Since travel to Cuba is still semi-new for most Americans I thought it would be helpful to leave a few tips from my recent experience traveling from SFO-MIAMI-HAVANA and back. In the old days Americans had to travel from Mexico or Panama to Cuba or from Canada to Cuba. There was the risk of being fined by the US upon return even though it was never really enforced, at least not for quite a few years. But now with the eased restrictions for US citizens, as long as they are going for educational purposes or any of the 12 categories provided by the US law its ok to travel to Cuba.
FLIGHTS AND VISAS
The first thing needed is a flight. I booked through a company in Miami who's primary customers are Cubans, called CubaMax Travel. They provided me with a roundtrip charter flight from Miami to Havana for $339 and they charged me $75 for a Visa for Cuba. I also then booked a separate roundtrip flight from San Francisco to Miami which was about $400. If I had booked through Mexico from SFO to CANCUN to CUBA, the flight to Cancun would have been about $325, Cancun to Havana about $325. Also to buy a visa for Cuba in Mexico is only $25 there. So I would have saved about $150 total but we also killed two birds with one stone visiting family in Miami. Soon commercial flights will be going to Cuba so all the advice I give may all change after the airlines start daily flights to Cuba.
WHAT TO BRING
SUNSCREEN is important because unlike the Cubans who have skin that doesn't need protection, my wife and I did need it. And finding sunscreen there is extremely difficult if not impossible. TOLIET PAPER may sound like a funny item to bring but it's good as gold in Havana. Unfortunately many of the restrooms don't have it, and plumbing isn't quite up to code in this Third World Country so take my advice and bring some TP. CASH, and lots of it. Food is cheap, hotels are a little pricey, but American's still can't use the ATMs or credit cards for the most part. That hopefully will change soon but until then bring all the money you plan on spending in Cuba, and put it in your wallet. A CAMERA, the Spanish colonial architecture, the people, the old 50's cars, and the scenic ocean views are like no other place in the world. Take pics and save the memories.
I'm so against tour groups. I think its as bad as cruises. But Havana is one place where speaking Spanish is good to know. My wife understands well and I took it back in 10th grade even though I don't remember much, but we had a Cuban born cousin take us around which was a huge help. For many years English was the language of the enemy for Cuba so it wasn't taught in schools. But now many Cubans are learning English so at some restaurants and hotels a person can definitely get by. So even if I didn't have my Cuban cousin I would rather travel alone than with a tour group. On top of that they are a total rip off with their prices.
Getting around town is really easy. There's a Hop on Hop off Red Bus that goes around to many key hotels and sites in Havana for 10 CUC. There's also a nice bus called Transtur (I believe it's called) that goes to the beach around 40 minutes away for 5 CUC. Taxis, the bike taxis, etc will be around 3 CUC, more if going further of course. But transportation is easy.
WHERE TO STAY
We stayed in a Casa Particular, which is just a rented apartment which is the economical way to go. It ranges from 20 CUC TO 50 CUC. But to me they are not as comfortable as a hotel of course. Air BNB also can be booked from the United States for a stay in Havana. Cuban officials when arriving may ask for the address of where a person plans to stay so that info is vital to have on arrival, at least even if it's for one night only.
So those are just some tips for those interested in going. Havana should be on everyone's bucket list and sooner rather than later with all the changes that will happen in the coming years.