Conde Nast explains what travellers need to know about Cuba

Posted: 07-Sep-16 10:45

A large number of Americans are expected to visit Cuba over the coming months, spurred in part by the addition of U.S. commercial airlines now flying between the two nations. Before you start a journey, though, there are several things to plan out. From visas and travel insurance to currency and what to pack, travel experts weigh in with advice and answers to some of the most common questions about travelling to Cuba.

Conde Nast explains what travellers need to know about Cuba

With commercial airlines now an option for travellers from the United States to Cuba it’s expected that the influx of U.S. visitors to the island will continue to grow in the near future. While a trip to Cuba may sound exotic there are several things that travellers need to consider before stepping foot off the plane. To help, a team of travel experts from Conde Nast Traveler recently published a list of answers to what they consider some of the most common questions about travelling to Cuba, ranging from airlines and credit cards to insurance and the availability of Wi-Fi.

How do I get to Cuba?

The experts begin by discussing how to get to Cuba. Several U.S.-based airlines, including Southwest, JetBlue, Frontier and American are now booking travel directly between the two countries. Right now, travellers have the option of flying into nine cities on the island with the exception of Havana, which should begin later this year.

Travellers may also book private jets from the United States, service via Cuban airliner Cubana de Aviacion, flying through Nassau or Cancun, or may choose a carrier such as Aeromexico. Other options include the Fathom Adonia cruise ship, with other ships expected to be added later this year and next.

What about insurance?

As for insurance, visitors to Cuba do need to carry travel health insurance. It’s noted that not all U.S. health plans are valid in Cuba so you may want to check with your tour organizer about purchasing travel insurance. Oftentimes charter flights will include insurance as part of the fare. The authors suggest World Nomads travel insurance for non-U.S. citizens.

Travel health insurance needs to be comprehensive and it’s important to know what it covers before you go. Typically the insurance costs $5 to $10 per person, per day when purchased from Cuban tour companies.

What about a visa?

Travellers arriving from the United States also need a visa. Tour companies can usually assist with this, while its also noted that airlines such as Air Canada include the visa in the price of a ticket. Purchased separately the cost varies but some, like tour company Cuban Pioneers, specify they charge $30 per visa in addition to another $30 fee.

The experts add that travellers with a layover in Mexico en route to Cuba have the option of purchasing an on-the-spot visa in the Mexico City or Cancun airports. This type of visa costs $25 cash. If you’ve planned your own trip it’s pointed out that only Cuban government approved companies, travel agents and Cuban embassies can supply visas. Americans will also need to provide proof that the travel falls within one of the 12 approved travel categories, which for many visitors is a people-to-people cultural exchange.

What about money and credit cards?

Many travellers also have plenty of questions about currency and credit cards while visiting Cuba. American dollars need to be exchanged for CUCs, local currency, which can be done at a Cuban airport once you land. Outside of the airport the authors suggest using a Cadeca money exchange store, though sometimes store hours vary, lines are long and the Cadecas run out of CUCs. Many major hotels can also do currency exchanges.

The experts add that budgeting $100 to $125 CUCs for activities and food each day is a good idea, with $1 worth about 1 CUC. If you plan to purchase souvenirs or go on extra excursions you’ll want to increase your daily budget. It’s mentioned that it costs about 20 to 30 CUCs to take a Havana city tour in a classic car.

While international credit cards may work in Cuba the authors point out that most U.S.-issued credit and debit cards will not, making carrying cash more important.

Does Wi-Fi work in Cuba?

While being “connected” is something most American travellers are used to, Wi-Fi in Cuba is not as widespread. Although availability is growing, typically access is limited to locations such as some Havana hotels, city squares and parks. Service consistency and strength remains spotty at times and expensive. While the authors suggest it costs about $1 per hour for Wi-Fi in Cuba the cost is sometimes more than that, with Wi-Fi access cards available for sale.

What should I pack?

The article concludes with some advice on what to pack for a trip to Cuba. It’s recommended that travellers bring comfortable clothing and shoes for navigating hills and cobblestone streets, plus hats and lightweight clothing because of the temperatures. The travel experts say that most Cubans choose bold, colourful designs, like lightweight button-up shirts for men and cotton pants or jeans.

Other suggestions include packing sunscreen, bug spray and toiletries such as bandages and over-the-counter medicines like Tylenol, which are typically hard to find anywhere in Cuba but in a handful of tourist shops.

What about hotels and food?

While the authors did not delve into lodging and dining options while in Cuba there are plenty to consider. Several of the existing hotels are making upgrades to cater to foreign travellers but there are also options in casas particulares, which are private homes rented out. These types of accommodations are sometimes less expensive than hotels and offer the opportunity for travellers to immerse themselves in Cuban culture. As well, privately run paladars often provide some of the best options in dining.

What have changed for travellers?

All of this, of course, has been made easier for travellers over the past year-and-a-half, as travel restrictions have increasingly eased between the United States and Cuba. It began will the U.S. announcing a restoration of diplomatic relations with Cuba in late 2014, leading to less stringent travel restrictions, including most recently the addition of direct commercial flights. By year’s end millions of Americans are expected to have travelled to Cuba, many for the first time.


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