Like every other traveler, we were daunted at the idea of traveling to Cuba with the new rules and regulations that were passed on Nov’17. I read countless articles and went through A LOT of tweets and studied tons of blogs. We were extremely fidgety till even a couple of days before our trip. We were not sure of our itinerary or if it is enough to support the general category we chose to travel in. Travel to Cuba for Americans have indeed become tough.
Now that we are back after experiencing what Cuba has to offer in line with the new rules, I can say with confidence that WE CAN HELP YOU! I am so glad that we did not cancel our trip! Hopefully with the information given below, we can help you be confident of your plans too!
As I was planning, I found it extremely helpful to rely on official posts/reports & pages rather than various blogs. I have included all the official links from OFAC that you can read for further information.
Tourism is illegal for Americans and for anyone under the U.S jurisdiction to Cuba. People who want to experience this country can go under one of the 12 general licenses put forward by OFAC.
- Family visits;
- Official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations;
- Journalistic activity;
- Professional research and professional meetings;
- Educational activities;
- Religious activities;
- Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions;
- Support for the Cuban people;
- Humanitarian projects;
- Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes;
- Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials;
- And certain authorized export transactions.
OFAC has provided the description of each of these categories in the link here. I made sure I read each and every word of it in detail.
Clearly, most of these are not valid for regular travelers but I can provide all the details possible for the general category that I chose to travel in after extensive research.
Support For Cuban People
Following Marco Rubio’s tweet, I read up about individual travel to Cuba. The other option you have is ‘Educational Tour’ but you need to go as a part of a group travel. This can easily get too expensive and out of hand. We did not want that.
The only way individual travel is possible to Cuba is by declaring license of ‘Support For Cuban People’. A few things that OFAC insists upon for this category are:
- Everyone travelling should show a valid full day itinerary of how each individual is supporting the Cuban people.
- There is a list of 180 restricted places where American travelers are not allowed to do any financial transactions. This is because these entities are owned by the Cuban government. You can find that list here.
- Your itinerary should contain only experiences with the local Cuban people. That means, you are allowed to eat at private restaurants, stay in AirBnBs and see Cuba with the help of locals. We will tell you how!
Enjoy Cuba While Supporting Local People
Since we need to have a legit printed Itinerary with us during the trip for Immigration officers, we made sure we had a full day activity planned for each day that shows support for the locals as well as help us experience this country for what it is!
AirBnB experiences are God sent at this point. All the experiences are hosted by individuals and interaction with them counts as support for the Cuban people. We took multiple such experiences. Thanks to the new rules, a lot of such opportunities are popping up. You will be spoiled for choice. It is easy to fill up each day with new activities and you will learn so much more!
ViaHero was another awesome platform that helped us get connected with a local who will help you plan your itinerary. In our case, it was a Spanish teach called Saily from Havana. This was extremely helpful because after we reached Cuba we realized there is no way we can identify a restaurant from private vs. government owned! Having recommendations of places to have lunch/dinner from her helped saved our time abundantly!
Saily also helped us with private drivers who had these old classic American cars; pictures to follow! They helped us with our trips to Trinidad and Vinales. These drivers were also punctual and knew English and that really put us to ease.
Locally Sourced Cuba Tours is another great website to get your walking tours. They also provide full day and 3-5 day itineraries. This can be done either in private or in a small group. They will make sure your plan is entirely supporting independent entrepreneurs and will be legally in line with the ‘support for Cuban people’ category. We took a walking tour with them and it was awesome! I also noticed at the Central Parque area, there are plenty of ‘free walking tours’ being offered. Though it looked private with locals leading the trip, I cannot say for sure if they are government owned (I doubt it but then again google is not giving me enough information to confirm that).
Between these three websites, you will have everything you need to make a plan which is line with the new rules to travel independently. Keep in mind, you still have an option of travelling as a part of an organized tour, but that can get real expensive!
Other Important Travel Needs
- Asistur health insurance is a MUST! This is a Cuban government requirement before you get into the country. Asistur is the legally accepted insurance you can buy online. In case you forget to buy this before your trip, they have a bench right before immigration at the Havana airport where you can buy yours.
- SIM Card: You can get your SIM Card at the airport. The office is outside the airport in the building with the waiting area and the restaurants. You can rent SIM cards for 3 CUC per day. Do keep in mind you cannot buy a card as the telecommunication is owned by the government. The minimum recharge is for 10 CUC. We found this extremely helpful as there is no internet in Cuba. We were dependent on the phone to call people for coordination when needed.
- Internet: There are Wi-Fi zones in some streets and roads. You will easily identify the location as there will be tons of people all heads down, staring into their phone to access their social media pages or internet. We even purchased a WiFi card for 1 CUC for 1 hour but never bothered with it as the net was extremely slow! Checking my Instagram did not seem too important at that point. We went completely off-grid those 6 days in Cuba 🙂
Keep looking out for more posts as I am going to write about my favorite AirBnB experiences, AirBnB stays and other tips and tricks to enjoy the country to the fullest! These websites are good enough to get you that confidence you need to get started on your Cuba plans!
Do get in touch with me if you want any further clarifications. I can point you in the right direction/legal help if needed! The idea is to help travel to Cuba for Americans easier while helping the locals!