This is the first blog about Cuba and it’s really a “howto” for Americans. Please note it’s written in May 2018 and so things may change after some time but I a pretty sure it will be valid for at least a year but check other places if you go after maybe 2019. I will start by saying I had wanted to go to Cuba for quite some time but was under the impression it was complicated. Here is the bottom line – It is not complicated or a pain at all – 0.0% at this moment in time for Americans to visit Cuba.
Here is what I thought – I thought that under Obama you couldn’t simply go to Cuba by yourself and I thought that Trump had made a policy to make it even more of a challenge. I had been told that you needed to go with a group which organized things for you to do and I simply not a fan of organized travel.
I can report that there is absolutely no bureaucratic hassle and no customs related hassle for an American to visit Cuba on their own at the current time and you can visit by yourself, hassle free and group free with zero problem. All of the written policies are “smoke and mirrors” and or myths. Going to Cuba is almost as easy as going to any other country you will ever go to. I will explain what you are asked, why at first you may think it seems like something to worry about and why it is not (at current).
The policy created under Obama was that you needed to provide a “reason for travel”. You had to choose from twelve reasons ranging from Humanitarian aid to visiting family to journalism. I won’t list them all because I will tell you that: It doesn’t matter. No person in any official position will ask you to tell them why you want to go to Cuba. You will be asked on the computer screen at the point you buy your ticket which of the 12 reasons. Also, when you reserve an AirBnB or on other booking sites you will get the same question. Feel free to pick any one. It doesn’t matter. I can’t tell you how I was so worried about this. I was going to tell them I am a journalist because of this blog. I asked a guy on the plane going which he was going for and he laughed – he said “My girlfriend has family there, but no one will ask”. It was true. No human ever asked me the question.
As it turns out the Cubans absolutely want the Americans there for economic support. The guy at the passport check spent all of 20 seconds getting me through. Tourism is the number one economic activity for Cuba and they aren’t holding a grudge against us.
When you return from Cuba I got waved through without a blink just as I would coming back into the States from anywhere. All of my mental energy spent on this was a total waste of energy.
Point being – if you haven’t gone to Cuba as an American because you think it’s a place that takes some work to get to, end that consideration! That said, I would definitely not recommend Cuba as a destination for everyone. It’s an AMAZING place but it also is very, very different than traveling in other parts of the world. I’m going to post a second blog post with more details and lots of photos but I wanted to get this part very clear just as a single post.
Last piece I will add to this and the start of what can possibly be frustrating about Cuba as a sample …. .don’t bring a drone!!! The passport guy waved me through in 20 seconds. His friends at import of goods (aduana) weren’t so quick with me. They knew what a DJI drone looks like and they saw it in the xray. The process of them confiscating my drone (to store for me to get back at the end) was 4 hour process which included hand-writing 4 copies of a huge form (no photocopier), multiple visits to the same boss with the stamp whose office was across the building plus the fear that I was possibly going to lose my drone in the long run. I can’t imagine how it would have gone if I didn’t speak Spanish (no one in the organization spoke English to any degree)
I did get it back but I got to the airport six hours before my flight and had the drone in my possession only 30 minutes before the flight.
I am not telling this story to deter you from going but just to start to understand that in Cuba, things are baaaaaaaackwards and even though things like service in restaurants is quite good there are other times when things move unimaginably slowly – but more on that later.
Other quick logistical things – Jetblue, United and other major airlines fly a few times a day and flights are cheap. It’s an hour gate to gate from Florida. Airbnb has many good options in Havana and once you get to a host house in Havana they can get you set up around the rest of the country because – the internet more or less is not functional there. More later!
For now I will leave you with a photo gallery – I won’t put too much explanation into it but, as a single coolest thing in a long time – the cars are everywhere – the photos I have here aren’t like “finding a flashy car in a parking lot” – it’s everywhere and it’s so fun!