Thanks to lightened travel restrictions, U.S. citizens are now permitted to visit Cuba as participants in “people to people” programs, and a trip to Havana is a travel opportunity not to be missed. To make the most of the trip, plan ahead for seasonal weather and be certain before you go your passports, visas, and other travel documents meet Cuban requirements.

Seasons

Cuba has fairly distinct seasons: a relatively dry and mild winter (November-April) and a hot and wet summer (May-October). Early spring is the ideal time to travel, especially in the Oriente (the eastern provinces), which can be insufferably hot in summer. Christmas and New Year’s are the busiest periods, and many hotels and car rental agencies sell out then, while finding a domestic flight is nearly impossible. Hotel prices are usually lower in summer—the low season (temporada baja)—when hurricanes are a slim possibility. Tropical storms can lash the island even in winter, however.

Transportation

Most international visitors fly into either Havana’s José Martí International Airport or Varadero’s Juan Gualberto Gómez International Airport. In Havana, getting around is simple thanks to an efficient taxi system. Renting a car is recommended for serendipitous travelers, but cars are in short supply and roads are full of hazards.

A crowded José Martí International Airport lounge is decorated with hanging flags.

A delayed flight might mean a crowded wait in Havana’s José Martí International Airport departure lounge. Photo © Tony Hisgett, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Passports and Visas

Visitors to Cuba need a passport valid for at least six months beyond their intended length of stay; a ticket for onward travel; plus a tourist visa, typically issued when you check in for your plane to Cuba. Stays of up to 30 days are permitted (90 days for Canadians), extendable one time.

U.S. Citizens

In 2014, President Obama liberalized travel to Cuba. He did not end travel restrictions, and “tourism” is still not allowed, but he did make it easier for U.S. citizens to visit Cuba. All 12 existing categories of licensed travel—journalists, etc.—are now covered by a general license (pre-authorization). Any U.S. citizen can legally visit Cuba as a participant in a “people to people” program offered by licensed tour companies and institutions. They are also permitted to import Cuban goods up to $400 per trip, including $100 in cigars and rum.


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Havana.