Since the relationship between Cuba and U.S. was restored in December 2014, the Caribbean country has been under the spotlight of social and political events. In March, Barack Obama was the first American president to visit the island since the revolution in 1959.
The Rolling Stones performed a historical show in Havana and Karl Lagerfeld, creative director at Chanel, chose the streets of Havana to host Chanel's 2017 summer collection.
In the last two years, Cuba has hosted Gisele Bundchen, Jay-Z, Beyonce, Kanye West, and the Kardashian family. Cuba is so hot right now.
Here is what you need to know before you go:
Can Americans legally visit Cuba?
Although there isn't a Tourist Visa available for Americans, there are 12 travel categories authorized by the government (see below). The recent changes in sanctions also allow Americans to arrange independent travels in Cuba if they decide to engage in a "person to person" educational journey. In this type of travel, the tourist has to assure that he will connect with locals and learn about their culture.
A full list of the available visa categories can be found here.
You can apply for your Visa at the airport and it costs approximately $25.
Why should I go now?
Cuba is changing fast. Part of its charm is to stay in a bed and breakfast runned by locals, enjoy the 50's atmosphere in Havana Vieja, and experience travelling the country in an old car with a Cuban driver. It will not take long until Cuba is full with resorts, restaurant chains, and is just like the other Caribbean islands.
How can I get to Cuba?
There are daily flights from American Airlines, Silver Airways, and JetBlue's to Havana, Holguin, Camaguey and Santa Clara. You can find flights from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to any airport in Cuba from $54 each way.
Where should I stay?
One of the best experiences you can have in Cuba is stay in a "Casa Particular." A bed and breakfast runned by locals, the accommodations are very clean, organized, and extremely friendly. Now, you can also book in advance through AirBNB.
Since I visit many cities when I travel, I have booked only 4 nights in Havana at Clarita y Orlando for $20 a night and simply arranged the other houses when I arrived in the other cities.
How do I spend?
Bring cash and do not count that much on your credit card. Although there are ATMs available in hotels, they are often out of service. The Cadecas (currency exchange houses) charge a 10% fee to change dollars for CUCs, the currency used by tourists in Cuba. It's best to take Euros with you, so you will not be charged.
I typically spend about $50 a day, including accommodations.
Where do I go?
Something amazing in traveling independently in Cuba is that you can plan your own itinerary. Havana is a vibrant city that gives you the feeling of going back in time and its streets are full of history.
It is possible go to Viñales, two hours from Havana, and have a horse riding tour at the tobacco fields and end your day watching a fabulous sunset in a mirante in the middle of nowhere.
Walk in the historical city of Trinidad, where you can also go to Disco Ayala, a night club in a cave. You can also stop in Santa Clara, where the decisive battle at the revolution took place.
Will I be off the grid?
If you decide to go to Cuba, be prepared to not be connected all the time. Although there is internet on the island, the access is not as easy as you might be accustomed to. You need to buy a "tarjeta de internet" ( internet card) that can be easily found in any city. 1 hour cost $3 and you can use it in specific wi-fi spots, mostly in hotels and public squares.
Is it safe?
The only negative thing I have to say about Cuba is that if you are woman travelling alone, you might be prepared to be disturbed by men all the time, especially in Havana. The best thing to do is to ignore them and keep walking.
Although you do not need to be afraid they will make physical contact, it becomes annoying very quickly.
What should I bring?
For most of us, shopping is a hobby, but for Cubans it can be a headache. So it's common that people on the streets will approach tourists asking for "regalitos" (small presents). Since I always pack extra soap, toothpaste, and toothbrushes, I gave them away in Trinidad. Today I would also bring baseball hats, t-shirts, and beauty items to give to friendly locals.