"Travel is Fatal to Prejudice, Bigotry, and Narrow Mindedness, and many of our people need It sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime." ~ Mark Twain
Founded In 1515, Havana boasts some of the best architecture in the world. It's known as the Paris of the Caribbean, with more color. Walking through old Havana we learned of its history, significant structures, beautiful squares, battles, the aristocracy, and even got to see some of the original infrastructure that made it such a desirable place to live.
The Old Town Center has been almost fully restored. Even during the pandemic, the restoration continued with an eye on the return of visitors and tourists from around the world. Each day that went by, we could see more visitors coming from all over Europe, Asia, and Russia.
Cuba can be visited by U.S. Citizens legally under a number of different General Licenses. Ours was "Support of the Cuban People". This means a full Itinerary learning about the history, arts, culture, and more. It also means spending money only in privately owned businesses. My XO Adventures supports and encourages U.S. Citizens to visit Cuba. Unfortunately, political reasons can get in the way of better understanding the people that call this island home. Once the television sets and news outlets are left behind, a whole new world opens up.
While Old Town has been restored for visitors and to protect the cultural heritage of Cuba, many surrounding areas are quite stunning. Vedado and Miramar are two of my favorites. Centro is an interesting place to visit, but an area that lacks restoration. Here you'll see everyday Cubans going about their business. While walking through Centro you'll witness equally amazing architecture but in a state of disrepair.
With the right perspective, you'll find beauty in the crumbling and worn buildings. The happiness of children playing marbles brings a smile to your face and a nostalgic feeling to your heart. It reminds us of what is important in life. This reminder can be humbling. It also has the ability to help us realize how fortunate we are, and if you're lucky to reevaluate what it is you think makes you happy.
The act of traveling carries with it life-changing moments and endless possibilities for your future. Friends are made In faraway places. Hearts are opened, and a greater understanding for the adventurer can occur. The simple reality is that we are not alone. By forming our own thoughts and opinions through real interactions we toss away the political agendas, governmental interference and wake to the understanding that we are all one human race.
We not only deserve the gift of travel but we are also obligated to it. Visit our Frequently Asked Questions page on travel to Cuba.
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International Travel during the Pandemic can prove a little tricky, but not impossible. A recent visit to Cuba under the OFAC license of "Support of the Cuban People" proved to be quite extraordinary given the circumstances of the Omicron spread. Cuba stands out as one of the most vaccinated countries in the world, due to being the only Latin American country to develop its own home-grown vaccines. Many Americans are unaware that Cuba shines in the worldwide community, coming in at 86.4% of its population vaccinated. That’s 2nd only to the UAE, which stands at 93.3%.
That’s pretty impressive and raising eyebrows with travelers as one of the safest destinations in the world. My XO Adventures owner, Daniel Milks recently traveled to Cuba from January 2-18, 2022 to prepare for a group arriving and get the lay of the land. It wasn’t going to be easy, but was it worth the trouble?
“Cuba Travel has always been a little tricky to navigate, but travelers to the country are almost always seasoned.” Entry into the country begins with securing accommodations, followed by an airline ticket into Havana. Tampa and Miami are popular points of origin, but surprisingly Iceland Air has been approved to enter the market and expand options for those who are interested.
“Travel to anywhere in the world takes a risk acceptance, and we were approaching the higher end of that limit.” Omicron was beginning to rage across Florida, with its 7-day average peak on January 10th, 2022 just before the group arrived. Already in Cuba on January 2, 2022, Daniel had a little time to prepare, reconnect with people, businesses and witness the current state of the country.
“After landing in Havana and taking a moment to look around, it didn’t appear that much had changed”, reported Daniel on January 3rd. Quite a few of the more well-known shopping districts were dotted with closed signs, but the economy officially opened in November, and this was only a month later in a country that suffers from the U.S. imposed embargo. Reportedly, Cubans were going about their business, spending time in markets, using public transportation, and enjoying outdoor games.
“Being able to see Cuba after two years of the Pandemic was pretty incredible. I’m always amazed at the resiliency of the people, and the magic of this gem in the Caribbean.” After meeting up with friends, a deeper look began. The restaurants that were open had limited selections each day, requiring the traveler to exercise patience and understanding. Certain places had long lines, but to the Cubans, this is something that’s become a part of life.
Walking through the streets Daniel reports major renovations and new construction. Hotels are being built all over Havana as if they have their eye on the future, and tourism is the way out of the economic challenges Cuba faces. Most notably, the former Convertible Peso (CUC) has been eliminated and replaced with the local peso (CUP). Inflation isn’t something that just exists in the U.S., it's being felt in Cuba by all the people.
During this visit, the official government exchange was $1 USD for 26 Pesos. The street rate was around $1 USD for 55-68 CUP depending on what day and person tried to hit you up. The monetary changes can be very confusing and should be left for another article. To say the least, wrapping your head around it, along with the fluctuations keeps you on your feet.
“As U.S. Citizen, and under the OFAC license Support of the Cuban People the only lodging available is from privately owned homes. To tell you the truth, this is the only way I’d visit Cuba, even if the restrictions were eliminated.” Private homes are called Casa Particulars, which are privately owned, and the family or managers live on site. Miramar, a high-end neighborhood dotted with Embassies, beautiful trees, and flowering bougainvillea makes it a great place to stay.
Before even making it to the accommodations, a meeting with some local Cuban’s at Grandma's house was the beginning of the experience. Here, we had three locals, Grandma, her grandson, and a friend. They were able to explain to the group about everyday life in the country. All this while enjoying some Cuban Rum, plantains, croquettes, and other tasty treats from Grandma's kitchen. Participants were drawn into the discussion and ready to ask questions. The most interesting was when it was Grandma’s turn. She is a Cuban that lived through the Triumph of the Revolution and had quite a few words to say about her experience. This is a behind the curtain look that any traveler to Cuba needs to experience and makes a great start to the beginning of the journey.
All the protocols are in place, wet mats with bleach, hand sanitizer, masks, and even grandma had her plastic face shield. Cuba took it seriously at the beginning of the pandemic. Lockdowns were in place, and COVID raged just like anywhere else until the vaccines began to roll out. Here you can see a drastic reduction in cases, deaths, and hospitalizations on charts found all over google. For Cubans, it wasn’t a matter of choice to get the vaccine. It was an obligation each person had to meet.
“I felt safer here than in the U.S.”, says Daniel Milks. Omicron cases in Cuba are low by comparison. The World Health Organization has Soberana, Cuba’s most effective vaccine in stage three trials. It’s already being used in Vietnam, Mexico, Iran, Venezuela, and more. Cuba boasts a 91.2% efficacy rate with three jabs being a full set.
Guests reflect back on the “Forbidden Fruit” that Cuba is for Americans. The complexities of operating a nation under an embargo. The desire of both governments to mend fences and establish relationships. Minds wander with memories as the airport nears. Soon, family and friends will be shown pictures and hear experiences. Maybe those stories are powerful enough to lead to change, one person at a time.Daniel Milks
Owner of My XO Adventures, Traveler and ocasional writer.
As of November 15th, travel to Cuba Is open. The airlines such as Southwest have made flights available from Miami and Tampa. The cost is up substantially from pre-pandemic pricing. In previous years, the cost of a flight to Cuba was in the range of $300, but now that has risen to about $570 per person. Quite an increase, but I expected that to happen given the situation and conditions with the airlines.
The price does include the medical insurance Cuba requires for those entering the country but does not include the Cuban Travel Visa which is hovering around $100. This is essentially a piece of paper that you fill out and present upon arrival. Cuba is allowing those that have been tested via PCR within 72 hours to enter the country, but my feeling is don't do that, just get the vaccine. It's safer for you and for them, and for God's sake, it's overdue.
You should also have travel insurance that covers anything related to cancellation, trip interruption, and COVID-related expenses through a carrier like AIG/Travel Guard that will handle Cuba Travel.
Here is what you need to enter Cuba:
1.) A flight that includes medical insurance.
2.) A valid passport that is good for at least 6 months after the scheduled date of return.
3.) Travel Insurance
4.) A Travel Visa
5.) Vaccination Card
6.) Cash for your entire stay plus some.
Cuba Travel tips about money. The monetary situation has changed dramatically since 2020. The CUC has been eliminated altogether. This is the currency you could use as a visitor in Cuba. It's gone, and the government has returned Cuba to a single currency economy. Why does the single currency matter? It's because that combined with a pandemic has created inflation, massive inflation. Recently, the government has announced that the USD is not to be used in Cuba, only the CUP, Euros or Canadian Dollars. If you're going to travel to Cuba, it's currently best to bring Euros, which have the most favorable exchange rate in Cuba as of this writing.
Cuban food is definitely more expensive, with seafood being the most available. Government-owned institutions are only accepting CUP at this point, and being government-owned in Cuba means off-limits for Americans. This doesn't mean that you'll miss out, as there are alternatives to spending money in these places. Americans must only spend money on privately owned businesses. This is a regulatory rule by the U.S. Government for Americans visiting Cuba.
Airbnb has a special license to operate in Cuba, so lodging is generally not a problem. There are quite a few entrepreneurs in Cuba, just be sure to read the reviews carefully. It's always best to get a recommendation from someone who knows, or joining a small tour group to ensure quality. We stay at a 5 bedroom, 5 bathroom home in a suburb of Havana to enjoy a high quality, family-run and quiet location. The downtown area can be noisy, but some people like the convenience of not having to take a cab into town.
Some people wonder, Is it safe to travel in Cuba? I always say yes. I feel safer in Cuba than I do in my own hometown. For certain there is less crime, with the highest activity related to tourists being pick pocketing. It's never happened to me, but you should always bring a money belt no matter where you go.
You've got to jump through some hoops to go to Cuba, but there are professionals out there than can make Cuba Travel now a possibility. Successful travel to any place in the world is dependent on the relationships between the seller and those in the places they visit. I believe Cuba is a World Class destination offering the most unique travel environment in the world, and one that should be experienced. The best way to bring people together is by understanding them, and through that friendships are made.
It's my personal and professional opinion that the people of Cuba should no longer suffer from the embargo. It should be lifted immediately and unconditionally. We treat no other country the way we treat Cuba, and the result Is moral bankruptcy. We the people can help, and benefit from trashing the embargo and working toward mending our ties with one of our closest neighbors.
I absolutely love travel, experiences, am a bit of a daredevil, and an occasional writer. My favorite place is the place I've never been.
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Cuba is expected to be over 90% vaccinated by November 15the 2022. How did this happen when the U.S. has been desperately trying to reach the same level for months? Many in the U.S. don’t realize the resiliency of the Cuban people.
What most people don’t know is that Cuba’s State-owned biotech sector has been developing successful vaccines since the 1980’s. The vaccines developed so far are for polio, rubella, whooping cough, measles, meningitis and hepatitis. All of these vaccines have been distributed and successfully used in countries all over the world. All this in opposition from the U.S.
I’ve been to Cuba a number of times, and after a while you start to understand the bigger picture. Propaganda has been rampant on both sides. The largest and most horrific humanitarian poison is administered by the U.S. Government through the embargo. Make no mistake about the it, this is a political tool being used by both Democrats and Republicans.
The embargo exists in large part because of the purple State of Florida. The Florida Cuban population represents almost 30% if the Latino vote. The total Cuban population in the state is 1,528,000. It’s a greater population than Maine, Montana, Rhode Island, Delaware, South Dakota, North Dakota, Alaska, Vermont and Wyoming. That’s powerful to say the least.
It’s no wonder why politicians around election time pander to the Cuban American vote. Many Cuban Americans today are brought up in a household where someone was affected by the Revolution. Stories passed down are absorbed as if gospel, and their thoughts reflect in their vote. There are some ugly stories, but there’s a bigger picture here. Unfortunately, the people of Cuba are the pawns in this game. They are the ones that suffer, not the government.
Recent unrest in Cuba was a result of food, medical and a plethora of supply problems. The Cubans cried out with pain during the pandemic, and at a time we were able to help, but didn’t. Instead, the U.S. government turned a blind eye, and President Biden with his promises of opening relations with Cuba, lied. No surprise there, as most if not all presidents do.
Obama had it right. Relax the sanctions, ease travel, create business opportunities, visit Cuba. The political affiliation plays no role here, it’s the intent and attempt. Cuba began to thrive, and the lives of everyday Cubans improved, then came Trump. Restricting cruise ships from docking in Havana and tightening sanctions. In his last gasp, he directs Mike Pompeo to designate Cuba a State Sponsor of Terrorism. My God. Why? To gain the Cuban American vote and win Florida. It’s that simple folks.
Biden gets elected and promises to reverse the Trump Administration policies. The protests in Cuba change his mind, and instead tightens them and imposes more sanctions. Again, the Florida vote. Don’t forget that the understandable protests are occurring during an important mid-term that could shape the Senate and the House. Good for you Biden. The embargo and policies towards Cuba are the reason for the protests, and you come out looking like the hero. It’s villainous and just about everyone in Congress is guilty. It’s better to do the right thing and lose. You aren’t supposed to be there with a goal of retaining power, despite what Mitch McConnell says.
Want change in Cuba? End the embargo. Rid the Cuban government of the American “boogie man”. They’d no longer have the embargo to blame and would have to work harder to improve the lives of Cubans. Not only that, a Cuban middle class would be born, businesses would thrive, jobs would be created on both sides, and investments made.
The U.S. Government has been using the method of might and punishment as a way to get what it wants. Cuba is still standing. We can be friends and work together. Because we’re not, China, Russia, Venezuela, North Korea and the like are filling that gap. Is that what we want
I’ll continue to visit Cuba because I love it. It’s the best place in the Caribbean, and programs like Havana Heartbeat will engage, support and encourage the Cuban People.
I'm an adventurer, traveler, daredevil and part time writer!
Since November of 2016 when I first set foot in Cuba, I was hooked. Finally, a place in the Caribbean I found full of culture, excitingly different, vibrant with culture, abundant in architecture and natural beauty. A break from the typical Caribbean Island visit. A place like no other on Earth. A people resilient and kind. It also happened to be the "forbidden fruit" that as a professional traveler makes it extremely enticing.
President Obama relaxed rules on travel early in his tenure. He also demonstrated a willingness to engage and forge relationships, along with private investment and the promotion of human freedoms. U.S. and Cuban relations hadn't been better in 50+ years since the Revolution. Tourism flourished, and living standards rose. People learned about the history of Cuba, what it was and is today. Cruise Lines were permitted, and there was an audible hum of optimism in the air. Those were the good old days that were not so old. In a matter of a few years, we were headed in the opposite direction.
Why is Cuba what it is today? What happened to create fertile ground for a revolution and what lays ahead in the coming years and decades? These are all important questions, and like most things of late, it depends on what political party you ask. Cuba is the third closest neighbor to the United States, and we’ve been feuding for decades. Here’s a little background to sum it all up.
Starting in 1940 and running through to 1952, Cuba had a democratic government. It enjoyed a healthy middle class in the cities, 75% of the population were literate, the number of doctors per capita rivaled the most developed of nations, and its Capitol, Havana was a shiny and bustling city. Often referred to as “The Paris of the Caribbean”, Cuba had reason to be proud. Development was occurring at a rapid pace, and American tourists came in the droves.
There were also downsides. The U.S. government had unleashed the mafia in Cuba, making it their new playground. Casinos, Hotels and Resorts sprang up everywhere. Money was being made hand over fist. While mafia gangs, big corporations and government officials made enriched themselves, rural Cuba was a different story altogether. Racism was prevalent, movement restricted, poverty abundant and education poor. You’d be lucky to have made it through the second grade before being put to work in the fields. On the one end you had the living standard of a modern European country in the cities and the other, no better than plantation life. Herein plays the drumbeat of a revolution.
Sound familiar? The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. You don’t have to look very hard to find some of the mightiest of nations have fallen due to this disparity. History sorts out who’s to blame, and I’ll do my best to make it clear in this particular circumstance. Let me make it plain as to who is responsible for the rise of a socialist/communistic society in Cuba. It is U.S. Government and the corrupt politicians that took their orders from Washington.
In 1952 President Batista took over in a coup, destroying the democracy he worked for so many years to create. Cast aside were the ideals of freedom for the people. Treasured Institutions were no longer regarded, and consolidation of power was the order of the day. This was the beginning of the end, and right under the nose and with the participation of the U.S. That’s right, Batista was propped up and mafia rule was endorsed by JFK and Washington. A daring young lawyer was about to take the island, and although the odds were stacked against him, the countryside was not. His name is Fidel Castro.
The U.S. had missed an opportunity to encourage stability and economic development for all Cubans. Since the revolution the American Government has tried to topple Castro with an invasion as well as multiple failed assassination attempts by the CIA. The wealthy and middle class had just been overturned with their businesses and property now nationalized. A new era begins in Cuba.
Tens of thousands of Cubans fled the island for the United States, and an embargo was imposed. Decades go by, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Cuban economy cause a great deal of suffering. One thing that remains is the embargo, crippling the people of Cuba to no end. They make it through however and continue to defy the United States to this day, which brings us to the more present time.
With tourism thriving in Cuba from the changes of the Obama administration, the middle class again begins to grow, and opportunity is everywhere. I took full advantage of the situation by visiting the island and spending money in privately owned restaurants, homes and businesses. The race was on to see Cuba the way it is, not the way it might become. Years later, and once again, the relationships take a turn for the worse when then President Trump was elected.
While visits to North Korean President Kim Jong Un are being promoted and supported, regulations tighten on Cuba. While genocide takes place in China, and we continue enormous trade with this communist nation, relationships with Cuba sour. Travel to Cuba becomes more difficult, and eventually cruise ships are banned from doing business with the island.
Why? Power and special interests. If anyone thinks that the embargo is designed to promote democracy and human rights in Cuba, they are sadly mistaken. The tens of thousands of Cubans that fled Cuba are now throughout the United States, but primarily in South Florida. The minds of those Cubans are to be fought over by each president since JFK. Those initial immigrants have now had children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Stories of Cuba are passed on down the line from those that had their homes and businesses taken. Their votes belong to the candidate willing to keep a hard line against Cuba. Trump was no different, and most Cubans identify as Republicans due to the rhetoric and propaganda promoted by the party. This rhetoric has influenced local and national elections. It’s elected Presidents. Meanwhile, the Cuban people continue to suffer at the cost of power from both the U.S. and the Communist Party in Cuba.
The stance against Cuba has nothing to do with individual freedom or democracy. Its roots are in revenge, anger, power and the grand prize of Florida’s 29 electoral college votes. The sweet smell of Presidential victory is thick in Florida and becoming even thicker. Trump exits stage right and on comes the Biden Administration. Offering hope of change again, Biden promises to reset relations with Cuba. I just put promises and a politician in the same sentence, so what do you think is going to happen?
There’s a pandemic raging, and economy tanking and a new sheriff in town. Biden has a lot on his hands and the promises to reset relationships gets pushed to the background. The left wants the reset, the right doesn’t, and the independents are mixed. The midterm elections, which usually go bad the first time around for a newly elected President are already under way.
Meanwhile, the situation in Cuba gets worse. Food shortages from failed crops and the inability to import what it needs causes anger in the population. Tourism is reopened in Varadero and the COVID cases begin to rise. Three vaccines are created by laboratories in Cuba, with “Abdala” having a reported 92.2% efficacy. Protests understandably begin and become deadly. Cuba looks to be having its own insurrection, which leaves President Biden forced to make a decision.
Does he help or hinder the relationship with Cuba? After 40 years in politics, Biden is no stranger to tactical moves designed to keep power, and this is the path he takes. Rather than helping our neighbor with critically needed medical supplies, food and humanitarian aid, he looks toward the outcome of the midterm elections. Doing what is right no longer matters, but how is that any different than what we’ve seen for so long? People are shocked of the demonstrations and the Cuban governments response. Shouts of freedom can be heard from coast to coast. Individuals are repeating what has been said over the last 60 years, which is to topple the regime, keep the embargo and force the government to provide more freedoms to its people. Ironically the U.S. Government is punishing Cubans for a situation it created.
Cubans do deserve more freedom and opportunity. There are many problems with the government of Cuba, but we only need to look in the mirror and find the same. Biden has made a huge error in not tackling the issue of Cuba earlier. He actually used the pandemic and economic hardship of the people in Cuba to once again stoke the flames of anger. Looking at this from an objective point of view I find it deplorable.
Biden turned his back on an opportunity to greatly improve relations through building bridges and rather decided to burn them. I’d love to see change in Cuba, but the answer is not by punishment. The government of Cuba suffers little. It’s the people that get caught in between this battle, and therein is the problem. The United States has been the only 1 of 3 countries in the United Nations to support the embargo. Everyone else knows what this is about, while the American public is lied to from both sides.
All the while other actions are at work. When the U.S. steps out from diplomacy, somebody is always willing to take its place. Those countries are China, Russia, Iran, Venezuela and more. If your neighbor makes it clear they’re dead set on making life difficult, then one seeks out other friendships. This is what we’ve done. We’ve caused untold suffering of the Cuban people and opened the door to our adversaries. Congratulations to the Biden Administration for an epic failure, and hypocritical move when a gigantic opportunity was available.
Open relationships with the Cuban government would lead to more personal freedoms, economic development in both Cuba and the United States. It would create more jobs, support stability and prosperity in the region and raise the standard of living for the average Cuban citizen.
I don’t write this article in support of the Cuban Government. I write it because we’ve got it so wrong, and someone needs to speak out. Very likely, many Cuban Americans reading this article won’t respond so kindly, and I understand that. The point is not everything is as it seems, and it’s time for a real change. Where are those adults in the room?
Please take a moment to write President Biden and remind him about his promises. Promote Cuban Freedom by supporting its people. www.whitehouse.gov/contact/
While there are many places in the world to travel, Cuba can be one of the safest. Surprised? We thought so. Over the last half-century there's been quite a bit of misinformation in the U.S. as it relates to Cuba Travel, and this is certainly one. At myXOAdventures.com, we've taken the time to explore Cuba. From Santiago to Havana, and Cienfuegos to Viñales we've made our way all around the island.
The first places visitors generally explore are the main squares of Havana, where you'll find shops, restaurants, statues and gardens with a rich history. These are considered very safe and the most common type of nefarious activity of course, is pick pockets. Although we've never had a guests experience, or witnessed this type of thing its always good to know where you have your wallet and valuables. Once you venture outside the squares, looks can be a little deceiving.
Some of the alleys and roads off of the center squares can look a bit sketchy, but in our experience there was no reason for alarm. Some of the most interesting places can be found on the side streets. Many of Cuba's historic buildings and streets are in various stages of age and decay. Sometimes this is strangely beautiful and sometimes not so much. One thing that we found is that regardless, you were perfectly safe. Violent crimes and gun crimes per capita are 19 times higher here in the U.S. than they are in Cuba. Although it was a different feel and place, we eventually felt perfectly at ease anywhere we went in the Capital City.
The people of Havana and Cuba in general are very friendly, and willing to help where they can. After spending several days throughout the island, you'll notice things from your past that we see little if any of today. Things like children playing ball in the streets, or marbles on the sidewalk. A couple of friends playing a game of chess or dominoes while enjoying some rum. From what I've seen, happiness comes not from possessions, but relationships.
Take it from someone who knows, Cuban society is actually much safer than many of our own backyards.