CheapAir now offers flights to Havana, Cuba! We are pleased to be the first online travel agency to offer our customers this unique experience. Here are some frequently asked questions to help you if you’re thinking about traveling to Cuba:
1. Is it legal to travel to Cuba?
U.S. citizens and residents are only permitted to travel to Cuba for one of 12 authorized reasons. They are:
- family visits
- official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations
- journalistic activity
- professional research and professional meetings
- educational activities
- religious activities
- public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions
- support for the Cuban people
- humanitarian projects
- activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes
- exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials
- certain authorized export transactions
The good news is that if you fit into one of these categories, you qualify under a “general license” and no longer need a “specific license” issued by the U.S. government. You can book your flight on CheapAir.com and, before you complete your purchase, we’ll ask you to specify which of the 12 reasons applies.
2. What’s different about booking a flight to Cuba?
CheapAir now offers nonstop flights from Miami to Cuba. The primary difference compared to booking a flight anywhere else is that you must travel for one of the 12 reasons approved by the U.S. government. Miami offers daily service to Havana and a more abbreviated schedule to other Cuban destinations. There are also flights to Havana from New York (JFK) and Tampa. You can review the complete schedule of Cuba flights.
If you’re a more adventurous type, some of the other options that we present combine two airlines and stop in an intermediate country (such as Mexico). You must still travel for an approved reason, and will be asked to provide that reason at checkout. CheapAir will package it all together for you and let you make one seamless purchase, but bear in mind that if you are checking luggage, you will have to collect your bags at the gateway city (usually Mexico City) and then re-check them on to Cuba. If you cancel or change, or if one airline initiates a schedule change that affects your itinerary, the policies and penalties of each airline would be applied separately.
3. Do I need a Visa to travel to Cuba?
Yes, but getting one couldn’t be more simple. It costs the equivalent of $25-30 USD to obtain a Visa for travel to Cuba and you can get one at the airport in Mexico City (or whatever other gateway offers service to Cuba).
4. Do I need special medical insurance to travel to Cuba?
Cuba requires non-U.S. medical insurance. There are agents who will sell you a temporary policy upon arrival at the Havana airport for a reasonable rate (roughly $3 USD per day). When traveling direct from the U.S. the price of your flight includes a Cuban health insurance policy (valued around $46).
5. Can I check my bags all the way to Havana?
If you’re taking a direct flight from Miami, Tampa or New York, you will be able to check your bags straight through to your Cuban destination. On flights routed through Mexico City, you will have to check your bags to Mexico City (baggage fees apply per the airline, of course) at the airport on your departure day, claim them once you land, and then re-check them for your onward flight to Havana. In that instance, the same is often true in reverse for the way home.
6. Will I need to stay overnight in Mexico City?
Often times, yes. Because of flight schedules and limited service to Havana, there are frequently no possible same day connections. Your itinerary may require an overnight in Mexico City for one or both directions. On the upside, Mexico City is a fantastic city for a stopover!
7. If I have an overnight in Mexico, where should I stay?
There are plenty of hotels in Mexico City and you’ll see a good range of choices from value to elegant. You can book these directly with CheapAir.com. Our team has researched a few properties close to the airport, all of which offer complimentary airport shuttles, free WiFi and express checkouts:
• Doubletree by Hilton Mexico City Airport Area, from $78 / night
• Ramada Aeropuerto Mexico from $105 / night
• Fiesta Inn Aeropuerto Cd. De Mexico, from $138 / night
8. I’ve read that Cuba doesn’t have the infrastructure in place to support U.S. travelers. Is this true?
There are a number of comfortable and well appointed hotels in Cuba, but there is a limited number of rooms, and some amenities (WiFi for example) are not as widely available. There are plenty of taxis in Havana and, while you’ll pay more than a local, they are generally safe and the drivers courteous. More broadly speaking, Cuba doesn’t yet have the capacity to handle a large influx of U.S. travelers but there is likely to be a significant amount of development in the coming years.
9. Can you recommend a hotel in Cuba?
While CheapAir doesn’t yet offer hotel bookings for Cuba properties, we have done some of the research for you in key locations. The following properties are in good locations and boast very positive reviews from former guests. Plus, you can book directly online from their websites, all in English:
A Cuba 5-star experience. Guests report this is in a great location in Havana for both business and relaxation. It’s located near the coastline, offers a café/nightclub, a cigar lounge and an art gallery, and of course, a swimming pool. $250-$400+/night.
Location, location, location! This hotel, recently renovated, is in a very busy area of Havana, across from the Capitol building. Elegant, grand and guests rave about the views—which they are likely enjoying from the rooftop terrace. Note: booking is not entirely online for this property; you must submit a reservation request (email) and go from there.
Hotel Nacional de Cuba
If you’re seeking a slightly more humble and historic experience, this may be the property for you. This hotel dates back to the late 1920s. The land it sits on has a history of pirates and towers and cannons—and the eclectic history has rolled over into this hotel’s architecture, a mix of Art Deco, neo-classical and Moorish; in fact, some say it may be one of the most unusual buildings in the Caribbean region.
Royalton Hicacos Varadero Resort & Spa
Adults only. Think white sand beaches, swim-up pool bars, spa service and fine dining. Guests rave about the gardens, romantic atmosphere and top-notch service.
Melia Las Americas
This property is an all-inclusive option in Cuba’s major resort hotspot. This hotel is known to be a good bang for your buck, and it attracts a lot of golfers and convention business. All the typical resort goodies apply: spa, pool services and fine dining.
10. Are the hotels in Havana comparable to hotels in the U.S.?
There are a few high-end hotels in Havana with very limited capacity, but the short answer is that state-run mid-tier hotels are a decidedly mixed bag, and there has been no need to meet the demands of higher volumes of U.S. travelers until now. For a list of nice properties that have received good reviews from travelers, please review CheapAir.com’s list of recommended hotels in Cuba.
The other accommodation option for travelers is to take advantage of family-run guesthouses called casas particulares. These ‘private’ businesses have long been an unofficial side gig for Cuban families for years, but the internal relaxation of restrictions for Cuban income have dovetailed with the U.S. embargo relaxation and now creates a more competitive market. That translates to more options and better accommodation for foreign travelers. Especially in Havana, there are many colonial-era guesthouses on offer (some which are quite stately). If you think along the lines of a stateside bed & breakfast you’ll not be far off. Some of these casas particulares you can search and find online.
11. Is it safe to travel in Cuba?
In general, travelers will find Cuba’s safety to be on par with any other westernized country. Violent crime is virtually non-existent to tourists, but petty thievery is on the rise in areas popular with foreigners and you should never exchange money with people on the streets. Common sense will take you far. Taxi drivers are as honest as taxi drivers anywhere else (running an inflated meter for foreigners is commonplace), but when you’re paying the inflated rate of $5 versus a local’s fare of $1 USD for a twenty or thirty minute taxi ride you might find it hard to detect yet alone quibble over. Your belongings will be safe if you leave them at the front desk of even the most basic hotel and some higher end hotels have room safes.
12. Are there ATMs in Cuba? Can I use my credit card?
Most U.S. citizens who travel abroad are used to easy access to ATMs (even in very remote locations). At the moment, ATMs are not available in Cuba for U.S. travelers, though banking relationships are in the beginning stages. In theory, Cuban ATMs could work for Americans traveling abroad in the near future. For now, you’re going to need to bring cash with you and convert to the Cuban Peso at local banks. If your stopover in Mexico City is for more than a few hours, you can also pull money out in Mexican Pesos. But be warned, the Mexican Peso to Cuban Peso exchange rate is notoriously bad. You’re better off exchanging USD, EUR or CAD for Cuban Pesos. Euros and Canadian dollars historically get a more favorable exchange rate on the ground in Cuba. In theory, MasterCard is now accepted in Cuba but trying to find a merchant to accept it is difficult.
13. How can I get from the airport in Havana to my hotel? What are my ground transport options? Are there taxis? What if I want to get around the island? Can I book a rental car?
You can book a taxi from the airport in Havana or book a rental car through one of the car hire companies with a counter at Jose Marti International (Havana Airport) like Car Rental Cuba (carrentalcuba.com). You’re better off booking a car to drive around the island, unless your travel is through a pre-booked tour operator. At the moment, there’s not an easier, friendlier way to see Cuba than by driving yourself though, if you prefer, Cubana Air has a full schedule of commuter flights between Havana and Varadero as well as to other points around the island.
14. Will my cell phone/tablet work in Cuba?
It stands to reason that cell phone coverage will be available soon, but at the moment your American cell phone will not work in Cuba.
15. Are there Internet cafes? How can I stay electronically connected?
Cuba has one of the most restrictive Internet policies in the world. There are no Internet cafes and most Cubans do not have service at all. Some hotels have service for foreigners, but expect to pay a premium, and encounter slow connection speeds. Our best advice is to enjoy your time in Cuba ‘unplugged.’ Over time, internet and digital connections will improve.
We hope this is a helpful guide for your Cuba travel planning. You can let us know any thoughts or questions in the comments below, or simply begin your search for a flight to Cuba today.