Traveling to Cuba as an American: Everything You Should Know + Travel Guide

July 2, 2019Fancy Nanc-ista

First of all, just wanted to say, SORRY for being MIA. I have been sucking at the whole blogging game lately, especially when it comes to updating my blog! But I AM BACK – and will try my best to keep on writing more articles regarding more travel!! Because I know you all are curious to know more :)))

[Shop my favorite floral dresses]


On the flip side, as some of you already may know, I recently just got back from Cuba! And while I am so excited to share with you EVERYTHING you need to know about this beautiful country; the biggest raised question currently is Can Americans still visit Cuba in 2019?

And after further research, the answer is YES! While I will admit, after some recent Trump administration changes, traveling to Cuba did not get any easier, but it is totally possible to still travel to Cuba! So if you’re interested to find out more, keep on reading for more details.

How to Travel to Cuba:

Trump Administration Updates
On June 5th, 2019, the Trump Administration announced new travel regulations to Cuba that included a ban on the cultural group trips known as “people-to-people” travel. This category was one of the most popular reasons used by U.S. citizens who planned on visiting Cuba. Because of this ban, American cruise ships can no longer dock in Cuba.

12 Categories of Authorized Travel to Cuba
Travel to Cuba for tourists activities is strictly prohibited, however, the OFAC has issued general licenses for now 11 categories of travel:

1) Family Visits
2) Official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations
3) Journalistic activity
4) Professional research and professional meetings
5) Educational activities and People to People Travel
6) Religious activities
7) Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions
8) Support for the Cuban people
9) Humanitarian projects
10) Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes
11) Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials
12) Certain export transactions that may be considered for authorization under existing regulations and guidelines

People To People Tours vs. Support for the Cuban People
The People to People Tours category was primarily used by guided tour companies and cruise lines, but as of June 5th, 2019, you can no longer plan trips under this category.

This category is no longer made available to use, however, I’d say the next best category to use for a reason to travel to Cuba is Support for the Cuban People.

This category is used by independent travelers to Cuba. When you use this reason, this essentially means, you are engaging in activities consistent with a “full-time schedule.” So for instance, the activities can include:

  • Meeting with local artists, musicians, tobacco manufacturers, farmers, and others who own their own business.
  • Shopping in independent markets.
  • Taking classes on subjects like dancing, traditional music, and Spanish language.
  • Exploring independently run museums.
  • Attending art shows and learning about different Cuban artists.

I actually used this as my reason for traveling to Cuba, I did not get questioned and it was the easiest category to choose. I will say, if you decide to use this category, you should plan on saving ALL of your receipts during your visit. This is to ensure you have proof if questioned when you head back to America.

The Cuban Visa Process
When you travel to Cuba from America, you need a passport, medical insurance (which usually is included with your airline ticket), and a Pink Cuban Tourist Card.

Depending on what airline you decide to fly with, you can easily purchase a Pink Tourist Card at the check-in and/or gate area at the airport. I flew using JetBlue and got mine at the gate prior to boarding – it cost me $50 but can vary by airline.

During your trip, it’s important to treat your Cuban Tourist Card as you would your passport. You will need this card when you board a flight from the US to Cuba, and vice-versa. If you happen to misplace or lose this card, you may have problems coming back, so it’s advised to keep it in a safe area!

If you want to be extra prepared, you can also purchase your Tourist Card online using sites like Cuban Visa Services prior to your trip, but it’s not necessary.

Money Tips
When you travel to Cuba as an American, you may encounter some money mishaps. Below are some tips to help you prepare prior to your trip:

1) Take out cash and bring enough with you
An FYI, American debit and credit cards are not valid in Cuba. So make sure you take out enough cash to bring with you on your trip.

2) Exchange your US dollars for Euros or Canadian Dollars
US dollars not only has a horrible exchange rate in Cuba but there’s an extra fee included every time you exchange, so instead take Euros and Canadian money. Prior to your trip, head to your nearest bank or currency exchange and swap those dollars to either currency.

3) Cuba has two currencies
CUC (Cuban convertible peso or ‘Cuban dollar’) is equal to USD which is what tourists must use. The CUP (Cuban national peso) is what the Cubans use, 22 CUP is worth around 1 CUC.

4) Exchanging to Cuban money
You can easily exchange your currency at the airport, which is found before the exit, however, the rates aren’t as great as they are at a hotel or resort. Though you should exchange some money at the airport as you will need Cuban money to pay for a taxi.

You can also exchange your money at Cuban banks (which will have better rates), but there might be a higher chance the banker can scam you by giving you less change back. If you decide to do it anyway, always be smart, and recount your money before leaving.

Internet/WiFi
Cuba’s wifi is very limited, not to mention there is absolutely no phone service available! 

Regardless if you’re in the hotel or not, wifi is not free. The only way to ensure free wifi is by staying at 5-star hotels like Melia or Saratoga.

Though, luckily, wifi is fairly cheap, as you can buy it for $1/1 CUC per hour.

You can purchase internet cards at your hotel/resort or at the nearest ETECSA offices.

Wifi is obviously not available everywhere. But you can find wifi hot spots:

  • In parks or main squares
  • Airport
  • Many hotels – both inside and out
  • Outside the ETESCA offices
I will admit, wifi was a PAIN in the rear-end. If you plan on working when you’re out there, it’s definitely doable, just be aware that it might not be the fastest or reliable connection out there.

Another FYI – most American-based websites, social media/apps, and banks will not be available to view online while visiting Cuba. So keep in mind when you want to check your bank, you won’t have any access to it.

Places to Stay:
During my recent stay, I had the opportunity to visit Havana and Varadero. If you are planning to visit Havana, I recommend these two hotels below:

HAVANA

1) Melia Cohiba is located in the downtown district of El Vedado, offering hotel guests with spectacular views of both the ocean and city.

As soon as you walk into the hotel lobby, it definitely has that ‘WOW’ factor, with a modern ambiance theme with beautiful decor that runs throughout the hotel.

The hotel features many amenities such as:

  • Pool
  • Buffet and a la carte restaurants
  • Cocktail bar
  • Fitness Center
  • Gallery
  • Cigar Room
  • Spa
  • Free Wi-Fi
[Shop my favorite earrings here]
While I was there, I had the opportunity to experience their Level Membership, which offered access to their “members-only” Level service featuring a private floor and highly personalized services. 
I totally recommend looking into this membership, click here for more info.

For more information and other guest reviews, click here.

2) Hotel Saratoga is a 5-star boutique hotel and is highly recommended. Located in the heart of Old Town Havana, Hotel Saratoga is walking distance to plenty of restaurants, bars, and shops.

This hotel is a beauty, it has the best 360 rooftop views of Havana! Not to mention, the hotel decor is absolutely stunning! What I appreciated the most from them is their hospitality – compared to the other hotels I stayed at, the service here was top-notch and the staff was definitely WAY friendlier than the others – which is something I totally look for when staying anywhere.

The hotel features:

  • Pool
  • Restaurant
  • Bar
  • Fitness Center
  • Business Center
  • Breakfast
  • Free WiFi
I only had a chance to stay one night here, but definitely enjoyed it!

For more information and other guest reviews, click here.

Other affordable and popular places to stay are in AirBnB’s – can find some great ones starting at $20 per night! 

VARADERO


About 2 hours away from Havana, you can find a popular beach resort town of the name of Varadero. Along the coastline is a string of all-inclusive hotel and spa complexes, and a golf course.

You can easily catch a cab that will take you here. Costs start at $100 for a 2-hour ride.

We stayed at Be Live Experience Las Morlas – this place wasn’t as luxurious as the others, but on the plus side, this hotel is off of the ocean, which offers guests straight access to the beach, as well as free water activities! If you are looking for a more casual and affordable resort here in Varadero, this is the place for you!

The hotel features:

  • Swimming Pool
  • Beach Access
  • Bar/Restaurant
  • Fitness Center

    WiFi is NOT free – you can purchase a wifi card at the front desk, costs 1 CUC per hour.

    For more information and other guest reviews, click here.

    Other hotels to book while in Varadero:

      Things to Do:
      Out of the two cities I visited, Havana is a MUST on your bucket list. Havana’s vibe is like none other, filled with plenty of amazing things to do! From galleries to museums, tours, and of course, mojitos, here are the top 3 things you should do while in Havana:

      1) Book a classic car tour.
      This is a MUST and most popular tourist thing to do while in all of Cuba, especially Havana. I mean, who can pass up the opportunity to drive in a vibrant colored, classic car, in Havana!

      Prices varied from CUC$35 and up – depending on time and amount of people.

      You can easily book these tours at your hotel/resort or book it online here.

      2) Bar hop and drink lots of mojitos.
      Obviously, mojitos should be on your top list, you’re in Cuba after all! Not sure how many I consumed there, but they sure know how to make it money worthy. If you ever find yourself wandering the streets of Havana for some delicious mojitos, I recommend, La Bodeguita del Medio and El Chancullero de Tapas, both located in Old Town Havana.

      3) Get lost and wander the streets of Central Havana.
      Every corner of Old Havana is a perfect photo opportunity and walking around is the best way to find them. Don’t forget to check out the markets, you can definitely bargain your way to some amazing Cuban finds.

      Want to shop my looks? See below:

      CLOTHING:
      Lulu’s Rainbow Dress
      Band of Gypsies Floral Dress
      Band of Gypsies Floral Top & Bottom
      Arrow and Eve Swimsuit

      ACCESSORIES/SHOES:
      Naturalizer White Sandals
      Sam Edelman Yellow Sandals
      Brunna Co Straw Bag
      ——–

      And that’s IT! If there’s one last tip for you guys to pencil in is to HAVE A BLAST!! 

      Let me know in the comments below if you’ve been to Cuba and what was your favorite moment OR if you want to go, what do you dream of doing first?!

      If you have any questions on Cuba, please feel free to email me hello@fancynancista.com

      Until next time loves!! Thank you for following me on this journey!!!

      XO,

      NANCY

      Comments

      • Kayla

        July 2, 2019 at 8:33 pm

        How fun! I hope you had a great trip!

      • Fancy Nanc-ista

        July 2, 2019 at 8:34 pm

        Thank you! It was!! Def recommend it!

      • Knycx Journeying

        July 8, 2019 at 6:07 am

        Cuba is simply exciting and lots to see and do actually – thanks for sharing with us your experience and free feel to find out what I experienced there in Havana!

        https://knycxjourneying.com/2017/02/19/back-to-1953-the-next-day-continues/

      • Kalyan Panja

        July 8, 2019 at 4:55 pm

        After reading so much about Cuba as also the rum, city art and exotic lifestyle, I really wish I can visit there soon to enjoy the charming beauty.

      • Karletta

        July 8, 2019 at 6:07 pm

        Thanks for the info. I'm not an American and have never been to Cuba – but I feel like I've been there through your write-up and pics.

      • Dreams Taking Wings

        July 9, 2019 at 7:41 am

        Cuba is the one of the exotic locations for me. The culture, their history everything excites me. I hope to visit Cuba one day.

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