Now that US travel sanctions to Cuba have been lifted, Cuba is considered the most popular fast changing destination to visit. Fast changing in the sense of rapid globalization. Already, the major hotel chains like Sheraton and Hilton are making plans to build. Very likely, franchises like Starbucks and McDonalds will be making their presence. There is an urgent need to go see the authentic Cuba before it changes.
Yes. Cruise lines may get clearance to visit, and commercial carriers like Jet Blue and AA are flying to Havana. But, if you are US Passport holder or permanent resident, don’t think you can just fly there and lie on the beach and do nothing or have the say of how you spend your time. You can’t even book on Expedia or Orbitz. There are rules and regulations restricting travel for Americans. So, here are some current information about Cuba. Again, it is a fast changing destination. So, these might change too. Check for updates with your travel advisor when you are ready to plan a trip.
Here’s what you need to know before you go.
- Traditional tourism is restricted by government regulations.
Americans must travel on one of the 12 categories listed on the Office of Foreign Asset Control approved program. Most travelers can visit Cuba based on the People-to-people travel option under the educational category. Your itinerary must be packed with educational activities such as museum visits, tours and interactions with local Cubans, and you must keep records of your trip for at least five years, or face fines.
The best way to visit Cuba then, is to join one of the tour operators that have obtained the proper license to guide you. Many of these are going to be escorted, group tours, with organized sightseeing activities. If you don’t like traveling with strangers, gather your friends and family and form your own small group. However, I also have limited suppliers who can plan a customized trip if interested. But you still have to participate in above activities. Yet, you wouldn’t want to go to Cuba just for the beach and nice weather. Go and visit a rum factory. See how cigars are made. Visit an organic farm. Attend a dance performance. Cubans are talented dancers. Immerse into the culture that is Cuba.
- Visa or Tourist Entry Card
Your trip should qualify to just purchase the tourist entry card with the airlines at the gate before you depart USA if you’re traveling with one of the general licenses above. Don’t think you can get pass this regulation by traveling from Canada or Mexico. As long as you have US passport or are permanent resident, you have to abide. You maybe required to obtain a travel visa from the embassy in Washington D.C. if you’re not traveling under the 12 categories listed.
- Non-US medical insurance policy is required.
Medical insurance is required for visiting Cuba. Your medical insurance policy from work, or even a stand alone travel insurance policy will not work because they are US issued policy. I can help arrange proper insurance when you purchase your trip.
- Prepare plenty of cash.
US bank issued credit and debit cards are not accepted. Cash is king. Exchange rates are not good if you try to get cash there. So, be prepared. And of course, be cautious and secure your cash when you are out and about, just like any place you visit.
- Reserve early.
Due to popularity and a shortage of accommodations available, plan to book as early as possible. You can stay in first class modern hotels, smaller boutique style hotels, all-inclusive resorts or privately owned bed and breakfasts. However, there can still be problems with water and electricity at your hotel. So, keep expectations straight. You can stay at 5 star resorts in other Caribbean islands. Wifi is not widely available nor dependable and the water is not safe to drink. There is always bottled water and we can always use some time to unplug from our devices.
- Cuba is a relatively safe destination.
The security environment in Cuba is relatively stable and has a strong military and police presence throughout the country. Cubans are warm and welcoming people, eager to speak to visitors. Spanish is official language, but English are well spoken for those providing travel services. The buildings are now being lovingly restored and Old Havana is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The old American cars are also being restored and you can hire them as taxi or for private tours. The food services has gone up and you can actually enjoy Cuban cuisine in nice settings instead of in the kitchen table of someone’s home like it used to.
If you’re interested in traveling to Cuba, I can help you with the planning. Don’t DIY because you want to use reputable and reliable tour operators that has proper licenses and are actually providing you services they listed. You don’t want to be stranded when you are there.