Traveling to Cuba

FAQs to Ensure a Successful Trip

Cuba

Getty Images

For a place so close to the United States, Cuba is steeped in mystery. Located just 90 miles south of Florida, Cuba has been barred to most US travelers for 5 decades. But with the Obama Administration’s lifting of some travel restrictions, pent-up demand for travel to the island nation could become a reality for many Americans in 2011. Check out these FAQs to help ensure a trip to Cuba goes smooth sailing.


Q: Can I access Cuba by plane?
A: Not exactly. Travelers must go through a licensed operator, such as a travel company or educational group, which has been issued an umbrella “people-to-people” visa (it covers all travelers)by the US Treasury Department. So far, a handful of US companies have been approved, such as: Insight Cuba, Distant Horizons, and Marazul Charters.

Q: Where’s the nearest beach party?
A: If you’re looking for a typical beach fun fest, Cuba is not the place. Treasury Department guidelines state the following: “Each traveler will have a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities that will result in meaningful interaction between the travelers and individuals of Cuba.”

Q: What kind of cultural activities can I enjoy?
A: Lots. Visit history-rich sites such as Cienfuengos, a coastal city nicknamed “La Perla del Sur” (Pearl of the South); explore the arts scenes of Havana and Trinidad, a Unesco World Heritage Site; and jam with the staff of Egrem, the Cuban state record company.

Q: Cuba has 2 currencies – can I use US dollars instead?
A: Since 2004, the Cuban government has barred the use of US dollars. Trade in your dollars at the Cuban airport for the 2 accepted currencies: the Cuban peso (CUP) and Cuban convertible peso (CUC). Use the CUP for everyday local items such as fruit and vegetables; use CUC for “luxury” items (toothpaste, toilet paper, etc.) Additional information can be found here: Cuba Currency & Money Guide and Money in Havana.

Q: Can I upload my Cuba photos to Facebook?
A: Internet access is relatively expensive in Cuba ($6/hour for dial-up, even more for WiFi in the handful of hotels that offer it.) So, budget accordingly or plan on an unplugged vacation.

Q: I’m standing outside a nice casa – and it’s got a blue sign near the door. What does that mean?
A: Accommodations come with one of 2 signs: a blue sign indicates foreign nationals only; a red sign indicates Cubans only: Havana Hotels and Stay in a Casa

Q: What’s for breakfast, lunch, and dinner?
A: Chances are you’ll quickly tire of Cuba’s alternative to McDonald’s golden arches (El Rapido). Cuba is not known for a posh gourmet restaurant scene. Under a “paladar” system, a family can operate a small restaurant in their house. Check out the more eclectic culinary fare here: Cuba Restaurant Picks.

Q: How can I get around Cuba?
A: If you’re going with a group, chances are it’s via an air-conditioned tour bus. For solo ventures, hail a cab, take a train, (Cuba’s rail system runs the entire length of the island), rent a car (drive at night, at your own risk) or take a bus.

Q: Any last resources to recommend for safety tips, medical facilities, etc.?
A: Brush up on safety specifics with this US State Department Cuba overview. Get a local’s safety tips here. Still have questions? Try here for answers.

Next Up

Cuba, a Country of Contrasts

One writer reflects on her trips to Cuba, a country of contrasts.

The Hot List

Travel the world. Enter Daily to Win $10,000!  

Will Blake or Janel be the next Travel Channel Star?

Join the conversation on Social Media!
Follow Us Everywhere

Join the party! Don't miss Travel Channel in your favorite social media feeds.