WHAT WAS REQUIRED OF US:
- Passport (Proof of citizenship)
- Visa (Permits entry in to a country) $75/person
- Travel Affidavit
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:
I do want to emphasize that we traveled to Cuba via a cruise ship and once we arrived to the Port of Tampa we were given our Visa’s. Completion of the Visa would be required prior to going through immigration in order to get into Cuba. If you’re flying over I would imagine you would have to obtain your Visa before arriving or at the airport. *Tip: Although it didn’t happen to us, it is important that you do not lose your Visa and that you fill it out correctly because if any of these two things happens you have to purchase the Visa’s over.*
Technically, travelling to Cuba is still prohibited but some of the stricter demands have been lifted. Therefore, your trip has to fall under one of the twelve “Authorized Travel” requirements that is currently allowed by the U.S. Government. This is where your travel affidavit will come into play.
I would also advise that you take cash as credit/debit cards aren’t used in Cuba. We had our money converted into CUC’s (per instructions from the cruise ship–CUC’s = tourist money and CUP’s = Cuban Peso designated for Cubans). Some establishments will take American dollars but they do not take credit cards from American Banks.
Lets not forget toilet paper. Yes, you may want to take your own. The Cruise Director made the announcement on the ship to take toilet paper into the city. Silly me thought it was a joke. Of course, I had “to go” while out on our excursion and there was a little lady in the bath room that handed me ONE folded napkin to use to wipe myself, there was no toilet paper in the stall. What if I needed more than that one little folded napkin? When I left she was standing at the door with her tip basket. I left her a Cuban coined dollar.
What I cannot do is give you recommendations on lodging because although we were there overnight, we were on a cruise and of course we had a bed waiting for us in our cabin. Just from conversations that we had with others we learned that in most cases it is better to make staying and eating accommodations privately instead of through the government because almost everything is run by the government. We traveled to a restaurant on our excursion and even then we were told that the food we were served was not really “authentic” Cuban food. It was explained that we could only experience “authentic” food if it came from someone’s home. Well, that wasn’t going to happen so we just left that at that! 🙂 Sometimes you have to choose your battles!
If you are trying to get around in the city there are plenty of Taxi’s around for transportation. In fact, most of the older cars are used for Taxi’s; well all cars are old but the “prettier” older cars. There isn’t an Uber service there but you shouldn’t have any worries in this department.
Many people do speak Spanish but at the same rate many also speak English or enough of it to interact with you. I wouldn’t let the language barrier stop you from enjoying the city either.
I was really excited to travel to Cuba. I had never been and for years Cuba had been cut off from Americans so to have this chance would be like a once in a lifetime opportunity. Another reason why I was so excited to visit Cuba was because a few months back, I found out that my grandmothers father was from Cuba (read about it HERE) and I thought how amazing would this be? I would be the only relative to visit Cuba probably since he left to come to the United States in the early 1900’s. Then the icing on the cake would be that it was our Honeymoon! It was just a coincidence that our Honeymoon would be on a cruise to this mystery island named Cuba where we had just found out that my great grandfather was from. All of this was a cause for excitement. #Priceless
We were in Cuba for two days. The first day we purchased an excursion from Carnival Cruise line that lasted about 5 hours. It was really worth the money if you ask me. We were in an air-conditioned chartered bus filled with other tourist from our cruise ship. We had a Cuban driver and a Cuban tour guide. They both were really great. We toured Old Havana via the bus, we went to a few places where we could get out and take pictures.
Our first stop was in front of a row of old cars and immediately everyone flocks to the cars and wants pictures and want to see what they are all about. Cuban men stand outside the cars waving for you to come and to take a look. One asked me if I wanted a picture with the car and of course I say yes! My husband follows me and joins me in this mini photo shoot. The Cuban man motions for my phone to take the pictures while telling us we can take pictures inside the car! Well after about 15 shots of pictures on MY phone he then say’s it’s $10 per person! You know I felt like I was in the middle of a scam because clearly this fee for “picture” was not discussed.
After the whole picture bamboozling we then traveled to a restaurant, where we had “Cuban” food. It was really good but like I said, we were told that you can’t get really authentic food at restaurants. Just so you know, the restaurant was closed to the public. I’m assuming it’s a full functioning restaurant and I’m also assuming they have some sort of deal with Carnival because we didn’t have to pay anything at the restaurant. Our excursion however, was $129.00 per person—so go figure!!
While inside the band played music, they salsa danced, they sung in Spanish, and I was enjoying the vibe and getting a sense of the culture. I mean check out the footwork on these gentlemen in the video below! This was probably my favorite part of the tour!
After we ate, but still at the restaurant, we were given a run down on Cuban Rum, Coffee, and Cigars because those three items are three of the biggest commodities Cuba is known for. I mean who knew the Barcardi family was from Cuba? As we were told, the proper way to indulge in this matrimony of local flavors was to do all three together; a puff of the Cigar, a sip of the Rum, and then a drink of the coffee. At least that’s how I remember it! I would also note that smoking in a restaurant seemed really weird to me because smoking in restaurants has been banned in the U.S. for some time now.
After the restaurant we then went to a very old building that was somewhat restored into being a place where art is made and just a very unique place. Then from there of course they took us to some shops where we could purchase, rum, coffee, and cigars.
MY PERSONAL THOUGHTS:
Cuba itself is like a movie set in the 1950’s. Old pastel colored Spanish-colonial buildings along with old pastel colored cars line the streets of Havana. Men were cutting grass using machete’s as if it was the latest gadget on the shelf. Nothing in Cuba has been modernized due to the island being under a communist Government for the last 50 plus years. Besides the new Government building that is similar to the “United States Capital” you’ll never find anything remotely close to being modern or 21st Century related.
Everything is just old and ran by the Government. Their food is rationed out to the citizens every month by the Government, water should be boiled before drinking – unless drinking bottled water, and overall it’s a third world country. The only thing I did find that was very interesting is that Education is free for Cubans even in College; shocking right?
I didn’t see any tourist areas or pretty beaches; perhaps you have to travel outside of Old Havana to get that experience. I’ve been to a number of islands and although many are very poor there are still areas that are very pretty and relaxing. Some even with moments that will take your breathe away. I’m not saying that Cuba doesn’t have these attributes, I just did not see them. So when people ask me how my trip to Cuba was I generally just say, it was okay. It was different to see a group of people still living as if they are in the 1950’s. Even when I stayed a week on the island of St. Thomas we could still find a McDonald’s or a Hooters on the corner if we decided to go there. But not in Cuba. You will find no parts of America in Cuba and I guess that is a part of what makes Cuba so unique and different as well.
On the second day of Cuba, we decided to stay on the ship. It was such a hassle going through immigration to even get into the city that we just didn’t want to deal with the madness. They really do not make it comfortable to go through immigration. Besides we didn’t feel like there was anything else out in Cuba that we wanted to experience. Having the down time on the ship was perfect for us.
If you ask my family, I usually say, “if you’ve been to one island you’ve been to them all” but this one was very different. It’s not a place where I must go again. But it was very interesting. Overall, it was a great experience and I’m happy to be able to check if off my list of travels, but when reality hit you in the middle of an island you can’t help but to realize how bless you really are.
A few more pictures of Cuba for your enjoyment!