How to Travel to Cuba
So I was just in Cuba. And it was a bit difficult to travel to Cuba. Not too hard, but probably harder than most countries except for China ( I think… ). There is a bunch of info out there about getting to Cuba, some out of date, some is changing, and for me it was really hard to tell what was true.
So here was how I traveled there and some notes — though note — this was just how it was for me so I don’t know if they are consistent across everyone.
I took a flight on Southwest to Havana through Fort Lauderdale. That worked. So you can just take a Southwest flight and there are a few other airlines from the US that go to Cuba.
Visa / Tourist Card
I was pretty confused on the visa information before going. I could tell you needed one. There were some weird parts about it since things are still not normal with the US and Cuba. So I had read and heard from Southwest you can just get the visa at the airport, but was still nervous because I didn’t fully understand the restrictions and requirements for going to Cuba. However, getting a visa at the airport worked out for me. There was a kiosk near the Southwest check in — there was one check-in upstairs, but a separate Cuba check-in downstairs. I had to pay $75 by credit card to this kiosk and they gave me this pink visa card. That was about it. They did warn me several times about filling it out right, but it was just first name and last name and passport number really.
Checking In / Reasons to Go to Cuba
I had lots of confusion checking in to get to Cuba and out of Cuba. When I talked with the guy on Southwest he asked the reason for going, and the one for me, which seems to be closest to tourism…. is just “Support of the Cuban People.” So that was my official reason. Kinda weird. He also said: make sure you have your outgoing flight from Cuba. I did not have that flight so I needed to hustle and get that. Turned out no one asked. That was not the case leaving Cuba, where they would not let me check in and bumped me off my flight because I didn’t have my next flight out in time. When I was asking around at the information booths this prompted one woman to tell me in English (the rest of what she said was in Spanish), “Everything in Cuba is different, and difficult.” Yup.
Taxis from the airport were quoted to me at 25 CUC which I think is both the set rate and the tourist rate. Taxis are pretty much at US prices while other things are much cheaper. On the way back I got it for 20 CUC — this was organized by the woman at the hostel. In general if a Cuban was helping me get a price it was a better price than on my own. Also, the cars for the taxis are very old.
The money situation is confusing. There are two currencies. Yup.
There is the CUC and CUP. It took me a day or so to get the hang of it.
The CUC is the Convertible Peso — the tourist one, which is pegged to the dollar. I heard people pronounce it as “cuc” (like “kook”) and spell it out “c u c” (like “say ooh say”, the Spanish letters).
The CUP is the local Cuban peso. It’s currently about 25 CUP to one CUC.
Most things I paid for in CUC. Sometimes I was at more of a local shop and I got change in CUP.
I brought all USD and exchanged at the airport to CUC. With USD you get a bad rate with a 10% fee I believe. So really any other currency is better to exchange, people had recommended euros or Canadian dollars but I didn’t have time to get those before.
It seemed that everything in Cuba was all cash and I don’t believe the cards worked there and I didn’t use one.
There was one time I was walking near this tourist site and some people were selling some snacks nearby, and I think the price was 2 or 3 CUC but I only had a larger bill… as opposed to the larger bill I paid with many types of currency: CUC, CUP and even a USD. No one else took a USD but just shows that is confusing.
There are also two versions of 1 CUC! There is the 1 CUC coin. and the 1 CUC bill. The first time I got that as change I thought I was getting scammed.
I don’t know how it is in other countries at the moment with the wifi/internet situation but it seems Cuba maybe is as far behind as anyone. There really isn’t wifi anywhere. There are wifi parks. And there are wifi cards. There are ETECSA shops, and you buy these cards which are good for usually 1 hour of wifi. They have a code and then a password you scratch off like a lottery card. And people buy these in a line at the wifi park. And there are also people reselling them at a good markup. The first one I bought was for 2 CUC from a random guy. In the line they sell them for 1 CUC for 1 hour, with a max of 3, and you needed your passport. All those things were crazy to me.
But yes, people are definitely selling wifi cards at parks like drugs. Wifi? Wifi? Hey can you buy me an extra card? (presumably so he can sell it to someone else later for 2x or 3x).
I used Google Maps for navigating sometimes with my location dot but mostly that did not work. I downloaded maps.me on a recommendation and that was better. I downloaded the offline map for Havana.
What I might do differently
For my trip I wanted to plan as I go, but seems that for Cuba that’s not really the way to go. I would get the flights in and out before, and either have them printed or saved on your phone offline. I’d also go a bit earlier to the airport just to make sure you don’t have issues with the visa. I got pointed in the wrong direction several times wandering around the airport.