A lively combination of colourful nightlife, cultural history and unspoiled coastline awaits you as the US Government lifts the embargo for travelling to Cuba in 2016. Here are some things to know about travelling to Cuba before you pack your bags.
Restrictions – are they over yet?
The recent historic visit by US President Obama to Cuba has led to a dramatic reduction in travelling restrictions to the country which means that not only you can travel there as part of a group but also individually. Although the Cuban government is happy to welcome visitors but limitations imposed by the US government require you to verify your visit for one of 12 legitimate purposes such as family visits, education, supporting Cuban people, etc.
Tourist Card required
Although most of the US visa service agencies are not yet prepared to issue tourist visa cards but a visit to Cuba can’t be approved without a mandatory visa. For this reason, you must obtain a 30 day tourist card prior to your departure to Cuba. Some airlines from Cancun, Nassau and Canada often sell these cards and US airlines who plan to operate on Cuban routes are likely to follow suit. It is advisable to check with tour operators offering Cuban tours in your city.
Flights to begin in fall 2016
US airlines are geared up to win the routes for multiple destinations to Cuba. You can either enjoy the culture, nightlife and markets in Havana, the most famous Cuban destination, or plan a trip to some exotic beach like Varadero or Cayo as many airlines are planning to offer direct flights to these destinations. Impatient travellers may hop on a charter flight or fly via Canada, Cancun or Nassau. A new option of Ferry trip from Key West to Havana is also in the offering for soon-to-be travellers.
It is better to carry cash with you, especially local Cuban currency or Canadian Dollars, Euros and Pounds, as US Dollar attracts a 10% surcharge on every transaction in Cuba. Even though US citizens are now free to spend money in Cuba, it’s highly recommended to pay in local currency- Ordinary Peso (CUP) or the Convertible Peso (CUC). Some places accept most major debit and credit cards but since not all US banks can do business in Cuba, the use of cards is not highly recommended. Plus finding an ATM could be a hassle. The best bet is to exchange your currency well in advance.
Finding accommodation is not easy
Cuba has been a popular destination for travellers from around the world. Colonial cities like Havana and beach side resorts bring in immense tourism for the country. Although, a big number of European and local hotel chains already offer accommodation, it is unlikely that they will be prepared to receive a large influx of American tourists. It’s important to remember that even Cuban high-end hotels do not compare to American standards. Most likely, hotels will make vast improvements as soon as new investors begin feeding money into the economy, but for now it’s recommendable to search for private accommodation like AirBnB home or apartment rentals or even consider staying at a local family homestay.
Communication with home can be a challenge in Cuba
While on vacation, it’s smart to have a phone with you to contact family members and be able to communicate in the event of an emergency. However, it’s not very easy (or cheap) to make calls from Cuba to the US. Most phone companies will charge hefty fees for making calls so be sure to check with your carrier before departure. Try using WiFi or talking over the internet with apps like Skype.
Travelling within Cuba
There are plenty of options to choose from while travelling in Cuba. You can easily get around in Cuba with the local public transport. Licensed taxis are also cheap and easily available. You can rely on buses and planes for inter city travels such as travelling from Havana to some beach city destinations. Viazul is the main and reliable intercity bus operator. Slightly more expensive, Cubanacan buses offer pickups and drop offs at hotels. Be cautious when taking unlicensed taxis from the street, public buses and shared three wheelers.
All you can take home
There’s some good news for Cuban cigar and alcohol lovers. Under the new rules you will be allowed to take back cigars and liquors from Cuba to the US given that their combined maximum value should not be more than $100 USD.
Now feel free to let go, drink up, party on and enjoy all the amazing places that Cuba has to offer!
Read the original story: 8 Things You Need to Know About Traveling to Cuba in 2016 by Ed Perkins
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