How To Go To Cuba Right Now: A Travel Primer

I have wanted to go Cuba ever given a accurate impulse we initial schooled that we couldn’t. Yes, there’s a wider appeal—the growling selected cars, their bizarre tools transposed a dozen times over with whatever bits their owners could get their hands on. The gorgeous, exploding buildings, like intricately crafted birthday cakes forsaken in a mud and left to bake in a object for decades. The temperate Caribbean waters bordered by white silt beaches, easy by sun-blotting mega-resorts or journey ships. Its layered, stranger-than-fiction history. But mostly? There’s zero some-more alluring than a Keep Out sign.

When President Obama announced final Dec that U.S. family with Cuba would finally be normalized, we was customarily one of many Americans whose pulses thumped in anticipation. But what did that unequivocally mean? Information to elementary questions eluded me. Was transport to Cuba as easy as shopping a sheet online, an choice accessible since April?

What you’ll find subsequent is a beam borne of my personal knowledge roving to Cuba for a week during a finish of May. we do not fake to know how your outing will unfold, nor a hurdles you’ll encounter. But here are some answers to a many, many questions we had before we left.

Getting Your Ticket

I bought a roundtrip sheet ($890, total) on, and from a impulse we strike “confirm,” we was riddled with anxiety. Was that…it? Could that be it? For visiting a nation that was, during a time, still strictly listed as a state unite of terrorism, a routine seemed too simple. A day or so later, we got an email from an worker during Cuba Travel Services, seeking me to send over copies of my transport documents, along with $85 for my visa. For a purpose of my visit, we checked “journalistic activity,” yet my visa eventually identified me customarily as a tourist. we brought my NYPD-issued press certification customarily in case, yet was never asked to uncover it. Do with this information what we will.

I flew out of JFK on Sun Country, and overwhelmed down during José Martí International Airport 3 hours later. Sun Country operates approach flights from NYC to Cuba on Tuesdays only. As of subsequent month, JetBlue began will start handling approach flights on Fridays.

What To Expect When You Arrive during Check-In

I arrive during airports intensely early, for a elementary reason that there’s no faster or some-more nonsensical approach to destroy a outing than blank a flight. My heart leapt out of my mouth and onto a building customarily once during a check-in process, and that was when an airfield worker seemed nonplussed that we didn’t already have my sheet and visa. Turns out we was among a initial travelers to book my sheet online, and a emanate was privileged adult in brief order.

From there, we was funneled to another line, where we paid a $25 depart tax. we was given a receipt, and yet we was clever to save it, we don’t remember it being checked on my return.

Hold on to your visa like grave death, as we will need to yield it to a proprietors during any investiture we stay. we can’t tell we what happens if we remove it, yet we suppose it will be on standard with a mislaid passport, and substantially need sacrificing half a day in a run of a U.S. Interests Section building.

What To Expect When You Arrive in Cuba

The customarily doubt asked of me when we arrived during Cuban etiquette was possibly we had trafficked to West Africa lately. After we pronounced no, we was asked possibly we wanted my pass stamped, to that we responded with a demure yes. Would we ever be authorised behind on U.S. soil? Would we spend a rest of my life in exile, an rivalry of a state? (The brief and unromantic answers are approbation and no, respectively.) It is during etiquette that you’ll also get your initial ambience of Cuba’s ideas of “appropriate business attire”: The uniform for womanlike etiquette agents consists of skintight miniskirts a tone of sand, interconnected with black floral net edging tights. Alarmingly, a uniform for propagandize children is roughly a same.

Understanding Cuban Spanish

Cuban Spanish sounds customarily like normal Spanish, and a mouth full of rocks. Cubans not customarily don’t worry with a “s’s” during a finish of words, they also banish other letters and infrequently whole syllables as well. If we pronounce smooth Spanish, you’ll substantially find their accent bizarre and garbled, yet semi-intelligible. If your Spanish is middling, I’d start fine-tuning your palm gestures. Beware: Unlike many Latin American countries you’ve substantially been to, Cubans will not switch to English after you’ve done your regular try during butchering their language. The dual of we will struggle, together, until someone possibly gets what a other is saying, or one of we dies. The word “más despacio, por favor” will come in handy.

Endear yourself to your new Cuban friends by observant “Que bolá?” for “What’s up?” If you’re tender or amused by something, we can use “Que chévere!” that means, essentially, “Cool!” we picked this one adult in Ecuador yet was astounded to learn it works in Cuba, too.

Everybody’s Hustling

The palliate of your outing will be directly tied to dual things: Your Spanish skills (for negotiating purposes) and your vigilance. Cubans are discerning to tell we how protected their nation is, expected since a chastisement for badgering a immigrant is intensely harsh. But this is a nation versed with a possess traveller banking (see below), that is customarily to say: If we try to compensate a add-on given to we in Cuban pesos regulating Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUCs, or kooks), you’re substantially going to find a sell rate does not work in your favor.

Expect to drastically overpay for some things (cabs) and make it behind with others (a raise of food for reduction than a dollar.)

(Tod Seelie/Gothamist)

Learn a Difference between CUCs and Cuban Pesos

The brief answer is that CUCs are roughly (but not quite) pegged to a dollar. As of this accurate moment, one dollar is value 26.5 Cuban pesos. CUCs can be used for many things: Your casa or hotel, food in restaurants, cab rides. You will, however, wish some pesos on palm for shopping things that tangible Cubans buy, like travel food, travel beers (yes), travel rum (yesss) and profitable for colectivos (see below). Attempting to compensate for such equipment in CUCs is customarily possible, yet will roughly always outcome in we removing short-changed.

In further to carrying a fistful of pesos, be certain to also get tiny CUC bills when changing money. Trying to mangle a 20 CUC on a side travel in Vedado is not customarily difficult, it creates we feel like a magisterial American fat cat idiot.

Bring All a Cash

Among a peskier aspects of a besiege is that nothing of your U.S.-based credit or withdraw cards will work in Cuba. This means that we have to move all a income we will need. we would suggest separating it, and carrying a bulk of it in a income belt. Is carrying that most income on your chairman terrifying? Yes. Do we have a choice? Not so much. (I have read that some hotels and banks take American traveler’s checks, yet we did not try it, and substantially would not be gentle holding a risk.)

Getting Around

Cuba is versed with 3 categorical movement options: Public buses, colectivos and cabs. Colectivos are radically dollar vans like those seen on Flatbush and Atlantic avenues, yet instead of being windowless application vans, they are baller selected cars. If we aren’t buoyed by a sentimental call of Americana each time we yield into ample backseat of a mutant 1957 Chevrolet Bel Aire, we have no soul. Colectivos zip adult and down a categorical streets of Havana—just tell a motorist when we wish out. The cost is generally 1 CUC.

Cabbies will tool you—the times we crapped out and took a cab, we customarily paid around 5 CUCs.

On Hand Sanitizer and Tissue

I am not extravagantly germaphobic, and we am positively not a form to whip out a bottle of palm sanitizer after roving a open train or jolt someone’s hand. But we will tell we this: we was blissful we had some on me. In some cases, tonier establishments will have a lavatory attendant on palm to give we a clod of toilet paper as we enter. In many cases, that attendant is absent or defunct or differently not unequivocally in a mood to assistance we out. (Leave a tip in a basket anyway.) Soap is something we came opposite maybe half a time.

(Tod Seelie/Gothamist)

Don’t Drink a Water (But If You Do, You’ll Probably Be OK)

An prolongation of being not terribly germaphobic is that we am also not really clever with what we ingest. This laissez satisfactory opinion toward gastronomic reserve has indeed served me strangely well: I’ve had food poisoning customarily twice, and customarily in rarely industrialized nations. (Germany and Holland.) When it came to celebration H2O in Cuba, I’d exercised my common semi-vigilance for a generation of a trip, yet on my second to final night there, we theory we got too gentle and, forgetful myself, swallowed dual gulps of H2O while brushing my teeth. we remained in a state of complete panic for around 30 minutes, until a Cuban crony arrived during a casa before streamer out to drinks.

IdrankthewaterhowmuchtimedoIhavebeforeIdie?” we rasped before he’d entirely done it in a door. “You’ll be fine,” he spat. “This isn’t Mexico.” Perhaps it was a grapefruit seed extract I’d poured down my throat. Perhaps it’s since we have a stomach of a battle-hardened goat. But he was right. we was fine. Still, Cuban daub H2O has a opposite pH and microbial content than what you’re used to, so be careful.

Download Some Apps

You can find Internet in Cuba, yet it is slow, crappy and will cost we a fortune. (For example, an hour on a creaky PCs in a Riviera Hotel run will set we behind 8 CUCs.) Why not suffer your time divided from a biting final of Instagram and customarily unplug, maaan?

Your phone, however, can come in accessible even absent wifi. Conoce Cuba provides an offline map. (You can also find maps in fancier Habana Vieja hotels.) Also cruise downloading an offline Spanish-English dictionary.

Can we Charge My Phone?

Yes. Power outlets are a same.

(Tod Seelie/Gothamist)

Where Should we Stay?

Airbnb became accessible in April, yet of course, removing hosts to respond is some-more time immoderate than in other tools of a world, due to a deficiency of Internet. we used a site to book a place in Vedado nearby a Malecón for my initial dual nights, and it worked out customarily fine.

The city is also filled with casas particulares that customarily run around 30 CUCs per night. Casas are denoted by a small white signs temperament a pitch that looks something like a blue anchor. we stayed in three—two in Vedado, one in Habana Vieja. Each was ancient yet purify and pleasant in their possess ways.

As distant as neighborhoods, dual renouned options are Habana Vieja, that is decrepit, bustling and beautiful, yet also really touristy, and Vedado, that we prefer: Its streets are quieter and some-more verdant, yet a hip late-night hang-outs and clubs tend to be there.

What Can we Bring Back?

You can move behind $100 value of Cuban goods—I, like all lucid people, blew that $100 on Havana Club rum and cigars. we was honest about my purchases on my stipulation form, yet no one checked my bags.

What Should we Expect Coming Back?

Despite checking a box indicating that we was roving for journalistic activity, nobody batted an eye. At etiquette behind on U.S. soil, a agent’s customarily doubt for me was, we shit we not, “Did we have fun?” Another representative collecting health forms asked where we had gone. “Cuba,” we said, girding for some form of protest. “Huh, he said, some-more to himself than me. “I didn’t know people were going there now.”

(Tod Seelie/Gothamist)

Click here to review last week’s coverage of a outing to Cuba. We’ll have other critical information, like Where To Party In Havana, accessible in a entrance weeks.