Did you know that exactly 91 years ago today the “Queen of Salsa”, Celia Cruz was born in Havana, Cuba? Her voice, enthusiasm and passion for music continue to inspire millions around the world. Happy Birthday Celia, you will always be remembered!
All meat lovers rejoice at the sight of a Cuban sandwich. Why? Because it has pretty much every type of meat you can imagine-boiled ham, turkey, roast pork and salami. In other words, you can’t go wrong. Ingredients such as pickles, tomatoes, onions, lettuce, bell peppers, mayo and mustard are also included but are mostly there to accessorize the meat.
My arrival to the Havana Airport in Cuba was an experience I will never forget. I had both positive and negative thoughts running through my head. Not knowing what to expect when entering the country was nerve wrecking. As the plane landed all the passengers began to clap and cheer. The fact that all the passengers expressed their excitement and celebrated their arrival made me feel at ease immediately. I was able to sit back and really begin to enjoy the journey that I was about to experience.
Walking out of the airport was a bit emotional for me, because there was huge crowd of people standing outside waiting for what could be family and friends to arrive. Every single individual standing there had a smile from ear to ear. All their excitement came out of their pores. Some in tears as they hugged their loved ones and others were jumping with joy.
The drive from the airport to the hotel was unreal, it all began to sink in… I was in Cuba. The classic cars, historical statues, and detailed architecture said it all- I was experiencing Cuba.
As we approached the hotel I set my eyes on the Malecón, I had never seen anything like it and it took my breath away. The energy around it was just so peaceful and thrilling all at once. It was a magical place where couples in love gathered and publicly showed their affection, it was also a place for friends to meet and make plans for the night, and for talented musicians to play their musical instruments with classic tunes for tourists to hear.
Walking the streets of Old Havana was another highlight of my journey. We were able to visit a few Cuban artists and talk to them one on one about their inspirations and vision. Their studios are usually located within their homes and it’s common for them to receive visitors who often gather to watch them work and admire their latest pieces.
As I continued exploring, it became clear to me that Cubans often used their homes to start their own businesses. Some had restaurants and others little shops. As the day ended and dinner came around, it became clear that the most common trait that Cubans carry is friendliness. There was not one person that I passed by that didn’t smile, greet, or wish me a great day.
I cannot talk about my first experience without sharing the entertainment aspect of Cuba. In old Havana there were multiple individuals dancing without music, yet feeling every single move. Some sang and played rhythmic instruments to the beat of “son” in the middle of the day. The entertainment at night time by far was my favorite. I just have to say that that Cubans are excellent performers who simply transfer their happiness onto anyone that sees them.
There is so much expression and history that can be found around Havana. Pure passion, happiness, and celebration are expressed through their music, dance, art, and lifestyle. Overall, I fell in love and appreciate that “echando pa’lante” (carry on and never give up)attitude that Cubans have.
OFAC LICENSING/WHO CAN TRAVEL TO CUBA
There are two authorized licensed travel categories according to OFAC, General and Specific. Depending on the reason for the visit the traveler may need to seek a specific license from the U.S. government, or OFAC, before they travel to Cuba. Travelers whose trips fall under certain travel categories do not need to get approval before traveling. Usually, after signing an affidavit proving they fall under one of the 12 categories for travel from the U.S. to Cuba travelers are allowed to visit Cuba with a general license.
When traveling with Cuba Travel Services you should find the following items inside your personalized ticket jacket:
Airline Ticket (3 copies: MIA-Cuba; Cuba-MIA; PAX receipt)- make sure to check on exact flight and check-in times.
Asistur Stamp– located on the back of the Charter Ticket. This medical insurance is included for all travelers from the US to Cuba for emergencies. Havanatur reps on the ground will assist if any medical services are needed while in Cuba.
Cuban Visa (when required)
Authorization Letter with copy of OFAC License or Travel Affidavit- may be asked for this upon returning by US immigration and customs officials.
Sanitary Statement for Travelers -this one is usually picked up.
Customs Declaration-this form is usually not collected from Americans, but best to fill it out.
Times: Charter flights are operated by Cuba Travel Services. Exact Departure Time will be available no more than 30 days prior to departure and will be printed on tickets. Flights and times may not be consistent throughout the season.
Airport Check-in:There will be a reserved check-in area at the airport with the airline company for CTS Charters. Please allow adequate time to check in all luggage. We recommend arriving 4 hours in advance as documents also need to be checked thoroughly.
Luggage: With the charter flight to Cuba (on the outbound only), each checked luggage will be charged at $20 per bag. In addition, each passenger is allowed up to 44 lbs of luggage (includes checked bag and larger carry-on). Anything over 44 lbs, will be charged at $2 per pound. A small carry-on, like a purse or small backpack, will not be weighed. Any larger carry-on may be weighed and added into the 44-lb allowance per person. Payment at the airport is CASH ONLY. On the return flight, there is no charge for luggage, as long as it stays under 50 lbs per person. In Cuba, the carry-on is exempt from the weight limitations. Please refer to our website for the most up to date luggage policy, as this is subject to change without notice: Baggage Policy
Seating Assignments: On your charter flight there is no pre-assigned seating. This will be assigned at the check-in counter at the airport. Please note that all attempts will be made to seat passengers together when possible.
HOW MUCH MONEY SHOULS I BRING AND APPROXIMATELY HOW MUCH DO THINGS COST?
You are allowed to bring up to $5,000 dollars. It is recommended to exchange to the CUC (local currency Cuban convertible pesos) in small increments at a time.
Though recent regulation changes within the US will facilitate banking between the two countries, it will take Cuba some time to implement the proper technology and procedures to be able to accept our American credit cards locally. Larger hotels may be among the first to start accepting American credit cards. It is still advisable to bring cash for your purchases. ATM machines are also not readily available throughout cities and only located at banks and some larger hotels.
In Cuba, tipping is a way of life. Local salaries are extremely low and do not suffice to buy everyday items. Tourism touches the lives of many Cubans and they truly depend on small donations and tips to feed their families. Though it may be a small amount to us, anything you offer these individuals that work hard to make a difference in your experience while there is greatly appreciated. If you leave a tip, leave it in CUC. Note: When outside of a resort or hotel when you’re traveling independently it’s always handy to have a few Cuban Pesos on you. You get about 24 of them for 1 Convertible Peso.
Cuba is like most other foreign destinations, you bring a major foreign currency and exchange it into the local currency to make purchases while you’re there. Cuban currency is NOT traded internationally, so you cannot buy it in advance. You buy it when you arrive in Cuba. (This is subject to change)
Range between 15 and 30 CUC per person, including one or two drinks
Breakfast buffets are typically included at hotels
Bottle of water- 1.00-1.50 depending on the size
Can of soft drink: 0.50-1.00 mostly in the street at a restaurant 1.00-2.50
Can or bottle of beer: 1.50 National 2.50 imported up to 4.00 at best hotels
Cocktail: 3.00- 8.00
Fruit is available from street vendors at a low price
Cigars: 0.60-1.50 nationals 2.50-3.00 imported (as much as $10.00/cigar)
Average daily spending: 100.00 dollars
Street food like sandwiches and pizza, though hard to find, fresh fruit drinks and other small purchases are all incredibly cheap. Once you get a feel for Cuba – if you speak a little Spanish it will be even better – there are peso bars and restaurants that can be quite interesting. Movies are cheap too.
If you are going out at night 50.00-150.00 per couple (include entrance fee to any dance place one bottle of rum and four cokes).
OPTIONS FOR TRANSPORTATION
Common transportation in Cuba: horse carriage, taxi, car rental and bicycle-taxi. Public transportation is not recommended and taxis are a very safe and reliable way to get around most cities/areas in Cuba.
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Taxis can also be hired for long distance such as Havana to Pinar del Río and etc. Prices should be agreed upon in advance with the driver.
WHAT IS THE WEATHER LIKE?
The rainy season in Cuba typically runs from May to November and the dry season is between December and April. Keep in mind that it may rain at any time, so it is wise to always have rain gear when traveling to Cuba. The temperatures in Cuba can range from the 60’s in the winter (though not very common) to the 90’s in the summer months. Wear comfortable, cool clothing. It is common to have AC in restaurants, hotels, and other indoor facilities. Keep in mind that not all places have AC in Cuba.
Bring insect repellent as the tropical weather also means a lot of mosquitos at dusk and dawn.
WHAT SHOULD I WEAR
We suggest you pack comfortable casual clothing such as shorts and tee shirts in natural breathable fabrics. You may have long distance walks, therefore comfortable walking shoes are recommended. Dress attire for fine dining is similar to the US, formal clothing is not necessary, however we suggest you dress accordingly. Cathedrals, churches, and religious sites require conservative dress.
WHAT SHOULD I BRING?
Sunscreen and Sun Hats
Comfortable Clothing, Walking Shoes (casual attire)
Medications and OTC drugs, band aids, etc.
CASH (CC and ATM machines are not yet readily available)
Small gifts for kids and locals, depending on itinerary (for example, school supplies, small toys, candies, art supplies, band aids, OTC drugs
Wash Cloths (not provided at most hotels)
Tissue Paper (good to have your own at public restrooms)
WHAT IS THE TIME ZONE?
Cuban Standard Time is UTC/GMT –5
WHAT ARE THE TRADITIONAL FOODS AND SPECIALTIES
Cuban food has some Spanish and Caribbean influence. Along with Spain, other culinary influences include Africa, from the Africans that were brought to Cuba as slaves, and French, from the French colonist that came to Cuba from Haiti. Another important factor is that Cuba is an island, making seafood something that greatly influences Cuban cuisine. Cuba also has a tropical climate and tropical climate produces a long variety of tropical fruits such as banana, pineapple, guava, watermelon, and mango.
A typical meal typically consists of rice and black beans cooked together or apart. When cooked together the recipe is called “Moros y Cristianos”. Rice and red beans are called “Congri”. If cooked separate it is called “Arroz con frijoles”.
This would be accompanied by one of these options: roasted pork, ropa vieja (shredded beef) simmered in tomato-based sauce. Another option it is picadillo (ground beef) or vaca frita.
These options can be accompanied with plantains, fried potatoes, vegetables, or the famous yucca con mojo. Mojo will be made with oil, garlic, onion, and spices such as oregano and bitter orange or lime juice.
Another Cuban specialty will be arroz con pollo (yellow rice with chicken)
Cuban sandwich is a popular lunch prepared with Cuban bread and contains sliced roast pork, cheese, dill pickles, yellow mustard, tomatoes and lettuce, though can be hard to find in Cuba at times.
Typical desserts in Cuba: The famous arroz con leche, rice mixed with milk and ground cinnamon on top, Flan, Natilla, and Guava marmalade. Almost every meal ends with a famous Cuban coffee. Local drinks include Mojitos, Daiquiris, Rum drinks, Pina colada and many other rum based drinks. Local beer is also very refreshing.
MAY I PURCHASE ITEMS IN CUBA AND BRING THEM BACK WITH ME TO THE US?
You may acquire in Cuba and import as accompanied baggage into the United States merchandise with a value not to exceed $ 400 per person, provided that no more than $100 of the merchandise consists of alcohol or tobacco products and the merchandise is imported for personal use only.
Verizon service does work in Cuba now, but you must activate your international plan prior to departure. Other carriers may soon be available.
WHAT ITEMS ARE TYPICALLY AVAILABLE FOR PURCHASE?
Cuban rum: The famous Havana club or Santiago.
Cuban Cigars: Cohiba, Romeo y Julieta, Montecristo and more. Note: amount should not be great than $100 USD in combination of alcohol and tobacco.
Hand-made arts and crafts.
WHAT ARE THE CULTURAL AND HISTORIC PLACES TO VISIT IN CUBA?
The best locations are Havana, Trinidad, Vinales, Santiago de Cuba, Pinar del Rio, Santa Clara, and Cienfuegos.
For nature or eco tours, we suggest Baracoa, Vinales, Topes de Collante (Escambray), Granma, Sierra Maestra Mountains, and Soroa.
If would like to visit beaches: Varadero, Jardines del Rey, Cayo Coco, Cayo Guillermo, Guardalavaca and Cayo Santa Maria
What exactly is a People-to-People license? Well, as many of you already know, in order to travel to Cuba from the US an individual must have a license to go. Licenses are either general or specific. People to people licenses fall under the specific category. This means that certain parameters need to be meet in order to qualify. For instance, a people to people program may include 3-4 activities a day which yield meaningful interaction between the visitors and the Cuban people. So in the morning a person or group traveling under a people to people license may go to a local school to learn about the education system in Cuba and have an interaction with the children and the teachers. In other words both parties need to benefit from that visit, not just the traveler. These types of licenses are sometimes granted to organizations rather than individuals.
1. All visitors must hold a valid passport in their name with a corresponding travel visa or travel card.
2. The following are exempt from taxes: objects for personal use, personal jewelry, photographic or video cameras, sports items, fishing tackle, 2 bottles of spirits, one carton of cigarettes, and up to 10 kilos of medications.
3. Items that are prohibited in Cuba are narcotics and firearms, except for duly authorized hunting weapons.
4. In order to export works of art or antiques, the corresponding authorization should be sought from the National Register of Cultural Items of the Heritage Department in the Ministry of Culture.
5. It is advisable that visitors bring cotton and similar type fabric clothing. It is recommended that fine woolen and gabardine clothing be brought for use during the winter months and for air-conditioned environments. During the rainy season, a light water proof jacket is recommended. More formal clothing is required for theaters, concert halls, night clubs and formal venues.
6. Photos and video footage maybe freely taken, except in restricted and designated areas that are of a military nature. Museums have their own specific regulations.
Cuba is a unique destination to visit. If you are planning your next trip, here are the top destinations in Cuba.
Explore the Beauties of Havana
Havana is the soul of the country
- The city remains the most charming city not only in Cuba, but also in the Caribbean. Several factors make Havana the dream place for visitors coming into Cuba.
- It is the place to get the most thrilling experience about Cuba.
- Some of the things that make Havana unique include its bubbling activities such as rumba music, the popular Havana rum, driving classic cars of the 50s.
- if you want to enjoy the Cuban ways of life, visit Havana.
Explore the best of colonial architecture in Holguin
If you want to explore the best colonial architecture in Cuba, try to make Holguin tour part of your tour.
- It is located in the southeastern part of Cuba.
- Other interesting things you could enjoy here include visits to museums and churches as well as galleries.
- This city is known for lots of outdoor activities. You would also get your beach vacation and relaxation here.
- Moreover, the city is close to the most beautiful beaches in Cuba Emerald and Guardalaca beaches.
- You could carry out a nature vacation to Alejandro de Humboldt and Mensura parks. These are close to the city.
Enjoy the beauties of Santiago de Cuba
This is regarded as the cultural hub of Cuba.
- The city is very romantic.
- If you want to explore the great historical past and the rich cultural heritage of Cuba visit this great city.
- It is the second most important city in this country after Havana. Remember the Cuba revolution was proclaimed in this great city.
Be part of the charming Trinidad
Here are some of the great things you could enjoy when you visit this charming city
- It has the most colorful houses,
- The remains of the Spanish colonial domination of the country could be explored here,
- You would enjoy the Baldwin locomotive and access the unique Valley of Sugar Mills.
Explore the Southern City of Cienfuegos
This is the pearl of the south.
- It is the most beautiful town in this part of the county.
- Several factors make it attractive such as most beautiful buildings; it is one of the UNESCO heritages in this country.
- You could explore the 19th century architecture.
Discover the Historic Santa Clara
If you want to explore Cuba’s historical past visit Santa Clara.
- It is located close to Havana and Holgium, the other important destinations in Cuba.
- The last battle of the Cuban revolution was won in this great city.
Become part of food culture of Baracoa
Another important place you could visit in this country is Baracoa.
- Here you would enjoy the spicy food of the Cuban people.
- The weather is conducive and the people have a rich cultural heritage.
Climb to the Highest Pico Turquino Mountain
This is the highest mountain in Cuba.
- You enjoy Cuba wildlife at its best.
- Explore the great rich green forests of Cuba and other interesting things you would enjoy here.
Amber Rosh is a passionate blogger, living in UK. She writes on behalf of ESTA visa. She loves to write as a guest blogger with interest in Travel, Health and Automotive. You can contact Amber on [email protected]
Six places to visit when in Cuba to avoid the tourist crowds.
- Salon Rosado de La Tropical: A perfect place to enjoy the nightlife outdoors, this large and open-air venue is popular among the young and hip crowd. Locals gather to listen to the newest and up and coming musicians of Havana. It’s also a great spot to listen to hip hop and electronic music.
- Don Cangrejo: This venue offers live music for those interested in a more formal evening. Contemporary musicians that play regularly here include Kelvis Ochoa , David Torrens, & the gang. Friday nights are particularly busy as this is the spot to visit.
- Dos Gardenias: Inspired by the recent comeback of the bolero music movement this place is where visitors have the chance to enjoy the romantic sounds of traditional bolero musicians. The “jam” session begins at midnight which is when the audience can sing along with the bands in the Salón del Bolero or Bolero Room.
- Cafe Teatro Bertolt Brecht: If you want to hear salsa and traditional Cuban music this is probably not the place for you. The music here is contemporary Cuban fusion. Tuesdays, Thursday and Fridays are “No Se Lo Digas a Nadie” (Don’t tell anyone!) nights!
- El Sause: Known for their “Live Art” El Sause opens its doors Tuesday through Saturday at 9pm and it hosts a variety of artist such as Diana Fuentes , Kelvis Ochoa, Descemer Well, Polito Ibáñez, Frank Delgado and more.
- Parque Lenin: The perfect place to spend the entire day. This amusement park offers roller coasters, a steam train, horseback riding, a zoo, an aquarium, pools and various restaurants.