Things to know before going to Cuba

          Things to know before going to Cuba

You are going to the Republic of Cuba, a Caribbean island nation less than 300 miles from the coast of Florida. The tropical climate is only part of the appeal—the white sandy beaches, sugar cane and tobacco fields are all iconic elements of the country. Though, Cuba is culturally considered Latin American, so you will see evidence of influence and customs from many surrounding countries.  

Since 1965, Cuba has been governed by the Communist Party of Cuba, and you will see in any reading you do that the tumultuous political climate of the last one hundred years has had a huge effect on the culture, community and customs of the Cuban people and lifestyle. It has certainly played a big role in the relationship between the country and the United States, as well as other nations. You will encounter and perhaps even plan visits to many monuments and memorials for their long political hardships.  

2) Know how you will communicate  

The official language of Cuba is Spanish, so it would be in your absolute best interest to learn the basics of the language to help you navigate around the country. You don’t have to become fluent, but I suggest learning enough so that you can ask for directions and look for the landmarks you are trying to find.  

Also, keep in mind that are different versions of Spanish that are spoken throughout the world and the specific dialect used in Cuba may be unfamiliar, even to those of you who speak another Spanish dialect. Look into all of this before your trip—it will help immensely and make your trip all the more enjoyable.   

3) What’s the fuss?  

Why is it so hard to get to Cuba? Well, the United States has a long history with Cuba that hasn’t always made it easy for travel between the two countries. Conflicts—such as the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 and the Trade Embargo in 1960—led to restrictions on travel and trade. As a result, travel was restricted between the United States and Cuba. Actually, the physical act of travel itself wasn’t restricted, but monetary transaction with Cuba was, which made a trip there nearly impossible. Realistically, you wouldn’t even be able to get there! Very recently, restrictions have begun to be lifted and limited imports and travel is being accepted once again.   

What does all of this mean for you? It means that travel to Cuba doesn’t have to be only a dream. It has begun to shift into the realm of reality for more and more Americans. However, there are still come serious considerations you must keep in mind as you are planning your trip.  

                                    Getting Ready

Now that you know a little more know about the country you are planning to visit, you have to actually get it all together and plan your trip!  

Because of the sensitive relationship between the US and Cuba, you’ll want to take some extra care in the planning—you don’t want to miss something important, as it might cost you your entire trip!  

Read this portion of my guide very carefully, but definitely also do some research on your own. Double check the current standing of the travel laws and visa restrictions. These things can change at any time and you absolutely must be prepared, for your own best interest. Read well, do more research, and you should be good to go!  

4) Know if you can go.  

Check the governmental travel restrictions and guidelines before you go. As of January 27, 2017, the United States Department of Passports and International travel still deemed travel to Cuba to be prohibited. To travel to Cuba, one must obtain a license from the Department of Treasury or fall into one of the following 12 categories, listed on the government website. (Be sure to check it before you go as things can change frequency

  1. Family visits
  2. Official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations
  3. Journalistic activity
  4. Professional research and professional meetings
  5. Educational activities
  6. Religious activities
  7. Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions
  8. Support for the Cuban people
  9. Humanitarian projects
  10. Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes
  11. Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or informational materials
  12. Certain authorized export transactions.

Let’s assume that if you are planning a trip to Cuba you are going for one of the above reasons, you know the restrictions, and you are prepared for the trip ahead. Congratulations! Now you just have to prepare.  

5) Have a Visa plan.  

You must have a Visa to travel into Cuba and to return home. Some airlines allow you to purchase your visa along with your airfare or at the airport. The prices on these vary depending on what airline you fly or if you buy it separately. Don’t wait to get this very important step taken care of. You don’t want to end up stranded because you forgot to plan.  

6)  Money, money, money.  

Get your money in order.  There are two different currencies in Cuba. The Cuban Convertible Peso and the Cuban Peso. When you exchange currency in the country, you will be given the Cuban Convertible Peso as it is considered the tourist currency.  

Before you go, look into the currency exchange rates so you have an idea of how much your local money will be worth in Cuba. It’s always better to plan and budget before you get there so there are no surprises when you arrive.   

This is also a very important issue to double check before you enter the country. For many years, even with modest travel allowances into Cuba, United States credit cards would not work there. You had to bring your money in cash and exchange it there. There has been some lightening of this law and currently credit cards are not entirely shut down in Cuba. However, the official government website does still advise travelers to be prepared to use only cash, so you need to have a plan for this and confirm the current standings of cash allowances and credit card capabilities before you enter the country.   

It would be prudent to bring cash with you even if you believe you will be able to use your credit card, just as a precaution. Your trip isn’t going to be any fun if you don’t have the resources you need to eat, drink or travel.  

7) Know the weather.  

Due to its location, Cuba generally experiences temperate, tropical climates all year-round. That being said, it is always in your best interest to look into the weather conditions before you travel to a new location, that way you can pack appropriately. Make sure to bring sunscreen and some bright, festive clothes so you can blend it, but not burn.  

8) Plan your stay.  

Because Havana is the primary destination of trips to Cuba, hotels can get very pricey in the city. Look around before you buy to try and get the best deal. If you are open to it, you can also explore the possibilities of homestays—staying in the home of a local at a much lesser cost. As always, make sure it is a reputable place and that someone knows where you are and how to contact you while you are gone. Saving money is great, but safety comes first!  

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