U.S. Travel to Cuba

Havana Cuba

I’ve been obsessed with Cuban salsa for the past few years and I can’t wait to salsa in Cuba! Photo cred http://www.flickr.com/photos/chewie/4110238190/

Guess what people?!

I just bought tickets to visit Cuba for this coming December break (Dec. 17-Jan. 7)!

I know I said that I was deciding between Chile and Brazil for December, but once I decided to go to Chile I knew that I needed to go to Cuba for spring break.  Then I started researching Cuba and realized that I would need WAAAAYYYY more than one measly week to see as much as I could.

So my new plan is Cuba for three weeks in December and Chile for my one week Spring Break.  I’ve only just started planning for Cuba because it is six months away, but if you have traveled there recently I would love to hear tips about the best casa particulares, where to dance Cuban style salsa (as opposed to LA or mambo), where to take Cuban salsa classes, where to hear amazing live music, and other things that I must not miss.  Also, any other tips are very welcome (especially regarding budget, and traveling there as a US citizen).

Before 2014 it was very difficult for US Citizens to travel to Cuba. Since 2014, the US has removed Cuba from a state sponsored terrorism list, greatly eased travel restrictions (though they haven’t been completely removed), embassies were reopened, and President Obama became the first US president to visit Cuba in nearly 90 years!

There is a concise graphic outlining the highlights of the Cuban Thaw on The Economist.

What are some of the big changes for US citizens who wish to travel to Cuba?

Instead of applying for a special license to go to Cuba, US citizens need only to select one of 12 categories for travel to Cuba: 

  • family visits;
  • official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations;
  • journalistic activity;
  • professional research and professional meetings;
  • educational activities;
  • religious activities;
  • public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions;
  • support for the Cuban people (people-to-people) *me*
  • humanitarian projects;
  • activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes;
  • exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials; and
  • certain authorized export transactions.

In the past, US Citizens needed to join an official People-to-People trip, but now we can organize our own (legal) trips!

Instead of paying $4000+ to join an official people to people trip, you can organize your own trip that will include interaction with Cuban people.  You just need to make an itinerary the has plenty of cultural activities that will help you interact and learn about Cuban culture (salsa anyone?).  The NYT says that, “Travelers who fill their days with museum visits, cultural sightseeing and conversations with Cubans about their society, and keep a daily journal, could meet the requirements.”You will also need to keep that itinerary and receipts for 5 years (according to this official document from the US Gov).

Instead of flying through a nearby country such as Mexico or Canada, you can book some flights directly from NYC and Miami (more flights should be coming this year).

I will be flying to Havana from Venezuela because that is where I am teaching, but I am trying to convince my parents to meet me in Cuba for Christmas and they can book flights via Skyscanner after simply ticking a box (one of the 12 categories listed above).  According to the New York Times about 20 flights a day to Havana are in the works.

In the past US citizens weren’t allowed to purchase anything in Cuba, now you can bring back $400 worth of goods.

Specifically, you can only bring back things for personal use, and only $100 can be comprised of rum and cigars (yuck! I’m not a smoker and will happily leave all cigars behind).  Rum is pretty afordable in Cuba from what I’ve read, so unless you are buying a super reserve bottle of Havana Club you should be able to take home a few bottles.

While you still can’t use American credit cards you can manage to book a room in USD using Airbnb.

I love using hostels while I travel, but outside of the one or two that I’ve seen in Havana, it looks like I will be staying in casa particulares which can be easily found and paid for in USD using Airbnb.  Get $20 credit when you sign up with my link!

Share your thoughts! Have you been to Cuba? Did you love it? What are the best spots in Cuba for a solo female traveler? 



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