I am looking for travel ideas, feedback, critiques, contacts, web sites, airline flight information from North America, passport issues, money, crime, etc.
My family would like to spend a week in Cuba in March. As a US citizen, I don't know where things stand right now, in early 2012. Things seem to be changing pretty quickly.
This would be just a family look-see. We'd like to just roam safely around a portion of the island, exploring the countryside, small towns, some city life, historical sites, universities and libraries, find some cultural events, explore the shopping, etc.
Not looking for scuba, speedboats, fancy hotels, clubs or anything else in particular.
Buying and preparing our own food would be great, if there are kitchenette type hotels.
If it is possible to rent an older car for a day, that would be a plus. I have a driver's license and insurance [likely not covering travel in Cuba].
Understand little Spanish.
Would especially like to hook up with seasoned travelers or Cuban residents.
What should a Cuba newbie do? Is English used a lot, or will this be a real handicap?
There is no ban of any kind on Americans going to Cuba. Only on trading with them.
English and the US dollar are used in the main towns. Rather than rent a car you may find it better, and as cheap, to rent a car with a driver, but do make sure he has enough fuel as they can run out and you end up pushing it or leaving the car.
The island is as safe as anywhere these days (apart from a bit of petty theft) and the people are quite laid back. They seem to be glad to see tourists.
If you can get an apartment instead of a hotel, or a room with shared cooking facilities you should be able to cook.
Traveling to Cuba from the US is a lot more open than it used to be and i am happy about that. I hope to one day tour the island and get a feel for its culture. Look into this as i read an article about it. www.insightcuba.com
[ Edit: Edited on 19-Feb-2012, at 09:52 by JerseyBoy88 ]
Sorry to dredge up this old thread but there's so much misinformation that it begs a few comments in case it comes up in searches and it starts to confuse other travellers, especially Americans...
1.) To the Original Poster:
If you're an experienced traveller in developing countries and you've stayed in inexpensive hostels/hotels elsewhere then Cuba will hold no surprises. Travelling independently in Cuba will be easy.
Cuba is no longer an exotic destination... there are loads of excellent guide books like Moon, Rough Guide, Lonely Planet, etc... there are several Internet forums/blogs (like this one, Lonely Planet, etc.) that make it an easy place to research... the whole country is very safe and non-threatening... it has a very defined Gringo Trail with decent transport and accommodation options... tourist scams are simple and no big deal, almost to the point of being naively innocent (compared to some other developing countries)... if you're still nervous it's easy to have a local guide/resolver/travel agent give you a really nice comfort zone by setting you up with a semi-arranged itinerary so you're not completely on your own... etc.
A few thoughts about rental cars and public transport:
Crime and scams:
For a first time visitor who wishes to travel independently a guide book is BY FAR your most important (and cheapest/easiest) investment to start your research.
2.) Cyberia: There is a complete ban on all tourist travel for Americans. There are no loopholes. That said, the legal repercussions are almost non existent at this time. Read Reply #1 here:
Also, US Dollars are the worst currency you can bring to Cuba. Everything you need to know about Money Exchange is here:
3.) JerseyBoy88: Read the first link I gave to Cyberia, it explains the current state of affairs for illegal travel to Cuba for American tourists.
Thanks CheersT on this matter.
Cyberia: please don't misinform people if you just don't know it.
And English and US dollar used in main towns: what do you mean by that anyway? It's just not true!
"Legal repurcussions are almost non-existent"
Yes and no. If you, as an American, try to leave the country with obviously-cuban souveniers and you are caught, you WILL be detained by customs and you COULD be fined. So the best advice for any American is to go there, enjoy the safety of the country, and don't bring any souveniers back home with you - that means leave ALL evidence of traveling there behind, receipts included. You can and most likely WILL be fined if you are returning home with souveniers, and yes, there are Americans that do receive hefty fines so don't be disillusioned.
For purposes of fact, it's a misnomer to imply that there isn't a ban on Americans traveling to Cuba. That is not true. You can't travel there without spending money and thus you have violated the embargo. The only LEGAL travel is licensed travel which is approved through various licensed organizations in the United States. I digress...
[ Edit: Edited on 14-Mar-2013, at 23:15 by Chris and Kim ]
If you stay in casa particulars (privately owned homes that are licensed to rent to tourists) it is customary for the owners to cook your meals. They will be offended if you choose to cook your own, so in essence staying in casa particulars is not a self-catering meal type of vacation. Meals can be negotiated in your rates, however, and from what I understand the portions are more than enough to keep you satisfied and prices are reasonable. For example, if you just wanted breakfast to be included in your rates, that can be negotiated and you can eat your lunch or dinner elsewhere.
Make sure you have a Casa Particular chosen for your arrival date - you'll need proof of that when entering the country. You cannot leave that field on the form blank. Even if you are not staying there, you need something to fill in.
When staying at a Casa Particular, the owner will then arrange your stay at the next Casa Particular if you are traveling about the country. Don't be surprised if you arrive to find your place was rented to someone else instead. This is not uncommon, but no worries, the owner will be sure to find you an alternate accommodation.
Mexico and Grand Cayman are common routes for American travelers to Cuba. Your passport will have two stamps - your first entry to Mexico from your home country, and then your re-entry to Mexico returning from Cuba. Upon returning home to the U.S., customs does not look at your passport stamps or count how many entry stamps you have for Mexico. Your American passport will NOT be stamped upon entry to Cuba. Unsure whether Grand Cayman stamps the passports.
You will need proof of health insurance upon entry to Cuba, and Americans can purchase coverage upon arrival there (if I remember correctly the rates were reasonable). Some people aren't asked about health insurance, but it's probably best to get it anyway.
Exchange your American dollars at the airport before departing to Cuba. Cuba-junky.com is a wealth of information. I am not affiliated in any way with this website.
Beware of pickpockets, drive-by purse snatching and scams, you can find more information on Trip Advisor. Do your homework before you go, know what to expect and you will be happy. Take extra toilet paper with you, women's feminine products, soap, and other first aid items such as antibiotic, aspirin, anti-diarrheal meds, etc. as these items can be hard to come by in Cuba.
Travel by Viazul busline from one city to the next - air conditioned - and always get your tickets a day in advance, not the day of.
It is estimated that anywhere from 100k to 400k Americans travel to Cuba annually. Go NOW before they lift the embargo, and before it becomes overrun by tourism.
Most importantly, leave copies of your passport at home with friends, leave copies of your passport in your luggage, have extra copies on you in person and whatever you do, guard your passport with your life. If I remember correctly, and don't quote me on this, there is a Swedish embassy in Cuba that will assist Americans (in whatever capacity in their power). Leave that contact information at home as well, and also with you.
Chances are you will not have internet access unless you are willing to pay hefty premiums, with a slow connection at that. Your cell phones will not work here.
Prepare yourself for a LOUD culture, a frustrating infrastructure in terms of transportation, and airport security staff scantily dressed in mini skirts and revealing clothing that looks more appropriate for a nightclub.
Have a great trip!
[ Edit: Edited on 14-Mar-2013, at 23:34 by Chris and Kim ]
Count all your change and ALWAYS ask for a receipt to be sure you weren't short changed. This can happen anywhere - airport staff, money exchange, vendors, etc.
Dear Chris and Kim,
You have posted so much misinformation and confusion about travel to Cuba that it's not even worth trying to correct.
Suffice to say I assume that you've never actually travelled there, you're simply passing on info that you've read somewhere or that someone told you.
Dear travel blog Nazi,
You are right and everyone is wrong. I'm sure that's what you want to hear.
I'm an American. Of course I've never been there! It was my evil twin passing along this information about the 3 times they've traveled there.
But thanks for sharing your completely useless feedback.