10 Things To Know Before Planning Your First Cuba TripOur Magazine
#1 – Who can travel to Cuba?
Restrictions on travel to Cuba by Americans still exist but have eased. While classic tourism is still prohibited, some travel is permitted as long as it falls within one of 12 categories authorized by the U.S. Department of Treasury, including the people-to-people exchanges. Almaz Journeys offers this unique type of trip.
#2 – What are people-to-people trips?
These are educational journeys that have quickly become one of the most popular ways to visit Cuba, these are our specialty. These require a full daily schedule of visits to local artist studios, small businesses, community groups, and other places to provide a meaningful (and fun!) cultural exchange. Despite this requirement, Almaz Journeys is still able to provide an enjoyable, fully customized private journey based on your interests and desired pace.
#3 – So I can’t just lie on the beach for a few days?
Because classic tourism to Cuba is not yet legal for Americans, a weekend on the beach in Varadero is not allowed. But Cuba is so much more than its beaches, and a visit now through people-to-people exchanges offers the unique opportunity to experience and enjoy Cuba in a moment of historic change. You’ll enjoy meeting and talking with local residents of all walks of life, while getting to understand the real Cuba.
#4 – How much time do I need?
Havana is a must for any first-time visitor, and we typically suggest a minimum of 3-4 nights to fully explore and enjoy the Cuban capital. With a full week, you can also venture further to explore other gems of western Cuba including lush Viñales and colonial Trinidad with its nearby Topes de Collantes national park. To explore the eastern Cuban delights of Baracoa and Santiago, much more time is needed to traverse the island by car (domestic flights are unreliable.) Given how close Cuba is to the U.S. (just a one-hour flight from Miami or 3.5 hours from New York), it’s easy enough to return to the island for a second (or third!) visit to explore a different region each time.
#5 – Where will I stay?
There is a shortage of hotel availability, particularly the high-end hotels we prefer for our discerning guests – and this is certain to become more challenging as interest continues to grow. We do have a few favorites, particularly in Havana, for those who prefer this and book well in advance, but we think the best value for small groups and families are our hand-picked private villas and bed-and-breakfasts (casas particulares). They offer more personalized service, better food, and greater flexibility – and, perhaps most importantly, the opportunity to have a more authentic experience through the daily interactions you’ll enjoy with small team taking care of you.
#6 – How do I get there?
Until very recently, the only way to fly to Cuba was via a charter flight, involving sometimes cumbersome booking procedures and hefty airfares. That changed this year when the U.S. government approved the applications of nearly a dozen airlines to fly to Havana and other cities, with south Florida (Ft. Lauderdale and Miami) winning the vast majority of the departures. Some flights are already for sale and operating, and the rest will come online throughout the fall – perfect for planning spring 2017 Cuba travel! Airlines typically provide the Cuba visa and mandatory health insurance either as part of the ticket price or as an added fee.
#7 – Can I use credit cards?
The key word for American travelers to Cuba is “cash,” as currently almost no US bank credit cards are accepted in businesses and you will not be able to withdraw money from ATMs. U.S. dollars can be exchanged for the convertible Cuban Peso (CUC), albeit with a higher exchange fee than the Euro or British pound.
# 8 – When is the best time to visit Cuba?
November-April offers the best weather overall, with slightly milder temperatures and much less rain but, as a result, this is high season so planning ahead is essential for best availability.
#9 – Do I need a visa?
Yes, you will need what the Cuban government calls a “tourist card” and this is often obtained directly through the airline or air charter company. With the rollout of US commercial airline service to Cuba in late 2016, there is some variation on procedures so it’s important to verify whether the tourist visa is included in your flights or must be obtained separately.
#10 – So when can I start planning my trip?
The sooner, the better! Given the tremendous interest in Cuba and the demand for the limited supply of truly deluxe accommodations, it’s never too early to begin planning. Ideally, we suggest a minimum of 4 months in advance to maximize your chance of finding the very best accommodations and experiences for your Cuba trip.