I don't think there's a place more intriguing to an American than Cuba. While there's only 90 miles of water that separates us, we couldn't be anymore further away. So when I received an email from Delta Airlines in September saying that commercial flights would be available starting December, I just knew I would have to go.
Here's a breakdown of my trip and what you can expect from traveling to our closest Caribbean neighbor.
After convincing my girlfriends that we couldn't pass up this opportunity (better yet instagram convinced them), we booked our flights and started planning our trip. I originally planned to go in January and found a ticket for $204 round trip--ROUND TRIP PEOPLE. But, with schedules and timing we decided to travel at the end of February. While my girlfriends took SouthWest, I decided to stick with a direct flight through Delta. My round trip flight for a 6 day trip was $272, still an amazing deal for a country that has seen an influx of US travel. The great thing about these commercial flights opening up travel to Cuba is the ease of travel. With the price of your ticket, included is the required health insurance and you buy your Visa directly at the terminal for $50 before departure.
Because there's still restrictions on flying to Cuba, you have to review the OFAC guidelines and state your reasoning for traveling to Cuba--aka this is not a trip that you can just go and lay on the beach for a few days-- you must have a legitimate reason for coming. As I've always been intrigued with Caribbean and Afro-Latino culture, I used the People to People reasoning. With People to People, you're basically stating that your coming to Cuba to interact and create a dialogue with the people of the island.
WHERE TO STAY:
With any trip, it's important to look for a safe and secure place to stay, so when planning for Cuba we weighed both of our options for Hotel and Airbnb. As pricing for hotels are astronomical (+$350 per night) I definitely didn't feel it was economical to go that route. Airbnb, if you can find a good one, is a great option if your looking for a more affordable and interactive option. Just remember to READ THE REVIEWS. You never know what you're truly going to get with Airbnb or host.com, so reading other travelers experiences will definitely help when choosing the right ones. For the 4 nights my girlfriends where with me in Cuba, our total Airbnb cost per person was $34. Comparing that to almost to over $300 per night, there is no comparison.
There's soooooo much to do in Cuba, so having a detailed itinerary will save you so much time. From the museums, preserved towns, and monuments to iconic restaurants and bars, there's literally something for you to see every moment of the day. It's better to make a lists of must-sees and backburners so you can plan out your time and budget efficiently. Havana specifically is a pretty large town but is definitely walkable, but if you're going to another town like Trinidad that's 4-6 hours away, remember to take into consideration that travel time.
Airbnb also launched an excursion section on their website where you can pay for different experiences with locals (definitely fits into the People to People Visa requirement). From going on a literature tour to working out with a Cuban Olympian, there's so much that you can do.
If you thought Cuba was just another Third World Country where you'd get stuff for pennies, you're definitely about to experience a reality check. Not only is the CUC a 1:1 conversion with USD, but Cuba imposes a 10% tax due to the Embargo plus a 3% exchange tax. So you're actually loosing a load of money. Although you can get a decent meal with at least 2 mojitos for under $30 and Airbnb hosts most likely offer a $5 hearty breakfast or have it included in the price, it's better to bring more money than less. For my 6 day trip I brought $500 and converted $460. With my conversion I ended up with $401 in CUC. Although my last day was pretty tight, (I only had about $65-even after converting my last $40 USD-- left to spend on food, drinks, a cigar, my last museum visit, and my taxi ride to the airport the next morning) I had a decent amount of money to enjoy for the full week. Also factor in the $25 CUC from the airport and back--you don't want that to be the reason you can't get home to the US. To be more safe than sorry, I suggest at least $125 per day. Convert about 2/3 of the full amount so you don't get hit with the double conversion on the way back when you try change CUC to USD.
ALSO REMEMBER: Credit and debit cards aren't recommended to use and probably aren't even taken. So you'll need as much cash as possible to last your whole trip.