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Tips for travelling to Cuba, via Havana airport

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Watching the world go by in Cuba

Watching the world go by in Cuba

Passing through Havana airport was very slow, so on the way home I jotted down a few tips that might make your journey easier.

We flew from Miami to Havana on Air Cubana, which was fine. No frills and no thrills. Before leaving there were two more layers of security checks than usual before boarding the flight. Both just wanted to see the passport and one double checked any suspicious looking bags. No idea what they were checking for that the usual Mexican authorities wouldn’t have picked up on.

Arriving in Cuba the first step was immigration. Like most places this is just a matter of showing your passport, but also your tourist visa (bought in the departing airport during check-in) and your medical insurance. If you don’t have the mandatory insurance it’s possible to buy it very cheaply from Asistur, next to the immigration counter at Havana airport.

The front door of our Casa Particular in Trinidad, Cuba

The front door of our Casa Particular in Trinidad, Cuba

After immigration there was a health desk. Those that said they were staying in a Casa particular had to fill out an extra form. Those that mentioned a hotel were waved through without requesting any evidence. Saying ‘Hotel Victoria’ seemed to work anyway.

Money Changing

Emerging into the Arrivals Hall, most people go to the change their money into CUC (USD1 = CUC1) at the CADECA office directly in front of the door. Walk a few meters further to the right and you’ll find a second, much quieter kiosk from the same company. Note that there’s a 3% commission on changing all money, plus an extra 10% when changing US Dollars. It is much cheaper to take Pounds Sterling or Euros.

There are also ATMs at the airport, but be warned they only accept Visa cards

A man walking along the coloured street of Trinidad

A man walking along the coloured street of Trinidad

Havana Airport Taxis

Most people seemed to be getting collected by resort shuttles, but we had to make our own way into town. There’s no obvious airport bus or collectivo type arrangement so a taxi was the only option. It’s a 30-40 minute ride into Havana from the airport and costs about 25CUC.

Lots of people offer to help you find a taxi in exchange for a tip, but walk through them and there’s a row of taxis waiting. The drivers was great, but did keep suggesting a different hotel would be better for our needs (and presumably for his pocket).

Returning to the US

Arriving back in the US it’s strongly suggested by fellow travellers that you neglect to mention you’ve been to Cuba when passing through Immigration and Customs.

A watch repair shop in Trinidad, Cuba

A watch repair shop in Trinidad, Cuba

I arrived at the desk to find a grumpy immigration officer who queried why I was still using the outdated I94 form. That’s what the immigration officers at the Canadian border gave me, at the Blaine crossing between Vancouver and Seattle.

He called a superior, which I thought was going to lead to an extended grilling, but he just wanted to mock his Blaine counterparts.

He then questioned why I lived in Canada.

“I don’t – I’m British but I live in China.“

They both gave me a long hard stare whilst looking for Chinese visas. I’m not sure why this should cause more consternation but did my best to look nonchalant. With a resigned look he waived me through.

I’m not sure how seriously enforced the trade embargo is for non-US citizens, but thankfully I didn’t get searched at Customs or they’d have found all the Cuban rum, cigars and other souvenirs. There was one guy on the plane blithely wearing a Cuba t-shirt with the name of a resort in Havana, so he may have had a harder time looking innocent whilst passing through all the checks. Don’t be that guy!

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Author

Since leaving London in 2006 I’ve travelled, worked, volunteered and lived in over 90 countries. Highlights so far would be driving along the Silk Road from Beijing to Istanbul, a complete circuit of South America and volunteering with Habitat for Humanity in Costa Rica. I’m currently back in Beijing, as a base to visit more of Asia and attempt to learn Mandarin.

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