How do I enter Cuba if I am an United States Citizen?
To travel to Cuba, a US citizen, one must select a reason from the twelve options below:
1. Family visits
2. Official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations
3. Journalistic activity
4. Professional research and professional meetings
5. Educational activities
6. Religious activities
7. Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions
8. Support for the Cuban people
9. Humanitarian projects
10. Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes
11. Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials
12. Certain export transactions that may be considered for authorization under existing regulations and guidelines.
I traveled to Cuba through JetBlue on a direct flight from JFK Airport in NYC to Havana, Cuba. While purchasing my ticket through JetBlue, one of the steps were to fill out an affidavit selecting my reason to travel to Cuba. I chose journalism as my reason for blogging purposes. I was very nervous and skeptical about getting a visa by choosing journalism but it worked out. We arrived at JFK three hours before our flight (I think 2-3 hours is a decent amount of time). JetBlue has a check-in area just for flights to Cuba at JFK. We approached the kiosk where a JetBlue representative took my passport and checked me into my flight. I got my visa ($50 through JetBlue at the counter) and got it notarized at the same time. No questions were asked and it only took 10-15 minutes! I was incredibly surprised by how easy the whole process was. With JetBlue, you cannot purchase your Cuban visa ahead of time, only at the airport. I have heard of being able to purchase the visa ahead of time with other flight carriers. JetBlue made the trip very simple and I recommend flying through them (this is not a sponsored post, I just had a great experience with them).
When is the best time to travel to Cuba?
I cannot guarantee when the best time to travel to Cuba is, but I can speck from my experiences. I traveled to Cuba during the second week of May (seven days). I thought traveling to Cuba in May was great because the weather was nice, it wasn't over crowded with tourists, and the flights were on the cheaper side. The weather was perfect, high eighties and nineties fahrenheit, and it only rained one day. It was a little humid, but not to the point where it felt uncomfortable (my hair was manageable). My non-stop flight roundtrip from JFK to HAV was only $285! In all three cities I went to (Havana, Bay of Pigs area, and Trinidad), the streets were calm and I had no trouble getting into museums, restaurants, etc.
Where should I go in Cuba? What should I do in Cuba?
We went to Cuba for seven days in the following order: Havana (2 nights)-> Bay of Pigs/ Playa Giron (1 night)-> Trinidad (3 nights)->Havana (1 night)
While visiting Cuba, you must spend a couple of days in the city of Havana! The city is filled with color, culture, history, and bustling nightlife. We spent two and a half days and felt that it was enough to see all the main sights. There are tons of things to do in Havana! You can spend the whole day just roaming the streets and getting lost in the colorful architecture. That’s exactly what we did! I recommend the following:
1. Visit Museo de La Revolution. Learn about the history and culture of Cuba for only 8 CUC
2. Be amazed by the beauty of the Capital building and walk along Paseo del Prado where you can find an array of colorful vintage cars!
3. Ride in a vintage car- for 25-40 CUC (depending on your bargaining skills) you can ride in a vintage car of your choice/ color and get an hour long tour in Havana. It was worth every penny and the photos are priceless! I only had 15 CUC by the end of my trip so hustled my way to getting a tour with the money I had left. The Cuban people are incredibly sweet and just want to give tourists the best experience. Tip- bat your eyelashes and smile :)
4. Take a pit stop at the Jose Marti Memorial and learn about Cuban history.
5. Walk along the Malecon! The sights are absolutely stunning and so peaceful! Admire the views of the blue waters and Morro castle. Make sure to catch the sunset!
6. Walk around old Havana from Museo de Revolucion, to the Plaza de Armas, then Plaza de la Catedral, next Plaza de la San Francisco, and end in Plaza Vieja for a nice cold beer from La Factoria.
7. Take a pit stop at the Jose Marti Memorial and learn about Cuban history.
8. EAT!!! Cuban food was delicious! Scroll down for all my favorite places.
In Havana, we arranged a taxi to take us to Bay of Pigs/ Playa Giron for 70 CUC. Next stop...Bay of Pigs/ Playa Giron
Bay of Pigs- Playa Giron
We went to Bay of Pigs for one reason- scuba diving! It was worth the trip and I will never forget the time in this little city!
We arrived in the late afternoon and it was too late to go scuba diving. Instead we went over to Coco beach. It was walking distance from the house we stayed at. Coco beach is very secluded and private. The beach is a bit more rocky but the sunset was gorgeous! We swam, drank rum on the beach, watched the sunset, and made friends with locals
The next day, the bus picked us up to head over to scuba dive. It costs 35 CUC for beginner diving which consists of a 15 minute lesson and hour long dive in the Caribbean sea. It took roughly an hour to get gear and sign waiver. There was someone who spoke English pretty fluently to help me with my lesson. I was surprised about how easy it actually was. We went about 20- 30 feet under. The reefs and wildlife were incredible. One of the coolest things I have ever done!! This area is known for some of the best diving and is why we chose to go.
We took a Viazul bus from Playa Giron to Trinidad for 14 CUC a person. The trip was about 3 hours long and the bus was really comfortable! I tried to buy tickets online but the website did not work. It was very easy to purchase tickets on the spot!
The colorful city was absolutely beautiful!! Everywhere you look, there was color!! The streets were like rainbows.
1. Take a walking tour through the city to see all the main sights and see where the locals live. We took the tour recommended by Lonely Planet
2. Have a drink while sitting on the steps by the plaza and people watch
3. Rent bikes for 5 CUC from the casa. We rode bikes for about 10 miles to Playa Ancon. I do not recommend doing this if you are traveling to Cuba in May or if it is above 90 degrees Fahrenheit. I definitely learned the hard way. I felt like I just rode a marathon by the time I got to the beach. Another option is taking a classic taxi car for 8 CUC.
Playa Ancon was absolutely beautiful and everything I had hoped for. White sand beaches with clear blue water. The beach went on for miles and we hung out all day till right before sunset. We drank from the bar, had lunch at the Ancon Grill, and drank fresh coconut water out of ginormous coconuts. I couldn't have asked for more. We decided to ride our bikes back and were dead by the time we got back to our casa.
After Trinidad, we had to go back to Havana because our flight was departing from there. We originally planned to take a bus but we got a persoanl taxi for the same amount so we went with the taxi. Our host helped us arrange the taxi. The cost was 25 CUC per person and the car ride was roughly 4 hours.
Where should I stay in Cuba?
Most of the time when I travel, I stay at hotels. I did a lot of research before I went to Cuba and after reading a ton of articles, the overall consensus was to stay in an Air BnB. I loved my experiences at the three places I stayed in during my trip to Cuba. The local hosts were absolutely amazing and so willing to help with everything from arranging taxis, preparing food, and giving us tips on where to go. For seven nights, the total came out to $260!
In Havana I stayed with Elizabeth. The views from her rooftop were great! This apartment was very close to the capital and walking distance to old Havana. If you are looking to be closer to most of the sights, stay in old Havana. I walked past several hotels in Havana and they all looked stunning and incredibly luxurious.
In Bay of Pigs/ Playa Giron, I stayed at Tony's. I had the best experience here as the hosts helped arrange everything from our scuba diving excursion, taxi, and bus to Trinidad. Tony's wife, Mary, was an amazing cook!! I had some of the best lobster, shrimp, and chicken here!!
In Trinidad, I stayed at Felix's. This was the perfect location! It was very close to the bus stop and main plaza. There was a great restaurant right across the street too! Felix and his wife were absolutely amazing hosts and cannot thank them enough for all their help!
Where should I eat in Cuba/ How is the food?
Food in Havana
The food in Cuba was amazing!! Before I went to Cuba, I heard/ read that the food wasn't that good. But after experiencing it for myself, I have to completely disagree with that!
We went to a famous place, La Guaridia, one night for dinner. We made reservations a week in advance which I highly recommend doing- expect a response within 48-72 hours. This restaurant is located in a residential neighborhood. On the way to the place, we thought we were going the wrong way because it was dark and quiet. The restaurants was super cool! The building is worn down and several levels. I will be honest and say the food was not as good as I was expecting. We had the lobster and chicken. But I will say, it is still worth going for the ambiance and experience. For four drinks, one appetizer, two main courses, the bill came out to about 75 CUC. Tip- request to sit on the roof. The views were cool!
Have a mojito, or two, at El Patio En La Habana Vieja while people watching. The food here is not known to be great but the drinks were great!! It was about 2 CUC per drink.
Try a real Cuban sandwich from Sandwicheria La Bien Paga. The sandwich is only 2 CUC!!! Yup, you read that right. It was delicious!!!!!
In between exploring, try the ropa vieja and a couple drinks at Mama Ines. It was the best ropa vieja I had, ever! The drinks were strong and made perfectly!! This hidden gem is tucked away in a little street and is perfect to try out before heading over to Plaza de San Francisco.
The beast meal I had in Havana was at Los Nardos. This restaurant had a line every time I walked by. We waited about 30 minutes and it was totally worth it! It was and amazing meal with a romantic ambiance. A really cute man was also playing the piano. I felt like I was Belle from Beauty and the Beast- then the theme song started playing. Try their famous soup, fresh fish of the day, and lobster!
Make sure you head over to Chinatown while you're in Havana! Yup, that's right. We at an amazing Chinese Cuban lunch at Tein Tan. We had beers, beef on hot iron plate and friend rice. YUM!!
Food in Trinidad, Cuba
The food in Trinidad was amazing!!! I ate for dirt cheap and the portions were huge!!
We had breakfast at our casa every morning for 5 CUC which consisted of fresh pressed juices, coffee, bread, eggs, and fresh fruits.
One night, we had dinner at La Ceiba which was amazing! It was right across the casa we were staying at. Ceiba means big tree. The restaurant was built up in several levels around this gorgeous tree. I highly recommend trying this place out for dinner one night. We tried the lamb rope vieja and roasted honey chicken. It was served with a fresh fruit salad as well as a vegetable salad. Both dishes were delicious and the portions were very large! The bill came out to about 34 CUC for three cocktails, and two dinner entrees.
Other nights, we walked down Calle Gutiérrez, which is a main street filled with restaurants. Most of the places on this strip looked amazing and plates never went over 25 CUC. We had dinner at Restaurante Punta Brava that was mind blowing! The portions were big enough to feed an army (image below) and the whole meal came out to roughly 18 CUC. We had lamb special, pork chops, and traditional rice and beans (two different ways). We also wrote our names on the wall with crayons!
At Playa Ancon, there are bars on the beach where drinks are roughly 4 CUC. There are also fresh coconuts for 3 CUC!! They were huge and so refreshing! There is also a restaurant, Ancon Grill, where they serve hot food and cold beverages. The food was not the best but plate were roughly 5-12 CUC.
What should I pack to go to Cuba?
As far as packing goes, I recommend taking tropical prints, flowy dresses and skirts, shorts, cotton/ linen shirts, and tons of bathing suits (so many great unlined bikinis here)! Stay tuned for all my vacation looks!
Shop this two-piece bikini that is only $12 HERE
Shop this gorgeous palm leaf printed one-piece for $15 HERE
Pink Hat from Zara
Pink Dress from Aidan Mattox- shop the look HERE
Do American/ US credit/ debit cards work in Cuba?
If you use Chase Bank, your cards will not work in Cuba. The atms will not give cash and cards are not accepted in any hotels or restaurants. I recommend taking US dollars and converting cash in Cuba. The currency exchange rate is the same throughout the whole country- it is about 10% conversion fee.
Cuc vs. Cup- almost everything we paid for was in CUC. The locals automatically converted CUP for us. You shouldn't worry about getting ripped off as the Cuban people were some of the nicest and honest people.
1 Cuc= $1
What do I do if I run out of money in Cuba?
If you run into this problem of running our of money in Cuba, don't worry, there is a solution. One way to get cash is through Western Union. Someone in the US needs to directly transfer money to a local Cuban citizen. You could ask your host family to help you by being the middle man. You will need the local Cuban citizens full name and possibly ID number. Your family/ friend in the US needs to go to the local Western Union and transfer money to their account. Western Union will provide a ten digit code for the transaction. This number is needed to be given when picking up the money at the Western Union in Cuba. This process could take up to a few hours.
Bank- take cash, even some extra cash just in case. Cuba was incredibly safe. I took by passport and cash everywhere I went. I wore by crossbody bag and never felt unsafe the whole time. I honestly felt safer in Cuba than I did in Paris
Save some money at the end of your trip to buy rum at the duty free shops to take home with you!
Medication- take allergy medication- the dust made me quite sensitive.
Water and fruits and vegetables- we drank out of bottled water and all restaurants and casa. I brushed my teeth with tap water and had no issues. I even drank tap water and had no difficulties. Cuban food always consisted of a vegetable salad- cucumber, tomato, and cabbage. I ate everything (even with the skin) and my stomach was fine.
Average Cost of Things:
Taxi to and from the airport in Havana= $30 total for car- not per person
Bus prices=$14-25 per person
Taxi from Trinidad to Havana =$25 per person. Same price as vizual bus but you get the whole car to yourself. The taxi should also pick you up and drop you off from your hostal. Door to door service
Average cocktail price= $3
Average beer = $2
Average water price =$1-3 depending on size
Average food cost = sandwiches $2-$7, full plates $6-25
Casa breakfast =$5
Casa dinner/lunch= $9-12
Till the next adventure....