Visiting Cuba as an American | What You Need to Know

Cuba is an amazing destination with so much to see. It is important to understand the cultural and political landscape of Cuba before visiting.

Learn about Cuba with Exploration Always
Havana, Cuba

The first thing to know when planning to visit Cuba is that it can be quite difficult to enter the country. Pandemic restrictions aside, there are many rules in place about who is allowed to enter the country. Cruise ships would be the easiest way to enter the country however, I would advise against any cruise at this point due to health reasons. Additionally, a cruise ship does not give you nearly enough time as Havana alone can take days or even a week to fully appreciate. Education used to be a valid reason for travel to Cuba however it is harder to do so now due to the previous president's restrictions on travel to Cuba. The best way, and the way I went both times, was for community service. My trips consisted of bringing supplies to a community in Havana as well as restoring and cleaning a decimated cemetery. There are several other ways to enter the country and it helps infinitely if you have a contact in or from Cuba.

The next thing you need to understand about Cuba is that the locals do not have as many rights as you. The sad and unfortunate truth is that the Cuban government cares quite a bit about their outward appearance on the world. This means that you will likely be given preferential treatment by police, military, and businesses around the country. Another thing to understand is that you cannot and should not try to fight it while in the country. Some places are designated only for foreigners and Cuban natives are not allowed in without special approval. While you will have the urge to argue to fight for them, you will get nothing done but get the person you are defending in trouble with the local government. The real help you can do is bring supplies, try to visit non government owned businesses, and vote for political leaders who will act to end the Cuban Embargo.

Cuba has even more to offer outside Havana
Eastern Cuba

While there are a lot of issues in Cuba, that doesn’t mean it isn’t an amazing place to visit. Since tourism restarted back in the early 2010s, the conditions for Cubans have greatly improved. There is so much to experience and see in Cuba. One of my favorite things about Cuba is the cuisine. You won't find any Cuban sandwiches but what you will find is far better. Tons of amazing seafood, pork, vegetable, and fruit dishes are all around the country. Although beef is rare in Cuba, the national dish is Vaca Frita, a delicious beef stew. For anyone 16 and up, drinks like piña coladas and other Caribbean beverages are available. Most notably, you can go to Sloppy Joe's bar in Havana, a historic bar with the popular Hemingway daiquiri. While there, you have to try my personal favorite food, tostones. While they are popular in many Latin American countries, the best of the fried plantain dish I've had was in Havana.

Other things to see in Cuba include the amazing beaches, explore downtown Havana, visit museums and art galleries, and more. While you kind of have to drive in the old cars at least once, I would advise against taking them everywhere. They are only used for taxis and aren't really driven regularly by many locals. One of my favorite things in Havana is to visit the flea market. A huge market with sculptures, paintings, and more; be sure to bring plenty of CUC (the currency travelers will use in Cuba, 1 CUC = 1 Dollar). Finally, be sure to check out El Morro, one of Havana's historic military forts. Every night the cannons are launched and it is a spectacular show and great site to explore.

Cuba has so much to offer the world and has been a sought after destination by many travelers for years. When visiting, it is important to understand the issues the country faces and know what you should and shouldn't do to help. Cuba is a very rare exception to where the locals are actually helped by tourism so if you can, try and visit to both help out and experience a place like you've never been before.