport, wait for a shuttle, and then go through security, again. The food options are sadly just as bad. That is really one of the only negatives about our entire trip.
Please let me know if you have any questions! I had such a great time and I encourage anyone to visit if they can!