Since May 2011 to June 4, 2019, Americans could visit Cuba for family, professional, religious, cultural, humanitarian, educational, or journalism reasons. “Going forward, the United States will prohibit U.S. travelers from going to Cuba under the previous ‘group people-to-people educational’ travel authorization. In addition, the United States will no longer permit visits to Cuba via passenger and recreational vessels, including cruise ships and yachts, and private and corporate aircraft.” (State.gov)
Fortunately, we were able to to visit Cuba in 2019 two weeks before this happened. We went on the Royal Caribbean and spent an entire day there. When we arrived in Cuba, those who were getting off the boat had to go thru customs. It costs $75 per person for a Cuban visa and they stamp your visa. It’s a pretty efficient process. Then, if you plan to spend any money in Cuba, you have to exchange your currency for their “tourist” currency which is different from the local currency. It’s the only place that will exchange your money. And they take 10% right off the top with your exchange. All this is taken place within the customs building. You can come back to this building and exchange your money at any time. There are a few stores that sell souvenir/cigars/alcohol right inside the customs building which helps if you want to spend the rest of your Cuban currency before you have to leave. We found out before going that our Visa card could not be used in Cuba. Likely, this is true for all American credit cards. All vendors that we made contact with in Cuba only accepted cash anyway.
The Cuban people were very nice to us. We had a tour guide who taught us a lot about the Cuban culture, and way of life. Tourism is very valuable to Cuba. Most young people there want to grow up to become tour guides and work in tourism as it’s in demand and a financially rewarding career. Everyone in Cuba has free healthcare and free education. But only the smartest get to go to college for free. And if you become fluent in English, you are pretty much guaranteed a job in tourism.
Most things in Cuba look like a flashback from the 60s to 80s. There’s not much modern architecture. Even the taxis and tourist guides drive 1957 Bel Airs. The Bel Airs look nicely painted but the interior of the cars are not newly renovated due to a lack of replacement parts available.
We also got a tasting tour of their Cuban cigars and mojitos! This is a must do if you ever go! My husband and I have never smoked in our life but we did try the Cuban cigar as it’s known to be highly rated. To our surprise, it was not bad and very smooth actually. There was no bad smell like other cigars we have walked past. The guide at the cigar place showed us how to roll the cigar as well which was really cool. As for the mojitos, they were excellent!! I would go as far as to say the best mojito we have ever had!
After the guided tour, we were free to tour the rest of the place by ourselves. We felt very safe. Unlike in other tourist destinations where locals try to sell their products to you and sway you into eating at their restaurants etc, Cuba was not like that. It was almost as if you felt all the locals were instructed to not bother any tourists.
We ended up eating at La Taberna del Pescador. It was a small place. It was very clean and they had great food! The restaurant had entertainment with one person playing guitar and singing. It was so nice and peaceful. They also had mojitos which was 2 for $5! An incredible drink at an incredible price! I would highly recommend the place.
We walked around the rest of the time looking at buildings.
Their main government building looked a lot like our Capital in Washington D.C. We even went up to a hotel roof top bar checking out the area from above.
Here’s a picture of one of their churches, which we enjoy visiting in other countries.
We also learned that Cuba is the birthplace of Daiquiri, the alcoholic drink. An American named Jennings Cox invented the Daiquiri at the time of the Spanish-American War. They also made a drink in Cuba after Ernest Hemingway, his favorite Daiquiri…Papa Doble. Interestingly enough, Ernest Hemingway wrote 7 books while in Cuba. The location below is where Hemingway would have his Daiquiri.
Overall, we had an educational and enjoyable time. We enjoy going to places that are unique to the time and place of what’s happening in this world, and Cuba fit the bill at the time.