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Americans and Cuba Travel - the Facts, Resources, Related Experiences [only]

Old May 10, 15, 9:31 am
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Last edit by: JDiver
WARNING: Trump speech in Miami today, June 16, 2017, announced (using the words "effective immediately") reinstatement of the tourist travel ban to Cuba. "Trump will re-impose the requirement that "people-to-people" travelers can only come to Cuba with heavily regulated tour groups. " for USA citizens and residents, that bans individual "self certified" travel to Cuba under the current OFAC 12 categories described below. That means (expensive) group travel for most, currently offered by travel and cruise companies (those will be allowed to continue).

US airlines will be allowed to continue to serve Cuba, but the new restrictions will mean most planning to travel individually will not be able to usevthese carriers (unless on authorized or licensed group travel).

Those groups with travel arrangements will probably have to make significant itinerary changes to conform with the policy's ban most American financial transactions with branches or businesses operated by the military-linked Armed Forces Business Enterprises Group (GAESA), a conglomerate involved in many economic sectors in Cuba - including many hotels, state-run restaurants and tour buses.

Trump's recalibration of policy will most immediately affect the latitude of U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba. Under Obama's relaxation of travel regulations, U.S. citizens could designate the purpose of their travel under one of 12 specific categories, which included the broadly defined "educational" travel and "people-to-people" travel. This "self-designation" mechanism contributed to a surge in travel over the last two years, with more than 600,000 tourists visiting the island in 2016.

But Trump's new restrictions eliminate the self-designation process, and according to the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control, "will end individual people-to-people travel." Unless U.S. travelers qualify for one of the specialized categories of traveljournalism, religious work or academic research, for examplethey will have to travel with licensed tour groups and prove they spent all their time in Cuba doing people-to-people activities. The new directive empowers the Treasury Department to audit U.S. travelers and immigration officials will be able to demand records and journals from returning travelers to demonstrate they are in compliance with the new restrictions. Those who are not could face hefty government fines.

Under the new Trump regulations, those restrictions have been expanded to prohibit U.S. citizens from staying in, eating at, or spending any money at numerous state-owned hotels and other businesses that fall under the umbrella of Cuba's Business Enterprise Group (GAESA). GAESA, a conglomerate of economic entities controlled by the Cuban military, oversees up to 60 percent of the economic activity in Cuba. Besides hotels, GAESA controls restaurants, tourism buses and other economic and tourist-related agencies.

Trump's directive means that U.S. visitors will no longer be able to stay at some of Havana's most popular hotels, among them the elegant Saratoga favored by U.S. senators, governors and Congressional representatives who have visited Cuba over the last several years, and the Santa Isabel, where former President Jimmy Carter stayed during his two trips to the island. The five-star Gran Manzana Kempinski Havana Hotel that opened just last month also falls under the GAESA umbrella and will be off-limits to U.S. citizens. As a guide for future travelers, the State Department plans to publish a list of prohibited hotels and businesses they will now have to avoid. Link to source.

"The details of Trumps new policy remain unwritten. In a presidential directive he signed at the end of his speech, he ordered the Treasury and Commerce departments to draw up new regulations to replace elements of Obamas policy changes. White House officials said that actual changes remain months away." (Washington Post - link)

"The new realities of U.S. travel to Cuba will be determined by the regulations that federal agencies will produce as a result of the new policy. A presidential memorandum gives the government 90 days before it even starts to rewrite Cuba travel regulations, meaning it could be many months before it's clear what the change means for American travelers.

The Treasury Department said individuals who bought an airline ticket or rented a room or car before Trump's announcement could make additional travel-related purchases for that travel under the Obama policy, even if their trip to Cuba takes place after the new, stricter Trump regulations go into effect." (abc news - link)

Verify arrangements already made with your airline, travel provider, AirBnB, etc.

Please keep an eye on OFAC modifications, Cuba travel policies in the US etc. on the State Department site, etc. (see below). Once OFAC controls allow it, travel of U. S. tourists to Cuba will undoubtedly thrive.

Entry Requirements

Cuban officials now stamp all passports on entry and exit. The former practice of winking and stamping U.S. citizens in and out on a separate sheet of paper no longer takes place.

The Cuban Assets Control Regulations of the U.S. Treasury Department require that persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction obtain a Treasury license before engaging in any transaction related to travel to, from and within Cuba. Transactions related to tourist travel are not licensable. This restriction includes tourist travel to Cuba from or through a third country such as Mexico or Canada.

Additional information may be obtained by contacting the Licensing Division, Office of Foreign Assets Control, U.S. Department of the Treasury, 1500 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Treasury Annex, Washington, DC 20220, telephone (202) 622-2480; fax (202) 622-1657, or via the web at Office of Foreign Assets Control.

For current information on Cuban entry and customs requirements, travelers may contact the Cuban Embassy, an office of the Cuban government, located at 2630 16th Street NW, Washington, DC 20009, telephone (202) 797-8518.
Further information, added 11 Jun 2016:

NOTE: When you arrive in the USA, DO declare Cuba on the U S Customs form 6059B. The USCBP officers generally do not care or give your travel to Cuba via Antigua or Cancn a second thought. But failing to disclose your travel to Cuba to a Federal agent? That's a violation of 18 U. S. Code 1001, commonly called "making false statements", a felony punishable by up to five years in Federal Prison. Nope, you wouldn't, but such an offense would jeopardize GE / APHIS / PreCheck, etc. and could certainly incur enhanced scrutiny on re-entering the USA or flying into / out of a U.S. airport.

18 U.S.C. 1001 link

NOTE: Travel to Cuba is still regulated (Jun 2016). American residents must meet one criterion of twelve categories of allowed travel to Cuba.

Tourist travel to Cuba is prohibited under U.S. law for U.S. citizens, permanent residents, and others subject to U.S. jurisdiction. (USDOS)
"Travel to Cuba for tourist activities remains prohibited by statute. There are, however, 12 categories of authorized travel. The Department of Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has issued general licenses in all 12 categories of authorized travel, subject to appropriate conditions. This means that individuals who meet the regulatory conditions of the respective general license they seek to travel under do not need to apply for a specific license from OFAC to travel to Cuba.

The 12 categories of authorized travel to Cuba 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 informational materials; and certain authorized export transactions.

U.S. Embassy, La Havana, Cuba (link)

Certain spend and other requirements must be met, in accord with regulations issued by the U. S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (link to PDF), and the Cuba Assets Control Regulations of 16 Mar 2016, 31 CFR 515 (link to PDF).

timaticweb2 through United Airlines, 10 Jun 2016:

Summary (US Citizen or Resident traveling from USA to Cuba, return ticket and normal, current passport with at least two blank visa pages at hand)

Conditional, The traveler will need to hold travel documents as detailed below.

Type: Notice

Cuba - Destination Visa

Visa required.

The following are exempt from holding a visa:

Passengers with a Tourist Card (Tarjeta del Turista) issued to visitors traveling as tourists.

Additional information:

Tourist Cards (Tarjeta del Turista) must be obtained prior to arrival in Cuba and are available at:
- Cuban Embassies or Consulates;
- Authorized Airlines;
- Travel agencies.

Tourist Cards (Tarjeta del Turista) grant a max. stay of 30 days to nationals of USA, and extension of stay for additional 30 days.

The length of stay must be covered by USD 50.- (or equivalent in other convertible currency, in cash or traveller's cheques) per person per day, unless passenger has previously contracted the touristic activities with MINTUR in Cuba.


Former nationals of Cuba who left Cuba before 1971 must hold passports endorsed "Habilitado" for HE-11.

All visitors are required to hold a travel insurance to cover their medical expenses while in Cuba. The travel insurance can be bought on arrival in Cuba, but it is recommended to have it before departure to Cuba. (Reasonable and easy to purchase on arrival. JD)

Added 1/18/2017 All passengers arriving on flights direct from the US are automatically covered by Asistur (Cuban insurance company) medical insurance for 30 days. The cost is bundled into the ticket cost.

These passengers are never asked to provide proof of medical insurance by Cuban immigration at airports as they are aware this has been standard for many years. However it is a different situation dealing with a medical service provider if you actually need to use the insurance or Cuban immigration at places other than the airport if you have reason to extend or change status of your travel visa.

There is an official Asistur one page document that states everyone arriving on a direct flight from the US has Asistur insurance for 30 days. This document, your boarding pass, and your passport will show that you have medical insurance. This document is not available anywhere on line. Nor is it available to passengers even though it should be. So I am providing it for download.

I would encourage anyone flying direct to Cuba from the US to download this one page document, print it out, and carry a copy with them.

End addition 1/18/2017

Neither visa exemptions nor Tourist Card (Tarjeta del Turista) facilities are applicable to those holding foreign passports stating Cuba as place of birth. They will be considered Cuban nationals, unless holding a document signed by the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs, proving withdrawal of their Cuban citizenship.

Cuba - Destination Health

This information is for guide purposes only. Other health organisations may recommend alternative precautions.

Vaccinations not required
NOTE: US Citizens and Residents must possess a current passport with a minimum of two empty visa (not note) pages.

You must exchange US Dollars to CUC - Cuban Convertible Pesos in authorized locations, and are required to spend CUC in Cuba (not dollars). CUC are not exportable out of Cuba. (Hint: the writer of this wikipost had no trouble exchanging Euro at decent market rates and found Euro accepted in some locations due to the prevalence of European tourists in Cuba.) Some US credit card acceptance is said to occur now, but if so it's a recent change.

At the airport CADECA booth you can change the last of your CUCs. Or you can buy duty-free items or books etc. sold from the government propaganda shop to spend the last of your CUCs.

Please read the extensive U.S. Department of State information regarding Cuba if you are a U.S. Citizen or Resident. Link.

US airlines begin commercial USA - Cuba flights by September 2016

In March, the USDOT accepted airline applications wishing to offer non-charter commercial flights between the USA and Cuba. On June 10, 2016 USDOT issued an order for six US airlines to operate flights between the USA and Cuba, to begin September 2016 HAV / La Habana flight orders to come this summer.)

Source links:

Yahoo! Finance (Link).

USA Today (link): "WASHINGTON Six U.S. airlines were approved to begin the first scheduled flights to Cuba in more than 50 years, the Transportation Department announced Friday.

The airlines were approved to fly from five U.S. cities to nine Cuban cities other than Havana. But the department is still considering which airlines will get a combined 20 daily flights to the capital out of 60 proposals, which will be announced later this summer..."

Reuters: (link) "American (AAL.O) will have nonstop service from Miami, the largest Cuban community in the United States; Southwest (LUV.N), JetBlue (JBLU.O) and Silver Airways will fly from nearby Fort Lauderdale; Frontier will add flights from Chicago and Philadelphia; and Sun Country will serve Minneapolis."

(AA, Delta, Sun Country and others have been serving Cuba with charter flights operated for CTS / Cuba Travel Services for over 25 years.)

Updated 11 Jun 2016 - JDiver
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Americans and Cuba Travel - the Facts, Resources, Related Experiences [only]

Old Oct 15, 13, 1:08 am
Moderator: American AAdvantage
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Americans and Cuba Travel - the Facts, Resources, Related Experiences [only]

I've seen a lot of questions and significant mythology about U S Citizens and legal Residents traveling to Cuba, so I have added this "sticky" thread so U S Citizens and Residents can be fully informed in their decision to travel (or not) to Cuba. (Full disclosure: I am traveling to Cuba Nov 2013, and I have several relatives and friends who have visited Cuba, both legally and illegally.) This thread is intended to document factual information for American Citizens and Residents considering travel to Cuba. It is not a place to debate politics, the merits or flaws of the existing legislation, etc. (OMNI is a better place for that; this is a Destination Forum, not a political debate forum.)

American Citizens and Residents have restrictions on travel to Cuba. (31 C.F.R. Part 515.) OFAC says, in part:

The Cuban Assets Control Regulations, 31 CFR Part 515 ("the Regulations”),
were issued by the U.S. Government on July 8, 1963, under the Trading 
With the Enemy Act in response to certain hostile actions by the Cuban
Government. They apply to all persons (individuals and entities) subject to
U.S. jurisdiction – including all U.S. citizens and permanent residents
wherever located, all persons in the United States, and all branches and 
subsidiaries of U.S. organizations throughout the world – as well as all 
persons engaging in transactions that involve property in or otherwise 
subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. The Regulations are 
administered by the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets 
Control (“OFAC”). Criminal penalties for violating the Regulations range up 
to 10 years in prison, $1,000,000 in corporate fines, and $250,000 in 
individual fines. Civil penalties up to $65,000 per violation may also be 
imposed. The Regulations require those dealing with Cuba (including 
traveling to Cuba) to maintain records for five years and, upon request 
from OFAC, to furnish information regarding such dealings.
Documentation required: American citizens traveling to Cuba are required to have a passport valid for six months beyond the completion of travel in Cuba. Non-citizen U S residents are required to have a current passport of their citizenship country and a residency or alien (Green") card to prove legal residency on their return to the US.

The Cuban government requires visitors to have a Cuba Visa AKA Cuba Visitor's Visa. Cuban authorities will collect half of this two-part visa document when you arrive; you are required to keep the second half and return it on departure. Additionally, a departure fee of CUC 25 is required; if you are traveling with a group, it may be included with your fees.

You may be asked for your identity papers by uniformed personnel at any time, though it has been reported more frequently among people of color, particularly African-Americans. IMO, leave the passport in the safe deposit box in your hotel, etc. and carry a photocopy of the identification pages.

Cuban-born U S Citizens are required to:
1) If departed Cuba prior to 31 Dec 1970, a PE-11 visa (can take two months to process) valid for a one time entry into Cuba for a period not to exceed thirty days, or a Cuban passport.

2) If departed after 1 Jan 1970, requires a Cuban passport (can take 3 - 4 months to obtain).
As well as the above, Americans traveling to Cuba must possess a Letter of Authorization issued by OFAC. If you travel with a licensed people to people educational exchange group the tour operator will secure the letter. And of course, a round trip charter airline ticket if you are flying between the US and Cuba.

Getting there: Flights to HAV (and a few to other airports, such as Camagey) are common, but if you are OFAC-licensed and flying from the US, Cuba Travel Services operates several chartered lights a day to / from Jos Mart International Airport serving La Habana / Havana using Sun Country (Boeing 737-800, they will request your weight and allow 20 kg / 44 lbs of checked luggage per person) or American Airlines (also Boeing 737-800, up to 23 kg / 50 lb of checked luggage - and they do not care how much you weigh). (No, you can not earn miles on AA US-Cuba.)

Upon arrival airport in Cuba, usually Jos Mart International / HAV, you will have to fill out and turn in three documents: one a general health information questionnaire (you will be required to have health insurance for Cuba, it's mandatory); two, both sides (left and right) of the Cuban visa document, and three, a Customs declaration (which may not be requested). Your carry-on will be checked prior to baggage recovery and Customs (they are looking for illegal items: pornography, satellite communications gear (e.g. satphones), arms and ammunition, products of animal or vegetal origin, other comm gear including CB radios or walkie-talkies.

Health and Health Insurance: Any U S health insurance coverage you have even if it covers international travel, will be of no use in Cuba, as the company reimbursing you would be guilty of OFAC violation (same occurs with trip cancellation and interruption insurance from a U S provider).

You are required to have Travel Medical Insurance to enter Cuba as a visitor as of May 2010; this will be checked upon arrival to Cuba. If you do not have insurance, you will have to buy travel insurance from Asistur, S.A., which maintains an office in the immigration area of the airport. This means you will pay nothing if you see a doctor, visit a clinic or hospital (but you will have to purchase any indicated medicines). Your passport details will be required and you will be asked if you purchased medical insurance.

Cuba has fairly decent healthcare systems available to foreigners (and a universal and free tiered healthcare system beginning with the neighborhood doctor, followed by the polyclinic and then hospitals and specialist clinics, for all Cubans - it can be tedious and there may be insufficiencies of medicine and equipment), from local doctors (who use more traditional diagnostic procedures and have few high tech devices available at the doctor's office level), to specialized clinics and hospitals for the usual specialties. Foreigners may wish to proceed to the Cira Garcia clinic and hospital specializing in foreigners (and large, 24/7 international pharmacy nearby; some hotels have doctors on duty.

Clnica Cira Garca
Calle 20 No. 4101 esq. Ave 41 Playa, Ciudad de La Habana, Cuba
Tel: (537) 204 2811/ fax: (537) 204 2640
E-mail: [email protected]

All being said, it I had to get treatment for something acute but tolerant of a delay, I'd probably concentrate my efforts on getting stabilized and transported to the US. In a true emergency, you will have no choice, of course.

Do not expect to find your prescribed medications easily available - even some international pharmacies (pay in CUCs) may experience shortages. Bring your own prescribed medicines, with their prescriptions or copies, and keep them in your carryon when flying to / from Cuba.

"Medical tourism" is offered through Servimed - everything from breast implants to eye surgery, physical and drugs rehab, etc. is offered (even two spas), presumably at prices up to 80% lower than in many countries. Spending money for healthcare other than urgently necessary medical care is illegal for Americans, and an OFAC violation.

Americans interested in visiting Cuba for leisure must travel to Cuba with a license issued by OFAC - the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the U. S. Department of the Treasury. Currently - these are issued primarily to those traveling with "people to people educational exchange" programs, which in fact are offered by a number of agencies. Link to the OFAC page on Cuba travel page, with PDFs etc. The license and Cuba Visa are usually secured by the tour company if you are on a licensed tour for people-to-people educational exchange.

Basically, it is illegal for Americans to spend U S Dollars in Cuba or related to travel to Cuba. Paying a foreign tour company, e.g. Mexican, Costa Rican or Canadian, is still a violation of OFAC regulations. The US considers a stay longer than one day prima facie evidence an American has spent money in Cuba, so even an exchange of labor for a stay, etc. are not considered "OFAC-free" events.

The full list of possibilities and US - Cuba related travel issues include:

Guidelines by Category of Travel Activity
1. Family Visits
2. Official Government Travel
3. Journalistic Activities
4. Professional Research and Professional Meetings
5. Educational Activities
6. Religious Activities
7. Public Performances, Clinics, Workshops, Athletic and Other Competitions, and Exhibitions
8. Support for the Cuban People
9. Humanitarian Projects
10. Activities of Private Foundations or Research or Educational Institutes
11. Exportation, Importation, or Transmission of Information or Informational Materials
12. Licensed Exportations
Traveling to Cuba as a licensee does not mean you are traveling as a tourist (you are a leisure traveler, however, not business) and requires you keep all records regarding your travel in Cuba for a period of five years (see quote above).

Cuba operates on a two-currency system.

U S Dollars can not be spent in Cuba (as of 2004) and can not legally be used for purchases in Cuba; U S Credit and ATM Cards and Travelers Cheques are not accepted in Cuba. Those with U S Dollars must exchange them for Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUCs), a service for which a 13% tax is imposed, at the airport, CADECA exchange houses (casas de cambio) or banks, and some hotels. Your US passport or other documentation you use for admittance to Cuba is required for exchanges. (Note that though at one time it was illegal for Cubans to possess CUCs it is now legal for them to do so.)

CUCs (Convertible Cuban Pesos) are currently tied to the U S Dollar (so you get 87 CUCs for every $100 USD you exchange). U S Dollar bills should be untorn, unmarked and new or they may be turned down for exchange. CUCs can not be exchanged to Cuban Pesos (CUPs). CUCs are not accepted in the U S for exchange back into U S Dollars other than at a booth in the airport (which can have lengthy queues), though you are allowed to take up to CUC 200 with you on departure from Cuba. (N.B. President Raul Castro announced Cuba will move to a single currency in 2014, so this is possibly going to change.)

(Euros, Canadian Dollars, etc. are not subject to this exchange fee / tax.)@:-) (Yes, I took Euros - the commercial exchange rate was $1.35 and the hotel offered $1.2955.) (N.B. Avoid street exchanges from jineteros offering to change - they can slip in Cuban Pesos (non-CUC) or shortchange you.)

Money transfers wired to Cuba - it's possible using Western Union and in Cuba Fincimex. However the process is cumbersome and Americans are allowwed to send up to $300 US to Cuba every three months, provided the money is not intended for governmental entities or officials.

Bringing back items from Cuba: Certain kinds of artwork, informational material (CDs, books, etc.) are allowed. Anything manufactured in Cuba - cigars, alcohol, clothing such as guayaberas, souvenirs, etc. - is prohibited from entry into the USA, other than "art", books, CDs and the like. Though you are allowed to leave Cuba with up to 200 CUC, it would be less than wise to enter the U S with these due to the lack of convertability (particularly if you are traveling "though the back door"). The risk is not high, but it's there, like the sword of Damocles, so make an informed decision.

The "back door": Some Americans travel from Canada, Mexico, Bahamas, Costa Rica, etc. to / from Cuba. I know people who have done so "successfully", and I personally know people who have been fined significant amounts of money, and there are documented instances such as Mr. Zachary Sanders, who was fined $6,500 14 years after his trip from Mexico. (Those caught could also be shorn of Global Entry, etc.)

You could get caught with a departure and entry stamp in addition to your admission and departure stamps for your initial trip to / from Mexico, Costa Rica, etc. You might get caught if you have Cuban stamps or documentation in your possession that point to your being in Cuba (note my post 17 Nov 2013 indicating particularly exit stamps may indeed be placed in your US passport). It is also true some countries have provided lists of Americans traveling to Cuba through the back door to the US Central Intelligence Agency. And departure stamps (two!) were entered into my passport without my requesting them or my being asked if I wanted them.

Choosing to not fill in your required U.S. Customs and Border Protection Declaration Form 6059B question 8 - "Print the name of the country(ies) that you visited on your trip prior to arriving to the United States" - when you enter the U S fully, including omitting to mention a country you have visited, when you return to the USA is considered "making a false statement" or "concealing information"- this is covered by 18 U.S.C. 1001, which has successfully been used against Rod Blagojevich, Bernard Madoff, Martha Stewart, etc. for making false statements to agents / departments of the U S Government.

(See post #39 by dhuey for another perspective and what the current US administration seems to be doing currently - not putting effort into ordinary tourist OFAC offenses.)

Originally Posted by 18 U.S.C. 1001
(a) Except as otherwise provided in this section, whoever, in any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative, or judicial branch of the Government of the United States, knowingly and willfully—
(1) falsifies, conceals, or covers up by any trick, scheme, or device a material fact;
(2) makes any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation; or
(3) makes or uses any false writing or document knowing the same to contain any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or entry;
shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 5 years or, if the offense involves international or domestic terrorism (as defined in section 2331), imprisoned not more than 8 years, or both. If the matter relates to an offense under chapter 109A, 109B, 110, or 117, or section 1591, then the term of imprisonment imposed under this section shall be not more than 8 years.
Freedom to move about and speak in Cuba: Normally, your travel on the ground is not restricted; you are not required to have a minder or be with your tour group at all times. Air travel will require identification, etc. There are generally no restrictions on interacting with Cubans, but be aware they may choose not to enter free discussion about Cuban politics - many Cuban people are believers in their system, and those who are not may feel inhibited due to the "Committees for the Defense of the Revolution" (CDR*, pronounced "seh deh ERR-eh" kind of or Comits de Defensa de la Revolucin,) organized by blocks and keeping records on peoples' interactions and political speech - among many other functions, ranging from street cleanliness to literacy promotion, as well as agents from the MININT (Ministro del Interior) or SDE (Seguridad del Estado) - genuine dissidence can get one arrested (or a foreigner detained and / or deported summarily). (As an article on Wikipedia states, the organizations, described as the "eyes and ears of the Revolution," exist to promote social welfare and report on "counter-revolutionary" activity.)

Cubans complain about bureaucracy, shortages, etc. quite readily (not so much about the revolution, its leaders or direction Cuba is headed), and are quite vocal and willing to engage in discussion. Many Cubans are for the most part believers (the revolution has been all many of them have known), and certainly not easily convinced they are wrong if they are. OTOH, Cubans are voluble, knowledgeable and often willing to discuss many issues among equals (they do not enjoy being patronized or put down any more than anyone else).

If you are discussing issues like this with a Cuban and they indicate their opposite shoulder with two fingers, that gesture is basically the local version of "cheese it, the cops" - a potentially dangerous listener is in the vicinity, and the topic should be changed to a harmless one. Cubans have strong senses of humor and irony, and read between the lines when reading official organs or create cartoons, etc.

*Fidel Castro stated these were to be "a collective system of revolutionary vigilance," established "so that everybody knows who lives on every block, what they do on every block, what relations they have had with the tyranny, in what activities are they involved, and with whom they meet," in a speech establishing the CR 28 Sep 1960.

Freedom of information: There is basically one publisher of news, Granma, the official organ of the Communist party, and two other newspapers (one from the workers' branch) that pretty much toe the line (and are published at the same address, I believe the Ministry of Communications on Revolution Square). Internet service is not widely available, is restricted in some ways and s-l-o-w. Even in top notch hotels with WiFi, it's likely to be slow and patchy. (The Cuban constitution says that free speech is allowed "in keeping with the objectives of socialist society" and that artistic creation is allowed "as long as its content is not contrary to the Revolution".)

Alan Phillip Gross, working as a subcontractor for USAID in 2009, was installing Internet connections for the small Jewish community center and in possession of a satellite phone without the required Cuban authorization - after spending two years in jail, he was sentenced in 2011 for "Acts against the Independence and Territorial Integrity of the State" ("Actos Contra la Independencia o la Integridad Territorial del Estado") to 15 years in prison.

Help from the U. S. Government in emergencies: As to diplomatic representation and assistance, be aware the US does not have Ambassadorial or Consular representation in Cuba other than a United States Interests Section in La Habana, and of course U S rights or law do not apply to American visitors in Cuba. You can see lengthy queues most mornings seeking visitor visas and immigration spots. (Interestingly, many who immigrate are back soon and may keep one foot in each country.)


Our American Citizen Services Unit can be reached by dialing (53)(7) 839-4100 during business hours, except Cuban and U.S. federal holidays. Our fax number is (53)(7) 839-4247. For general inquiries regarding U.S. passports and citizenship, or other American citizen issues please contact us via e-mail at [email protected] or at the numbers listed above. Please, do not write to the American Citizen Services Unit with questions relating to visas for Cuban applicants.

The Interests Section is located in Havana at Calzada between L and M Streets, Vedado, La Habana.

For emergencies involving American Citizens when the American Citizen Services Unit is closed or after hours (for U.S. Citizens only), please call the main switchboard at (+53)(7) 839-4100 and dial 1 to speak with the emergency operator. Please do not call this number for routine visa inquiries. “Please, do not call this number for routine visa inquiries”
More emergency information is available from the Department of State, Washington DC at http://www.travel.state.gov
However, they are limited by current Cuban law from traveling outside of La Habana area without permission.

Photography: You may bring one camera and video recorder into Cuba; these will be subject to x-rays at HAV on arrival. "Professional" video or photo gear requires a license issued by the Cuban authorities. Photography is fine - but avoid attempting to photograph at airports, strategic (police, military) facilities including bridges, industrial complexes, shipping facilities, secure government facilities, uniformed personnel of any kind, etc. as in many other countries, and you are prohibited from photographing school children, at least in theory - but I've not seen anyone hassled for doing so, and on many occasions have been invited to photograph people of all ages. (Cubans in costume, such as "guajiras" with stogies in their mouths, may demand a CUC to be photographed - this is their way of earning money.

You certainly may photograph most anything else (you may be asked to pay for a permit at some museums), including the Cuban people - but be sure to ask first and not be rude; if someone declines, do not proceed to take photographs. And though crime is not high in Cuba, secure your gear - it could be stolen or snatched on the street, as it could in most any other country.

You should take your charger and at least one backup battery - and lots of memory, as these are often not likely to be found easily (or cheaply) in Cuba. Fotovideo and Photo Service may sell small digital "point and shoots" and preloaded one-time use film snapshot cameras, but don't expect accessories, memory chips and the like to be easy to find.

Power: 110 Volts Alternating Current at 60 Hz is common, but newer hotels will offer 220 VAC and may offer a 110 VAC outlet in the bathroom for shavers (or may not). Plugs may be "Type A" North American "NEMA 1-15" unpolarized plugs (no third grounded pin, no grounded oversize pin), or "Type C" European two pin plug "CEE 7/16". See Kropla.com. Blackouts and power surges may occur at times. A torch / flashlight is a very useful thing to have - even in the best of places you will probably experience power interruptions.

Internet: Wi-Fi may be slow and unreliable where it exists, and some websites and functions may be blocked - as shown by popups.

Restrooms: Public restrooms are not as common, and not as up to date, as one might find in fully developed countries; attendants expect a small tip (25 cents) and may hand you a few squares of toilet paper; toilets in most public places do not have seats, and an open (or a few places closed) container is where you deposit used toilet paper - even in some of the best hotels and restaurants. Toilet paper may not be available, so it might be wise to take some roll ends and remove the core (allowing them to be flat) and take one in your purse, backpack, etc. when you are "on the town" or "on the road".

Smoking: Smoking is common in Cuba and not much restricted, including in hotels and restaurants (some very few restaurants or paladares - private restaurants - may restrict smoking to specific areas). Hotels may say your room is not smoking, but that's probably only while you are there. If you have allergies, be aware of this - possibly bring a spray bottle of Febreeze or the like.

This message is to inform U.S. citizens residing in or visiting Cuba that media reports have indicated that cases of cholera have been identified in the city of Havana (and 400 in Gines, 18 mi / 30 km from Havana, in September 2013) and more in eastern Cuba. The Panamerican Health Organization (PAHO) issued an epidemiological alert noting the presence of cholera in Cuba and confirming that foreign travelers have contracted cholera during recent trips to Cuba.

Eating or drinking fecally contaminated food or water is the main risk factor. Unsterilized water, food from street vendors, raw fish dishes (e.g. ceviche) and inadequately cooked (e.g. steamed) shellfish are common sources of infection.
Annoyances and dangers: Jineteros (grifters, shills and pimps) and jineteras (often prostitutes) are not uncommon - and often denser around popular hotels and tourist sites. The least harmful are shills for various shops, restaurants, hotels and the like, and others are petty criminals on the prowl for those wanting to exchange money unofficially, pick pockets, purse snatchers and slashers, and pimps; I've been solicited by a pimp when accompanied by my wife at the entrance to a popular restaurant. Prostitutes may be soliciting for sex, but have also been implicated in sedating clients with drugs, stealing wallets, etc. and it is not unknown for them to lead a client to a trap where theft or even muggings await. That being said - the risk of being assaulted in Cuba is quote low, HIV/AIDS is more contained than US and certainly Haiti, and Cuba is relatively safe to travel in.

Mosquitos can be common (and in some populous areas occasionally transmit dengue), and one can find dawn and dusk "jejenes" (no see ums) as well as sand flies near beaches.

Is it worth the hassle? De gustibus non est disputandum, but in my opinion, yes it is. Cuba is a nation in transition - a Marxist socialist country to be sure, with many restrictions - but with a vibrant culture, high literacy and dedication to and involvement in the arts, a capital city that is under reconstruction - a lot to see and do.

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Old Oct 15, 13, 2:11 pm
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U.S. Interests Section (consular services)
Web: http://havana.usint.gov
Address: Calzada between L and M Streets, Vedado, La Habana
Telephone: (53)(7)-839-4100
For after hours emergencies, please call the main switchboard at (+53)(7) 839-4100 and dial 1 to
speak with the emergency operator.

Websites of interest:

Link to U S Department of State Cuba information, notices, etc. web page

Link to US OFAC pages on Cuban sanctions (called "el bloqueo" in Cuba)

Link to ‎Granma newspaper online, rgano Oficial del Comit Central del Partido Comunista de Cuba (sic)

Link to English version of Granma online newspaper, "Official Organ of the Central Committee of the of the Cuban Communist Party" (the guys who run things in Cuba )

Link to U S Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) World Factbook on Cuba

Link to Wikipedia crowdsourced article about Cuba

List to goodreads Listopia booklist for Cuba

Link to "Ten Best" books on Cuba from Amazon

List of important books written by Cubans.

Books from the Cuban perspective (some definite propaganda) can be purchased in English and Spanish at the booth in the international departures area at Jos Mart International airport. The kiosk in the departures salon is government-sanctioned (and takes US and Canadian Dollars, Euros, first born... )


Moon Cuba- though these folks usually have the best maps and the size is right for traveling, the Cuba book is rubbish - it is way out of date IMO, don;t even try to publish a guidebook if you have no plans to update it; it's like keeping fish way past its pull date, and stinks.

Lonely Planet Cuba (Country Guide) by Planet, Lonely, Sainsbury, Brendan and Waterson, Luke (Sep 1, 2013)

World Climate Charts of La Habana
(Follow link for more data)

The driest and more moderately warm time of year, also the low season, is April - May.

Hurricane season is July - November, also rains season, with September and October having the highest probability of a tropical storm, a few of which may be hurricanes. Cuba is one of the more prepared Caribbean nations in dealing with hurricanes, and tourists have high priority as well. On most days with rain, rain occurs as afternoon showers (can be very heavy showers!) and at night; a few days at the beginning and end of rains season may be rainier, and of course tropical storms hurricanes bring torrential rains and very high winds. It's common to see waves break and flood the Malecn (waterfront promenade), but at times the water can flood several blocks inland and the Malecn can be dangerous for pedestrians and even drivers.

Hot season May - August, and quite humid. This is also high tourist season.

Coolest season is December - February and occasional cold fronts from the north can bring cooler weather (much as in Florida, which is only 90 miles or so away to Key West).

Cuba weather online

US NOAA NWS National Hurricane Center (includes quite a bit of information affecting Cuba)

Who's taking licensed tours to Cuba? Seems like nearly everyone...

Link to New York Times Travel article: Cuba: Going With a Tour Company (Sep 2013)

The list is vast, with all levels of tours. Abercrombie and Kent, National Geographic Expeditions, Smithsonian Travel and Tauck probably offer the most upscale trips, but many others are offered from Grand Circle to Insight Tours to Gohagan and Globus, and Coda International has offered deluxe tours for Gay and Lesbian travelers.

LGBT: There is legally no discrimination and there are active communities. Unfortunately, there are some (often older) Cubans who still are resistant to the message and can act in discriminatory ways.

Racism and its relatives: Skin color is a child of the colonial Spanish era, and is present to some degree in Latin America. In Cuba it became official policy Cuba is Afro-Cuban, though among some older people you will still find some discriminatory belief and behavior. Among schoolchildren I did not see any evidence of color-or ethnic-based discrimination, and one sees many "mixed color" groups and couples.

Religion: Since the revolution in 1959, religious belief was discouraged officially, and practicing members were banned from Communist Party membership. In 1992, Cuba changed its Constitution to permit religious belief, and in 2013, bans against religion were lifted, though religious belief must "maintain respect for the law". Though many Cubans are at least nominally are Roman Catholic, it's often a Catholicism that is syncrectic with animist religions brought in originally from West Africa, especially Santera, with Yoruba influences and words. Catholicism claims 60%, but it's estimated 80% practice some form of African-origin religion, such as Santera / Regla de Ocha, Palo Monte or Abaku.

Beth Shalom synagogue and community center (the Grand Synagogue is a tourist attraction), though the Jewish community is not very large. There are many Christian groups active in Cuba. For Jewish believers, there is Adath Israel, Cuba’s only Orthodox synagogue, a Sephardic Hebrew Center / synagogue with a Holocaust Museum, the Conservative

Santera, also known as La Religin, Regla de Ocha, La Regla Lucum or Lukumi, is very common. How common? On a Saturday by the Castillo de la Real Fuerza I saw a queue over three blocks long. These were Santera believers heading for the large ceiba (kapok) tree at O'Reilly and Barillo near the Plaza de Armas to take a walk around the tree and pray to the appropriate orisha. Santera uses Yoruba (or Lucum) as its liturgical language, incorporates representations of orishas (gods or akin to Catholic saints and sometimes sharing some attributes) in vigorous dances, trances, sacrifice (including animals), and centered on neighborhood casas de santos or il. One you can visit is the one in Callejn de Hamel in Cayo Hueso - to me it feels like a business, and though many true believers are in evidence, it feels to me like there's a significant amount of hustling of visitors. Nonetheless, you can see rituals, attend lectures and dances, and you are welcome to inquire and film - and contribute CUCs, of course, and the Babalao is a very interesting guy who dresses in tie die, has a Rasta do and reminds me of Wavy Gravy in his day. (You may see Santera novices around Cuba, dressed entirely in white.)

The art of Salvador Gonzlez Escalona is eye catching and interesting! Link. Weekends, the place is hopping - you will hear lots of music jamming and see dancing and friendliness.

There is also an Orisha Museum Museo de los Orishas at Paseo de Mart (Prado) #615, between Mximo Gmez (Monte) and Dragones, 863 5953, www.cubayoruba.cult.cu, dedicated to the orishas of the Santera / Regla de Ocha.

Some words to be aware of:

So, you speak some Spanish? OK, be aware:

The bus is not el autobs, it's "la guagua", and one does not "tomar la guagua", one "coge la guagua" - though in the rural areas you might be taking a "camin" - yep, it's a truck with benches or seats, kind of like le truck in French Polynesia or the "mammy wagon" in West Africa", and both are crowded like sardines. The Metrobs is a more modern articulated bus common to the streets of La Habana (replacing the "camello" or "camellito" truck-long bus combos).

Caf - a Cuban espresso, often with some sugar. A "cortadito" is the same with a bit of milk; and "caf con leche" is about 50/50 Cuban coffee and milk, no sugar - the milk is generally separate so you can choose how much. A "colada" is several Cuban coffees served to go in a Styrofoam cup (usually) to share (you'll see working people with several plastic demi-tasses).

Papaya is not a fruit in Cuba; it is an offensive word for a woman's pudendum - you eat "fruta de bomba" in Cuba. There, I warned you!

Taxi can cover a multitude of vehicles, from actual well-maintained taxis called by telephone to "colectivos" with set routes and low prices - and often check full of passengers. These are often informal, old classic cars with a "TAXI" sign over the dashboard.

Food and drink: water may not be safe in many areas, so insist on sealed bottles of purified water ("agua purificada" - ah-waoor-eef-ee-COD-uh) and be aware of the source of ice in drinks. Cuba has experienced cholera during 2013, and this is usually from contaminated food or water. Cholera is more easily treated than one might think, but there is no vaccine that is both available and considered more than ~50% effective in the USA. So take care with your food and drink, and wash / sanitize your hands prior to eating. Restaurants and paladares catering to visitors should theoretically provide safe ice, etc. (but ask if the ice is from "agua purificada") and the best tour groups do considerable research before using a restaurant, etc.

Bottled beverages are safe - there are Ciego Montero still and sparkling (con gas or sin gas) as well as soft drinks such as TuKola (your cola - diettico is available), and the two most likely encountered beers are Bucanero (darker) and Cristal (light). Most of these will run 1 CUC (slightly higher in a paladar or hotel). Mixed drinks can run as high as 6 CUC for a mojito in La Bodequita de el Medio (allegedly Hemingway's favorite place, but the story and the alleged testimony scrawled "Mi mojito en La Bodeguita, mi daiquiri en El Floridita" on the wall are likely hype, and the mojito is spectacularly lousy) or a daiquiri in El Floridita. Havana Club is the most common rum, and you can get some nicely aged anejo. "Guarapo" is sometimes seen - basically, sugary juice freshly pressed from sugar cane, which theoretically should be safe to drink, and sometimes mixed with rum.

Booze: Havana Club is the rum most commonly encountered, and the aged (aejo) product is worthy. Of course, the daiquiri, mojito and other mixed drinks are common, and why not, they were invented here! (Be careful of ice and water in the lower end places.)

CAUTIONS: Food safety and handling is not guaranteed - and can lead to protozoan disseases such as amoebiasis (Entamoeba histolytica) or giardiasis (Giardia lamblia) or even, at times, cholera. I have met visitors and Cubans who have had one of these, so choose your food with care. (See USDOS warning in the first post.)

What kind of food?
Typical Caribbean mostly - heavy on the starches, with plantain (green it's a starch, very ripe it's sweet and dessert-y), rice (in a variety of ways, including with beans - black beans and rice prepared separately as "moros y cristianos" or prepared together as "congr"), yuca (cassava or manioc in English), potatoes or malanga (corms of Xanthosoma roseum); not as many vegetables, but when you get them they are usually organic; salads are often worth passing by, and if not properly disinfected and prepared can be a source of protozoan disease like amoebiasis or even cholera from time to time); beef is scarce, and in better places imported from Brasil or possibly Argentina; fish is not as common as you'd think, but seafood is available; desserts - well, Cubans LOVE their desserts and sweets! Get some churros, enjoy some ate (a sweet dessert made from fruit paste like a thick fruit leather), with a cup of Cuba style coffee (demi-tasse with a Cuban style espresso coffee, often with some demerara sugar).

Fruits: Especially in the mercado agropecurio, or farmer's markets, you'll find lots of fresh, mostly organically grown, fruits. You may also see these in little temporary ad hoc stands by the side of the road, particularly in rural areas. Some fruits are common - and you'll have seen them before, like bananos / guineos (Musa acuminata) - though there can be different kind of bananos, not only the Canvendish banana common in the US; guayabas or guavas in English (the commonly used short sleeved shirt with two large lower patch pockets and two small ones above, often with pleats and some embroidery, are called "guayaberas" because they have pockets large enough to stash some guayabas); guanabanas (soursops), sapotes; pia (pineapple); fruta bomba (papaya - see note above in words), coco (coconut, served green with a slight yellow line on the top, good for drinking and then scooping the soft flesh with a "spoon" made of the husk, or dried, flaked, etc.); mango; pltano or machos (Musa paradisiaca or plantain, used mostly for starch such as fuf, or in tostones, but when very ripe for desserts). Aguacate (avocadoes) are common, Apples and other cold land fruits are rare and expensive. (Many fruits are pulped for juice and where possible and in sufficient number, exported.)

Cuban common foods:

Boliche: beef roast, often eye of round, with vegetables - succulent and tasty!

Croquetas: stuffed pastries with meat, chicken, etc.

Medianoche: like a "mixto" made with egg bread, consumed late at night most often

Mixto: Cuban sandwich

Moros y cristianos: "Moors and Christians" referring to the white rice and black beans served and mixed on your plate.

Pasteles: filled pastires, with sweet (fruit) or savoury (meat)

Ropa vieja ("old clothes") is a stewlike food of shredded meat, usually beef, (like pulled pork) originally from the Canary Islands

Tostones or patacones are twice-fried pieces of plantain, often looking like thick potato crisps

There's a lot more - and you just have to try it!

Classic Car ride: Gran Car provides classic car rides, and they are bookable via your concierge. Highly recommended, unless you totally pooh pooh sightseeing - and being seen - in, say, a robin's egg blue 1957 Chevrolet convertible or the like.

Cigars: The Casa del Habano (cigars are "Habanos" in Cuba) are nearly ubiquitous. The usual suspects are there - H. Upmann (Pres. Kennedy's favorite was the Petit H. Upmann, and the story confirmed by his aide Pierre Salinger is he held off signing the Cuban embargo until Salinger had acquired a sufficient quantity - 1,200! - to keep JFK in smokes for quite a while), Romeo y Julieta, Partagas, etc. etc. These are often sold in larger and hotel shops. Some factories are on tour; ask your concierge. lists some of the better cigars. Beware the jineteros with unbanded cigars stating they "are made by the factory workers in the ____ factory and they are allowed to take them home as a benefit" and other rubbish stories; they are crap cigars and will taste like one.

In La Habana, the easiest habano factory is Partagas. Tour cost CUC 10.
Address:Calle Industria #520, between Dragones and Barcelona, Centro Habana
Tel: 866 8060

(more to come)

Last edited by JDiver; Nov 30, 13 at 10:41 am Reason: add / update
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Old Oct 18, 13, 10:16 pm
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A few places to consider for dining in La Habana / Havana:
("State" means this is a government-owned and operated restaurant; "Paladar" indicates it is privately owned and operated; star rating on a Cuban scale - like Cuban hotels, subtract a star for global comparisons... and good service can be notable - as one famous Cuban said, the Cuban people are famously hospitable and welcoming - until you put them in a waiter's uniform". )

El Aljibe ♦♦♦1/2 (State)
Address: Calle 7ma. e/ 24 y 26, Miramar, La Habana
Tel: (53 7) 204-1583 - 204-1584
Hours: 12:00 - 00:00 hrs.
This large family restaurant is managed by the son of a Cuban family - a number fled to Florida after the Revolution, but he stayed behind and was asked to manage the restaurant as a chicken specialty restaurant; he agreed as long as he was able to use his grandmother's recipe.) Lots of families, some groups, family style seating and service. Platters of tostones, extremely delicious slow-roasted chicken ("pollo aljibe"), some of the best "moros y cristianos" (black beans with white rice) and the like (yuca, aka manioc), flan for dessert - basically a price fixe menu. About 10 CUC iirc, beer, soft drinks.

Caf del Oriente ♦♦♦♦ (State)
Address: Oficios #112, Esq. Amargura La Habana Vieja, CP: 10100, La Habana
(at Plaza San Francisco, AKA "Plaza de las Palomas" or "Pigeon Square")
Tel: (537) 860 6686 / Fax: (537) 860 9761
Hours: 12:00 - midnight
The Oriente has seating on the ground floor and upstairs, and is smack in the center of Habana la Vieja. Lovely furnishings take you back a century to a luxurious experience, and this is probably the most sumptuous in La Habana; upstairs is highlighted by a beautiful stained glass ceiling by Rosa Mara de la Terga. As well there is a dapper trio turning out lovely music to dine by. Selection of wines with some good Chilean selections offered, food can vary - our beef loin (probably from Brasil) was actually surprisingly good (and tasted more of grass feed beef). Service was attentive, food was not quite up to the standards of the dcor, but still a nice meal - pricey by Cuban standards, but under CUC 50 with wine.

La Casa Espaola (State restaurant - ♦♦♦♦)
Address: ave. 7ma, entre 24 y 26, Miramar, Playa, La Habana
Tel: (53 7) 2069644
E-mail: [email protected]
Hours: 12:00 to midnight.; Parrillada: 4:00 p.m.to midnight.
The house originally belonged Batista's minister of finance - and to a man who attempted to reproduce what he thought was a Spanish baronial house, so it has a lot of antique-ish furnishings and stained glass windows, etc. as well as a lovely outside garden (where food is also served). Spanish style food (platters of various foods, tasty sangra, lamb, chicken; moderate to expensive and tasty, good service. A bit dark, so for dinner be prepared. Their specialty (we didn't get it) is the "parrillada" mixed grill dinner.

La Cocina de Lilliam (I had to miss this one but it's highly recommended)
Address: Calle 48 #1311, entre 13 y 15, Playa
Tel: 209 6514

Parque Central (rooftop restaurant Neptuno) ♦♦♦♦
Address: (8th floor), Neptuno, esquina Prado y Zulueta, Havana 10100, Cuba
Tel: 53 7 860 6627
(Also lobby bar "El Prtico", restaurants "El Mediterraneo" and "El Paso" French and the rooftop / pool bar "Nuevo Mundo" with snacks)
The restaurant is open skies, so if it's going to rain, forget it! Otherwise, expansive views of the lovely rooftop pool, a good selection of wines and beef (Parque Central offers a steakhouse with 11 cuts of beef, undoubtedly imported, possibly from Brasil?) and dining with a three or four piece very lively Afro-Cuban musical "conjunto". Some good wines (Spanish, Chilean) available here, and attentive service.

Restaurante Divino (Paladar - ♦♦♦♦♦)
Calle Raquel No. 50 e/ Esperanza y Lindero. Reparto Castillo de Averhoff. Mantilla, Arroyo Naranjo, La Habana, Cuba.
Telfono: (53 7) 643 7734
Email: [email protected]
At Finca La Yoandra, about 1/2 hour out of town. This is my favorite restaurant in Cuba, I think. Gorgeous place, comfortable, lovely garden with nearby farm one can wander, attentive service, open kitchen, a lovely variety of decently priced food from Paella to smoked chicken, nice wines, etc. Not far from Cojimar if you are going to visit Finca La Viga (ernest Hemingway's home and his yacht, Pilar).

Museo del Chocolate
Address: Calle Mercaderes, corner with Amargura
Tel: (57 3) 866 4431
Well, kind of a museum, a great place to sit and sip a chocolate, hot or cold (but it's hard to get a seat) or watch chocolate bombons and truffles being made (not to say, you must eat one!) Needless to say, some hep was provided: Belgian aid, in fact, and the museum's crucial equipment came from Brussels! Buy a churro (~ 50 cents of a CUC) from the stall down the street to complete your chocolate experience in the Spanish way.

Souvenirs, art, etc. As stated, American citizens / residents can bring back printed matter, CDs / DVDs, and art. (Nope, no cigars or rum.)

The best place to check a lot of art and the like (and souvenirs for those who can bring them back to their country) in one place is the
Mercado San Jos on the waterfront (near the church of Santa Paula) on Avenida del Puerto de La Habana
Full name: Centro Cultural Antiguos Almacenes San Jos
These warehouses, built in 1885, are covered and renvoated and hold a large number of kiosks and displays of art of various kinds, souvenirs, clothing, hats, etc. and often have music playing and exhibits as well. Some salespeople may seem aggressive, but not offensively so - they are merely trying to make a buck - OK, a CUC.

Outside, one can find several narrow gauge engines from the sugar cane trains (rail was built in Cuba to bring cane, which has to be processed soon after cutting, to the mills or "ingenios" - passengers were never intended), as well as "calesas" (horse drawn carriages), minitaxis that look like jack-o-lanterns or grapefruits cut away with two to three (tight) seats for passengers and a small motor. Link to photo gallery / article Havana Times.

Beaches: Go east, yung man / woman, go east. The eastern beaches (playas del este) are 20 minutes out of town and decent, but much of La Habana's shoreline is ironshore - jagged edges of fossilized and dead coral.

Things to do in La Habana: A good start is this list from guidebook publishers Time Out.

A recent Trip Report on Traveling to Cuba with Grand Circle Travel, licensed from the USA: "Cultural Exchange" trip to Cuba

(more to come)

Last edited by JDiver; Feb 18, 14 at 8:44 pm Reason: add / update
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Old Oct 18, 13, 11:11 pm
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Thank you, JDiver. Great information. ^

I assume a tour operator, such as Insight Cuba, who can take Americans to Cuba legally will help arrange for the health-insurance requirement to be met?

The "back door": Some Americans travel from Canada, Mexico, Bahamas, Costa Rica, etc. to / from Cuba.
Costa Rica is no longer a gateway to Cuba. Avianca (formerly Taca) has pretty much "dehubbed" SJO, so their itineraries to HAV from here now require a connection at SAL or BOG. And Cubana no longer flies here.
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Old Oct 24, 13, 12:05 am
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Indeed, they can and they normally will. In our case, our agency has secured the necessary permits, documentation, charter flights and health insurance.

Sorry the Ticos have to connect now - and I remember flying LACSA some years ago (not to Cuba), before it was assimilated.

Originally Posted by SJOGuy
Thank you, JDiver. Great information. ^

I assume a tour operator, such as Insight Cuba, who can take Americans to Cuba legally will help arrange for the health-insurance requirement to be met?

Costa Rica is no longer a gateway to Cuba. Avianca (formerly Taca) has pretty much "dehubbed" SJO, so their itineraries to HAV from here now require a connection at SAL or BOG. And Cubana no longer flies here.
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Old Oct 24, 13, 12:23 am
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Thanks, JDiver. I look forward to a report when you return. I'd like to do one of these trips. I think I'd be one of the few US expats in Costa Rica to visit Cuba legally.

The cutbacks of all the flights by Avianca are a major source of resentment here. A business group is trying to start up a new airline which they will call TicosAir, with flights to MIA and JFK. I'll believe that when I see it.
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Old Oct 24, 13, 4:45 pm
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Well, after all the pun names I've seen in "Ticolandia", I'll be happy to see it take off and not be named "Cia. AeronauTica".

Other than purely political considerations, I doubt the OFAC regs would exist. But exist they do, and the sad case of Zach Sanders points out the statue of limitations is not typical - they waited 14 years to drop the sword on him for his travel from Mexico (when he was residing there, but nonetheless a U S citizen).

Originally Posted by SJOGuy
Thanks, JDiver. I look forward to a report when you return. I'd like to do one of these trips. I think I'd be one of the few US expats in Costa Rica to visit Cuba legally.

The cutbacks of all the flights by Avianca are a major source of resentment here. A business group is trying to start up a new airline which they will call TicosAir, with flights to MIA and JFK. I'll believe that when I see it.
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Old Oct 25, 13, 9:46 pm
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Oops, I guess I unwittingly broke a Cuban law when I photographed a group of uniformed schoolchildren out on an excursion. Nobody said anything, though.

I'd like to add that all kinds of groups are offering legal tours to Cuba from the U.S. these days. There's no longer any reason to go illegally.
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Old Oct 28, 13, 8:56 am
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Originally Posted by ksandness
I'd like to add that all kinds of groups are offering legal tours to Cuba from the U.S. these days. There's no longer any reason to go illegally.
How about:
It's much cheaper.
You can do what you want, when you want, not what some tour group has pre-planned.
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Old Nov 2, 13, 9:08 pm
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I was in Cuba in January on an OFAC approved educational visit, just thought I would toss in a few things.
- Sky King also flies a daily charter flight into Havana (SGB252/253).
- The official customs policy of Cuba is to not stamp American passports, even if you ask, it is likely you won't get a stamp. This is to prevent Americans from getting in trouble for coming in through the back door.
- Internet - you need to purchase a card through ETECSA with internet time. While I was there it was running 7CUC/hr, but they recently changed this. You can usually get these cards from the hotel you are staying at.
- Restrooms - If you see toilet paper outside of a restroom, you are expected to leave a small tip in exchange for the toilet paper.
- US Interests Section - We met with an official with the US interests section while we were in Havana, she notified us that services are available to Americans regardless of how you arrived in Cuba, thus if you arrive in Cuba through the "back door" you can still receive those services. Bear in mind, these are very limited due to the current state of affairs, additionally, US Interests Section officials are not allowed to leave Havana without permission from the Cuban government.
Otherwise, great guide, Im glad this is out there for those that are looking to take an adventure to Cuba. It really is a wonderful country.
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Old Nov 5, 13, 6:02 pm
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Thanks for sharing, AlmostJesus.

I am sure the US Interest folks are available, but as you say they are not allowed free scope of travel.

One more thing happening in the near future include elimination of the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC)! This is likely to occur in 2014 (if it happens).

Our passports were stamped - twice, once on two different pages - on departure from Cuba.

I'll be sure to post the ETECSA current Internet card cost on my return (o/a November 19) (our hotel had slow Wi-Fi and it was included so we did not need an ETECSA card - I used my smartphone on Wi-Fi and Whatsapp to communicate economically with others at home.)

Last edited by JDiver; Jan 12, 14 at 4:06 pm Reason: update
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Old Nov 5, 13, 6:09 pm
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From my understanding, the concern was people taking photos of schoolchildren for purposes other than scholarly, shall we say. Lots of ways to technically be in violation, but I suspect nobody'll worry about parades, groups, etc. Nonetheless, it is a law.

You are quite correct - there are lots of groups, with various activities (those taking tourists pretty much have to be "people to people" and meet certain criteria <pdf link> - other than that, almost every budget and kind of activity is included.

And VidaNaPraia, those U S Citizens who choose to go "though the back door" must understand they can be subject to sanctions. If they choose to do so in an informed and deliberate manner, well, then, there they go. But it is not without risk.

Originally Posted by ksandness
Oops, I guess I unwittingly broke a Cuban law when I photographed a group of uniformed schoolchildren out on an excursion. Nobody said anything, though.

I'd like to add that all kinds of groups are offering legal tours to Cuba from the U.S. these days. There's no longer any reason to go illegally.
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Old Nov 17, 13, 5:00 pm
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Interesting: our visa was stamped on the way in, but some US citizens had the entry stamp in their passport pages. On departure from Jos Marti today, TWO departure stamps, two visa pages apart, were stamped into our US passports.

Flying to Cuba, we used SY8830 (Sun Country) MIA-HAV. For our return, arriving at MIA on AA 9413 (both flights were with Boeing 737-800s), we used Global Entry - usual receipt, taken at Customs. Our flight number and origin were on the receipt, but we were not asked any questions and we were street side in very short order.

Last edited by JDiver; Dec 19, 13 at 9:54 pm Reason: add aircraft types
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Old Nov 18, 13, 12:20 am
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I look forward to hearing more, JDiver.
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Old Nov 18, 13, 1:17 pm
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Originally Posted by JDiver
And VidaNaPraia, those U S Citizens who choose to go "though the back door" must understand they can be subject to sanctions. If they choose to do so in an informed and deliberate manner, well, then, there they go. But it is not without risk.
Well, JDiver, just coming out from hiding under my bed is not without risk, but it doesn't give me reason for overly much concern.
If I want to travel, and can find a convenient and comfortable way, esp more inexpensively, misguided and outdated thinking on the part of the US government is not a deterrent to visiting a place Europeans and my US-based Cuban friends regularly go.
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