Cuba questions? Poe has answers.
Has the dust settled yet? Are Americans still booking trips? How is travel to Cuba shaping up for the rest of 2019 and beyond?
The regulations put into effect in June by the Trump administration eliminated U.S. cruise-ship calls to Cuban ports and put an end to the People-to-People (P2P) program which was most commonly used by Americans to visit Cuba. This seemed to temporarily put the kibosh on travel to Cuba. As of this writing, rules for Cuba travel continue to change. Recent announcements by the U.S. government have given some the impression that independent travel to Cuba is no longer possible; conflicting information has left many Americans confused about how and if to travel to Cuba. The short answer is: yes, you can travel to Cuba.
To clarify, there are 12 existing categories under which Americans can visit Cuba, including humanitarian, family visits, academic, religious travel, and professional meetings, but one, Support for the Cuban People (SCP) is the sole category that enables the average traveler to legally visit Cuba.
Travelers have two options. The simplest is to go with a tour provider, which ensures that the trip adheres to the rules regarding accommodations, paperwork, and activities. (This would be our suggestion, and we have just the tour operator for the job.) The second option is independent travel, but planning such a trip with airfare, accommodations, paperwork, and a full schedule of compliant activities gets tricky.
Poe’s Cassie Crane recently returned from Cuba with some interesting intel on where to stay, where to eat, which sites to visit, and more.
Miscellaneous Initial impressions after arriving in Havana: “It really does look like time stopped in the 1950s . . . They use old cannon balls and barrels to block off pedestrian streets . . . If you like rum, you are in luck; mojitos and other rum drinks are everywhere (although they are just as good without the rum) . . . Live music can be heard from your hotel room, coming from the street sidewalks and parks, restaurants, and hotel lobbies. Music is a huge part of the Cuban culture. The best views are from the many rooftop bars and restaurants. Rico Tours is knowledgeable about the process for Americans to travel legally and made it simple to visit. The tour guide, Adrienne—who was once a teacher—was full of information, speaks three languages, and was quick to answer questions.”
To know: “Life is not easy for the people of Cuba. They’re on food rations; there’s no fresh dairy to speak of, and places often run out of water (stick with bottled water—even to brush your teeth. Better safe than sorry). That said, the spirit of the people and place is alive and well, and they welcome tourists.”
Hotels/dining recs (they’re often one in the same):
“Keep in mind that you don’t go to Cuba for the food . . .The best views of the expansive city are from the hotel rooftops where you can enjoy the sunset or the pools.”
Hostal Buen Viaje, Remedios—traditional, good location
My Proud Havana—a small modern chain, perfect for couples and families
Hotel Saratoga—“Beyoncé was a guest as well as the Rolling Stones; go for hors d’oeuvres on the rooftop.”
The Hotel Nacional de Cuba—“Loved it! Full of fun facts . . . has the original Spanish tile. A national monument, this iconic hotel is rich in history. A list of the rooms of famous guests is available at the front desk, and several are even named after their most recognizable occupants. In its heyday, Havana, ‘the original Las Vegas,’ was a hotspot for the glamorous set (and the mafia) to indulge in gambling and general revelry. The Mafia had a huge presence in Cuba. The former casino onsite served as the setting for the Havana Conference, a meeting between the American and Sicilian Mafia in 1946. This meeting is mentioned in the film The Godfather Part II. There is a museum in the hotel's gardens dedicated to its role in the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. To know the story of the hotel is to know of the history of Cuba.”
Mélia Internacional, Varadero—“The most beautiful pristine beach I’ve ever been to, and the resort is all Inclusive. World renowned for crystal clear water and powdery white sand, plus no noisy jet skis!”
Ivan Chefs Justo—"Served family style in a Cuban paladar, the literal translation to ‘palate’ and used exclusively to refer to restaurants run by self-employers. Frequenting places like this is a great way to show support for the Cuban people.”
To see and do:
Cuban Missile Crisis bunkers
The Bacardi Building
Cigar factory—“One of the coolest things we did. There’s even a cigar sommelier.”
Rum factory (Havana Club)
Finca Vigia or Hemingway's House, San Francisco de Paula—Don’t miss seeing his boat, “The Pilar,” inspiration for The Old Man and the Sea.
El Cementerio de Cristóbal Colón—Founded in 1876 in the Vedado neighborhood of Havana, the cemetery, named for Christopher Columbus, is notable for its many elaborately sculpted memorials.
Cannon Ceremony—A lesser-known but worthwhile attraction, held each night at the La Cabaña fortress. Soldiers dressed in 18th-century uniforms fire a cannon over Havana bay at precisely 9:00 p.m. It’s an historical reconstruction dating back to the colonial era to signal the end of the day and the closing of the fortress gates.
Xanadu Mansion/Dupont House—"Its elaborately carved railings and supports are all mahogany, and it includes a one of the world’s largest privately-owned pipe organs and one of the first private working elevators. It’s also a picturesque place to have lunch.”
FUN FACT: Veteran Poe traveler and dear friend Jeane Hamilton saw JOSEPHINE BAKER perform at the Nacional Hotel in its heyday.