How To Travel To Cuba: A Guide For Americans

American Travel in Cuba

How to Travel to Cuba for Americans

Travel Tips

While relations between Cuba & the United States are improving, it’s still technically illegal to travel there. Here’s how you can travel to Cuba as an American anyway.

UPDATE: As of August 2016, there are now regular flights to Cuba from the United States from certain airlines/cities. Keep reading for more information.

Back in 1960 the United States imposed a severe trade embargo against Cuba. The Blockade was created after Cuba nationalized American owned oil refineries without compensation.

As part of this embargo, travel to Cuba by Americans has been restricted for over half a century. Or more specifically, it’s technically illegal for U.S. citizens to have transactions (spend money or receive gifts) in Cuba under most circumstances.

Basically this regulation has prevented most Americans from considering Cuba as a travel destination. Due to economic sanctions, air travel to Cuba from the United States was almost impossible. American credit & debit cards don’t work in Cuba either.

However things are beginning to change.

Traveling to Cuba for Americans

Exploring the Tobacco Farms of Viñales

Can Americans Travel To Cuba?

Even though travel to Cuba for Americans is restricted, that doesn’t make it impossible to visit. For many years some intrepid Americans were traveling to Cuba anyway. Initially there were three ways to accomplish this.

Special License

You could register for a special license with the US Government if the reason for your travel fit a certain category. These include family visits, professional reasons, journalism, religious or cultural programs, and humanitarian projects. You can see the full list here.

People To People Tours

Organized tours that involve some sort of educational experience with local Cuban people. It’s never been defined officially, but basically your trip can’t just involve sitting on the beach. Travelers would talk with a school, volunteer for a community project, or collaborate with artists. A kind of legal loophole that tour companies use to sell tours in Cuba.

Foreign Gateway Cities

The other option was to travel to Cuba “illegally” through a foreign gateway city. This means flying yourself to Canada or Mexico first, then traveling to Cuba on your own from one of those countries. Because for the rest of the world, Cuba has been a popular travel destination for many years.

It’s only us Americans who haven’t been able to visit Cuba!

New Rules

As of January 16th, 2015 Americans no longer need to apply for specific licenses if they fit one of the 12 special categories.

What does this mean? It simplifies the process for Americans that meet those special requirements to visit Cuba. But it also creates a grey-area.

If you no longer have to pre-apply for a license, can you say your trip is for journalism when it’s really not? Will anyone even check to make sure you actually match one of the 12 categories?

If you don’t fit one of the categories, will anyone enforce the rules when you return to the United States? From my experience & listening to other travelers, the answer is no.

While it’s still technically illegal for Americans to travel to Cuba for tourism only, it seems in practice, no one really enforces these travel restrictions anymore.

American Travel in Cuba

Local Game of Dominoes in the Streets of Havana

How To Travel To Cuba

In April 2016 I traveled to Cuba as an American with my girlfriend Anna from Anna Everywhere and our friends Hannah & Adam from Getting Stamped. We traveled through the popular foreign gateway city of Cancun, Mexico.

You can buy a 30 day Cuban tourist visa at the airport there for $20.

It can be purchased the at the check in counter (or while waiting in line) before your flight. The visa is a separate card you keep with your passport, but it’s not attached.

We flew into Havana from Cancun on the Mexican budget airline Interjet for $240 USD round trip, and the flight took about an hour.

As of August 2016, the US government is allowing some American companies to resume flights to Cuba.

Airlines that are flying to Cuba from the United States now include American, Frontier, JetBlue, Southwest, United, Spirit, Alaska and Delta.

For flights leaving from the Untied States, the visa process seems to be similar for some people. You get your visa at the airport checkin counter.

But some reports suggest that it’s not the same everywhere. Plus the price of your Cuban visa is more expensive when leaving from the United States. I’ve heard reports of $50 instead of $20.

For these reasons, I recommend calling your airline beforehand to verify.

Cuban Visa for Americans

My $20 Cuban Visa

Cuban Immigration Process

The Cuban immigration process was super simple. I told the officer in Havana that I was traveling to Cuba for tourism, and he offered to stamp my visa card instead of my passport. This has been standard operating procedure for years.

Cuba wants American tourism, and they offer to stamp your visa rather than your passport so you don’t get in trouble with the US government.

This way, when you return to the United States, it just looks like you traveled to Mexico. Or Canada. There’s no passport record of your travel to Cuba.

However I asked him to stamp my passport directly. I was curious what would happen when I returned to the United States. Would anyone ask me about it? Would I get fined or arrested?

Nothing happened. When I returned to the United States, immigration didn’t even ask me what countries I’d been to, and they didn’t look at my passport stamps either.

Travel Insurance

Cuba requires all tourists to have (non-American) travel medical insurance before visiting. Some people have been forced to provide proof of their insurance, and if they can’t, they must buy a special Cuban travel insurance package for about $10 a day.

When I visited Cuba though, no one asked about my travel insurance. So I’m not sure how much this requirement is enforced these days.

Cuban Currency

Two Different Kinds of Money

Exchanging Money In Cuba

Credit & debit cards issued by American banks still don’t work in Cuba. So a trip to the island involves bringing lots of cash. How much? I’m planning to write a budget travel guide for Cuba soon, but to give you an idea, you can travel there comfortably on $50 – $100 per day.

Bring more than you need to be safe. If you run out, you’re out of luck!

Cuba actually has two different currencies. The Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) is the “tourist” currency, pegged to the American dollar. The Cuban Peso (CUP) is what locals use, and worth a lot less. So when you exchange money as a tourist, you’ll receive CUC.

$1 USD = 1 CUC = 24 CUP

You can exchange US dollars for CUC, but there is a special 10% penalty fee for this service. So it’s cheaper to exchange Euros, Canadian Dollars, British Pounds, or Mexican Pesos for CUC instead.

There’s an official currency exchange outside the airport in Havana. You can exchange your leftover CUC back to US dollars (or whatever) before you leave the country too.

Casa Particular Cuba

Inside Our Casa Particular in Trinidad

Accommodation In Cuba

You’ll find some hotels & resorts in the most popular tourist cities like Havana, Trinidad, and Varadero. But they generally aren’t cheap. To travel on a budget in Cuba, you’ll want to stay with locals in casas particulares.

A “casa particular” is like a homestay or guesthouse in someone’s home. They sometimes include breakfast, and run between $20 – $30 per night for a double room. To operate a casa particular, local families need to register & pay special taxes to the Cuban government.

Most casa’s don’t have websites, so you just walk around and ask about availability when you get there. If one is booked, the owner will usually help you find another nearby.

AirBnB is now operating in Cuba too! We booked our first two nights in Havana through AirBnB.

Renting a Car in Cuba

Our Rental Car in Cuba

Transportation In Cuba

Cuban Bus System

Cuba has a government run bus company for tourists called Viazul that covers most of the country. Tickets aren’t very expensive, but you can’t book them online yet, and popular routes sell out fast. Which means you might need to buy your ticket in person at the station the day before.

Renting A Car

We rented a modern car in Cuba for 6 of the 10 days we were there. Renting a car in Cuba isn’t easy or cheap. There aren’t many vehicles available yet, so you generally have to book a car at least 2 weeks in advance by calling or emailing the company.

When we arrived in Havana, we tried to rent a car directly at the airport with no reservation, and were told repeatedly there were no cars left. Eventually Anna found a guy who said he had two, but from the same company who earlier said they had none, Via Rent A Car (they have no website, but you can book online through other sites like Cuba Junky).

So it seemed a bit shady/strange… but we ultimately got one.

Renting a car in Cuba with insurance is going to cost you between $70 – $90 USD per day. It’s not cheap! Luckily we split the cost between 4 of us. There’s also a $200 cash deposit required.

Vintage Taxi

The other option for traveling around Cuba is to rent a vintage American car with driver. This isn’t cheap unless you split the cost with a few people.

Hailing a vintage taxi for a short ride in town will cost you $8 – $10. Renting one for a longer 2-3 hour trip can cost around $60 -$70 USD depending on your bargaining skills.

Split between 4 people, our 3 hour vintage taxi ride from Havana to Viñales cost $60, about the same as 4 bus tickets, but we could stop anytime we wanted for photos or snacks. The cars are super cool too!

I’ve also heard it’s possible to rent one for a full day for $100 – $120.

Internet in Cuba

Using WiFi Internet Cards

Internet In Cuba

Despite popular opinion, there is some internet access in Cuba. That wasn’t always the case though. For many years Cuba was one of the least connected countries in the world. The government does censor some stuff though, like access to Snapchat or anti-government blogs.

These days you can get connected through Cuba’s state run ETECSA telecom company. Tourists can buy ETECSA prepaid wifi cards at special kiosks for $2 – $3 per hour of service.

These scratch-off type cards provide a username and password for ETECSA wifi networks, which can be found at major hotels or in public parks around the country.

You can often buy additional cards from locals in the park or at a hotel front desk for about $6. The internet isn’t blazing fast, but you can certainly upload web-sized photos to Facebook & Instagram.

Passport Stamp Cuba

My Pink Cuban Passport Stamps!

Cuban Exit Fee

As of May 1, 2015 Cuba no longer charges the $25 CUC exit fee to travelers leaving the country, this fee is now included in the price of your airline.

Can You Bring Back Cigars?

I thought you’d never ask! So officially, if you are traveling to Cuba under one of the 12 special categories, you are now allowed to bring back $400 worth of souvenirs, including up to $100 worth of Cuban cigars. Yay!

Does that mean $100 of official branded cigars with a receipt? What if you buy unbranded “loose” cigars from a tobacco farmer in Viñales for $1 each?

Well I don’t know for sure, but I did manage to bring 30 Cuban cigars back into the United States. I was never questioned about tobacco, and it’s not listed on the customs form as something I have to declare.

Buying Cuban cigars in another country, like Mexico, and bringing them back to the US is still illegal. If you decide to try, do so at your own risk!

Most Recent Changes

To learn more about the legality of traveling to Cuba as an American, check out the Treasury Department’s Cuba FAQ. ★

More Information

Useful Notes: While technically it’s still illegal for Americans to travel to Cuba for tourism only, in practice people are going anyway and not getting in trouble. It seems there is no one enforcing these rules as the government attempts to jump-start tourism & business there.
Recommended Guidebook: Lonely Planet Cuba
Suggested Reading: The Other Side Of Paradise

READ NEXT: Horseback Riding In Vinales Cuba

Have any questions about how to travel in Cuba? Are you planning a trip there? Drop me a message in the comments below!

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.

148 Comments

  1. Hi, We are looking to go in June of 2017. My husband is a swedish citizen and I am American. He owns his own business. If he set up a business meeting and included me as his secretary do you think that would fall under the categories. Also, how much do they even check that?

  2. Hi everyone! We are traveling from Chicago to Havana. We have a layover in Houston. The United website says we can purchase visas in Houston. But since our original destination is Chicago, will we be required to have our visas before we board from Chicago to Houston? Or just when we go from Houston to Cuba? I can’t seem to get a straight answer from anyone, and we leave in two weeks (last minute trip)…I appreciate your help!

  3. Thanks for the great article, Matthew! My friends & I are looking to go in March, & were discouraged by various people we know in the travel industry ~ but your piece gives us hope! Thx : )

  4. Hi! Thank you for the great article! I am interested in going to the Havana International Book Fair in February 2017. Do you think this would count as Education? Thanks again for the tips!

  5. I have a US passport. I am traveling From Italy and back without entering the USA. Does anyone know if that creates any problems?

    1. Was your travel situation easy? I have US passport but a resident (long term resident visa) of Ecuador. Planning to travel to Cuba March 2017.

  6. This is extremely helpful, thank you! I’m going from the 6th to the 10th of January and will get the Lonely Planet as recommended (I’ll buy through your site!) A question that I have is about going to venues/bars for live music…Cuban Jazz etc. Any comments or places that are a must? Any advice on the Music Scene would be extremely welcomed! I’m staying at the Four Points so also curious about that.

  7. I am a legal resident of the US, so I don’t have a US passport. I will like to travel to Cuba, but with my Bolivian passport. Would I get into problems when returning to the US?

  8. Hi,
    For those who are Non US citizen and have asked the question, “do USA sanction regulations apply to me if I’m not from the US but want to travel from USA direct to Cuba”. It has taken me numerous calls and emails but the answer I received is below..

    If you are traveling directly from the United States to Cuba, you are subject to the same sanctions regulations as U.S. citizens and permanent residents. So if on a direct flight, you’d need to be traveling under one of the 12 authorized categories of travel. More information can be found here – https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/Documents/cuba_faqs_new.pdf

    How easy is it to tick one of the 12 general licensing options and get on your flight …I don’t know. If anyone who is not a US citizen and has taken a direct flight, I would love to know if you had any issues.

    1. i am flying on frontier to cuba in april, spirit airlines will let you get a visa at the airport through their services but it frontier won’t assist in getting a visa and i have not been able to get one through the cuban embassy in DC. Does anyone have any information about frontier’s policy regarding flying to cuba with a tourist card? is a tourist card the same as a visa? I think not. I have tried Cuban embassy several times but get no response. Will frontier let me on the flight to cuba if i don’t have a visa? Any information would be appreciated, allan

      1. Look on line for Cuban Travel Services. You can buy the tourist card through them. A bit pricey at $85 but at least you know you have the required document.

    2. Hi, I have a european passport. Im going to Cuba in March. I thought I was being clever and booked a flight to New York. After the booking I realized, that I cant just fly direct. So now I, stuch with two tickets to New York and dont know what Im gonna do. Im gonna follow this post. Maybe someone will have something to say. Thx

    3. Hi Shantell, Have you had any luck finding the answer to this question?
      I am an Aussie and wish to travel NYC-HAV direct rather than adding to my trip by both time and price going through Mexico or Panama.
      I am a teacher/director and would happily consider adding a school visit or two to my trip to qualify for the ‘education’ visa.

      Do you, or does anyone know if this is acceptable?
      The Cuban embassy in Aus has told me they cannot comment or give any suggestion. My travel agent suggests I should only be going through a host country, but all other info I’ve found seems to suggest otherwise?

      Thanks in advance, Meg

  9. Hi Matt
    I will be going to Cuba in Mar 2017(4 weeks) before that spending a few months in Mexico.Is it worth exchanging USD for Euros/Canadian $ for Cuba?Heard the Mexican Peso is lower value and everytime Money is exchanged there is a devaluing?? Any recommendations for a casa particular in Havanna or Triniadad?
    Thanks Tuolovme

  10. I have double nationality. I was born in brazil but I live in usa and have american citizenship. I was wondering if I can get in trouble if I use my american passport to go to mexico, and from mexico to havana, my brazilian one (and then back to mex with braz. passport, and from mex to usa with american one). Does anyone know something about this? Thanks a lot.

      1. Really Iris, I am a U.S. citizen and want to go to Cuba in Feb. but thought the only way to go is through Canada???? Are there any problems leaving from NY and returning directly to NY with a U.S. Passport???

    1. Luisa, you can’t get into trouble for using both passports the way you mentioned. You are not doing anything illegal. I do it all the time.

    2. I did it some years ago. I have my American passport and my Uruguayan Passport. So, my visit to Cuba was stamped on my Uruguayan passport.

      1. Hola Bea, vi que respondiste algo similar a una duda que tengo. Soy argentino, y tengo pasaporte español con visa americana. Me voy de viaje a cuba y pensaba hacer unos días en miami (es decir, La havana-Miami-La havana). Por lo que estuve leyendo, es complicado volar de EEUU a Cuba aunque no seas americano. Si hago una escala en méxico en el vuelo de vuelta a cuba, sabés si tendría algún problema? Es decir: La Havana-Miami-Mexico-La havana. Mil gracias porque estuve llamando a varias embajadas y consulados y nadie me sabe dar una respuesta! Saludos

  11. Hi Matthew Karsten
    What a great article! I am from France traveling Canada to Cuba and then I want to return to the French. Do you have any advice that helps me? I will not have the right visa since I will be getting it at the Paris Le Bourget Airport. Thanks!

  12. This was helpful. Me and a friend are thinking about heading to Cuba over the Christmas holiday (about 5 days) and flying out of Dallas. Hopefully this won’t be an issue. Since we can’t use US credit cards, how much should we bring? Not going to lie that the idea of only bringing cash and if something happens (like getting robbed) and being stuck there is concerning. Do you think it’s safe for women to travel there?

  13. The visa is $50 through the airline in Orlando is there any way you can find it cheaper can anyone tell me please. Thank you

  14. Very useful review, thank you! I did not know it was allowed for tourists to roam the island in a rental so freely. I have been to Cuba once before but mostly in Varadero and I felt as though that’s where they want you to remain. The access to the peninsula was blocked by a gate with armed police after all.

    I have one question, my wife and I live in the states but we both have foreign passports, too (Taiwan and Germany).

    We are thinking about going to Cuba next year and I can’t seem to find out if we can just fly from an airport in the States as opposed to going to Mexico or Canada which would be an expensive detour.

    Any thoughts/experiences on that?

    Thanks for your help!

    1. Direct flights from many US cities to Cuba. Call the airline, book on weekdays and total round trip is very cheap. Prices skyrocket on the weekend.

  15. Matt, thanks so much for all this information! It was so much more useful than anything I’ve seen so far! I’ve been researching for hours now and still struggling to understand the OFAC requirements. Is any action required if you fall under one of the 12 categories? I see a lot of mention of general vs. specific license but no where do I see the difference and what I need to do. Also, it seems that all airlines have different policies on whether a visa needs to be obtained beforehand or not. Is this true?

    Thanks so so much!

  16. Hi Matthew,

    Great article an dvery usefull against the background of recent developments. Being a European citizen, one thing remains unclear to me though: am I allowed to travel to Havana and back (round trip Atlanta-Havana) from the US? From Europe, there is no problem or restriction visiting Cuba, but since it will be a round trip from the US I’m not sure how the US legislation will affect us. Any advise would be really helpfull. Thank you in advance!

  17. Hi, great article. I am British and travelling to Havana on a direct flight from Miami, and then on to the UK. Will I also have to fill in a form stating my reason for travel? Can you see any problems with that? Thanks

    1. Hi Jack, just wondering if you had any response to this? I am doing the same trip in April and unsure what visa I need to get and what questions i will be asked at the airport? Thanks

    2. Jack, just wondering if you got any further information on this. I am doing exactly the same trip and just wondering what the requirements at check in will be? Do you also need a tourist visa whilst you are there?

  18. Hi! What awesome information! I just booked my flight last night and I was getting nervous about traveling and restrictions since the Jet Blue customer service Rep said someone from the airline would be calling me to verify my license through OFAC. My cousin booked the day before on United and they never mentioned anything and just asked for the reason they were traveling. That said, I want to visit Camaguey and Havana for different reasons so I am flying in to Camaguey and out of Havana. My total stay is 8-9 days. What is the best way to get to Havana front camaguey and how long will it take? Would I have been better off entering and leaving from the same airport? Hoping to get a quick response and potentially have time to change flight if necessary! Thanks in advance!!!

    1. Hey! I just booked my flight last night and am going through similar feelings of excitement and nervousness. Would love to connect if you have found any answers in the past few days! I am going in a few weeks, would also love to have a potential friend to meet up with! Thanks!

    2. Any updates from your conversatiom with the jet blue rep? I also booked a jet blue flight direct from nyc…
      I dont know if they need additional documents.

  19. Hello , I am an American traveling from Canada to cuba and then returning to the US . I am concerned that when reentering the US I will not have the right visa since I will be getting it at the Vancover Airport . Do you have any advice

  20. Hey

    I’m traveling from Miami to Cuba and was wondering if anyone could just buy a visa at the airport or were you only allowed to because you were flying from Canada? Any information would be helpful

      1. Hello ! So, about the “12 options” which authorized you to go in Cuba, there is no problem in Miami ? American Airlines just informed me about that and i’m a little concerned to be in troubles now …. !!!! Thank you and good job :)

  21. Hey!
    Very very helpful! Thanks for such a detailed answer. Question – did you fly back to the US directly from Cuba or through Mexico again?

  22. As always, I enjoy your posts and check daily for more. I appreciate the work you’ve done and the advice you give!

  23. I am looking to go to Cuba in December 2016. Would like to visit Havana for a couple days then head to a beach resort for a few as well. How does one qualify for the “people to people” requirement, or otherwise visit without problems? Thx!

    1. I wouldn’t worry about it too much Mia. No one is checking these days. Stay with some locals, visit a school or church, and save a few documents/photos of those visits as proof and you should be fine.

      1. So you’re telling me that I can go to Mexico city or Cancun and book a roundtrip flight to Cuba with my american passport without any questions?

  24. Does anyone know the best way to procure a visa (tourist card) when the flights originate from the US? Later this year we’ll be flying directly from Charlotte to Havana. Surely they’re not available in Charlotte?

  25. Hi,

    I am thinking about going on a week long group trip to Cuba through a website, it cost about $1500 and covers about 2 meals a day. Before I make the decision I was wondering if you could tell me approximately how much your trip cost you? I want to make sure that I am not overpaying through the website if it would be cheaper for me to travel on my own.

    Thank you,

    Joe Gould

    1. Hey Joe, while I think you could do it cheaper on your own ($50-$100 a day), travel in Cuba is far from easy. Depending on your experience with independent travel in other parts of the world, it might be better to go with a company the first time.

  26. Hi Matt-
    I’m a US citizen and would like to spend more than 30 days in Cuba. If I buy a ticket that has me returning in 45 days will that be a problem as far as getting in? I’d extend my visa beyond the 30 days once I was in Cuba.

  27. Hi, is that the new pink visa card in the photo? I’m travelling next month and I have purchased a green visa card but then read I have to get a pink one anyway. Can any of you confirm this? How does the pink visa card looks like? Thank yoU!

  28. Hello,

    Does anyone know if the problem is to fly from the US to Cuba being an American citizen or if I would also have to justify my visit being a Brazilian (leaving from Miami to Havana)?

    Thanks,

  29. Hello! For those of you who did the ‘people to people’ tour where you spoke to a school, community project, or artist, can you please share details on which school or artists? We would like to know to plan our own ‘people-to-people’ tour for December. Thank you in advance!

  30. Hello,
    My friend and I are planning on going to Cuba in February, going through Mexico City, has anyone encountered difficulties with getting a tourist card from the airport? Are there any additional steps that we need to take before getting the tourist card? My friend says Mexican people can be rude. We are looking forward for this trip any info would be helpful. Thank you!

    1. You shouldn’t have any problems getting a visa card at the airport in Mexico City. Call your airline just to be sure.

      Mexicans aren’t rude at all. Just don’t yell at people in English and expect everyone to understand you.

  31. I visited Cuba (via Mexico gateway) in 2003 without a license. I’m planning on attending a cultural dance class/festival there next year on my own. Since you said a person no longer has to pre-apply in advance for an educational/people-to-people license I have a few questions:
    • When does one identify the category/ purpose of the trip: when one purchases airline tickets or as part of the flight check-in process? (hotel/guest house booking sites also warn you that licenses are required for trips to Cuba). The federal rules are not about clear when and where (but tour companies are plus they provide their licensing number).
    • Since one has to identify the purpose of their trip (12 categories) does the questionnaire ask if you have ever visited Cuba before?
    • Is there a statute of limitations for the government to go after you for violating the embargo, i.e. my 2003 unlicensed trip?

    1. In my experience (Feb 2016), you do not have an opportunity to identify the purpose of your trip, via the Mexico gateway. No one asks you and you do not have to declare your intentions anywhere.

      I received the “Mexican death stamp” but we never experienced any problems re-enterying the United States

      1. I just booked (Nov. 26) a flight with United Airlines to Cuba from Newark, NJ. I picked my category online from a drop down menu when I was booking my ticket.

  32. Does anyone have clear information on what is required for US citizens traveling to Havana on the new nonstop flights from the US?

    From what I have read all of the Imtips have been for US citizens traveling to Cuba but via a different country.

    Any advice is most welcome as I plan to travel in November.

  33. Thanks for the article! I may be going to Cuba in Dec. My mother is Cuban and my cousin who’s been in the U.S. for the past 3-4 years is going back to visit her father (my uncle) and hopefully my aunt. He lives near Guantanamo. I’m excited but nervous as I speak very little Spanish so I will rely on my cousin for everything. My mother asked me when I was 16 if I wanted to go to Cuba and as a teenager I had attitude that I didn’t know any Spanish so why should I go…I regret that, but I now have another chance – can’t wait :-) Any other advice is appreciated.

  34. Hi,

    If you rely on the people to people reason for traveling to Cuba how do you go about proving it or planning it? What type of activities constitute people to people trips? I’m trying to plan a trip in November but can’t really figure out how to plan this aspect or what is really needed.

    Thanks!!

  35. Great to know that you can buy a You can buy a 30 day Cuban tourist visa. This must have been really helpful. I have heard that everyone is really nice in Cuba. Was this the case for you?

  36. I flew to Cuba x2, back in 99 from San Salvador, and again in 2001 via Air Transat out of Vancouver Canada while my then girlfriend was studying at La Escuela Latinoamerica de Ciencias Medicas.
    Hitchhiked from Varadero to La Habana all the time.
    It was nice to see a country unexploited and hearing maybe Italian and German only in the bodeguita del medio. Not sure what to expect when I head there for Christmas 2016..

  37. Hi Matt,
    Thanks for putting this article together. Just a few points to clarify-the American travel ban is related to the embargo against Cuba which has been in place for more than 50 years. Obama has done all he can as president to loosen restrictions. Now it will take an act of congress to fully lift the embargo, it’s not as easy as just “lifting the ban.” I wish it were! Also, something to note about Cuba is while yes in order to fulfill the p2p requirement you can find schools or projects to talk to, but what if you don’t speak Spanish? How will you know where to go and who to ask? For example, what kind of unique experiences were you able to find on your own? I find Cuba to be very challenging to get around on your own, doubly so if you don’t speak Spanish. These tour groups that many of you at talking about avoiding have actually done quite a bit of research and have contacts on the ground that they have built over the years. I think it depends on what type of traveler you are, but in my opinion Cuba is not a place to buy a guidebook and just see what you see. You will end up frustrated, wasting time, or seeing what 99% of people see when they go to Cuba this way. again, I think it comes down to what kind of traveler you are and how much time and money and patience you have. Just a few thoughts to share, I want to be helpful for those heading down there.

  38. What a great site! Thanks for all the info, Matt! Lots of great info in all the comments, as well!!! My wife & I are trying to put together a trip for the end of the year (xmas-new years), and I have a couple things I’m trying to figure out. We will likely be flying out of Tijuana. Any weird rules about purchasing the tijuana-havana ticket online? Also – I’m trying to figure out where to spend the 1st night & a little confused/unsure of how to make reservations in advance. Any recommendations? Once we get our feet on the ground, we’ll be fine. Thanks so much!!!

  39. Hi all,

    I will be travelling to Cuba via Mexico in mid-August. My girlfriend and I are flying into Havana and thinking about travelling to Vinales and Varadero (we only have 1 week). We have an apartment reserved in Old Havana, and we are thinking about staying in a casa particular in Vinales and Varadero (potentially a nice resort one night in Varadero or Havana). Anyone have suggestions on fun (and cheap) things to do in these cities? Fun bars/night life?

    Anyone have suggestions on places to stay in Vinales or Varadero?

    I’m also looking for advice on transportation…I’m wondering if anyone has rented a scooter to get around Havana or if taxi’s are best. Also wondering if we should just take the bus (Viazul books online now apparently) or try renting a car to get to and from Vinales and Varadero. I don’t think we want to take a tourist bus.

    I also hear Master Card is allowing credit transactions in Cuba now. Anyone have any experience with that?

    Any tips on the best places to exchange money?

    Finally, we hope to bring some kids books and toiletries. Any suggestions on good places to drop them off?

  40. Hi,

    I am travelling to Cuba on July 27th. We are leaving from LAX to Panama City and then to Havana. I have called LAX, Panama City and other U.S. government offices, and the answer is different. The government office requires a tourist visa that cost 85.00 and the airports from LAX and Panama said to purchase the tourist visa in Panama. I am not sure if we should buy the visa here in Los Angeles through a Cuban travel agency or in Panama City. Can you please let me know what would be best?

  41. Re Scuba Diving.
    My husband was an avid diver for nearly 40 years – mostly for really old bottles and artifacts near where we live. The first year we went we were both looking forward to a dive.
    It didn’t make sense to take your own equipment since, of course, the Cubans have diving tourism down pat. If you don’t want to be crowded on a boat with a million others, it can be quite expensive.
    The only real problem is there isn’t much to see. We dove near Jardines del Rey, as well as near Havana. Natural sea life is being demolished not only by the evil Lionfish (scourge of the Caribbean now) but also by hungry Cubans and those who are allowed to bottom-trawl in Cuban waters. The once abundant coral reefs are now falling victim to bleaching, as they are everywhere. There’s dolphin-feeding and shark expeditions, too, bit they are a little disappointing as well as being hit-and-miss sometimes.

    1. so disappointing….we were hoping to go there for amazing snorkeling this winter. Sounds like it is not worth the trip.

  42. I had to laugh at:
    “So it seemed a bit shady/strange… but we ultimately got one.”
    That’s Cuba – all the way. From 2006 to 2011 my hubbie and I travelled to Cuba from Canada. Unfortunately he passed away last year, otherwise we would still be going.
    2006 was Camaguey; 2007 Arenal (Playa del Estes); then 2008 to 2011 Playa Ancon (near Trinidad)
    These were all resorts since most Casas, other than those in Havana and larger, urban centres, were really not that numerous or appealing.
    No doubt that’s changed in the last few years but from talking (sporadically – letters vanish sometimes) to friends there and from reading, I can see that much has not.
    With the exception of pricey restaurants and the occasional lucky good cook who has access to seafood and their own garden, food is pretty dismal.
    The entire island has not managed farms well over the last 25-odd years and climate change has just added to food supply problems.
    The great majority of foodstuffs is imported — at great cost to Cuba, eg. limes and lemons are not native to the country and salads are very hard to come by.
    People will ALWAYS be asking you to come to dinner at their house. If have only just met them, please know that this is not simple friendliness. It is a way for a family to make hard currency (their are paid in the native pesos, 24 to 1 CUC). They desperately need this now, since many of the items that used to be supplied monthly or biannually by the State no longer are or run out before the month is up.
    If your salary is, say, for a resort housekeeper, 12-20 CUC/month (i.e. US$12-20/month) you can be expected to pay (in CUC!) 2-3 for toothpaste, 3-4 for laundry soap, 2-3 for deodorant, 3 for shampoo, 1-2 for soda pop, 3 for toilet paper; the list is endless …
    Also a huge caution re health care!! In Havana and major cities you will probably be fine. For the rest of the country you should always carry with you things that cannot be readily supplied, either at a clinic or a pharmacy. We always carried plenty of Tylenol, anti-histamines, anti-biotics, bug spray (Zika and Dengue are present in places) anti-diahhreal and laxatives, first aid supplies including bandages and tape, etc. Don’t forget – this is NOT Mexico, PR, or the DR.
    I speak enough Spanish that I’ve been able to talk to people over the years and, once you get to know them and they trust you (and you can get the hang of their Castilian accents), they are truly wonderful people who are fascinated by the outside world.
    It takes a while before they trust, too. Quite often people have an “angle” and you really should exercise utmost caution when interacting.
    Lots of begging in smaller cities, quite a lot of ‘street crime’ such as pickpocketing and purse snatching in larger cities.
    Past the age of 10, kids aren’t always in school and are often a source of trouble.
    Don’t forget, the majority of the 11 million people on this island (including the massive prison population) have been living in a vacuum and extremely unevenly (a little like N. Korea) for about 55 years.
    Running water, safe water (make sure any bottles you buy have an unbroken seal) and regular electricity are still rare around the country and, as Matt said, internet is virtually non-existent unless you are a rich person (and there are many of those!!), an academic, or at a resort.
    I still love the place and the people (but no, I don’t want to marry you; if you are female you will get lots of those offers!) and will be taking my first solo trip there this winter (back to Playa Ancon) to see my friends.

  43. Hi Matt,

    I’m Canadian and have been to Cuba several times. The last time was when I backpacked from Holguin to Vinales in December 2014. I took local (not tourist) buses all over the island. The only time I took a “tourist” bus was from Vinales to Havana only because that was the only bus available for that route on that day. I bought my tickets the same day (during very high season) and never had any problems. Mind you this was 2 1/2 years ago – things might’ve changed since then with the influx of American tourists. Cuba is an amazing country with wonderful people – glad you got to visit!

  44. I heard that starting in December 2016, you will no longer need to have one of the 12 reasons to go and visit Cuba. Is this true?

    1. I’m also going to Cuba in mid Dec. 2016 anything you can share would be great. How much did you pay for the Visa out of MCO

      1. Hey Matthew, our plans are to go to Cuba next month, but we are having a bit of trouble trying to obtain an affidavit. Any suggestions?
        Do we fill out affadavit at airport? We will be flying Jetblue. TY

  45. Does anybody know how many people have been arrested in 2015 and/or 2016 for traveling illegally to Cuba from the USA?

    1. None. It was a fine of several hundred dollars, not a criminal offense to go to Cuba. You could be arrested for other things though, like if you were a suspected spy.

  46. Hey Matt,
    Do you know if anything has changed in recent months with travelling to Cuba? We’re thinking of planning a trip to Havana and to do some scuba diving in early January 2017.
    Cheers!
    -Ali

  47. This is a very helpful overview about traveling to Cuba. I would really like to go, but it still seems like a bit of a hassle (and perhaps more expensive) to get there because of having to go through a gateway country.

  48. Great in depth guide to travelling Cuba.

    It’s a shame the ban for American travellers is still in place, or anywhere for that matter. Personally, I find it so strange that one can’t visit certain areas of ‘land’ in this world due to historical events, but that’s the way the world works.

    Thanks for the heads up on the internet section also, keep up the great work!

    James

  49. Wow this is a great guide to Cuba. We’re staying in Tulum for 7 weeks this summer and I think we are going to go on a little jaunt to Cuba as a side-trip thanks to your information.

  50. I really enjoy reading about people’s different experiences in Cuba, because it is a really confusing place to travel to. I think that you have some great information on the steps that must be completed to travel to such a wonderful place.

  51. Hey Matthew, great up to date info here as it can still be massively confusing to plan a trip to Cuba, so worth going though. I’m a bit miffed about the abolition of the exit fee as we left the island at the end of May 2015 after 2 amazing weeks there. Cheers, C&K

  52. You are the Boss matt. Thats awesome. But i have 1 question for you. İf i travel to Cuba for 1 week, how much money should i spend? i can stay hostels and i can eat local foods.

    1. Hostels aren’t really a thing there yet Enes. Just the “casa particulars”. As for local food options, basically places that serve microwave pizzas & cuban sandwiches for about $1. Not tons of variety. Restaurants are generally for tourists.

  53. Hi Matt congrats for your very nice blog always updated with many many intresting news. I look forward to read more info as we are planning a trip to Cuba with my family next November.

    1. Good question Don! I’ve actually heard you can get a pre-paid credit/debit card from a bank in Mexico that will work in Cuba. However I’m not sure which banks offer them.

    2. Donald,
      I did it! I charged on an American credit card in Cuba in April – bought my husband’s cigars actually. The clerk didn’t want to try to run my American credit card but I asked her to please just try. You should have seen her face when it went through! My bank tells me that I am the first to do it.
      It was through a Florida bank called Stonegate. My branch was in Hollywood, FL. The nice people there will gladly help you get a card – ask for Lance. We flew out of Miami, a 46 minute flight and went under the even newer rules where we didn’t even have to qualify under the 12 categories. Cuba’s cool, so do go. We loved it.

      1. CarolSue,
        How did you obtain an affidavit to Cuba? Did you go ” people to people?” My husband and I plan a trip next month. A JetBlue agent was telling us when people arrived there, they were turned away and sent back home. Wondering what they did or didn’t do in the process. Can you give us some tips on how you accomplished your trip? It sounded very positive.,
        TY
        Rosie

  54. Quick hints: Buying cigars in MX and bring into US. I saw many do it in my tourist group. Bought the good ones, slipped off the band until they were home and then put the band back on.

    Cuba education: Talking with a local naturalist or birder. For those of us who chase birds, we easily fulfill the people to people requirement.

  55. Can you suggest a school or education venue to get in touch with (and how) to do a people-to-people visit without going through a tour company?

  56. I did not know why there was restrictions between US and Cuba and just read it here so thank you for sharing. Sounds like a place worth visiting one day….

  57. I’m so glad that this is finally changing for all of my American friends!

    I’ve always felt bad for American Travellers going to lots of places – the extra charges, like in Bolivia for example – can certainly make travel harder for a backpacker.

    Getting to experience Cuba is going to do wonders, both for travellers getting to see such a beautiful place, the the Cubans themselves. Let’s just hope it keeps it’s vibrant heart in the years to come.

    James

  58. Great article Matthew! Very informative. I’m glad you got to see this amazing place and shared such fantastic pictures with us. Did you see a ton of foreigners traveling there?

  59. Thanks for the helpful information. I am looking forward to your update on returning to the U.S. with your shiny new stamp and cigars!

    Once you actually got your rental car, did you have any problems driving around the country (getting pulled over, etc)? Does Cuba require an international drivers license?

    1. There are giant potholes all over the highways, so driving fast requires a lot of focus. Feels a bit like a video game trying to avoid them. It was sometimes difficult to find gas stations that offered the 95 octane fuel we needed for our rental car.

      The roads outside of town were pretty empty, not much traffic. We probably passed Cuban police jeeps every 30 minutes, but they seemed to only be pulling over locals. A regular driver’s license was fine.

  60. Three of us, all educators, are in the process of trying to plan a “people to people” trip to Cuba, possibly during the week of Thanksgiving 2016.

    Your uncle suggested you might be able to help us make the proper contacts to develop a “full time” itinerary. We had planned on going on a tour, but it didn’t work out, so we are on our own.

    Any help you could give us would be greatly appreciated!

    1. Hi Doi! You’re looking for an itinerary? I’ll be writing more about what we did in Cuba over the next few months, but basically if you have a week, a common trip includes:
      Havana > Trinidad > Varadero.

      As for the “people to people” requirement that tour companies love to sell, from what I understand all you really need to do is find a community project, school, or musician to talk with while you’re there, and take some notes/photos for proof.

      1. Thank you so much for this blog, and also thank you commenters for your helpful comments and questions!

        I’m considering a weeklong trip under the “people to people” category (without an agency hopefully!) this December, looking at the direct flights from NYC. I’m a PhD student in Counseling Psychology, speak fluent Spanish, work with many Latinx kids & families here in the US, and have visited/volunteered at different nonprofits on previous trips to other places. So I think I could make a pretty convincing case for this category and would love to visit community orgs, schools, etc while I’m there!

        I was just wondering what proof and contacts you need *beforehand*? And who would you need to show these to? The Customs people at the airport upon leaving? upon returning to the US? both? No one in advance of my trip, correct?

        Also, how strict are they with proof, and with the requirement that your “people to people” activities fill up every day of your trip?

        Mil gracias in advance to Matthew or anyone else who can answer these questions!! :)

        1. I would love to hear an answer to this question given that im planning to do the same
          Thanks in advance!

          Monica

        2. Hi Matthew,

          I would also really like to know the answer to Sylvia’s question of who I need to provide proof to for entry beforehand. I’m also a student and looking to meet the “people to people” requirement by scheduling meetings with local researchers at universities in Havana. Any additional clarification about who to talk to in order to get the visa would be great. I’d rather not spend more money by going through a tour operator, and planning to fly directly from NYC.

          Thanks for your help!

  61. Thanks for the article Matt. I’ve been saying how I want to go to Cuba. I didn’t realize there’s still some restrictions. It sounds like they sure make it a difficult place to visit even when you’re there. Still can’t wait to make it over there soon!

    1. Cuba is not the easiest travel destination to visit, but it’s a beautiful country with a lot to see. They aren’t quite prepared for mass tourism yet, so it will take a few years to work out the kinks when the American travel ban gets lifted.

        1. Hola Annette! I’m really curious if you ended up going and how it went. Did you go under one of the 12 general license categories? Trying to see if a trip (directly from the US) this December is doable for me — would love to hear how it went for you :)

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