Planning a trip to Cuba and Visiting Cuba Vintage Cars

Visiting Cuba: 8 Important Things to Know Before Planning a Trip to Cuba

I’ve had more than my share of travel mishaps, but as much as I read online beforehand, I was unprepared for visiting Cuba.

I ended up experiencing a tornado and getting horrible food poisoning but things could have gone better if I had known more about what to expect when traveling to Cuba.

Cuba is an amazing country that you should visit, so I’ve put together the things you absolutely need to know before planning a trip to Cuba for first-time visitors.

What You Need to Know About Cuba

The Best Things About Traveling to Cuba

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: Cuban Architecture and Classic Cars

Seeing all these classic cars in Havana makes you feel like you stepped back into the 50s. It’s the reason we all want to visit Cuba. 

Soak up the ambiance on a classic car tour of the city, or you can take the cars like taxis. 

The Spanish Colonial and Baroque architecture is absolutely stunning. There are perfectly restored, brightly colored beautiful buildings and equally interesting ones in disrepair that you can imagine their former glory.

It is a raw beauty and the contrast between the restored and dilapidated is a window into the truth of the Cuban situation.

Cubans are still suffering under a regime with astronomical inflation and unfair pay. The prices for basic necessities like electricity and water are unaffordable.

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 woman who had adult children in the US. We talked from takeoff to landing. She was patient with my less-than-perfect Spanish while giving me much insight into life in Cuba.

Every experience I had with Cubans was so enjoyable. They’re so full of heart and are truly interesting.

Before my trip, I connected with Marissa Daniela. She ran a tour company and was such a wealth of information for me about the ever-changing guidelines for Americans visiting Cuba. 

Marissa was born in Cuba, grew up in Los Angeles, moved back to her homeland for 5 years, and has now returned to the States. Her love for Cuba is contagious, and she shares the reality of the Cuban situation.

We did a half-day tour of Havana, off the typical tourist track. I got a chance to see Havana through her eyes. She also took most of the photos in this post.

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

Cuba’s Artistic Environment

Cuba oozes artistic creativity and fun loud music. It was so energizing and uplifting to feel the artistic expression everywhere.

One of the most prominent forms of artistic expression in Cuba is music, with genres like salsa and Cuban rap permeating daily life.

The visual arts also flourish in Cuba, with a strong tradition of painting, sculpture, and mixed media. The best Havana museums highlight Cuban talent and passion for the arts.

From vibrant street murals to the Cuban National Ballet’s world-renowned performances, Cuba boasts a thriving artistic scene that encompasses a wide range of disciplines.

Fort Lauderdale or Miami to Cuba Distance is Short

Getting to Cuba is easy! The distance from Fort Lauderdale or Miami to Cuba is approximately 90 miles. I took a short Southwest Airlines flight from Fort Lauderdale to Havana.

Southwest Airlines has multiple non-stop flights each day. Despite occasional fluctuations in regulations and requirements due to political dynamics, Southwest made it a hassle-free travel experience by offering the tourist card at the gate.

Planning a trip to Cuba local neighborhoods in Havana

8 Things to Know Before Planning a Trip to 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 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.

Best Time to Go to Cuba

The most popular time to travel to Cuba is during the dry season, which typically spans from November to April. The weather is typically warm, sunny, and lovely.

Shockingly, a rare tornado hit Havana within hours of my arrival in January, in the dry season. It touched down less than a mile from where I was staying, leaving 6 people dead and almost 200 injured.

I didn’t think much of the bumpy flight and rain that started about 2 hours after I arrived. Then my Airbnb, in a building with an open courtyard in the middle (a common design), started flooding.

Water was running down the walls and pooling on the floor, made worse by the power going out. Stupidly, I had not charged my electronics but I did bring snacks to Cuba that were thankfully my dinner.

The whole experience gave me a sense of what it might be like to visit during the wet season from June – November.

Normally, I love off season travel, but in the case of Cuba, I would recommend avoiding the wet season because it is also hurricane season and the infrastructure doesn’t tolerate heavy rain very well.

Best Time to go to Cuba Beach

Be Prepared for Power Outages 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 my job requires me to stay connected.

Make sure you keep your electronics charged and bring substantial backup power. This slim, portable charger will charge a mobile phone up to 6 times, has surge protection, and charges multiple devices at once.

Is it Safe to Travel to Cuba? I Felt Completely Safe in Cuba

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.

Cuba is generally considered a safe destination for travelers. Crime rates in Cuba, including violent crime, are relatively low compared to many other countries.

If there are any political demonstrations, it’s wise to avoid participating in or discussing political activities, as these can sometimes lead to unwanted attention from authorities.

What to Bring to Cuba Donations

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.

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.

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 flooded with the rain and served food for breakfast that was probably the source of my food poisoning.

Hopefully you’ll find a better place. Here is a link to the US Government Cuba Page with the most current information.

Travel Insurance is Required for Visiting Cuba

Travel insurance is required for Cuba and important any time you are in a different country.

Southwest Airlines included it in the ticket price. Check with your airline to confirm that they do the same.

It is somewhat difficult to coordinate insurance because American companies cannot provide it.

American Cuban Regulations

The American/Cuban Regulations

Without being political, 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.

How to Get A Cuba Tourist Card

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.

Final Thoughts 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.

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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