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How To Get From The U.S. To Cuba

Neon Map of the Bus routes at Havana Bus Station
A neon map showing the bus routes of Cuba at Havana Bus Station

If you’re a US resident trying to get to Cuba before it loses its communist charm, and you aren’t fortunate enough to have a visa approved by the US government, it still is relatively easy to get there. It is illegal and there are consequences if you get caught, but I don’t think catching tourists coming back from Cuba is high on a US Customs Agents list of things to bust people for. The general routes you can take are from the US to Mexico or the Bahamas, and then take a connecting flight to Havana. I went through Cancun, Mexico, so that is what my advice is based on.

Sunset on the Malecón in Havana, Cuba
The Malecón sunset in Havana, Cuba

The first and easiest step is booking a flight to Mexico. I flew into Cancun, but there are also connecting flights to Havana from Mexico City. The airport in Cancun wasn’t that bad, and if you do have a long layover you should spend it on the very comfortable leather couches in the Starbucks.

Locals Hang out in Havana Centre
Locals Hanging out in Havana City Centre

The second step, and probably the most difficult is booking your connecting flight to Havana. You can either use Cubana Air or Mexicana Air, both are around the same price, 250-300$ round-trip. I chose Mexicana because I felt a little more comfortable calling Mexico to book a flight. The Mexicana website will not allow you to book a flight to Havana using a non-Mexican issued credit card, but they will take a phone reservation. I used Skype to call the number from the Mexicana website and spoke with an English speaking sales associate who made the reservation and gave me a confirmation number. I did not give the man my credit card number, he was actually not allowed to take it, but he did give me the confirmation number. I was skeptical about Mexicana keeping my reservation without a deposit, but they did.

Cathedral and Bell tower in Trinidad, Cuba
The cathedral and bell tower in Trinidad

When I arrived in Cancun I had to purchase a Cuban Tourist Visa for 25$ from the Mexicana sales agent, then I was able to purchase the tickets I had reserved.

Bike ride through Viñales Valley, Pinar del Rio, Cuba
Bike ride through Viñales Valley, Pinar del Rio

After the 1.5 hour flight from Mexico to Havana, you will have to go through customs in Cuba. My brother had no problem, but I guess I looked suspicious so they went through everything in my bag and questioned me for an hour or so. They are mainly harassing Cubans returning with supplies. I saw people hauling in suitcases of shampoo, baby formula and vitamins and only some of it was getting confiscated. I think I had trouble because I had a large SLR and a couple lenses, and their customs form specifically asks if you are bringing in professional video or photography equipment .I insisted I was just there on vacation, and nothing really came of it, but I would never say your trip is for anything but leisure. After I was released, my brother and I caught a cab into central Havana. It took around 40 minutes and cost around 25 CUC. We were welcomed into the city by patriotic billboards and tanned Cuban teenagers in shorts and sandals riding bikes and trying to hold onto our bumper for a free lift into town.

A classic car in Viñales
A classic car in Viñales, frequent site in Cuba

Finally, when you can’t drink another mojito or eat another plate of at best, the most average food you have ever eaten, make sure you save 25 CUC for Cuba’s exit fee. The only other thing a really paranoid person like myself would need to worry about is going through customs and having evidence of being in Cuba. I threw out my receipts, put my camera memory cards in my pocket and paid a Mexican customs agent 20$ in the bathroom so he wouldn’t stamp a second entrance stamp into Mexico on my passport. I am sure it would be fine with the additional stamp, but after getting hassled for an hour in Cuban customs, paying the 20$ made sense to me if it helped me avoid another customs ordeal.

Small hut outside the town of Viñales, Cuba
A small hut outside the town of Viñales
A Patriotic Mural in Habana, Cuba
Patriotic Mural in Havana

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