Our step-by-step guide to visiting Cuba as an American will provide you with the necessary procedures should you wish to visit Cuba yourself.
Are you interested in going to Cuba to participate in religious activities? Are you an educator? An athlete? As travel bloggers, we were able to enter Cuba as journalists. For a full list of approved visitors to Cuba, visit the U.S. Embassy page.
Make sure your passport is current. Then buy your airline tickets. We booked our tickets through Southwest and flew from Tampa to Havana. The flight took only about an hour.
Several airlines offer flights to Cuba, but do your research and make sure you total up all expenses, including baggage fees and Visa fees, to make sure you are getting a good deal. As always, if your travel dates are flexible, you are more likely to find a great price.
FYI: Cuba requires that all visitors have health insurance, but it is included in the price of your ticket.
Tip: Southwest makes the Visa process easy, which is part of the reason we booked with them. See step 3 for details.
After booking our flight, we received an email from Southwest advising us to pay for our Visas through Cuba Travel Services. The Visa is $50 per person through Southwest / Cuba Travel Services, and once everything went through, we received a confirmation email, along with instructions to pick up our Visas from the gate the day of departure.
Long story short, as Americans, we are not permitted to reserve and pay for a hotel, as hotels are owned by the Cuban government, which is not permitted to accept US currency. So, after browsing a number of options on AirBNB, we narrowed it down to our two favorites. One was in Old Havana, had great ratings, and probably would have been a nice place to stay. But we opted for Leo Hostel in Vedado, close to Central Havana. We will be writing a full review of our stay in a later article, but for now, we will just say that you absolutely cannot go wrong with Leo's place. Leo and his girlfriend Yanelys are absolutely wonderful hosts (seriously, we totally fell in love with this couple!), and their place is spacious and comfortable, close to a nice selection of restaurants.
If you have not yet signed up for AirBNB, use this referral link and you will receive a credit toward your first stay! To go straight to Leo Hostel, click here.
Before going to Cuba, we heard conflicting information about whether or not we could convert our US dollars to CUCs (Cuban Convertible Pesos) when we arrived, so to be safe, we took Euros. We had no trouble converting the Euros to CUCs.
Keep in mind that your US credit/debit cards will not work there (even if it's a card from a company based outside the US), even if you could find places that accept cards at all. So if you take only what you THINK you'll need, you may find yourself in a jam, running short on cash, with no access to plastic.
Tip: Do your research before you convert your US dollars to Euros. We waited till the last minute and had to convert money at the Tampa airport. The exchange rate was terrible, but we were out of time and out of options.
We also printed out three of our blog articles in case they asked for them when we picked up our Visas, but they never did. Still, it's better to be safe than sorry.
Tip: Give yourself enough time to go through both the Visa pick-up line and the regular check-in line.
Ride in a classic American convertible, walk along the Malecón, wander the streets of Old Havana, smoke a Cuban cigar, drink a mojito, check out a museum or two, and enjoy Cuba!