Travel to Cuba as an American

“We all fear what we do not understand”

Prior to booking a flight to Cuba, I did extensive research—which is very unlike me—but due to the constraints and vague policies around travel to Cuba as an American, I had to do as much due diligence as possible to ensure a smooth and safe trip there. That said, it was all in vain. About 80% of what I read online was outdated (even from last year 2022)! So here’s a bit of updated information from my trip in April 2023.

First, your checklist:

  • Is your passport valid? (As a general rule, passports must be valid for six months beyond the date the traveler will exit the United States.)
  • Have you booked your roundtrip flight?
  • Have you purchased travel insurance?
  • Exchange money at your local bank only if you do not have USD or Euro
  • Have you created and printed out a general itinerary? (You may be asked for this at the airport)
  • If you are not fluent in Spanish, I highly recommend downloading an offline translator
  • Have you filled out the travel entry form D’Viajeros? Within 48 hours of your flight, you MUST fill out this online customs declaration form. I highly recommend saving this document on your phone AND printing out a copy as you will be asked for this multiple times.

Money and Currency

There is so much and at the same time, not enough information online about currency–partially due to the frequent official and unofficial changes within the Cuban government. Here’s the most current (April 2023) information on money and currency:

  • Many websites will say that you shouldn’t bring USD. But let me make this clear…you CAN and SHOULD bring USD—no need to exchange your USD to euros despite what the internet says. And the sad truth is that many Cubans need the USD and Euro when they flee Cuba and attempt to start a new life in the US or abroad. Foreign currency is actually more preferred over their own national currency (CUP).
  • Don’t bring Canadian dollars (CAD)
  • Always exchange USD or Euro at your casa particular. Try to avoid exchanging on the streets, and definitely avoid exchanging at government agencies.
    • But if you must exchange at CADECA (exchange house), then do so at the airport. A CADECA is on the first floor of Havana’s international airport. All exchange houses offer the same exchange rate, though the airport’s CADECA tends to offer a slightly lower rate.
  • Current black market rates are 1 USD to about 180 CUP
  • USD and Euro are treated the same. (In retrospect, I should’ve just brought USD instead of Euro to get more bang for my buck. Again, didn’t know that I could bring USD.)
  • Expect to be short-changed. This is almost guaranteed if you are a tourist so make sure to check your change.

Cell Service, Data, and Wifi

There is mobile data and cell service in Cuba.

My recommendation for ease: Buy a SIM card. It’s about 1700 CUP (~$10) total for the SIM card and 12GB of data and you can top up if needed. There are also other plans that include text and talk for less. But I didn’t need either and relied solely on data, hence choosing only a data plan.

Remember, your phone must be unlocked.

I’m sure you’ve read numerous blogs on Cuba’s almost non-existent wifi. Here’s the DL: it is indeed limited in some of the lesser populated areas of Cuba, but it is becoming more widely available in larger cities. The use of home-based and business internet is growing fast in Cuba. If you opt out of getting a SIM card, your next best bet is to buy a wifi card from an ETECSA (Cuba’s communication provider) store. When you purchase your ETESCA NAUTA card, you’ll have to scratch off the back to get a login code and password. When you’re done browsing the web or using the wifi, remember to log off, that way you won’t accidentally waste any of your pre-paid wifi minutes on idle time.

Again, I would just purchase a SIM card for the sake of simplicity and ease. Just my two cents!


  • If you take the Viazul bus, you MUST get to the bus station at least an hour before departure. I had to learn this the hard way when I arrived half an hour before departure and was turned away because they had already “closed the manifest”.
  • Taxi collectivos are these unofficial taxis that collect a bunch of people for a trip. Always negotiate the rates! Here’s my breakdown of costs from city to city:
    • Havana to Vinales – €20
    • Vinales to Playa Larga – €40
    • Playa Larga to Trinidad – €35
    • Trinidad to Varadero – €25
    • Varadero to Matanzas (regular taxi) – €30
    • Matanzas to Havana 1000 CUP (~$5)
  • There are “unofficial” taxis – older unmarked cars – but you have to be careful because the “nicer” or prettier and flashier old cars can also be the touristy ones which will be significantly more expensive. Most of these local unofficial taxis (aka people’s private cars) are around 100-200 Cuban pesos for a trip within Havana city.
  • As I am writing this in present moment, there’s a shortage of fuel.
  • My original thought was to take the bus everywhere, but I ended up taking taxi colectivos everywhere instead. The buses are infrequent and if you’re on a time crunch, it makes more sense to just take taxi collectivos. Also, the price difference ends up being very minimal sometimes.


I can’t emphasize this enough…bring a water filter! Bring one unless you want to keep purchasing bottled water which is not very easy to find nor is it economical. I used a Mini Sawyer which worked perfectly for me. LifeStraw is another filter that is commonly used.


  • At most meals, you’ll have a side of rice and beans, or at the very least, rice.
  • If you have anything with ice, make sure that the ice was made with filtered water. Always ask.
  • Their main meats/proteins that are offered at meals are pork, chicken, fish, and lobster. Yes, surprisingly lobster is common, and beef is not.
    • Beef is hard to come by. They have a huge shortage of cattle. In fact, two years ago, it was illegal to kill a cow—so much so it warranted imprisonment and harsh punishments.
  • Trying crayfish is a must! Their crayfishes are much larger than the ones we have in the US. They were like mini lobsters!
  • Common vegetables and fruits: mango, guava, pineapple, papaya, taro (malanga), tomato, cucumber, and cabbage.
  • Fruits/vegetables not found (or rarely found) on the island: apples, citrus fruits, berries, and nuts.


Here’s a general cost breakdown of how much you may spend for accommodation in each city:

  • Vinales – $10-20/night
  • Playa Larga – $15-25/night
  • Trinidad – $10-20/night
  • Matanzas – $10-15/night
  • Havana – $10-25/night

As an American, I couldn’t stay at any hotels, so my only option was to stay at casa particulares—which are local private homes. I would recommend this over a hotel in a heartbeat because you get to live like local and immerse directly into their culture and lifestyle. All my hosts were so generous and accommodating!

Tips, Tricks, and Interesting Things I Learned

  • Negotiate everything—especially when it comes to taxis and taxi colectivos
  • There are many Cubans that speak French! It makes sense because there are a lot of French tourists.
  • Bring toilet paper with you, and several rolls of it. Keep a small roll in your fanny pack, another in your backpack, and another somewhere easily accessible.
  • Bring OTC medicines like Tylenol or ibuprofen – for yourself and for the Cuban people.
  • Like many other Latin American countries, there is such a thing as tourist prices and local prices—but it’s even more noticeable here. In fact, they make that distinction pretty clear.
  • Cuban Spanish is very different from any other Spanish I’ve encountered around Latin America and Spain. Their lingo is different; they smush words together, and speak really fast.
  • Use up your Cuban pesos before heading to the airport because they don’t accept payment in anything other than USD, CAD, and Euro. They don’t accept their own currency. Silly right?

My 10-Day Itinerary


I started my trip in Havana, as most people do, but didn’t stay there very long. I spent less than a day exploring the city, and continued on to Viñales the next morning.


A horseback riding tour to caves and a tobacco plantation is a must! My host (at the casa particular) help set up this tour for me and another girl that was staying at the casa. This was a half day tour that started early in the morning at the edge of town. We rode an hour to a cave to a natural underground pool. You have the option to take a quick dip or swim if you’d like. We forgot to bring our swimsuits, so we simply just splashed some water on our arms that were already turning pink from the morning sun.

From there, we rode to a tobacco plantation nearby. A sweet family greeted us and welcomed us to sit under their pavilion. We fanned ourselves as the son of the family, Osniel, introduced himself and gave a brief history of the plantation. We toured the plantation as he explained the growing and collection process. Did you know that farmers are mandated to sell 90% of their tobacco crop to the government for a set price? Yikes! They can sell the remaining 10% at their own price. That’s communism for ya.

We followed Osniel into a sitting area of their home where he demonstrated how to choose tobacco leaves and subsequently roll them into a cigar. If you have plans to purchase cigars on your trip, I would highly suggest purchasing them here. The ones found in the large cities (like Havana or Trinidad) are often mixed with paper and other materials, whereas the ones you buy directly at the plantation are guaranteed to be purely tobacco.

Shortly after, we followed his cousin Joselito into an outdoor sitting area where he brought out some honey, lime juice, rum, and coffee beans. We learned the different methods of grinding coffee: using a hand grinder and using a large mortar and pestle.

Cayo Jutias

If you have time and need a day to sit back and relax from all the adventures, Cayo Jutias is the perfect spot to unwind and take in the ocean breeze. It is a 45-min trip from Viñales, and you can either hire a private taxi to take you there, or if you’re lucky enough, hop on a local bus. I would highly recommend bringing snacks or a picnic as there are limited restaurants and amenities available.

Playa Larga

I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen so many land crabs in one place at one time. Every year, around March/April, millions of red, yellow and black land crabs invade the eastern side of the Bay of Pigs. The crabs migrate from the surrounding forests to the bay to spawn in the sea. They are quite literally everywhere—even hiding in your bedroom if you accidentally leave the door open. The roads are painted red, yellow, and black by the squished crabs, and the smell is overwhelming, even putrid at times. As cool as it may be, they are quite the inconvenience it turns out, because there are no car taxis you can take or motorbikes/scooters to rent during this time. The locals say that the only vehicles that can travel the roads at this time are the buses…er rather, bus. Yes, just one local bus that goes back and forth from Playa Larga to Playa Giron once a day.

Cueva de Los Peces

Cueva de Los Peces is a deep cenote located between Playa Larga and Playa Giron. You can take the local bus or hire a private taxi to get here. I recommend arriving here early in the morning before hoards of other people arrive. The water is quite chilly, but you get used to it pretty quickly. Bring your mask and snorkel! If you don’t have a set, then you can rent a set at the front entrance. The entrance fee is 140 pesos.

Punta Perdiz

After Cueva de Los Peces, I began walking down the road towards Punta Perdiz. As aforementioned, during this crab mating season, there are no other buses available, so walking is really your own option unless you hitchhike your way there. Punta Perdiz is about 6.3 km from Cueva de Los Peces—so if you’re walking, make sure you have a pair of good shoes on! I recommend wearing closed-toed shoes. I made the mistake of wearing my Rainbow flip flops and it was not the most comfortable walk, especially trampling over shattered pieces of crab.

If you pick a beach, I would recommend staying there for the whole day if possible. At Punta Perdiz, they offered a full buffet, open bar, and beach loungers for 2000 CUP (~15 USD). The food was phenomenal and there was plenty of it! I spent the relaxing afternoon snorkeling and taking breaks lounging on the beach. Don’t forget to bring lots of sunscreen!


This beautiful vibrant city has much to explore within it and around it. This is one of the first Cuban cities founded by the Spanish around 1514 and exploded in economy thanks to the production of sugar cane, tobacco, and the slave trade.

The Museo Histórico Municipal is a grandiose old mansion that ironically enough blends in with the town, so it is easy to miss. The entrance fee is 120 CUP. They offer tours in English, which I highly recommend, since there are no descriptions of the objects on display throughout the mansion. At the end of your tour, climb up the dodgy wooden staircase to the top of the bell tower to soak up the best views of Trinidad.

La Canchánchara is both the name of a bar in Trinidad, and the traditional cocktail itself. This classic Cuban cocktail is super simple, comprising of only a handful of ingredients: rum (usually Havana Club), honey, lime, and ice. Cancháncharas are sipped from simple clay mugs, which helps to keep them well-chilled. Of course, you can use a glass – but there is something to be said for the experience of drinking one from unglazed clay, ice-cold and beaded with condensation. A must-try!

Topes de Collantes

Just an hour outside of Trinidad lies the beautiful nature reserve Topes de Collantes. Its jungle-clad slopes are packed with luscious greenery, waterfalls and swimming holes. The Topes de Collante Nature Reserve stretches north from Trinidad and west towards Cienfuegos. It is comprised of 5 parks each with its own unique way to enjoy nature in Cuba. On the particular tour I went on, we explored Parque Altiplano. This park contains the town of Topes and two well-marked trails (Sendero del Caburní and Sendero Vegas Grandes).

We swung by a lovely coffee house in the town of Topes first. The guide took us through the bean to table process and at the end, we were able to enjoy a shot of espresso (included in the tour, of course).

We took Sendero del Caburní, a 2.5 km trail (5 km round trip) to a towering 64m waterfall plunging into several swimming holes. The first half of the trail is fairly easy until it drops steeply in the second half where you’ll have to watch your footing. Take your time on the return trip as it is uphill the entire way.


Matanzas is the second largest province in Cuba after Havana. This is not a typical stop along the tourist travel itinerary, but if you’re headed to Varadero, take a quick detour to this lovely city full of hidden treasures. This city is often referred to as “The City of Bridges” because of the many bridges that cross it—five of them being around 100 years old and still in use!

My favorite museum of the entire trip was here in Matanzas: Museo Farmaceútico (Pharmaceutical Museum). This museum was founded in 1882 by Earnesto Triolet and is the only one of its kind in the world. It was in use up until 1964. The original liquids (or what’s left of them) are still present in their original vestibules and bottles.

Thoughts? Comments? Let me know! Have a wonderful trip to Cuba!

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