To Cuba and Back, While (Mostly) Following the Rules
August 10, 2015 2:11 PM   Subscribe

This isn't a question about how to be a tourist in Cuba, but rather about how risky it might be to go there for a professional meeting (a sanctioned reason) and then bend the rules a bit.

I'd like to bend the rules--potentially--in two ways:
(1) stay extra days (thus apparently violating the " traveler’s schedule of
activities must not include free time or recreation in excess of that consistent with a full-time
" rule) and/or (2) take my son with me on my officially-sanctioned trip.

Please share recent travel experiences, especially w/r/t how customs and immigration control are working. I'm really wondering how closely anyone will look at my daily schedule, etc.

And, well, even though this isn't a question about tourism per sé, I'm happy to hear any suggestions about how to prepare for a trip to Havana and what touristy things would be teenager-friendly. Thanks!

You can assume I've read this NYT article about new rules for travel to Cuba and this Gothamist article on going to Cuba.
posted by correcaminos to Travel & Transportation around Cuba (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Hi, I've been to Cuba. I went legally and against the recommendation of Cuban offiicals got them to stamp my passport. No one cares.

Customs has never cared, not even when I point out the stamp, they still so don't care. They don't care if I went there legally (I did, on a state department sponsored trip) or illegally, they don't care what I was doing there, they just don't care.

What they did care about was checking my luggage rather rigorously to ensure I wasn't bringing anything illegal back (I wasn't). I wouldn't stress about it.
posted by arnicae at 2:31 PM on August 10, 2015 [4 favorites]

Best answer: The best touristy thing to do is walk around the neighborhoods- you can spend hours and it's endlessly fascinating. Museum-wise, I thought the Museum of Communism (I think that's what it's called) was the most interesting and thought provoking. If you're there in the right season, which I think is fall/winter, it's definitely worth checking out a baseball game. We never did find a schedule when we were there but it's really easy to ask around and someone is bound to know the game times. It's a little confusing because tourists buy different tickets than Cubans and they cost more (it's like $3/ticket for tourist), but you're seated in the front section behind home plate. It's also worth exchanging some of your tourist currency (CUCs) for pesos so you can buy pizza and ice cream from the street stalls. If you like spice, bring your own bottles of hot sauce because most of the food- but especially the street pizza- can be bland.

I second that you don't need to worry about travelling there. I have two entry stamps to Mexico on my passport with no exit stamp and no one has ever looked twice at it.
posted by shornco at 2:48 PM on August 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I work in the adventure travel field and have been looking at what it takes to run a trip there. Working with experts who have been operating legally licensed trips to Cuba for 30 years, I'm learning that the biggest problem right now is simply lack of hotel space. Demand for Cuba is so high at the moment that unless you book well in advance with a licensed operator and get hotel space confirmed at least 6-8 months in advance, it is nearly impossible to find hotel space on an individual basis. In fact, this is what they told us:

Hard to know how soon Cuba will be able to accept direct reservations…their infrastructure is not ready. There are not enough hotel rooms and air space for individuals to be able to do planning on their own. Also commercial airlines are not booking yet…only a couple of airlines have secured space from destinations other than Miami - Havana; and flights are not offered daily.

So bottom line, unless whomever you've booked your Cuban travel with can guarantee that they can get you a couple of extra nights at your hotel and can change your chartered flight's return date, your idea of staying a few extra days just to be a tourist may not work out.
posted by HeyAllie at 4:05 PM on August 10, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Here's what a friend of mine says:

ALL you need is some FORTITUDE and a sense of ADVENTURE and you'll be just fine. Also, MONEY. You need money. Non-US monies because there's a ridiculous penalty in trading in US bucks for CUCs. Do the math. You'll need lots of money in CASH, because cash is KING and also there are no ATMs and pretty much no place in Havana takes credit cards, and you never know if you'll need to find some other flight out of HAV. They supposedly got rid of the airport departure tax of 25 CUCs, but I wouldn't be surprised if some SHYSTER tries to get some last-minute CUCs out of your hand.

I went to Cuba this year. Not legally. I had to ask to get my passport stamped because, HEY, I wanna see what the stamp looks like, and SCREW IT I wanna be official. You're going to find a lot of variation when comes to getting your passport stamped: some people get their passports stamped no matter what, some people have no choice, some people are offered a choice. Me? I asked for it. In the immortal words of Kent Torokvei: "OK GOD. LEMME HAVE IT!"

So I got my passport stamped, and then was asked if I had medical insurance. Then I was directed to the desk in the back of the large room. The desk that had pretty much no one around it. You'll read that said insurance is mandatory: well, it's NOT. The friend I was traveling with wasn't asked if he had medical insurance, wasn't turned around to get medical insurance, and pretty much nobody else came to the desk while I paid for mine.

I had a BLAST. When I left, I had to fly out of HAV to MEX, then onward to another nearby location, before returning to the US. My passport is a mess of stamps.

No one cares.

Not even my internet friends.

In regards to lodging: there's no shortage of casa particulares. Look for this symbol. Inquire around and within. Hell, just sit on some steps with your bag and people will eventually approach you to ask if you are looking for a place to stay. AirBnB has listings for Havana. I would not be surprised if they were more expensive than finding a place in person, and also would not be surprised if they were cheaper than hotels there.

Everything might seem up in the air after your TOTALLY LEGIT trip: your flight out, your lodging, your medical coverage, whether or not that rumbling in your gut is GOOD or BAD. For what it's worth, I drank the waters of Havana and suffered NO ILL EFFECTS. My GI tract rolled 18/00 for Constitution. My point is: DON'T WORRY if things are up in the air. Take that anxiety and turn it into courage. As my good friend Shia said, "JUST. DOIT!" DOIT. Fortitude and a sense of adventure, I say. And an iron gut. Do not forget to make friends with Santiago and Havana Club Ron.

Right. So anyway, my friend can refer you to the person whose apartment he stayed at. MeMail me if you're interested and I'll forward your message to him. His host was reportedly a very nice person, took care of a lot of things, and served as a guide. Neither I nor my friend has any ties to the fellow, apart from the fact that my friend paid him for an apartment rental.

If you've any specific questions, send me MeMail. I am sure my friend would be happy to answer them. My friend has read this message and approves of it, laughing at its lame attempt to protect his identity, for he fears nothing but gastrointestinal maladies.
posted by herrdoktor at 5:24 PM on August 10, 2015 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: Belatedly (but, well, I still haven't traveled yet), I wanted to thank everyone for your reassurances and info. We leave in a couple of weeks and I couldn't be more excited.

And here's a recent (Sept 21) NYT Article about travel to Cuba.
posted by correcaminos at 10:15 AM on September 23, 2015

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