7 Things To Know Before You Travel To Cuba

Now that Americans can travel freely to and from Cuba, you may be ready for the vacation of a lifetime. Just 90 miles off the coast of Florida, the Caribbean nation entices adventurous tourists with its mix of tropical beauty and old-world charm.

Because travel has been restricted to Cuba for over half a century, many misconceptions exist about tourism in the country. We chatted with AFAR'co-founder Joe Diaz about his recent trip to Cuba, and he shared these facts about travel to the Latin American hot spot: 

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1. Cuba Travel: Fact 1

Do you need any special documents to travel to Cuba?

JD: No, you just need your passport. As of January 16th, you no longer need to apply for a special license to visit Cuba. Technically, your reason for travel needs to fall under the 12 existing categories of authorized travel, but they are so broad and easy to meet that you will not have an issue as an American citizen.

Photo Credit: Joe Diaz

2. Cuba Travel: Fact 2

How can you even book travel to Cuba? Do American airlines offer flights to the country?

JD: As of January 15, 2015, our travel advisor was able to book our trip all the way through to Havana. Currently, there are no US airlines that operate service to Havana. We flew through Panama City on Copa, but there are many others, including AeroMexico, Air Canada, Avianca, KLM, Air France and Aeroflot. My recommendation would be to use a travel advisor to help you book. Try to fly through Cancun, Mexico City, Toronto, Grand Cayman or Nassau. 

Photo Credit: Joe Diaz

3. Cuba Travel: Fact 3

Are there strict regulations about what you can bring back from Cuba?

JD: There are regulations as to what you can bring back. Tobacco and alcohol (rum) can total $100 US of the $400 worth of goods you're allowed to import. All imported goods need to be for personal use. 

Photo Credit: Joe Diaz

4. Cuba Travel: Fact 4

Is it safe to travel alone? 

JD: Cuba is very safe. We had no issues traveling alone and never felt unsafe. Tourism is an extremely important revenue source for the country, so tourists are well protected. With that being said, Cuba is raw, and the tourism infrastructure is not in place to handle the needs of most American travelers. But, for the five to 10% of Americans who are on the adventurous, experiential side of the spectrum... GO, GO, GO!

Photo Credit: Joe Diaz

5. Cuba Travel: Fact 5

Is it best to tour the country alone or to book a tour? 

JD: It really depends on what you want out of your trip. We spent four days in Havana, and did not feel the need to book a tour. I would suggest working with a travel advisor to help your plan you trip and answer any questions you might have. We worked with Jetset World Travel, based in the United States. We also worked with a company on the ground in Havana called Transnico/Cuba For Travel. They can arrange tours, guides, cars and accommodations.

Photo Credit: Joe Diaz

6. Cuba Travel: Fact 6

How long should one visit to get the full experience?

JD: Spend three days in Havana, and then carve out another three to four days visiting another area such as Pinar del Río. All in all, give yourself four to seven days to get an immersive Cuban experience. 

Photo Credit: Joe Diaz

7. Cuba Travel: Fact 7

Lastly, what are your recommendations for places to visit while in Cuba?

JD: For wonderful cultural experiences, spend time in Havana and Pinar del Río, Cuba's lush cigar country.h majority of Canadian travelers skip Havana, and head straight to the touristy beaches of Varadero. Other places to consider are Trinidad and Cienfuegos. Keep in mind that once you get outside of Havana and Varadero, hotels options are limited. It's an opportunity to stay at a private home. Accomodations tend to be basic, but they do give you a more authentic window into Cuban life. 

For more information on travel to Cuba, visit AFAR's website

Photo Credit: Joe Diaz