Although tourism soared in 2016 due to improved US-Cuba relations, there have been a few rule changes for US citizens that travellers must be aware of.
Those with American passports can still travel to Cuba, however your travel must fall under one of the 12 types of authorised travel. These can be found on the US Embassy in Cuba website. Sadly, tourism isn’t currently one of these 12 permitted reasons/categories.
Due to the US embargo over the last 57 years, many say that Havana has been preserved as a 1960s time capsule with American classic cars and Spanish-style architecture. Up until fairly recently, the architecture had been allowed to decay but it is now being restored to its original splendour, especially in the main tourist area of Old Havana.
There has also been a massive clamp down on street begging so you can walk around without being hassled too much. You will, however, find people selling cigars on the street but be aware that they may not be the genuine brand the seller claims them to be. Nonetheless, they will probably be a lot cheaper than the real thing and still pretty good.
Music and dance is a big part of Cuban culture and Cubans claim to be the creators of the Mambo, Cha-Cha-Chá, Bolero and more. Everywhere you go in Cuba, there are small venues with high quality live music and people dancing ridiculously well! Cuba is also famous for their art, prestigious opera and school of ballet.
Cuba Sights & Activities
Cuba is filled with fascinating historic buildings, museums, churches, music, dance and arts, as well as culturally rich sites.
Old Havana is fascinating with its historic buildings, museums and churches. Also located in Old Havana is Plaza Vieja, which was once the site of executions, processions, bullfights and fiestas. Other sites to explore include: Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de Cuba and the Catedral de San Cristobal de la Habana.
Today the square’s surrounding structures vary wildly in condition, though all of them are noteworthy.
A trip to El Morro to see the nightly firing of the cannon at 9pm is well worth the visit. (Editor’s tip: Get there early for sunset and if you pay an extra CUC$1 you can climb to the highest part of the fort to escape the crowds and enjoy a piña colada!)
There is also the famous art market, Centro Cultural Almacenes de San Jose, where you can pick up some pieces of handmade art from talented Cubans.
Cuban Food & Drink
Cuba, and especially Havana, is finally shedding its reputation as a destination offering only a limited range of cuisine, which in the past has been bland and often contributed to many a bellyache!
There are top quality restaurants such as Café del Oriente or alternatively try a privately run restaurant, known as a Paladar, which have sprung up across the city. They appear, somewhat incongruously, in rundown buildings and apartment blocks, but step inside and you are greeted with welcoming staff and a magnificent menu.
Top spots include La Guarida and Café Laurent, although there are many more great options in Havana which you may have to book in advance.
Drinking the local water is still an issue for many, so ask for drinks without ice, and be careful when brushing your teeth with tap water.
Popular drinking establishments include famed author Ernest Hemingway’s favourite haunts, La Bodeguita del Medio and El Floridita, which although quite touristy, are still fun.
Alternatively, try El Chanchullero where waiters wear ironic ‘Hemingway did NOT drink here’ t-shirts. For after dinner drinks and live music head to Café Paris. If you fancy some entertainment, book a cabaret show at the Tropicana or take in a flamenco show at Meson de la Flotta.
Cuba Tour Recommendation
Hiring a guide to take you around Havana is a great idea to get in-depth knowledge of the city and its history.
Below we have listed recommended tour guides and tour operators.
Firstly, Jesus Noguero Ravelo who speaks wonderful English and knows Cuba inside and out. He can arrange walking tours around Havana, special dinners, mountain trips and accommodation. For more information email: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website: www.cubacareotours.com.
The second option is a tour with Locally Sourced Cuba Tours who are experienced and local English-speaking Cuban tour guides. They offer group, private and tailor made tours. Their tours are aimed at showcasing ‘the real Cuba’ by taking you to areas that are not only tourist attractions, but in local areas that will allow you to discover Cuba first hand.
How to Get There
Cayman Airways flies direct to Havana multiple times weekly and it takes about one hour.
When departing at the airport, you will also have to pay a tax of around CUC$25, which is equivalent to US$25. For some time, foreign passports have not been stamped by Cuban immigration officers, instead they stamp the tourist visa that you must buy at the Cayman Airways check-in desk before you fly.
US-based credit and debit cards are not accepted in stores, but hotels and ATMs will accept other credit cards. We recommend taking extra cash with you in case you have any trouble withdrawing money.