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Graham Sowa: I’ve been living in Cuba for three years now. I would like to blame my obvious hair loss seen in this updated photo on the rigors of life here and medical school, but it is probably just genetic. I’ve made some of the strongest friendships during my time in Cuba from other writers on this website. The strength of those friendships has almost restored my faith that the online world can lead to offline and real life change. On that same note I’ve adjusted to using internet one or two hours a month. In the meantime I have rediscovered things like flipping through the pages of books, writing stuff down by hand, and having to admit that I don’t know something instead of rapidly looking up the answer on Google while the teacher isn’t looking.

How US Citizens Can Travel to Cuba Now!

January 20, 2015 |

Graham Sowa

Havana by night. Photo Bill Klipp

HAVANA TIMES – Here’s some good news for US citizens wanting to travel legally to Cuba coming out of the announcement of a policy change from President Obama on December 17th.

Even though US based airlines still have not hashed out their plan of operations on the island don’t let that stop you from going as soon as you feel fit. There are many ways to do so. Here is how:

1) Via Mexico. Get a flight from any U.S. city to Cancun or the Capital, Mexico City. From there jump on an Aeromexico or Cubana Airlines flight to Havana. You will need to buy seperate tickets for each leg of your voyage. E-tickets on Cubana de Aviacion (Cuba’s national carrier) can be bought through travel agents such as Cuba Travel Network. Yes you can pay online with your U.S. Credit Card. Easy.

2) Via the Bahamas. Same drill as above. Get a flight to the Bahamas then purchase a ticket on Cubana to Havana from Nassau.

3) Via Panama. Continental Airlines South American carrier Copa Airlines makes several daily flights from Panama City. Take a flight from the U.S. to Panama City on Continental then get Copa from Panama City to Havana.

4) Via Miami! (or Tampa, Fort Lauderdale and a few other U.S. cities depending on the season) Go to the website of the charter airlines that have been flying direct from the USA to Havana for the past 30 years. Find a flight that fits your schedule, call them up (they don’t have online booking yet) reserve your ticket and you are good to go!  A few of the many choices are Marazul Travel, Xael Travel and Cuba Travel Services.

5) Via Canada.  Yes, Canada has all kinds of non-stop flights to various Cuban cities. Most are tied in with all inclusive packages if that is the route you want to go. Perfect option if you live within driving distance of Vancouver, Toronto, or Montreal.

Need somewhere to stay? Go google “Casa Particular” for a homestay room or apartment rental or look for a hotel room.

The only thing you have to do to go to Cuba is book your travel. No government forms, no permissions, no licences. Just go. The Cuba tourist visa is a simple inexpensive matter.  Ask your travel agent where would be the most convenient place to get one.

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  • Griffin

    Your advice on how Americans can travel to Cuba is helpful, but not all of it is strictly legal.

    Under the new rules announced by the US State Department, US citizens are now free to travel without first applying for a license, as was necessary in the past. However, the type of travel is still defined as “purposeful travel”. Simple tourism to Cuba remains illegal for US citizens. The suggestion that US citizens drive to Canada and purchase an all-inclusive vacation to Cuba is actually still banned by US regulations. That said, you can still do it, and the US gov’t is unlikely to be any the wiser.

    Your suggestion to stay at Casas Particular is an excellent one. US visitors will get to meet with real Cubans in their homes, rather than the isolated environments of hotels. Also, the money will go to the Cuban people, not directly into the pockets of the regime.

    On that note, US visitors are also advised to eat at private Paladars rather than in state-run restaurants. The food in a Paladar is better & cheaper and again, one gets to meet ordinary Cubans at home.

  • Sky

    Yes, mostly still not legal despite the new developments. There is also another way – people with boats frequently cruise over from Florida to Cuba for clandestine visits. Re the new developments, I hope no-one is holding their breath for any sudden change. The only way things will move fast is if governments or companies see that they can cash in some way. Hopefully, the Cuban government is not easily for buying.

    Re the advice above, you can put anything on a credit card, but it leaves a trail should any US authority wish to check (though chances are that this is less likely to happen now). You cannot use US issued credit cards in Cuba though….

  • B

    How about via Cuba Cruise through Montego Bay, Jamaica

  • emagicmtman

    Thanks for your advice, Graham.!
    I wouldn’t worry about making “unlicenced” trips; O.F.A.C. has not prosecuted anyone–at least not mere tourists–in the last decade. Fears about fines and inprisonment are just that, fears, and nothing more.
    Having gone through Cancun, Montreal and Toronto, if you live in Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York or New England, Canada is best, and least expensive. Also, probably the best deals are on Canadian charters. (WestJet Toronto to Varadero, was only $470 r/t my last trip in 2012, even cheaper if you are flexible and can snap up a last minute “sell-off”). Varadero seems the most reasonable for r/t fares from Canada, since there are so many “fly and floppers” taking that route; however, once in Cuba, no necessity doing package deals…just book the air portion via a charter. After a couple of days vegging out in Varadero (booking via your charter would be cheaper), then go your own way. Before your trip, read one of the Cuba guides, especially the Lonely Planet or Moon guides, and drop in on Lonely Planet’s unofficial Thorntree, Cuba Branch, for recent updates. Most of all, LEARN AS MUCH SPANISH as you can. This will assist you greatly in making your own way throughout the island. I stay at both casa particlares (Cuban bed-and-breakfasts) and at *** and ** state hotels, eat at paladares (private reseaurants), state restaurants (both CUC and CUP) and eat street food, too. Had some great hotel experiences (e.g. Villa Hatuey in Sancti Spiritus, Hotel Ciego de Avila, Gran Hotel Escuela in Santiago, etc., all for $$$ ranging from $28/noc to only $18/noc including breakfasts! Again, at least an intermediate-level Spanish will help you navigate on your own. To travel around the island, the ViAzul or Cuba Conectando bus systems are best. (Also, you can hire a private car and driver…haggle about the price, between, and around, provincial cities). Renting a car is not recommended if you are on a budget, since it is about 3x what it costs here in the States, plus worries about paying fines for scratches and dents, getting tickets, etc. etc.
    Go now…see for yourself…travel is the best education…just don’t experience vicariosly…you only have one life…use it/enjoy it, collect experiences and memories!