Just last week my husband and I returned from Cuba, this being the second time we’ve visited in 7 months. We love Cuba! It had been a dream of mine to go for my 50th birthday for many years, and I did make it happen, only it was for my 56th birthday. Not too bad, considering that although Cuba was not illegal for Americans 6 years ago, it was very difficult because of the requirements were so much more restrictive. The first time, we went with friends who had just visited Cuba 9 months earlier; we felt we could learn all of the tricks from them, and we did! Whatever you have heard, do some research and you will find you CAN still travel independently to Cuba!
There are 12 categories of approved travel to Cuba for Americans. You can still travel to Cuba independently under eleven of those categories. The only category of travel you can’t use to travel independently to Cuba is the People to People Educational category, as of November 9, 2017.
To adhere to the new policies as an independent traveler, you need to:
- Travel under any of the other 11 categories, including the Support for the Cuban People* category. You simply declare that category when booking flights and lodging as well as during re-entry into the US.
- Stay at casa particulares, eat at local restaurants, and support local businesses.
- Avoid staying at hotels banned by the US State Department and spending money at military-owned businesses.
- Travel with an itinerary containing activities that meet the requirements for the category you chose.
- *Note: Support for the Cuban People is the most common category that people choose.
You will also need a travel visa, which was $85 per person from Cuba Travel Services. It takes a few weeks to receive it so be sure to plan accordingly.
You will need insurance, separate from what you already have. If you get sick or fall in a hole, Cuba does not want to pay for you. I found having additional insurance to be peace of mind. To give you an idea, we paid around $55 for the both of us, for a week with $2,000,000 coverage. Very affordable! You can see the insurance option we used here: Travel Insurance for Cuba: Medical Insurance for Cuban Visa
Then, of course, you’ll need a current passport. Also, it’s a good idea to exchange your American money into Canadian or Euros before you go, and then exchange those into the Cuban CUC once you arrive as you won’t get charged nearly as much. As of now your credit card will not work in Cuba. Things are changing so rapidly there that in time this could change. We just brought far more money than we thought we’d need and then used the safe in our room.
Speaking of rooms, we stayed both times at the same casa for a week. Both times we did a two-night excursion to other parts of the island, but left most of our things at the casa and carried an overnight bag. We love to stay at Casa 1932 in the heart of Havana. It is a block off the malecon next to the ocean, centrally located where the real Habanos live, easy to get a taxi (in a vintage car!), and walkable to many fun places. It’s family owned, sparkling clean, has delicious $5 breakfasts, a friendly staff, and it’s absolutely gorgeous. I felt like I was stepping into a little bit of Paris once we entered the wrought iron gates. In November, it was around $50 per night and in June, around $30. It’s HOT in June, so now we know why! Luis, the owner, will go out of his way for you and is very knowledgeable. He also gives art deco tours if you are interested. We plan on returning again during the month of April.
We love Cuba because it’s like stepping back in time: the architecture, the cars, the music. The people are friendly and are fascinated by Americans. They don’t know us, it’s been 60 years! We were told many times that what they’ve seen so far is that we are the nicest people, I have to say the same for them!
Get yourself a couple of good current guide books and see if Cuba is for you! It’s changing rapidly so if you want to see ‘old Cuba’, go soon. You won’t regret it!
by Kym Adams
Born and raised in Washington, Kym has spent most of her life in the Seattle area. She’s been collecting vintage since she was 5 years old, when she first pilfered through her aunt’s jewelry box. She has bought and sold vintage over the years at street fairs, flea markets and in antique malls. Her 117-year old house is a hodgepodge of eras and collections because she can’t seem to stick to one style. She loves it all! Kym has been a hairdresser since high school, traveled extensively, lived on a wooden boat, raised two daughters and has three grandsons. She loves living life to the fullest, dressing the part and making each day count!