Reviews by US Travelers to Cuba
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Dec 11 2017
Cuba is definately worth seeing!
I have visited Cuba twice in the last 3 months, first on the Norwegian Sky cruise vessel out of Miami and the second time I flew in directly via Southwest Airlines from Miami (cheap flights- I got a $99 each way ticket on Southwest, so keep your eyes peeled for their flight deals!). Once you book a ticket, Southwest will send you a link to purchase the required Visa ($50) and it will be waiting for you at check-in at the airport. Print out your receipt of purchase to bring with you to the airport. Southwest allows 2 checked bags, no oversize, no over weight limit (50 pounds max each bag) and no cardboard boxes. There is no option to pay extra for overweight bags, so don't pack more than 50 pounds into your bag or you'll be scrambling at the airport.
I was in the middle of researching my return to Cuba at the end of November when Trump announced further tightening of the regulations regarding Cuba. I will say that I encountered absolutely no problems as a US citizen. I was worried about Cuban immigration and customs but I was waived through customs and immigration took less than 10 minutes. Coming back to the US was also easy and streamlined and nobody batted an eyelash about the fact I was in Cuba. Many Cuban nationals were on my flight from Cuba to the US, so people of both countries are still coming and going without too much fuss.
I designed my own itinerary volunteering with Cuban based veternarians and arranged to stay with one of the vets. I documented all my time in Cuba in case I was asked upon return to the US. If you visit Cuba, even on a cruise ship, you are required to keep a record of what you did there for 5 years. On a cruise ship, the shore excursions they have available will meet the requirements. The Monday-Friday Norwegian Sky trip was a good intro to Cuba offering a day and a half in Havana with the convenience of being able to come and go on and off the ship docked right in the middle of Old Havana. It was enough of a taste to make me want to return. In old Havana I noticed all the street animals and because that is a cause close to my heart, I started researching the groups trying to help the animals and I networked through Facebook and was able to connect with vets and volunteers to such a degree that it allowed me to design my return visit. Cuban Animal Rescue is one of the sites on Facebook in case you are interested.
When you are off the beaten trail in Cuba, you will experience the real Cuba and not the Tourist Cuba. I stayed with the vet and saw the street vendors riding bikes around multiple times a day selling freshly baked bread, tomatoes, fruits... everything is fresh and sourced locally. No chemicals or preservatives and my God, food tasted like food and you realize how short-changed we have allowed ourselves to become in America with our pesticide and chemical laden foods.
This site, Cuban Junky mentions the Viazul bus system and I would recommend that you use it. It was only 10 CUC's (Cuban money) to get from Havana to Varadero, a 2.5 hour trip. It is comfortable, and relatively cheap. I found that taxis and trying to get around was the biggest expense in Cuba. Coming out of the airport you are pounced on and followed by taxi drivers trying to get you in a cab. NEGOTIATE YOUR PRICE BEFORE GETTING IN ANY TAXI!! I heard stories from other tourists stating they were charged outrageous sums mostly due to the fact they didn't set a price before taking the taxi. If you land in Havana and want to take the Viazul bus to other destinations, you will have to take a taxi to get to the bus station. I asked around and found someone else from my plane also going downtown, so we all piled into one taxi and split the cost.
Cuba is very much a place in the midst of joining the modern age. You will see young men sitting on horse drawn buggies with cell phones in their hand. Not that they are getting any wifi, it is just the lure of the phone itself. Some Cubans with tv's get the Telemundo station out of Miami. If they do, they think all Americans live a life like what is portrayed in commercials. Imagine sitting at a humble Cuban dinner table of rice and beans and perhaps cucumbers or a yucca plant to eat and seeing a Wendy's commercial come on. That happened to me while I was in Cuba and suddenly I felt awkward as an American coming from the land of juicy burgers and drinks that have no natural ingredients. Cubans want what we have- they like modern trendy clothes and shoes although most of that is either gifts from visitors or obtained on the black market.
My host did not have a can opener and opened a can with a large knife! Simple things we take for granted are missing from Cuban households. If you go, bring your hostess some nice cellulose scrubby sponges, razors, soap, a nice towel, linens, kitchen things like spatula or pots... I brought my hostess a 2 quart pot I bought at Ikea and she almost cried. Her stove was a relic from the 1950's that didn't work- everything was cooked on a one burner electric plate and most things were fried because they couldn't bake anything. Their pots and pans are usually quite old and often made of cheap things like aluminum. A nice pot or pan, mixing bowls, etc. are greatly appreciated. Girlie things like make up or nice aftershave for the men is valued and a nice little luxury.
I felt a real connection with the Cuban people. I think every American should try and visit Cuba and they will undoubtedly come away feeling a sense of gratitude for what we are able to take for granted everyday. Cubans face a lot of challenges yet they are very open and welcoming and curious about Americans. Support the Casa Particulars and live with real families. You can even take them out for a rare treat at a restaurant as a thank you. I did this, it was less than $25 for 5 people for dinner and beers! $25-$35 is what most Cubans make in a month. Many of us spend fritter that away on a daily basis... again, an opportunity to feel gratitude for what you can take for granted every day. I feel like I have made some life-long friends from my visit to Cuba and I rarely feel that when I travel. I love Cuba and I bet you will, too. Go!
I had a fabulous time in Cuba. I spent most of my 8 days in the Havana area and then took a short two day trip to the countryside (Vinales). I found the internet to be a bit slow but not too bad. I searched for local news at home (msn, cnn, even local home news page) and sent several emails to check in. For that I paid $6 CUC per hour. Easily on par or less than other countries I have visited and less than what I paid for my mobile phone when I went sailing in the Virgin Islands. I did not make phone calls from Cuba. I found the people to be friendly, helpful and not at all against Americans. Customs was a breeze, and getting back into the US was not difficult. My biggest problem was not speaking much Spanish and even then, people were very nice and helpful. Food is basic but fillin! g. Prices reasonable but not cheap. I would certainly go back.
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