Updated: Oct 20, 2019
*UPDATE: November 9, 2017*
The Trump administration announced tight new restrictions as of November 9th, 2017.
What is the *New* Cuba Policy?
The new changes are essentially the old Cuba policy for Americans.
You are once again restricted from traveling as an individual to Cuba without a license.
As stated on the Washington Post:
'Under the new rules, most individual visits to Cuba will no longer be allowed, and U.S. citizens will again have to travel as part of groups licensed by the Treasury Department for specific purposes, accompanied by a group representative.'
Dates of Travel: January 25- January 29 , 2017
Earlier this year I was blessed with the opportunity to travel to the wonderful land of Cuba. For many years the travel ban between U.S. and Cuba did not allow for citizens to freely travel there. Being that this travel ban was adjusted in order to make it easier for U.S. Citizens to travel to Cuba, I knew it was the perfect opportunity to take a trip there. I was eager to absorb it's culture and all it's history. Did I mention how much I love Cuban food!? I am not sure whether it has to do with being partially raised in Miami, which is considered Little Cuba, or if its just a 'hungry girl' thing. However, besides the learning experience, I figured ethnic Cuban food would do no harm, little did I know, the food would become one of the culture shock components of my trip.
I booked our flights through JetBlue and I found an amazing offer for $206.00 USD round trip per person. JetBlue offered each passenger the first checked-in bag free of charge. During the booking process, we each had to select which of the '12 categories' we were flying under. For our group the selection was Educational activities. By choosing this category we were each confirming that our trip would consist of educational experiences. The reason for this is that although travel bans were lifted there were still several guidelines to follow. Tourism per-say, was still not legal therefore you would have to fly under one of these 12 categories to legitimize your trip. A day or two after booking I received an online affidavit from JetBlue per passenger. All I had to provide was basic information such as name, DOB, ADDRESS, and again which of the 12 categories we were each flying under. This form was something JetBlue required for their records on Cuba flights. At the end of our trip we would need to keep all receipts to prove educational activities, such as museums , tour guides, etc. They do not ask for it upon your return, but according to the Cuban embassy, these would be recommended to keep for up to 5 years after trip for proof.
Our Airbnb in Atabey: 'Villa Carmita y Vlady con piscina'
The next step was finding a place to stay. I looked at a few hotels and I found a few I loved in the city , however, when I compared them to the prices of Airbnb's , hotels seemed out of the question. The prices per night at a hotel were way higher than those of Airbnb. I also felt that staying in an Airbnb would provide us with a better 'Cuban experience'. Our group was a group of 10, so we wanted something that would fit us comfortably. Although there were plenty of cozy and affordable airbnb's in the city range, we ended up deciding on an Airbnb home in a section of Havana called 'Atabey' which was about a 20-30 min drive away from the central city. The distance was perhaps the only downside of it all but because we were a large group the daily cab expenses weren't too bad. Choosing this house turned out to be one of the biggest blessings in our entire trip and we had no idea yet.
During the weeks between booking and our actual travel dates, I did a ton of research. I was pretty much reading up on anything and everything. I was trying to get as much done and reserved prior to the trip since we were about to embark on an internet-less and service-less journey, which for the common New Yorker is quite terrifying. (No google maps honey!) I even printed little maps of the city to help guide us a bit. Nevertheless, we all spoke Spanish in our group so that was an advantage in case we got lost (which we sort of did.)
Packing for this trip gave me anxiety a bit because I felt like I needed to be prepared for everything and anything. If I over-packed on certain items, I read that it would be a kind and thoughtful gesture to leave some of these items in the Airbnb as some of these common essentials such as toilet paper, wipes, tampons are harder to obtain for them. Another mandatory thing on my Cuba check-list was travel insurance. Yes, travel insurance was mandatory in order to fly to Cuba. Luckily, it was included in our ticket from JetBlue so that was one load off. The next step prior to traveling was obtaining a Visa! With JetBlue I could only purchase this ticket the day of my flight, therefore, on the day of our flights we had to be at the airport extra early in order to purchase them prior to boarding. The Visa card was $50 per person and they checked in our luggages right after purchasing it. Since the visa was required upfront we were not able to use the kiosk to check in electronically. After purchasing our visa and checking in our bags we were well on our way to CUBA! (queues salsa music)
TO BE CONTINUED.....