How to Travel to Cuba: The Ultimate Step-by-Step Guide (Updated 2019)

Looking for guidance on how to travel to Cuba? We know, Cuba is one of the most complex travel destinations and planning a trip to Cuba may be certainly overwhelming.

Dual currency, limited internet access, insufficiency of online information and travel services, tight travel restrictions for Americans, narrow transportation options, tough entry, and exit requirements… these are just some of the things you will have to deal with in your trip to Cuba.

**NEW**: We just published our complete list of recommended travel tips for Cuba in 2019. Check it out!

For Americans is even worse. Unlike visitors from Canada and the U.K., Americans are subject to certain restrictions. Since “tourism” technically isn’t allowed, your trip will need to fall into an authorized category. You’ll also be subject to certain financial restrictions while on the island.

No worries, though. If you’re interested in visiting Cuba, don’t let these challenges discourage you. We’ve got you covered.

Here is a detailed step-by-step guide on how to travel to Cuba, which we hope will be super helpful!

Step 1. Pick the best time to travel to Cuba

How to Travel to Cuba - The best time to travel to Cuba

Cuba has two major “seasons” you should be aware of: the wet season and the dry season.

Wet season (May – October)

The name is no accident! Cuba’s wet season refers to the time of the year when 70% of the island’s rainfall occurs.

From late spring until early fall, you can expect lots of rain, high humidity, and high temperatures. Along with the rain comes an increase in insect activity from mosquitos and flies. If you visit during the rainy season, bring lots of bug spray!

The rainfall and extreme temperatures may be deal-breakers for some visitors, but the wet season has its own perks. Beach-goers will be happy to hear that this is the best time of year to visit Cuba’s beautiful pristine beaches. The waters are calm and very warm, and you won’t have to worry about sharing the waves with seasonal critters like jellyfish or algae.

Dry season (November – April)

Cuba’s dry season, spanning from late fall to early spring, balances out the wet summer months with a cooler, dryer climate. Only 30% of the island’s rain falls during this time. This means less humidity and heat in addition to less pesky bugs like flies and mosquitos (but they’ll still be around, so pack that bug spray!)

The milder weather brings sea-life like jellyfish and algae to the beaches, which may not be ideal if you’d like to spend a lot of time in the water. The water temperature is also cooler than during the wet season and the currents are choppier.

When should you plan your visit?

Tourists visit Cuba all year, so it’s up to you to decide which season is best for the experience you’re planning. Each season has its pros and cons, but both are great for their own reasons.

Dry season by far the more popular of the two, with 60% of tourists visiting during this time. This means lodging prices will be more expensive, especially right around Christmas, and it will also be a bit more crowded.

On the other hand, the wet season is the most affordable time to visit and there are typically lots of exciting cultural events going on.

If you’d like to learn more about the Cuban climate and the best time to plan your visit, this post is an awesome resource.

Step 2. Get to know the Cuba entry and exit requirements

How to Travel to Cuba - Cuban Customs

Cuba passport requirements

Citizens of the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. can travel to Cuba with a standard passport. To avoid any issues, your passport should be valid for a minimum of six months after the date you plan to leave Cuba.

Cuba visa requirements (Tourist Card). How to get a visa for Cuba.

All pleasure visitors to Cuba must have a visa (a.k.a. tourist card). You will need to present your tourist card at the airport when you board your flight.

Let’s dive into the options you have to get a visa for Cuba.

Note: Keep in mind that your country of origin may determine the specifics of the visa process for how to travel to Cuba. For example, for Canadian and U.K. citizens, you can find up-to-date information on the official Cuba travel pages from the Canadian and U.K. governments.

Getting the Cuba visa from the airlines

Each airline handles the visa issuing process their own way and charges a different price. Some airlines will include it in the price of the ticket and others will have you purchase it separately. You can price out a flight to Cuba from multiple airlines and online travel agencies at JetRadar.

Here’s what you can expect from a few major airlines:

  • Southwest: $75 ($50 visa fee + $25 processing fee) can be purchased online or in-person at the gate
  • United: $75 ($50 visa fee + $25 service charge), purchase in-person at the gate
  • Delta: $50, purchase in-person at the gate
  • JetBlue: $50, purchase in-person at the gate
  • American: $85 ($50 visa fee + $35 processing fee) if purchased online. $100 ($50 visa fee + $50 processing fee) if purchased in-person at Miami (MIA) airport
  • Alaska Airlines: $85 ($50.00 visa fee + $35.00 processing fee) purchased online or in-person at the gate [Note: Alaska Airlines flights to Cuba only fly direct from LAX]

Getting the Cuba visa from the cruise lines

If you choose to cruise your way to Cuba instead of flying, you will still need a tourist card.

Many cruise lines include the fee in their ticket price, but some do not, so be sure to contact your cruise provider to see how they handle the tourist visa process. CruiseDirect is an excellent resource for pricing out cruises to Cuba.

Buying the Cuba visa online

If the tourist card isn’t included in your ticket, you can buy it online using PassportVisasExpress. The process can be tricky, so the site will walk you through each step of how to travel to Cuba with visa. A 30-day tourist card will cost around $174.00.

Cuba customs regulations

Customs regulations for what you can bring into Cuba in your luggage have relaxed quite a bit since 2007, but there are still some rules you should keep in mind regarding how to travel to Cuba without running into any customs issues.

Here’s what you’re not allowed to bring into Cuba:

  • Certain electronics, like GPS, may be subject to restrictions. Bringing your laptop or smartphone is fine.
  • Small appliances that consume a lot of energy, like toasters, portable stoves, and waffle irons are not allowed due to Cuba’s limited electrical infrastructure.
  • No firearms, narcotics, or lewd material.

You’ll probably want to bring some Cuba memorabilia home to share with your friends. Here’s what you can leave Cuba with:

  • Two 750 ml bottles of liquor
  • 50 cigars
  • Artwork and antiques need a permit from the National Registry of Cultural Objects

Travel insurance for Cuba

Cuba requires its visitors to have traveler’s medical insurance.

Companies like World Nomads or RoamRight provide insurance specifically with travelers in mind, so not only are you covered for any medical emergencies that may unexpectedly pop up, but you’re also covered for trip cancellation, emergency medical transportation, and lost or stolen gear. One week of coverage will run about $50 per person.

Can Americans travel to Cuba? You can travel to Cuba legally

Yes! Thanks to relaxed regulations, planning a trip to Cuba has never been easier for Americans. But, your trip has to fall under one of 12 categories authorized by the U.S. state department:

  • Family visits
  • Official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain Intergovernmental organizations
  • Journalistic activity
  • Professional research and professional meetings
  • Educational activities
  • Religious activities
  • Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions
  • Support for the Cuban people (this is the most popular category used by Americans)
  • Humanitarian projects
  • Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or informational materials
  • Certain authorized export transactions.

When your plane touches down in Cuba and you go through customs, you’ll have the option to stamp either your visa or your passport. Typically, most Americans have their visa stamped to avoid any issues with American officials on the return trip. Anecdotally, it seems pretty uncommon that Americans are questioned about their Cuba travels, so stamping the visa is more of a “just in case” courtesy that Cuba extends to its American visitors.

Step 3. Book your flight or cruise to Cuba

How to Travel to Cuba - Havana Cruise

Flying from Canada or the U.K.

The process of booking your flight or cruise to Cuba will vary a bit depending on which country you plan to fly out of. Canada and the U.K. both offer direct flights to Cuba, so residents of those countries can book their Cuba flights just like a flight to any other country.

Flying from the U.S.

Flying from the U.S. to Cuba can be a little trickier.

Since travel restrictions to Cuba began relaxing over the last decade, more and more airlines are offering direct flights from the U.S. to Cuba, but only through certain airlines and certain airports. You can get a direct flight from major airports like Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and New York City.

Another popular option for Americans is to first fly to Mexico and then continue on to Cuba from a Mexican airport. The flight from Cancun to Havana is only about an hour and fifteen minutes long. Currently, Mexican airlines that service Cuba include Aeromexico, Avianca, Copa, and Cubana.

Flights to Cuba typically need to be booked directly through the airline. Third-party sites like Orbitz and Priceline don’t work, but JetRadar does! You can use Skyscanner to price out ticket options for several different airlines and choose the best one for your budget.

Cruising to Cuba

If you’d rather cruise across the beautiful Caribbean Sea to reach Cuba, you can do that too!

CruiseDirect has the most updated information on upcoming cruises to Cuba. Departure ports are typically in Florida (Miami, Tampa, Ft. Lauderdale) or elsewhere in the Caribbean (like San Juan or the Bahamas).

Step 4. Book your accommodation in Cuba

Hotels and resorts are common in Cuba, especially in large cities like Havana and Varadero. Although they’re outfitted with modern amenities, they can also be quite expensive compared to other lodging options on the island.

For a more authentic Cuban experience, you should consider renting a room in one of the island’s casas particulares. Spanish for “private house,” a casa particular is run by a family instead of a private hotel group and resembles a bed and breakfast or guest house experience. Starting at $20-30 per night, they’re also much more budget-friendly than a resort hotel.

For booking your accommodations in Cuba, Booking.com has an awesome range of options ranging from luxury resorts to quaint bed and breakfasts. They’ll even tell you if breakfast is included with your room!

Step 5. Plan your Cuba itinerary: look for the best things to do in Cuba

How to Travel to Cuba - Tours in Cuba

Research and book tours to Cuba

There’s no better way to experience Cuba than alongside a local guide who’s spent their entire life on the island.

You can tour Havana from the backseat of one of Cuba’s famous classic cars, take a foot-tour of the National Museum of Fine Arts, or a guided hike through Cuba’s rugged, pristine wilderness.

Whether you’re a foodie, a history buff, an adventurer, or a nature-lover, you’re sure to find a Cuba excursion that fits exactly what you’re looking for.

To find exciting tours for your trip, Tour Republic features a ton of excellent activities led by experienced, professional guides who are just waiting to share their love of the island with you.

You can also pick up a copy of Real Havana, a guidebook that will take you beyond the typical tourist sites and deep into authentic Cuban culture. It also shares a ton of useful Cuba travel tips on how to save money during your stay!

If you’re planning a cruise and have only a day or two to explore the island, sites like Cruise Critic and Fodors have active message boards where you can get lots of fun ideas from people who have visited Cuba.

Transportation in Cuba

Getting around on the island is relatively easy once you understand your transportation options.

The option that works best for your trip will also depend on what kind of traveling you’re looking to do. For example, taking a short trip from your room at a casa particular to a nearby restaurant will not require the same mode of transportation as a longer trip to a destination outside of town.

Taxis

For short trips around town, you can hail either a state taxi or one of Cuba’s famous almendrones (private classic cars).

Around the city streets, you’ll notice that some of the taxis look noticeably newer than others. “Old” state taxis are typically Russian imports circa the 1980s, and newer taxis are newer model Asian imports with smoother rides and modern amenities like air conditioning. Both will get you safely to your destination, but the newer cars will typically charge a bit more than the older cars.

Almendrones typically follow a fixed route and charge a flat rate (usually around $10-20 Cuban Pesos). However, you can also hire them for una carrera (a short ride to anywhere in the city) starting at 10 CUC.

Busses

Busses are a convenient way to travel around Cuba if you are on a budget, but they are a bit slower than a taxi and often quite crowded. If slower travel times are fine, then buses are definitely the most budget-friendly option.

Tickets need to be bought at the Viazul station and popular routes can sell out in advance, so if you’re dead-set on taking a trip on a particular day, stop by the station the day before to secure your spot on the bus.

Car rental

If you prefer a private car, you also have the option of renting a car.

Since rental cars can be scarce, you should book your car several weeks in advance.

Rental cars are more expensive than buses and taxis, so they’re not the most popular option for budget-savvy travelers.

Be aware that Cuban roads can also be tough to navigate due to rugged road conditions and a lack of Wi-Fi for GPS. If you plan to drive in Cuba, make sure to pack a road map like StreetSmart Map of Cuba.

Domestic flights

For traveling to different points around the island, you can take a domestic flight if the distance is too far to travel by bus or taxi, or if you’d like to cut travel time down.

Most flights connect to a major city like Havana or Santiago de Cuba and connections are available to smaller cities and resort areas like Guantánamo, Baracoa Bayamo, and Nueva Gerona.

Popular regional airports in Cuba include Jose Marti International (Havana), Playa Baracoa (Havana), Antonio Maceo International (Santiago de Cuba), and Frank Pais International (Holguin).

Average flight prices can range from $90-$140 USD depending on the distance you need to fly.

Travel to Cuba restrictions for US citizens

When traveling to Cuba with a US passport, you will have to consider a couple of legal requirements that may affect your plans.

Types of travel

The most popular types of travels for Americans are:

  • Independent travel under one of the 12 general travel licenses
  • People-to-people Cuba educational travel (group tours), which is one of the 12 general travel licenses.
  • Cruise days

You will have to customize your itinerary in Cuba to fit the requirements of the travel license you are using. Please, take your time to read this FAQ document about what activities are covered by each travel license.

Don’t spend money at restricted businesses

American visitors to Cuba are subject to certain restrictions on where they can spend money.

Americans are forbidden by the U.S Department of Treasury to spend money at businesses associated with the Cuban military or security services. This includes certain hotels, stores, tourist agencies, and marinas. Check out the full list so you know what to steer clear of.

Step 6. Complete your packing list to Cuba

Sunglasses? Check. Bug spray? Check. Your Cuba trip won’t be complete without a list of absolute must-haves. Worried you might be forgetting something? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered! Take a look at our handy Ultimate Cuba Packing List.

Step 7. Learn how to deal with the Cuban currency, Internet access, and safety in Cuba

How to Travel to Cuba - Cuban Currency

Exchanging money in Cuba

While some businesses in Cuba accept credit cards for payment (unless they are issued by US banks), the vast majority of your spending will be done with currency.

Cuba has two official currencies, the Cuban Peso (CUP) and the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC). The CUC is used most often by tourists and is the more valuable of the two currencies. You can exchange your currency at official currency exchange offices (called CADECA), airports, hotels, banks, and resorts.

If you prefer to pay with a credit or debit card, you have some options as well. Cuba has a limited number of ATMs in major cities like Havana, Santiago de Cuba, and Varadero, and some stores and restaurants will accept Visa and Mastercard. Be aware: Credit cards issued by U.S. banks do NOT work in Cuba.

To learn more, here are 5 helpful facts about Cuban currency you should know before traveling to Cuba.

Internet access in Cuba

Cuba has internet access but in a very limited capacity.

If you need internet access while in Cuba, you’re most likely to find it at a resort hotel, cyber cafes located in large cities, and public hotspots at major locations like international airports. Check out a full list of hot spots here.

Connections are slow so don’t expect to do anything that requires a lot of bandwidth like streaming music or accessing anything in the cloud. Due to the U.S. embargo, certain websites (like Paypal and pages for American stores) aren’t accessible, but all social media websites and free email platforms are available.

To get connected, you’ll need to purchase an internet ticket (tarjeta de navegacion). Once you’re connected, you’ll pay for internet access by the hour. Hourly prices can range anywhere from $1-8 CUC per hour.

Travel safety in Cuba

The short answer is “yes!” Cuba is one of the safest places in the Americas for travelers. Crime rates are very low and mostly involve petty crimes of opportunity like pickpocketing and scamming tourists.

That being said, whenever you visit a new country, there are certain basic safety tips you should keep in mind and Cuba is no exception. Check out our comprehensive safety guide to help you keep your Cuba trip safe and enjoyable.

Step 8. Enjoy your trip!

How to Travel to Cuba - African Cuban Woman

Now that you’ve learned how to travel to Cuba, the fun part begins!

Follow our step-by-step guide for how to travel to Cuba and you’re sure to have an amazing, memorable time on the island. In no time at all, you’ll be touring the streets of Havana in a classic almendron and immersing yourself in the unique, timeless energy of this historic island.

Are you planning a trip to Cuba? Have you recently visited Cuba? Let us know in the comments!

Disclaimer: Legal information is not the same as legal advice given to you by a lawyer. Although we do our absolute best to provide legal information that is both useful and accurate, we recommend you consult with a lawyer if you need actual legal advice.

Comments

2 Comments
  1. posted by
    Dylan
    Mar 17, 2019 Reply

    World Nomads is no longer providing (ar least Canadians) insurance for Cuba. Please suggest another all encompassing insurance provider?
    Thank you

    • posted by
      Digsan
      Mar 17, 2019 Reply

      Hi Dylan,
      Thanks for the heads up! They for Americans, but haven’t confirmed if their plans are also available for Canadians. Another popular travel insurance provider for Cuba is RoamRight. UPDATE: It seems that they don’t offer insurance for Canadians either. We will do some research and get back with some alternatives. Thank you again!

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