When I was planning my “independent” trip to Cuba this spring with my boyfriend, I was really lost as to where to start my research and what to expect as an American traveling to Cuba. Since it’s only recently that we have been able to travel independently to this country there are not a lot of resources available. Not only was I worried about mundane things like not filling out the right paperwork to gain entrance, but I couldn’t stop wondering about how things would work (or not) once I got there. I ended up reading multiple blogs and getting into contact with friends of friends who had gone before me. Though helpful, I learned most of these people had gone for business or as part of an organized tour, so their experiences were different than what mine would be.
Although President Trump has plans to reverse the travel policy allowing for independent travel to Cuba, it is still possible for now. I highly recommend going while you still can. In order to try to put you a little more at ease than I was when I headed out in March, here are some tips that I hope you will find useful in your travels:
- Yes, it’s true. You really do get your visa at the airport. Mine was purchased at the time I booked my flight with Southwest and I picked up the paperwork at a kiosk at the airport in Fort Lauderdale.
- American credit cards and ATM cards are not accepted so you will need to bring lots of cash with you. You can book and pay for accommodations and tours in advance by credit card.
- Change US dollars into Canadian dollars or Euros to take on your trip because there is a 10% penalty imposed when exchanging US dollars into Cuban currency.
- Convertible Cuban pesos (CUCs) are not available in the US. Currency exchange is available at the Havana airport and the Hotel Nacional. The lines for currency exchange in the departure area of the airport are much shorter than in the arrivals area. Be sure to convert any unused CUCs back to US dollars before leaving Cuba.
- Plan to be off the grid. American cell phone service and wifi access are incredibly limited.
- GPS units are not allowed into the country. So if you are geocaching, be sure to print out what you need beforehand.
- Bring bottled water in your checked luggage because it is hard to come by. Convenience stores and grocery stores are not readily available or well stocked.
- Bring all sundries and toiletries you will need for same reason as used in #8. Ladies, I am talking to you especially! You know what I mean.
- Hire a personal driver for the duration of your trip. This will not only save you money, but will save you the anxiety of going somewhere and worrying about how to get back because you won’t have any way to call for one while you are out and about.
- Most importantly, I was able to drink many rum cocktails on ice and didn’t get sick! So enjoy!