Visiting Cuba Car

Visiting Cuba: What I Loved and Hated

I’ve had more than my share of travel mishaps but I usually end up loving most of the places I visit. Truthfully I loved Cuba too but there were some issues that happened on my trip that left me stumped when it came to writing a blog post. I finally decided to just share my whole experience with you. I’m am absolutely not trying to dissuade you from visiting Cuba, quite the contrary, but you should know what to expect. The reality is that there were certain things I absolutely loved and other things that were not so great about my visit to Cuba.

The Good

Cuba is a beautiful country. I spent 4 days in Havana and fell in love with the old world atmosphere and the way the Cuban people live life with passion. It’s a little bit of a challenge to get there but so worth the trip.

Stepping Back in Time: The Architecture and Classic Cars

Cuba Building

The Spanish Colonial and Baroque architecture is absolutely stunning. There are perfectly restored, brightly colored beautiful buildings and equally interesting ones in disrepair because you can imagine their former glory. The contrast between the restored and dilapidated is also one of the uniquely interesting things about Cuba. I’m sure for Cubans, it would be much better if the economy was great and everything looked perfect but there is an honesty to the way things look in Cuba that is like the Cuban people wearing their hearts on their sleeve.

Being in Havana, seeing all these classic cars driving around makes you feel like you stepped back into the 50s. You can take the cars like taxis or take a tour of the city. The cars are everywhere and they add so much ambiance.

The Cuban People

On the plane to Cuba, I think I was the only American with a bunch of fun loving, totally amazing Cubans. I sat next to a lovely woman who had adult children in the US. We talked from takeoff to landing and it gave me such insight into life in Cuba. Every experience I had with Cubans was so enjoyable. They’re so full of heart and are truly interesting.

Prior to my trip, I connected with fellow Instagrammer, Marissa Daniela. She runs a tour company and was such a wealth of information for me about the ever changing guidelines for Americans visiting Cuba. She also took most of the photos in this post.

Marissa was born in Cuba, grew up in Los Angeles and moved back to her homeland 4 years ago. Her love for Cuba is contagious. We did a half day tour of Havana that is off the typical tourist beat and so great because I really got a chance to see the real Havana. I felt so lucky to find her.

Related Post: What to Bring to Cuba: A Complete Cuba Packing List

The Artistic Environment

Cuba oozes artistic creativity and fun loud music. From the Cuban rappers on the street to the Cuban National ballet and everything in between, you can’t help but be inspired by Cubans passion for the arts. It was so energizing and uplifting to feel the artistic expression everywhere.

I Felt Completely Safe

Cuba was a solo trip for me. I walked everywhere, through tourist and local areas. I felt completely safe. In the local areas, they didn’t even seem to notice me. They were way more focused on their own lives.

visiting Cuba local neighborhoods

The Difficulties Visiting Cuba

Honestly I didn’t hate anything about Cuba but there were some challenges that impacted my experience. My goal is to share my experience in hope that you can be more prepared for what to expect in Cuba. It is not to bash Cuba, the Trump Administration or be political in any way. Some of the things I didn’t love about Cuba were caused by a freak tornado incident but it highlighted issues that are common in Cuba.

When Visiting Cuba, It’s Best to Avoid Hurricane Season

A tornado hit Havana within hours of my arrival. It started to rain about 2 hours after I arrived. My little Airbnb was in a building that was open to the elements in the middle (a common design), which created a flooding situation in my room when it started to pour. The bad weather turned out to be a precursor to a fluke tornado. It wasn’t hurricane season (June – November) but it gave me insight to the severity of a big storm.

Be Prepared for Power Outages That Happen in Cuba

You need to be prepared and ready to roll with the fact that power outages are common, internet is spotty and cell phone service is weak. Most embrace the digital break in exchange for seeing this interesting and beautiful country, but as a travel blogger, it was difficult because part of my job to stay connected. Make sure you keep your electronics charged and bring substantial backup power. This slim, portable charger will charge a cell phone 6 times.

Don’t Expect to Find Convenience Stores or Starbucks

They also don’t have access to stores the way that we do. There’s no grocery store to stock up and don’t waste time looking for a Starbucks. You will have a hard time buying things in Cuba. You should be able to buy water bottles at your hotel. Tip: Bring EVERYTHING you need with you including toiletries, snacks and especially cash. You won’t be able to use credit or debit cards.

Americans Visiting Cuba Have Restrictions on Hotels

Regarding the hotel situation for Americans, most Havana hotels are off limits. That means you will probably be staying in Casas Particulares, bed & breakfast lodgings. The place I found on Airbnb was a bummer. Hopefully you’ll find a better place. Here is a link to the US Government Cuba Page with the most current information.

You Need to be Overly Cautious About Getting Sick

You can get food poisoning in Cuba and sadly I did. You’re probably laughing at this point thinking my trip was doomed and if you’re not, that’s definitely what I was thinking. I’m pretty sure I got sick from breakfast at my Casa Particular since another guest was sick too. I had been super careful but stuff happens. The worst part was that I missed my trip to Vinales, the beautiful region where they make Cuban cigars.

  • Only drink bottled water and try to find a way to buy a lot of it right when you arrive. Don’t get drinks with ice even if they say the water is filtered.
  • Don’t eat raw fruits or vegetables. I would even avoid peeled fruits unless you are doing the peeling yourself.
  • Only eat at the highest quality restaurants. Don’t eat at street vendors.
  • Bring antibacterial wipes and a Life Straw for back up.

Travel Insurance is Required for Visiting Cuba

Travel insurance is required for Cuba and important any time you are in a different country. It is somewhat difficult to coordinate insurance because American companies cannot provide it but Southwest Airlines included it in the ticket price. Check with your airline to confirm that they do the same.

American Cuban Regulations

The American/Cuban Regulations

Without being political, it’s a bummer that there are complications for Americans visiting Cuba. Being able to stay in a nice hotel would have eliminated some of my issues. I’m sure there are wonderful Casas Particulares and truthfully I really enjoyed the chance to experience real life in Cuba. I just got unlucky with the place I picked.

On the plus side, entry into Cuba was so much easier than I expected. I booked a flight, made an itinerary, paid the tourist card fee before I boarded the plane and that was it. Don’t let the confusing, outdated information on the internet mess you up. Tip: Go to a trustworthy source that knows all the latest info. I highly recommend Marissa Daniela as a trusted source. The fact that she lives in Cuba and understands everything from an American point of view was invaluable.

How to Get A Cuban Visa

Americans need a tourist card to enter Cuba. When you buy your plane ticket, the airline will have information for you on what you will need to enter Cuba. There are 2 ways to get a tourist card.

  • You can get a Tourist Card online. Definitely the easiest way to go and be prepared ahead of time.
  • You can buy one in the airport at the gate. This was easy too but my first flight was delayed so I was running to catch my Havana flight and dealing with buying the tourist card at the same time.

My Thoughts Overall About Visiting Cuba

Even though some of the things in Cuba were challenging, I would definitely go again. I want to go see the things I missed. Next time though, I won’t go alone. I felt really safe as a solo traveler but it was lonely when things went sideways. My favorite part of visiting Cuba was meeting the people and experiencing their incredible culture. If you get the chance to go to, you absolutely should. Use this post to prepare properly and you’ll have a great trip.

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  • Reply
    November 9, 2023 at 11:31 pm

    I’m going to Cuba in Feb 2024 and I applied for a visa from your link with iVisa. After paying all I received was a sheet with
    destination: Cuba
    And dates

    That’s it-no name, no reference numbers, no official paper-nothing. When I contacted them they told me
    “ is just a notification that the government received the notice of your travel. Just clarifying, the government doesn’t send a derivable about this process. ”

    This doesn’t sound too legit to me. As I went to them through your link, could you please clarify if this is correct

    • Reply
      November 10, 2023 at 2:20 am

      iVisa is a very reputable company but when I click the link I provided in this post it says that they are not providing Cuban visas at this time. Were you seeing something different? Since Covid, the Visa process for all countries is constantly changing. Send them another email to ask if it is a Visa or if you can cancel if they aren’t able to provide one. Let me know how it goes.

  • Reply
    G C
    January 30, 2022 at 9:00 pm

    If you stay / visit Havana and varadero you don’t know Cuba at all! Many of your mishappens are a day to day wrinkles when you travel. Hope the next time you travel the Country, my experience was amazing, from people, lodging, beaches… I just wish I had more time over there. Good luck in your future trips!

    • Reply
      January 31, 2022 at 4:03 am

      I completely agree. It was just the experience I had during a somewhat unlucky 3 day trip, which is never enough time to know any city, let alone country. I absolutely want to go back and get to know the real Cuba someday.

  • Reply
    Natalie LaTurno
    March 4, 2020 at 5:38 am

    Wow I’m so sorry you had such a difficult time! It looks like you still managed to enjoy your experience despite the circumstances. My host at the casa particular ALSO said the water was filtered. We had been so careful to only drink bottled water and eat at reputable restaurants during our time there. The water she gave us was the only thing we could trace it back to. We still managed to have a great trip.

    • Reply
      March 4, 2020 at 7:04 am

      I’m sorry you got sick too. I think it happens often in the casa particulars. Glad you still had a great trip. It really is such a special place.

  • Reply
    Caroline Scott Low
    September 19, 2019 at 5:28 pm

    It’s refreshing how forthright you were in this post! It definitely does not dissuade anyone from going, but prepares visitors in an unbiased way. Gorgeous pics!! ❤️❤️

    • Reply
      September 20, 2019 at 10:00 am

      So glad you felt that way. I really loved Cuba but wish I had been better prepared.I wish Americans could stay in nice hotels there like Canadians and Brits. It would completely change the experience.

  • Reply
    September 18, 2019 at 5:29 pm

    Woow great trip dear!
    I want to visit it too! xx

    La ilusión de Nina

  • Reply
    aditi oberoi malhotra
    September 18, 2019 at 3:09 pm

    Looks like you had a great time, hon! The pictures are amazing.
    Adi xx |

  • Reply
    September 16, 2019 at 1:28 am

    Your photos look incredible, the contrast between the old and newer looking buildings is interesting. Too bad to hear about your tornado and food poisoning experience, I wouldn’t have survived if I was the one travelling solo. You’re a tough chick and I love your outfits.

    • Reply
      September 18, 2019 at 2:46 pm

      It was a bummer but I was hoping by sharing my experience, other people could side step some of the complications and have a fantastic trip to this beautiful country. Thanks for reading!

  • Reply
    September 13, 2019 at 6:52 am

    You look gorgeous in all these pictures! Cuba is in my bucket list!

    xo Babita

    • Reply
      September 13, 2019 at 12:17 pm

      Thank you!

  • Reply
    Mariann Yip
    September 12, 2019 at 3:18 pm

    I went to Cuba a while ago and can relate to this post! It’s not a place that everyone would enjoy but I definitely had fun 🙂

    • Reply
      September 12, 2019 at 7:40 pm

      I had fun too barring my unfortunate instances 😂 It’s definitely an incredible place to visit.

  • Reply
    Grace Liang
    September 12, 2019 at 1:33 pm

    Looks like such a cool place to visit. Thank you for sharing these pictures and your opinions with us! 🙂

  • Reply
    Julie | This Main Line Life
    September 12, 2019 at 11:08 am

    Your photos are beautiful and the architecture in Cuba looks gorgeous. I got food poisoning from the water in Mexico and was sooooo sick. It was terrible and I was being so careful too. It’s a shame you got sick.

    • Reply
      September 12, 2019 at 12:21 pm

      Cuba is very beautiful and feels frozen in time. Unfortunately that comes with some issues like bad water. It’s definitely a bummer when you get sick in another country but one of the chances you take to see this unique country.

  • Reply
    September 12, 2019 at 10:26 am

    I would love to visit one day, thank you for such an insightful post 🙂 xx

  • Reply
    September 12, 2019 at 8:06 am

    Cuba looks very fantastic with all those amazing buildings and I’m very intrigued by it’s culture. Gosh, I would be so scared to face a tornado! Your travel guide summs up so many important information and it was so interesting to read. Cuba is still on my list, I hope to make it one day.

    xx Simone

    • Reply
      September 12, 2019 at 12:23 pm

      Cuba is a really amazing place that is so unique in our world. It’s definitely worth a visit. Thankfully I had no idea about the Tornado until the next day. For me, it just felt like lots of rain.

  • Reply
    September 12, 2019 at 6:30 am

    Cuba is on top of my list. Woahh you went solo… that’s amazing. Big props to you!

    • Reply
      September 12, 2019 at 12:26 pm

      Thanks! You will love Cuba.

  • Reply
    September 11, 2019 at 12:10 pm

    I’d love to visit Cuba!

    Effortlessly Sophisticated

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