For Americans, organizing the logistics of Cuban travel can still be complicated. As a practical matter, despite some changes in U.S. regulations, embargo-related restrictions still inhibit financial transfers from the U.S. Despite announcements that MasterCard will process payments made in Cuba with U.S. cards, we have yet to find an establishment on the ground that in reality takes U.S. credit cards.
While it is reasonable to expect things will gradually get easier, for now most Americans who want to organize regulation-compliant travel to Cuba will find it easiest to do so through travel organizers who specialize in such trips. This offers the advantage of being able to pay for travel basics (e.g. flight and hotel charges) directly with a U.S. credit card, in advance. This approach also affords travelers a certain level of guarantee in an environment of tight hotel space. We have heard a number of stories of travelers with confirmed reservations being diverted to inferior properties because of occupancy issues. Traveling with one of the big providers, who have established relationships with Cuban travel agencies and hotels, makes this less likely.
For travelers intent on doing it themselves and crafting a program that complies with U.S. regulations, options are nonetheless increasing. Travelers may be able to book directly on the websites of some major hotels that will route credit card payments through foreign banks. They can now book flights directly on line via cheapair.com. These are still charters, in this case operated by U.S.-based travel agency Cuba Travel Service (CTS). CTS will subsequently assist travelers in arranging visas for pick up at airport check-in. Flights are limited, however, and refund/rebooking rules are strict. It is important for travelers to allow extra time for travel to gateway cities in the U.S. because delayed or canceled flights en route in the U.S. can wreak utter havoc on onward Cuba travel plans.
Airbnb has also begun operations in Cuba, allowing travelers to book accommodations in private homes in advance. This is a welcome addition, although be aware that we have talked to many travelers who have ended up unhappy with either the quality or location of lodging booked this way.
Cuba travel from the U.S. is a work in progress. It takes careful planning and flexibility. These can be richly rewarded, but it is important to adjust expectations. The travel scene is changing daily. New restaurants and bars are opening, new luxury hotel options are in the works, discussions are underway about restoring regular direct commercial air links (non-charter flights) from the U.S., and restoration work in Havana’s strikingly beautiful old center is advancing. It’s a dynamic environment.
Travel will definitely get easier, but there is magic in the moment now in Havana and you don’t want to miss it.
Watch for the launch of HavanaInsider.com’s travel program, coming soon. We want to show you the magic, and introduce you to the remarkable people whose art, music, food, dance, and knowledge point to the brilliant future of Havana.