A trip to Cuba offers visitors an incredible opportunity to see a country in real time where history meets modern. As a travel reporter, I have visited over 30 countries to date. However, I never thought I could have such a profound travel experience – until I went to Cuba.
The journey took me back to the 1950s, an era in which I was not alive but whose history I could now appreciate from the modern day. From the murals of Fidel Castro and Ernesto “Che” Guevara placed throughout the capital of Havana to all the classic American cars that drove by, I was enamored like never before.
One of the most humbling and rewarding experiences was meeting the Cuban people. As a Latina, I was able to speak Spanish and have the chance to learn directly from the welcoming locals who shared eye-opening first accounts about their lives in the Caribbean country.
From one particular local, I learned on average the most a Cuban can make is 60 Cuban pesos (CUP) a month. However, he further explained that the cost of living for Cubans was moderately low and the education was free for them. But as an executive engineer he expressed the desire to make more money a month. To support their incomes, it’s not uncommon for the locals to have side-hustles.
Even though the politics of Cuba are so complex, the majority of locals did not want to speak about politics. Rather, they were more intrigued to learn where I was from and why I decided to visit Cuba. The locals were more than happy to provide directions, tours and share everything about their culture. If you want to learn more about the nation’s history, make sure to stop by the Museum of the Revolution.
Preparation is key if you plan to visit Cuba. Americans can now visit the island directly from the United States as most major US airlines offer flights, but all tourists are required to have the proper documentation. Besides a passport, US Citizens need to apply for a visa that can be purchased prior or at the airport on the day of your flight. You can check with the airline for visa options or you can also apply with a travel company like Cuba Travel Services. There are 12 categories accepted by the Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control for a visa. The categories range from family visits, journalistic activity, educational activity, and humanitarian projects to support for the Cuban people.
For accommodations, I highly recommend using Airbnb to book a “casa particular” over hotels to get the best local experience. I stayed in a modern one-bedroom apartment that I booked on Airbnb that was equipped with Wi-Fi – a new convenience in Cuba. I still had to purchase one-hour Wi-Fi cards to access the internet, which can be purchased in public parks or stores. (Wi-Fi is still sporadic so don’t count on internet access working all the time.) As a seasoned traveler, staying in a casa particular was one the best decisions and experiences I had in Cuba. I quickly became great friends with the owners who helped my friend and I always feel welcome and safe.
Lastly, make sure to bring more than enough cash with you, as your US credit and debit cards will not work in Cuba. The currency system in Cuba is different from its Caribbean neighbors. Visitors can only pay with the Cuban convertible peso (CUC) money. The latest currency data from XE Currency shows that 1 CUC is equivalent to 1 US Dollar.
Cuba is a large island and if you only get to see Havana, you’ll still be in for a treat. I recommend you plan to stay at least five days to really see Havana. The capital city offers many museums, tours, restaurants, bars and exciting nightlife options. Cuba truly has so much to offer and if you can visit, now is the best time.