Guess what!? I went to Cuba!! It is amazing how the travel movement has motivated Millennials to explore parts of the world that are completely foreign to them. One of the most popular locations of 2017 is going to be Cuba. Cuba-the communist, island known for vintage cars, culture and food-is often times forgotten by Americans because of the relationship between the two countries that has virtually kept us separated. However, when I saw $200 flights on American this July, I had to jump at the opportunity to experience a new world. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
The most asked question that I’ve received is: “How did you get to Cuba.” This question tickles me because people make Cuba seem like it is located on Mars. However, propaganda and travel agencies-who are overcharging Millennials-have created the false impression that getting to Cuba is “hard.” THIS IS A HUGE MISCONCEPTION. Getting to Cuba is not hard, but it does take time, patience and some planning.
I purchased my Visa at the Cuban Embassy in D.C. It took about 30 minutes to fill out the paperwork and convince the attendant to process it that day – as opposed to coming back the following week. When I went to the Embassy, I used a few Spanish phrases, which was received favorably and contributed to a one-stop-trip.
Because I was going for a cultural experience I went under a people-to-people visa. Although it is not hard to get a visa, you do still have to have a valid reason for visiting the country. The acceptable reasons are listed here: https://cu.usembassy.gov/u-s-citizen-services/local-resources-of-u-s-citizens/traveling-to-cuba/
Stating that you are going to drink Pina Coladas on the beach or to be a “tourist” is NOT an acceptable reason. When I returned to the country I was asked the typical questions: why did you go, who did you visit, what did you bring back?
You also need to have a passport size photo-I just printed a photo from my computer, the address for your accommodations, a copy of your plane ticket and passport in order to obtain your visa from the embassy.
There are companies that will process a visa online and mail it to you. These visas usually cost between $80-$100 with shipping. My advice, if there is an embassy within driving distance, save your money and get it in person. Visa: $50
Multiple American airlines are now offering flights to Cuba. My travel group and I were fortunate to find a very inexpensive ticket; however, due to increased popularity, flight prices are slowly beginning to increase. In order to save money you can fly into cities such as Varadero which is only about 2 hours away from Havana. Also, your plane ticket price includes medical and trip insurance-a requirement to enter Cuba-along with a travel agent who can help you plan your trip. Plane Ticket with medical and travel insurance: $300
I will be the first to admit, I am not a fan of AirBNB. Call me a hotel snob, but the idea of staying in a stranger’s home is a little disturbing. Additionally, AirBNBs can cost the same as a hotel room, so why not pay to have your sheets turned down each day-just my preference. However, AirBNB in Cuba is the way to go. We had a wonderful host who can be found here- https://www.airbnb.com.au/rooms/5932746?eluid=1&euid=a69e64fc-6402-7e01-ce44-f33362488f10.
The apartment we stayed in was located in the heart of Havana and was walking distance to a lot of the main attractions. Our host Ariel had a wealth of knowledge. He gave us a quick briefing on the dos and don’ts of Cuba, advice on Restaurants and clubs, and information on where to purchase Cuban Cigars. 🙂
When looking for your AirBNB it is imperative that you read the reviews, this can determine the difference between a good and a great host. Also keep in mind that your host may not speak perfect English so it would be helpful to learn a few phrases. Lastly, Cubans do not have access to many of the luxuries that we have in the United States so be generous and bring your host a gift. Popular items include necessities such as soaps, laundry detergents and board games-if there are kids. Other items such as books, USBs with movies/music and T.V. shows and magazines are greatly appreciated by the Cubans because they help them to learn English and about the outside world. AirBNB in Havana: $170 per night for 5 people.
I also spent one night in a town right outside of Mantanzas where we had amazing lobster and two nights in Varadero at a beach resort. This lodging equated to $170 total. The hospitality companies in Varadero are relatively cheap compared to other resort locations and there are plenty of resorts to choose from. However, I would suggest visiting other cities in Cuba that offer more culture and entertainment than the resorts which are far from the local villages and felt a bit isolating.
The food is Cuba was AMAZING!!!! I heard mixed reviews prior to my trip regarding the cuisine, but my group and I were fortunate to not have a single bad meal while we were there.
My first meal in Cuba was an 8 oz.-grilled to perfection lobster with rice and cucumbers. We ate this on a quiet and beautiful beach along with some of the best pina coladas I’ve ever tasted.
Throughout our stay in Havana we visited several of the private restaurants. The food is extremely affordable, I never spent more than $20.00 on a meal, including drinks. The bread only comes second to my mom’s homemade rolls. The fish and vegetables were fresh and tender. The service was superb. Average Meal $15
Cruising through the countryside, alongside the beach, or on the busy streets of Havana was awesome especially because we did it in vintage cars. Getting around Cuba is quite simple, you find a car, negotiate a price and hop in. Every car we took had a driver who spoke English and knew the city well. Average Taxi Ride: $5
Of course you can’t leave Cuba without bringing home some goodies to show off to your friends and family such as artwork, magnets, rum and cigars. All of the souvenirs that I saw throughout the country were very cheap and everything was negotiable. I purchased some beautiful artwork that I unfortunately left on the plane from a man’s home. I bought a package of cigars for $5. I collected bottles of rum from the convenience store next to our apartment for $2-$8 a bottle. If you’re looking for a place to bring back some amazing gifts, Cuba is full of affordable vendors with great trinkets. Souvenirs $50
Overall Cuba was a great experience. You do have to be open-minded when traveling there and understanding of the effects of communism; however, the people in Cuba are very welcoming to Americans and it is a beautiful country.
Planning the trip is half of the fun and as a Millennial it can save you a lot of money. I went to Cuba with $350 in cash and found myself searching for things to buy in the airport on the way home because Cuban money can’t be used in the United States.