In August 2015, I was fortunate enough to be invited on an experimental visit to Cuba for a people to people trip that included diving!! What an experience, to say the least!! Travel restrictions have been relaxed but not lifted entirely so you really have to jump through a few hoops to qualify for legal travel. Luckily, there are some bills in Congress to remove the travel restrictions. Fingers crossed!! However, as of today, you still can’t go as a tourist. As a travel agent in a country that is free to travel to nearly any country, that is very hard to explain. Everyone heard that you can go to Cuba but they don’t realize how many restrictions there are to do that. You have to qualify under one of 12 types of trips and the people to people type is the easiest. I will be doing a few posts about traveling to this historic and beautiful country.
I have traveled to a lot of countries but this one of the most unusual. First, your credit cards & debits are no good there so you have to bring cash and convert it to Cuban Cuc’s when you get there. There is a 10% penalty on American Dollars but you have to have local currency and as of now, you can’t convert it before you leave. We tried an experiment by changing some to Euro’s before leaving and then exchanging it in Cuba without the penalty, it ended up almost exactly the same after you pay two exchange fees. One update, Florida’s Stonegate Bank recently became the first US bank to issue a credit card to use in Cuba.
Next is a large language barrier. English is not widely spoken so it would be very good to have someone with you that speaks Spanish. Our tour guides spoke English but the language problem is really was more pronounced here than in say Mexico. Havana is a busy, beautiful, historic city. There are incredible old buildings dating from as early as the 1700’s! (and probably earlier) We’ve all heard about the old cars, but nothing can prepare you for the sheer number of them and the variety. It was simply amazing!! The above two were our taxi’s on a tour of the city.
There are many buildings that were associated with Hemmingway. Many others were in the process of being restored and many more were waiting. Old Havana is a tour that is a must do when you go to Cuba.
The above building is a mission dedicated to St Francis of Asisi. Incredible history. Below is a monastery complete with bronze monks.
One of the most interesting things to see in Havana is Revolution Square where Fidel made most of his speeches. The statue & tower above are at the top of the platform where the speeches were made and the metal sculptures below are on the buildings nearby.
All in all, visiting Havana was like entering a time warp and it was an experience I highly recommend. Hopefully, Congress will do the right thing and finally remove all travel restrictions so Americans can freely travel to this beautiful and friendly country.