The U.S. placed an embargo for almost all exports to Cuba in 1962. Since then Cuba has become a land locked in time. Havana is only a 40 minute flight from Miami and 90 miles from Key West. The U.S. is a natural trade partner and the impacts of the embargo and the fall of the Soviet Union are very visible. When I moved to Florida for work last year I was determined to make the most of the experience. The thought of flying cross-country to go home for Christmas during peak travel for just a few days did not appeal to me. So I opted to do something more fun.*
*Once I had confirmed my parents and grandmother would survive the holidays without me.
What to Know Before You Go
You are probably vaguely aware the embargo meant Americans could not go to Cuba, then President Obama said they could, then President Trump revoked the option. That is sort of correct. What the embargo means for us is that it is illegal for an American to go be a normal tourist in Cuba. You may have heard of some of the special exemptions you can travel under. I have heard often, even from Americans in Cuba, they were under the impression the Cuban government had imposed those rules. Which just is not true. So here is my guide to what you need to know before going to Cuba:
Flights to Cuba are fairly easy to come by if you live in the right city. I happen to live in South Florida very near the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport so I had a ton of options. I opted for Southwest because I have a bunch of miles with them which meant my flight was free (minus Cuban insurance included in airline ticket cost, the cost of the visa, and the 9/11 fee).
Where to Stay: Most Americans cannot stay in Cuban hotels. Cuba is communist so all businesses are owned by the government. The U.S. embargo is against the Cuban government. I opted to stay in an AirBnB because it meant I could carry less cash.
On that note you should keep in mind whatever cash you take is all you will have access to. No credit cards or ATMs for Americans because of the embargo. We also pay a higher exchange rate. So if you have extra Euros or Mexican Pesos laying around use them now. I found it was worth the money to exchange from dollar to foreign currency to Cuban money. There are two different currencies in Cuba that use different exchange rates.
Tourism: Here is where the embargo matters to normal people. Americans cannot go and be normal tourists. We can travel on special exemptions. I went under the category of ‘Support for the Cuban People’.
You will need and should follow an itinerary of activities showing you are interacting with and supporting Cubans (think guided tours and not government owned beach resorts). I again opted to mainly utilize AirBnB experiences because I did not want to carry a ton of cash since I was traveling alone.
You can buy a limited amount of rum and cigars.
A big part of the reason I wanted to go to Cuba was to get a tattoo from a particular artist so I planned my trip around it. Shoutout to https://www.instagram.com/maurococatattoo/ for being the reason I pulled the trigger on going to Cuba. He is at a great studio in central Havana: http://lamarcabodyart.com/
That said I had a list of things I knew I wanted to do while I was there: See a baseball game, smoke a real Cuban cigar, and most importantly for me was to see propaganda.
Cuba is a really cool place. It’s easy to get to and a place you should definitely visit.
Do you want to go to Cuba? What’s on your list of things to do and see in Cuba?