Is it legal for US citizens to go there ?
It is helpful to begin with some clarifications of the basics. Cuba welcomes all foreign travelers, including those from the US, and are very friendly to them both on a personal as well as governmental level. Cuba has no restrictions or special requirements for US visitors.
The restrictions come from the US side, whereby for many years it has not been permitted for US citizens to freely travel to Cuba for pleasure, vacation, or tourism reasons. Technically, the prohibition is financially based, and the embargo as it were, forbids the spending or bringing of US currency into Cuba. This embargo still exists, and can only be lifted by an act of Congress.
Travel to Cuba strictly for tourism purposes has long been, and remains, prohibited. However there have for some time been 12 categories of Exceptions, by which by applying for a special license under these categories, one could travel legally to Cuba.
In 2014, the previous administration relaxed the license requirement, keeping the same categories but removing the license required to travel under one of them. Essentially, travelers were advised to “self-declare” the categorical exception to which their desired trip applied.
In June of 2017, and again on the 25th of July, and then again in November, new regulations were released by the new administration. Yes, while the details are a bit complicated and some final regulations’ release is still pending, US citizens are allowed to travel to Cuba for – amongst others – the “People-to-People” categorical exception.
However, it is no longer permitted to go on one’s own. Whether you are one person or ten, you must go to Cuba through the auspices of an authorized travel agency. KBcuba is such an agency. .
What about my passport/visa?
You will need a passport to travel to Cuba. It is fine to allow the authorities there to stamp it, assuming that you are traveling with a legitimate organization such as KBcuba. .
You will also need a Cuban visitors visa. Cuba requires all visitors – not just Americans – to purchase a travel visa. This is essentially granted automatically to anyone traveling to Cuba. If traveling through Mexico, this visa can be bought at the checkin counter of the Cancun or Mexico City airport for $20.
If flying directly from the US, most airlines have their own system for this visa, they are the ones responsible for providing it to you. Most airlines are charging between $50 to $90 for this visa.
It is important to note that the airline that takes you into Cuba is generally responsible for making sure you have your visa. Travelers have reported confusion and inconsistencies to the airlines’ approach; the best advice is to call your chosen airline and ask them. Be sure to ask them if there is written guidance on their website, to prevent any misunderstandings. Miami airport seems to have a good system for selling the visa – regardless of airline – there is a kiosk in Terminal D. Fort Lauderdale travelrs have reported more problems..
How should I travel there?
While some travelers may choose, for other reasons, to go through either Canada or Mexico, most US travelers are now flying direclty to Cuba. Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Airlines, Jet Blue, Southwest and Spirit all had direct routes as of the writing of this post. There are direct flights nonstop available from NYC, Boston, Charlotte, Denver, Ft Lauderdale, Miami, and more.
When is the best time to go ?
We think the best months to go are the months of October through April. Cuba makes a great warm weather destination, and for most people that means visiting during those months. May through August it is quite hot and humid, with daily rain showers.
What are the activities like?
Cuba is a beautiful, unspoiled Caribbean island with lots of wild beaches and rolling hills inland. Our activities are not extreme sports, but we are most definitely getting off the traveled paths, while also getting some exercise and a true opportunity to interact with the locals. The horse and bike trails are generally not as refined as we may be used to back home, but there is a more natural feeling to them as they are still used by the locals to move about as they always have. Cuba has many parks with short, well developed trails usually leading to a site of interest such as a waterfall; beyond that nothing much has yet been developed.
The snorkeling, swimming and diving is some of the best in the western hemisphere. And the cultural activities, such as the many museums, are very interesting to those keen on history or the politics of the region.
What should I bring?
While things are improving, it is true that it can still be a bit difficult or time consuming to buy certain products in Cuba. One should bring from home all needed medicine and personal hygiene and eyesight needs including contact lens solution. Also all batteries, chargers, memory cards, SIM cards, etc should be brought as they are not easily purchased. Oh, and bring a couple of soccer balls !
How about vaccinations or health concerns?
Cuba has a very good health care system, but you should contact your primary physician and/or local travel clinic to discuss with them your plans for a trip to Cuba. Your doctor is also the best source for advice on which, if any, special vaccinations would be required for travel but there are no unusual health concerns for a trip there. There is conflicting information regarding travel insurance requirements by Cuban authorities; in three visits the last several months, we were not asked to show any information regarding our travel/health insurance, as reported by some travelers. We also asked the authorities if there was such a requirement and they replied in the negative, though that does not mean there is not a requirement on the books in Cuba but we can find no evidence of it.
Travel Insurance is normally recommended but with all the uncertainty in travel to Cuba, it is recommended you check with your insurance agent to be certain your coverage is extended there. Additionally, many airlines that fly to Cuba either include insurance with their ticket or provide it as an option. Either your regular insurance agent or your chosen airline provider are the best sources for information, and purchase of, travel insurance for your trip to Cuba.
What is the best way to get to Havana, the start location of the trip ?? While some travelers may choose, for other reasons, to go through either Canada or Mexico, most US travelers are now flying direclty to Cuba. Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Airlines, Jet Blue, Southwest and Spirit all had direct routes as of the writing of this post. There are direct flights nonstop available from NYC, Boston, Charlotte, Denver, Ft Lauderdale, Miami, and more.
What are the accommodations like ? The vast majority of actual hotels in Cuba are large and very expensive government-owned and ran hotels. They often sell out months in advance to large, high-end European tour groups. We typically stay in what is known in Cuba as “casas particulares” . These are private homes that have been renovated by the family to host guests. This is by far the most common way for travelers to stay. You will have your own room and your own private bathroom.
What is the food like ?
Cuban food can sometimes be hit or miss in terms of service or availability, but overall it is outstanding, local and fresh, and consists mostly of seafood and fresh vegetables and dairy, with plenty of beans as well.
Breakfast is included free of charge each day beginning on Day 2; it usually consists of coffee, tea, fresh bread with jam and or butter, fruit and/or fruit juice, and optional eggs.
Lunches are also included every day (except alcohol) and is often meat dishes (pork, chicken, and fish) perhaps rice and beans, plus more fruits and vegetables. We will hit up a few local gems for nighttime restaurants. We use a mix of home cooked meals in our “Casa Particulares”, combined with local restaurants. Cuban food is delicious, fresh, and always an adventure !
Pretty much the only things not included in the price are dinners, alcohol, and souvenirs. Dinners will average $10 to $15 per night. All breakfasts and all accommodation, all transport, and even activity prices are included.
What about Internet access ?Regarding internet access, it is very spotty in Cuba and often is not available. In Havana, in our opinion the best option is to go to Hotel Nacional, it is right near the Capitol, Hotel Inglaterra, and the “center” of the touristic part of Havana. They have a business office on the second floor, which is open from 8am to 10pm. They sell ETECSA cards that cost $5 and have a scratchoff login name and code. Then, take a seat in a lobby chair or at the bar (they dont seem to mind as long as you order something) and just connect to their WiFi signal and enter the scratched-off login username and password. It is least busy in midday time, most busy at night and in the mornings. Many locals you will see outside on the phones, they are using the signal and their own purchased cards. There are also government WiFi signals at a few parks in Havana, as well as the main (only) park in Vinales, also in Cienfuegos and Trinidad.
Yes, although many Cuban casas have a 110v receptacle, it is always a good idea to have a converter/surge protector. The plugs in Cuba are standard US type (some are the regular 2 hole, some have the 3 hole with the round ground plug),
Some are 110v (these are fine to use as normal)
but others are 220v These are not fine to use without a converter.
They are usually marked as such, but not always.
So, best bet is a 220v to 110v ‘step down’ converter, the basic ones are fine as sold via any travel outlet, and all the houses have outlets you can use to charge your items.
Even in fancy restaurants, shorts and a collared shirt or sundress paired with sandals will get you allowed in, but many travelers in those places are well dressed. There is no formal dress code so just follow your usual instincts.
Lightweight, breathable fabric long pants (2) and/or shorts (2)
Lightweight, breathable fabric shirts, long sleeve (2) and short (3)
or sundresses for females.
T shirts, casual button down short sleeve evening shirts (2 or 3)Plus:
All medicine and all personal hygiene items needed for 1 week
Swimming Trunks or Bathing Suit
* sturdy hiking shoes
Socks and underwear
Wide Brimmed Sun Hat
Insect Repellent, non aerosol
What is your cancellation policy?
Up to 2 weeks after purchase date – full refund
Up to 90 days before trip date – 50% refund
Up to 30 days before trip date – 25% refund
Within 30 days of trip date – no refund, 25% credit towards any future trip