Cuba Travel FAQ for U.S. Travelers!

Welcome to your “Cuba Travel FAQ!”  The first time Eileen & I traveled to Cuba (with Nina!), we almost didn’t go ~ because other U.S. travelers told us that we “couldn’t” get in!  If we’d listened to them, we’d have missed out on one of our FAVORITE travel experiences EVER!!  To encourage & de-mystify Cuba travel, we’ve written a Q&A here: I asked the questions, & Eileen answered them.  Since our first visit, she’s returned to Cuba no less than THREE times!  She’s basically an unofficial Cuba expert, & has made lots of Cuban contacts during her visits. 

Get her best advice in this “Cuba Travel FAQ for U.S. Travelers” interview with Eileen!  All photos below are hers.

Cuba Travel FAQ for U.S. Travelers, Girl Who Travels the World

Noelia & Eileen in Colombia in April 2018!

Cuba Travel FAQ for U.S. Travelers!

Q:  Since visiting Cuba for the first time, you’ve visited two more times.  What is it about Cuba that keeps pulling you to return? 

A:  If I had to give one reason why I’ve returned to Cuba so many times, I’d be at a loss for words!  The people, the culture, the music, the ambiance of the salsa clubs, the feeling of being safe (almost eerily safe) ~ no matter what time of day or night, the food, the coffee, the cigars, the beautiful, charismatic men (although I’m taken, one can still look), the simplicity of life, the mesmerizing beaches, the colorful Victorian-style buildings, the cars, driving along the Malecon…should I keep going?  I knew I’d found my favorite place the minute we got in our cab: our driver was super friendly & had the salsa music PUMPING!!  We knew right then, we were in for a good time.  The Cubans we encountered were welcoming, hospitable, & very happy to see U.S. tourists ~ since for so many years, we haven’t really been “allowed.”  Cuba is a big country with SO much history, & so many beautiful places: it’s impossible to see it all in one visit. 

Q: What are your favorite Cuban destinations, other than Havana? 

A: Cuba is full of beautiful places, but besides Havana, I’d have to say that Vinales & Varadero are two of my favorites. Vinales is a two-hour drive west of Havana, & Varadero is about two hours east of Havana.  You can either take a taxi, rent a car, or use the Viazul bus to get to both. 

Cuba Travel FAQ for U.S. Travelers, Girl Who Travels the World

Learn all about cigars in the gorgeous Vinales Valley.

Vinales is a beautiful valley sounded by huge rocks, greenery, & tobacco farms.  If you love cigars, I highly recommend waiting until you get to Vinales to blow your cigar budget!  Don’t fall for the “Today is special day, all cigars are half price!” from locals on the streets in Havana, looking for naïve tourists ~ like myself!  Every day is a “special day” in Havana ; )  In Vinales, you can take a tour of the beautiful tobacco farms, where they show you how cigars are made.  And if you’re feeling adventurous, about 37 miles from Vinales is one of the most beautiful, remote, & unspoiled beaches I’ve ever seen, called Cayo Jutia.   It’s like stepping into heaven’s gates: the water is crystalline turquoise; the sand is white & soft.  A small bar serves refreshments & food, which you will need ~ as the road here is ROUGH!!  We drove through miles & miles of the biggest pot holes I’ve ever SEEN, on the bumpiest ride you can imagine.  It took HOURS.  And yes, I would do it again.

Cuba Travel FAQ for U.S. Travelers, Girl Who Travels the World


Cuba Travel FAQ for U.S. Travelers, Girl Who Travels the World

Gorgeous & extremely remote, Cayo Jutia.

Varadero is a beautiful beach town with more stunning turquoise water.  It’s known as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world ~ & I understand why.  Varadero also has great nightlife, with many bars & restaurants, as well as art galleries & museums.  I stayed in a “Casa Particulares,” which is a privately-owned home that offers breakfast, for only 30 CUC’s ($30 US) per night.  I highly recommend staying in one of these: they’re cheap, & you get a good taste of local hospitality & culture.  There are also many nice resorts & hotels in Varadero if you want to be a bit more glamorous.  And if you enjoy golf, Varadero is one of two locations in all of Cuba that has a golf course. 

Cuba Travel FAQ for U.S. Travelers, Girl Who Travels the World


Cuba Travel FAQ for U.S. Travelers!

Q: You’ve been to Cuba three times.  How hard has it been to “get in” to Cuba?  Have you ever had any problems with entry (either in Cuba or the U.S.)?  And did you go as part of a “group tour?”

A: Personally, I’ve never had an issue getting into Cuba, or returning to the US.  (Nina & Noelle also had no issues getting into Cuba, or returning to the U.S.)  This was a surprise!  Getting into Cuba was very easy, & in fact, no questions were even asked of me.  Coming back into the US, I was questioned by Immigration officers ~ but more in a casual, curious way.  I recommend having a typed itinerary so that you can show officials where you’re staying (booking ahead in Cuba is ESSENTIAL!!), & your detailed travel plans, in case you get questioned.  Traveling with a tour group is one of the easiest ways into the country ~ but it can also be VERY expensive; Cuba is an extremely inexpensive country if you travel on your own (group tours tend to overcharge).  I’ve never traveled into Cuba with a group ~ we’ve always been on our own, & experienced no problems.

Here are the official regulations that the U.S. government has issued with regard to Cuba travel; you must meet one of these 12 regulations for “approved travel.” They are:

  1. Family visits
  2. Official business for the U.S. government
  3. Foreign governments, & certain inter-governmental organizations
  4. Journalistic activity (which has been my reason for travel)
  5. Professional research & professional meetings
  6. Educational activities (which seems quite broad)
  7. Religious activities
  8. Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic & other competitions, & exhibitions
  9. Support for the Cuban people
  10. Humanitarian projects
  11. Activities of private foundations, research or educational institutes
  12. Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or informational materials 

Q: How do you get a visa to get into Cuba? 

A: You need a visa to enter Cuba, which can be obtained at the airport (from your airline) before boarding your plane.  A visa costs more when flying from the U.S. ($85-100) than it does if flying from Mexico (Noelia paid only $25 in Cancun).  I’ve also purchased mine in advance online at ~ & it will save you some money ($85 vs. $100).  Take your time filling this baby out!  They do NOT accept errors or cross-outs on this form.  If you do end up making a mistake, they could make you purchase a new one once you arrive in Cuba. 

Cuba Travel FAQ for U.S. Travelers!

Q: Cuba does NOT accept U.S. credit cards.  How do you handle that?  What are your best money tips for Cuba?

A: BRING CASH!!!!!!!!!!!!!  I cannot emphasize this enough.  As of now, you CANNOT use any U.S. credit cards or debit cards ANYWHERE in Cuba.  If you choose to convert your U.S. dollars to tourist CUC at the airport, you’ll be taxed 10%.  I’ve found, & was advised by currency exchange agents, that the best way to convert U.S. dollars is to convert them to Euros (I do this at the U.S. airport), & then convert Euros to Cuban CUC once you arrive in Cuba.  There are two exchange counters right outside the Jose Marti International Airport doors, where you can exchange money (lines can be long ~ so be prepared)! 

Also, be aware that Cuba has two different currencies.  The CUC (Cuban convertible currency) & the CUP (Cuban pesos). The CUC is the tourist currency, which converts from approximately 1 CUC to 1 EUR.  The CUP is the local currency, which converts from approximately 25 CUP to 1 CUC.  If purchasing small items at the market, or bus passes, you may be given change in CUP (the cheaper currency).  They look very similar, & can easily be mistaken for one another.  Always carry small denominations of CUC, as many places won’t have enough change.

Q: What are your favorite photos of Cuba, & what are some of your favorite Cuban memories?

A: One of my favorite photos taken during my Cuba travels has got to be the one taken by you, Noelia ~ of our salsa lessons!  Anyone traveling to Cuba MUST take salsa lessons at Casa Del Son in Old Havana!!  It’s an amazing experience that you’ll never forget!  When I look at that picture, I’m reminded of our instructors’ sexy, fluid dance moves, the aroma of mojitos, & the sexy Latin music that echoed through the studio walls.  Cuban salsa has its own style & flow, unlike any other form of salsa.  Ladies… just go!!!!!!

Cuba Travel FAQ: From a Female Perspective, Girl Who Travels the World

We had the time of our LIFE, learning to dance salsa at Casa del Son in Havana!

Cuba Travel FAQ for U.S. Travelers!

Q: What would you want to tell people in the U.S. about traveling to Cuba?

A: There are so many things to say here, but one of the most important things I can tell U.S. travelers is how SAFE I/we felt in Cuba.  Cuba is a very safe country, contrary to most people’s beliefs.  I felt safer walking though the poorest Havana neighborhoods than I do when I’m in the U.S.  And for the typical U.S. text and Wi-Fi junkie, you’re in for a rude awakening!  Put away your phone & forget about it.  Calling the U.S. and sending/receiving text messages is extremely expensive (if you can even find Wi-Fi), so just don’t do it.  Wi-Fi is only available at certain hotels, or in Wi-Fi “hot-spot” parks.  You’ll need to purchase a Wi-Fi card at designated outlets in order to use at a “hot-spot” ~ one of the more popular companies is called ETECSA.  Ask locals where to buy these cards. I also suggest downloading Viber or WhatsApp, in order to contact loved ones at home, & let them know you’re alive & loving Cuba!  These apps are free of charge.

Another piece of advice I’d give to U.S. citizens traveling to Cuba is: support local restaurants.  There are so many amazing restaurants owned by locals that you don’t want to miss!  I always encourage travelers to support locally-owned businesses ~ but particularly in Cuba, as government-owned restaurants pay their employees very poorly.  Remember: the average monthly income for Cubans is only 35 CUC!!  Yes, you read that right.  Bear in mind, tipping isn’t required, but I firmly believe in tipping & highly recommend tipping the locals; it’s always appreciated.

Q:  What are your favorite hotels or places to stay in Cuba?

A:  Cuba is flooded with fancy hotels that are quite expensive ~ but don’t really measure up to typical U.S. standards.  I personally recommend booking Airbnb’s.  I’ve had the most wonderful experiences with our hosts through Airbnb!  They’ve been hospitable, often cook breakfast for you, are available for questions ~ & some will even do your laundry!  Not to mention, you’ll get the best bang for your buck.  I have yet to have a bad experience with any accommodations through Airbnb in Cuba.  You won’t be let down!

Cuba Travel FAQ for U.S. Travelers, Girl Who Travels the World

The view from one of my last Airbnb’s in Havana ~ incredible! (About $70 US/night).

Cuba Travel FAQ for U.S Travelers!

Q:  How did you feel safety-wise as a female traveler in Cuba?  Any “scary” experiences or catcalls?

A:  As I mentioned before, Cuba is one of the safest places I’ve traveled.  As a female traveler, I felt completely safe walking around Cuba alone.  You’ll hear the occasional catcall, but for whatever reason, I never felt violated by it (as I have in other countries).  You may also hear, “Ay que linda…” (“Oh how beautiful”), but it almost sounds like they’re singing it.  It didn’t bother me!  There are also “Federales” (police) stationed on many street corners in Havana, meant to help keep tourists safe.  There is very little crime in Cuba, mainly because Cuban jails are notoriously AWFUL!!  No one wants to end up there.  It’s highly unlikely that your purse will be snatched, or your booty grabbed in this country. 

Cuba Travel FAQ for U.S. Travelers, Girl Who Travels the World

We felt just as safe in Cuba as we do in the U.S. ~ if not, much safer. And statistically speaking, Cuba is TWICE as safe as the U.S.

Cuba Travel FAQ for U.S. Travelers!

That’s it for this “Cuba Travel FAQ!”  I know Cuba can be a difficult place as far as travel planning goes, & once you’re actually on the island ~ it can be even more difficult because of the lack of Wi-Fi!  If you have any questions about your Cuba trip, please ask them below in the comments ~ & Eileen or I will answer them for you.

xoxo Eileen & Noelia

Read Next: Salsa Lessons in Cuba, Part 1: The Dance, by Nina Di

Eileen Sakouyan

Eileen Sakouyan


Eileen is an entrepreneur, beauty connoisseur, & owner of Eye Candy PDX, located in West Linn, Oregon.  Noelia & Eileen met through mutual friends, & discovered a shared passion for travel & exploration of other countries!  After their first trip to the Yucatan Peninsula & Cuba, Eileen has returned to Cuba THREE times…she obviously has fallen in LOVE with this country. Contact her by commenting on this post, or through her website!