Cuba is a great place to go for educational and adventurous travel. However, due to the hostile relationship between the United States and Cuba over the last 50 years, it’s hard to know what to expect once you get there. Thanks to Northeastern University’s co-op program, and the Fundación Antonio Núñez Jiménez, I spent four months enjoying what Cuba has to offer, and learning what it takes to travel with ease on the beautiful Caribbean island.
Don’t worry, getting into Cuba is not nearly as intimidating as it’s made out to be, so long as you have all the proper documentation. First and foremost, you will need to purchase a plane ticket and a visa. Sometimes, the airline provides the visa for you at the check-in counter (like JetBlue), but in many cases, you will need to purchase your own before your departure date. Ask your airline how to get a visa ASAP.
When purchasing a ticket or visa, you’ll need to state a reason for travel. You’ll notice that “tourism” is not one of the twelve options available. Use your discretion on which of the twelve options, including academic programs and professional research, best suits you and your reason for traveling to Cuba.
Where to Stay
You’re in! Now, where should you stay? The most economically friendly and fun option would be in one of Cuba’s many casas particulares. Casas are essentially Cuba’s version of the B&B. They are run by Cuban families and often provide great meals for a low additional price. You can book your casa particular pre-departure on AirBnb. Keep in mind that once you are in Cuba, you will not be able to book any accommodations online.
You can of course stay in hotels. However, be prepared for mediocre accommodations at an incredibly high price.
The best parts of the city to stay in would be Vedado, Old and Central Havana.
The streets of Havana are littered with taxis, but prepare to negotiate for a good deal. Don’t be afraid to walk away if someone tries to charge you $20 to get downtown, and always agree on a price before getting in the car. One of the things people love about Cuba is the old cars, and luckily for the tourists, the old cars still function as the main form of taxi!
Another challenge of staying in Cuba is communicating with friends and family back home. Many people go to Cuba looking forward to a vacation disconnected from social media and email. If you do want to connect to WiFi, do expect it to be frustrating and expensive, and don’t expect internet to be reliable. My best advice would be to go to any hotel in downtown Havana if you need to connect to WiFi, and purchase a WiFiETECSA card at that Hotel’s business center.
Another challenge for American’s visiting Cuba is the money. Because of the United States Embargo, transfers of money cannot be made between U.S. and Cuban banks, so you can’t just go to the ATM if you’re running low on cash. You will need to bring 100% of the money you plan on spending in Cuba with you in cash. Once in Cuba, you can exchange money in hotel lobbies or in the Casas de Cambio (Cadeca). Unfortunately, if you exchange USD in Cuba, 10% will automatically be taken out of whatever amount you exchange. If you can, bring Euros or Canadian Dollars; the rate is better and the 10% will not be taken out of your final exchange!
To connect with Madeline, check out her Instagram!