Cuba 101: How to Get There and Where to Go
Travel Tips for Visiting the Largest Caribbean Island
Colorful buildings, cars we remember from the classic 1950s films, smiling locals dancing in the street… At first glance, Cuba feels inexplicably frozen in time. But because of the changes over the past few years, it’s hard to keep track of what the U.S. guidelines are for traveling to the largest island in the Caribbean. Vacation reveals the details about what you need to know before you book your trip to Cuba.
Charter flights run almost daily to Havana from Miami and New York. It’s best to work with a Vacation travel agent, who can help navigate the process and ensure all of your paperwork is in line.
Your visit should fall within one of 12 categories. The Cuban government requires that a passport is valid for at least six months after the date of travel as well as a visa. Getting your visa can vary drastically, depending on whether you are flying via another country. To make the planning process stress-free, let your travel agent can help ensure that all of your documentation is in order before you go!
When to Go
As with other Caribbean destinations, Cuba remains temperate throughout the year. Rainy season runs May through October, which typically means passing showers. Cuba, like its neighbors, also runs the risk of hurricanes in August, September and October.
You are permitted to bring back $400 worth of souvenirs, including $100 worth of tobacco and alcohol. U.S. credit cards are not accepted, so plan to bring U.S. dollars with you. Currency exchanges are located at the airport, where dollars are exchanged more easily than traveler’s checks for the Cuban peso.
Where to Go
Havana: It’s not just the title of Camilla Cabello’s infectious song, but Cuba’s capital should be the launching point for all visitors to the island. On foot, explore Plaza Vieja, the main square in Old Havana. Spend a couple hours at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, where the stained-glass ceiling alone is worth a visit. See the work of contemporary Cuban artists at the Centro de Art Contemporaneo Wifredo Lam, and then hail a taxi to mingle with the locals along the Malecon seawall. For a fine-dining experience, try the creative fare served at La Guarida, the best-known restaurant on the island. For a more casual meal, we recommend the tapas-inspired El Chanchullero.
Santiago de Cuba: Visit the second largest city in Cuba, where the diverse population has roots from France, Africa, Haiti and Spain. Known for its music and dances, including son (predecessor of salsa), Santiago’s music scene comes alive during Carnival in July. Other popular attractions include Emilio Bacardi Moreau Museum, which features art and artifacts collected by the scion of the international rum company; the 300-square-mile Baconoa Park that includes a wildlife refuges, an aquarium, botanical gardens, and coffee plantations; and Valle de Prehistoria, which contains life-sized replicas of dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures.
Vinales Valley: Located on the island’s westernmost point, this remote area is where Cuba’s tobacco is grown. Surrounded by dramatic rock formations, Vinales Valley is a popular spot for climbers and hikers. And some of the tracks across the valley, used by the farms, make good walking and horseback-riding paths. Stop into a tobacco farm to learn about the types of cigars you’ll want to bring home as prized gifts. Wrap up your day with a stroll through Vinales to see the village’s vernacular architecture and charming pastel houses.
Cienfuegos: Known as “The Pearl of the South,” this quaint waterfront city was founded in 1819 by French settlers, whose influence is still apparent today, particularly in the stunning Neoclassical architecture, which helped it earn the designation of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Divers and snorkelers will enjoy the coastline, which is dotted with coral formations known as Notre Dame. Its southern exposure is protected by trade winds, which also makes it an ideal spot for sailing and kayaking! Bon Voyage!
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