View of Trinidad from tower Cuba. Travel to Cuba 2023
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What is Cuba Like Today? Travel To Cuba 2023 Guide

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What is it like to travel to Cuba in 2023?

Cuba is still as beautiful, welcoming, and unique as ever, but a deepening economic crisis is having a devastating effect on the country and its people. Additionally, increasing connectivity is rapidly altering the social and political landscape. These factors are changing the face of tourism here. We visited Cuba for the first time at the end of 2022 and discovered exactly what it’s like to travel to Cuba today.

What’s Cuba Like Today?

A busy street in Havana Cuba, the Cuban flag hangs across the middle of the street. What is Cuba Like Today? Travel to Cuba 2023
A bustling street in Havana, Cuba

Cuba is one of the most distinct and interesting places we have ever traveled to. But it’s changing quickly.

Before we visited in late 2022, we found it difficult to find current information on Cuba before we arrived. The flow of information lags here and the social and economic situation is developing rapidly. In fact, the information in this article could be antiquated by the time you visit (or even tomorrow).

Cuba is facing a deepening economic crisis. The reversal of the Cuban thaw by the Trump Administration, the global pandemic, and most recently inflation, driven by war and global oil shortages, have had devastating effects on a country with a long history of struggle.

As tourism slowly returns to the island, many locals are excited about the prospect of rebuilding, but many others don’t see it happening, or at least not soon enough. More than 180,000 Cubans have fled in the last year in the nation’s largest-ever exodus.

Food shortages and skyrocketing inflation have created an increasingly unstable situation for locals, who for the most part survive on tiny wages as state employees.

As a tourist, it’s difficult to get an idea of how grim things here have become but you can catch a glimpse.

The lines for food trucks, the crumbling ruins of great colonial cities, and the desperation of many of the people, all reveal the stark truth that the Pearl of the Antilles is in dire need.

Despite worsening economic woes, the Cuban people remain proud and industrious, and they know the value of their rich culture and beautiful country. Their ability to showcase the fruits of their homeland is renowned and they know it.

And the richness of Cuba is still there. The colorful but dark history. The loud and rhythmic culture. The centuries-old bars. The beautiful beaches and lush countryside. The rolling hills of fertile farmland and its harvest, hand-rolled cigars, local rum with freshly squeezed sugar cane juice, and lime. The bustling streets of old Havana. The classic cars, all in various shades of pastel. These scenes are iconic and they are still plentiful.

But travelers wishing to uncover Cuba’s treasures should be prepared to deal with the obscure and shifting bureaucracy of the government, runaway inflation, and crumbling infrastructure. Those that wish to take on the challenge will be rewarded with an experience unlike any other.

Still game? Read on to find out more about traveling to Cuba in 2023 in our in-depth guide.

Can I Travel to Cuba in 2023? What to Know About Cuba travel restrictions

Yes, Cuba is open for travel. Travel is possible for many nationalities including citizens of the US. Cuban COVID travel restrictions were lifted in November 2021.

For many, Cuba is a mystery. The country is shrouded by internal and external restrictions and murky history. Cuba is connected to words like missile crisis, embargo, and repressive. The uncertainty of exactly what Cuba is today and whether travel is even permitted is enough to turn some people off from travel here completely. For others, it adds to the mystery and the allure.

In reality, travel to Cuba is possible and quite straightforward. Tourism is an important industry for Cuba and the country is welcoming and safe for visitors. In fact, getting to and from Cuba may just be the easiest part of the journey.

Cuba Travel Requirements in 2023

A handful of countries are eligible for visa-free travel to Cuba and do not require a visa or travel card. Most foreigners, however, will need a travel visa or a Cuba Tourist Travel Card. Citizens of countries eligible to receive a Cuba Tourist Travel Card can organize these online in advance or in some cases at the airport with the airline you are traveling with. The remaining countries not eligible for visa-free travel or a travel card will need to organize a travel visa through their nearest Cuban embassy. Find more information on requirements for different countries here.

In addition to any required entry documents, visitors also require a health declaration form, health insurance, and details on where they will be staying during their stay in Cuba.

Is it Possible to Travel to Cuba as a US Citizen in 2023?

Can you travel to Cuba from the US in 2023? Yes! It is possible to travel to Cuba as a US citizen.

The Cuban government permits Americans to enter Cuba, however, the US government prohibits American citizens from traveling to Cuba for tourism alone.

However, it is easy to get an exemption from this restriction. There are twelve approved reasons that the US will grant American citizens a general license to travel to Cuba. The reasons include a list of specific and official reasons including state business, journalism, family, and religious reasons.

For Americans wanting to experience Cuba without a specific reason, the category of Supporting the Cuban People is available to anyone who wants to travel to Cuba and is prepared to dedicate some of that time interacting with the Cuban people.

To qualify for this category, you need to spend six hours per day supporting the Cuban people. The definition of this support is pretty broad and includes interacting with accommodation hosts, dining in local restaurants, taking tours, and participating in activities run by local people. For us, we found this extra motivation to spend more time interacting pushed us to have a more engaged trip than we might otherwise have experienced.

In addition to fulfilling the requirements of an authorized travel category, US citizens are prohibited from engaging with any state-owned businesses (including state-run hotels, restaurants, and bars.) As part of the travel requirement, Americans must keep records and receipts of their travel activities for five years after their trip.

For more information on legally traveling to Cuba in 2023 as an American check out this detailed blog post from Home to Havana.

What’s the Deal with Money in Cuba Today?

One of the most difficult things to understand before we arrived in Cuba was exactly how money works in Cuba.

Monetary policy seems to change faster than locals can keep up, let alone tourists. While this information was true at the end of 2022, it could very well be out of date soon.

The former dual currency system has been swept away. A new digital currency called the MLC has been introduced. Meanwhile, Cuba’s cash currency, the Cuban Peso, is ‘officially’ stable at an exchange rate of $1 USD to 24 Cuban pesos. Yet as of August 2022, Cuban government banks are buying foreign currency at a rate of 120 Cuban Pesos for $1 USD. On the street, it’s a different rate again fluctuating between 140 to 180 Cuban pesos for $1. However, inflation is happening quicker than people can react and this rate changes daily. Confused yet?

- Official Exchange Rate
- Cuban Bank Rate
- Black Market Rate

Right now cash is king. Cuban currency is a closed currency so you can’t get it outside of the country. Within the country, you can exchange money (USD and Euro are best).

You have two options for exchanging money, at the bank and on the black market.

You can exchange cash at a Cadeca or withdraw money from a bank ATM. However you will get a rate of 120 pesos for every dollar, around two-thirds the value of a dollar on the street, AND you will be charged a fee of 8% if you are trying to exchange USD.

On the black market, you should be able to negotiate to just under the official street rate, which at the time of writing was hovering around 180 Cuban pesos per $1 USD. We were quoted between $140 and $165 Cuban pesos per $1 USD.

Within the country, Cuban pesos are accepted everywhere but foreign currency, primarily Euro or USD is also generally accepted and often preferred. However, if you pay in foreign currency you will be subject to the exchange rate set by the business which can sometimes be less than attractive.

Wait what about MLC? MLC is Cuba’s official digital currency. It has a value of 1 MLC = 1 USD. It is used by MLC tiendas, state-owned stores that sell goods outside the state rationing scheme. Goods advertised in MLC prices can be purchased using a credit or debit card as long as that card is not from a US bank (US banks are not allowed to conduct business in Cuba). It is also possible to purchase a prepaid MLC card within Cuba using foreign currency at the airport or CADECA. Most things that can be purchased from the MLC tiendas can also be found in local tiendas and purchased using local pesos or foreign currency. We did not use MLC during our trip.

So… What Should You Do About Cash in Cuba Today?

Take Euros or USD, more than you think you need for your trip. Exchange it on the black market when you arrive but preferably not on the street as this can be dangerous and you could be scammed. Try to contact a trustworthy local (this could be someone from an Airbnb or a tour you have booked with good online reviews). Ask them if they can help you exchange money. They will likely exchange your money themselves or put you in touch with someone who can. Try to organize a couple of options for exchanging money before you arrive.

Once you arrive, try to get a feel for the local currency price of USD or Euro. If someone asks you on the street if you would like to exchange cash (‘chan’ja’mony?’) ask them what their best rate is (don’t swap any money yet just get a feel for the going rates, the first few offers may be low balls!). Once you get a feel for the current exchange rate on the street you will be in a good position to make a deal.

Don’t change all your money at once. As mentioned above the Cuban peso is a closed currency and you will sell it at a loss f you need to get rid of it at the end of your trip. We recommend initially changing half the money you have budgeted to spend so you can get a feel for exchange rates and prices and see how accurate your estimates were before changing out the remaining money. It’s better to end up with US dollars or Euros at the end of your trip rather than pesos as most places in Cuba will accept these currencies, but Cuban pesos are essentially worthless outside Cuba and even in the Havana airport.

Have a plan for carrying your money around. Changing money on the black market our facilitator brought a money counter and plastic shopping bags to carry out the ridiculous amount of bank notes we needed.

What’s the Weather Like in Cuba?

Tropical Cuba is known for its year-round beautiful warm weather climate. It is also known for its wild and destructive hurricanes, tropical storms, muggy days, and evening downpours.

A bus in Cuba driving along a palm tree lined street near the sea
Winter brings more stable weather with warm dry days

Cuba experiences two seasons, a hot, wet, muggy summer and a warm, dry winter. Temperatures range from really hot in the summer (average of 27) to very warm in the winter (average of 22).

The wet season runs from May until October. Within the wet season, it is generally recommended to travel to Cuba outside of the hurricane season which runs from the beginning of June until the end of November. Storms are most likely in the months of August and September.

November to April is warm and dry. This is the busy high season and also the most expensive time to find accommodation, especially around the Christmas and New Years holidays.

What’s the Internet Like in Cuba Today?

This is one of the biggest changes in Cuba today.

We have been dreaming of a trip to Cuba for a very long time. When we first started researching traveling in Cuba the only access to the internet was via state-administered public wifi spots and internet cafes. However, since 2018 when Cubans began getting access to mobile internet, and 2019 when private wifi became legalized, things have changed rapidly.

Today 70% of the population accesses the internet, and access for tourists is much easier. Although things are improving, the internet in Cuba remains relatively expensive, slow, and unreliable.

Median mobile internet speeds are around 6 mbps download and 4 mbps upload with a latency of 123 ms.

Fix broadband internet speeds are even slower with a median download speed of less than 2 mbps, upload of less than 1 mbps, and similar latency.

Median internet speeds

(Source: Speedtest.net)

How to Access the Internet in Cuba in 2023

Many accommodations, especially mid-range and high-end accommodations in larger cities will offer free wifi. Some restaurants advertise free wifi but we found that it was only occasionally available. Internet was generally slow and frequently dropped out.

While mobile sim cards are technically not available to tourists, it is possible to rent a sim card from locals. We rented a mobile sim with 8 GB of data from our Airbnb hosts in Havana for $20 USD. We rented it for 10 days and took it around the island before returning it to them at the end of our trip. Internet speed was slow and reception was patchy but it gave us piece of mind to have access to the internet.

Can You Work Remotely in Cuba in 2023?

We had initially hoped we would be able to work remotely from Cuba. Firstly, so we could stay longer and travel slower. Secondly, we have long enjoyed the challenge of working from some of the more unique, remote, and challenging locations in the world. Unfortunately, after a lot of research, we realized that it wasn’t really going to be feasible and so we did what we rarely do and took dedicated time off from work to travel. Nevertheless, we planned to discover just what was the extent and limitations of the internet within Cuba.

So what did we discover? Can you in fact work remotely from within Cuba?

Not easily. As we thought, being a ‘digital nomad’ in Cuba is an uphill battle, and we say that having worked in numerous developing countries and internet blackspots since 2018.

Although access to the internet in Cuba is better today than in the recent past, it is still slow, unreliable, and expensive. Even if you require moderate bandwidth for video conferencing, working in Cuba will prove difficult without large amounts of money to throw at the problem. For people that require large bandwidths, working is likely impossible. For people who can conduct their business just with email and the occasional phone call, working remotely from Cuba may be possible in 2023.

What are the People Like in Cuba Today?

A line for state-issued rations grows in downtown Havana

The people in Cuba are many things, proud, loud, friendly, desperate, charming, wary, resourceful, and engaging. But above all, they are kind and genuinely interested in connecting with visitors and sharing the land and the culture of which they are so proud.

We met all sorts in Cuba and had very few negative experiences. Coming to Cuba we were wary of scammers, hustlers, and petty criminals that sometimes target travelers in some touristic developing countries. We were happily relieved that most of the Cuban people who approached us did so respectfully, in a friendly way, and were not pushy or underhanded. We also found locals to be warm and open, and interested in sharing information about their lives and their country.

Of course, there is no denying that to many locals, tourists walking around hotspots like Havana, might as well have a dollar sign over their heads. As a visitor expect to be waived into restaurants, chatted up by hawkers, and spruiked by taxi drivers. But, if you are polite and firm most people are friendly and kind.

What’s Life Like for the Cuban People in 2023?

As a tourist, it’s hard to get a true sense of the level of poverty and desperation in Cuba today. However, in the midst of runaway inflation, food shortages, and mass exodus, it’s clear that things are not going well.

A local showed us her Libreta de Abastecimiento or supplies booklet, a document issued to every citizen to record her monthly rations, paid for out of her wages but subsidized by the state.

Meager amounts of rice, beans, sugar, and other basics are scarcely enough to get through the month when the supplies are even available. Sanitary products should be issued every three months, but they haven’t been seen for more than a year. People make do our guide explained. It’s clear the Cuban people have no choice but to be inventive. A place where everything is difficult to come by and nothing is straightforward has created some of the most resourceful people on the planet.

Another man we met in Viñales told us about his friends and family that had fled to Guatemala, planning to head to Mexico and ultimately to the US. He had been saving desperately to leave himself. But ultimately it had proved too difficult and too expensive. He didn’t see how he could possibly get himself, his wife, and his young daughter safely to the US. He said every time he bumps into old friends in the small town there is a sense of surprise that they are still there.

Another peak into the state of poverty in Cuba is the living conditions of many Cubans in Havana. On our first day in Cuba, our cab driver warned us not to walk under the crumbling stone buildings in old Havana, as they regularly collapse. Walking around the streets you can peer into many of the buildings through the holes in the walls. Inside people live in buildings that would be condemned in many places. In some cases without plumbing or electricity, sometimes even without functioning roofs.

In many areas in Cuba, the power grid is not sufficient to service the whole city, so scheduled blackouts spread the load. City blocks switch on and off like Christmas lights every few hours.

Life for the Cuban people is tough in 2023.

is it safe to travel to Cuba in 2023?

Cuba is generally a safe country to travel to and the greatest risks are petty crime, scams, and food poisoning. Violent crime is generally rare. There are some dangers specific to Cuba that travelers should be aware of. Trade embargos mean that medication is difficult if not impossible to find. Poor infrastructure can create safety hazards and delay medical response. The water in Cuba is generally unsafe to drink. Motor vehicle accidents can also present a safety risk.

Here are some tips to help you stay safe from petty crime and other dangers.

  • Don’t exchange money on the street. This could open you up to a scam or even theft.
  • Don’t walk around late at night, especially intoxicated or alone.
  • Don’t drink the water in Cuba. Don’t drink anything with ice in it without confirming the ice is treated water.
  • Don’t drive at night. Poor road conditions, animals, and questionable driving by the locals are a recipe for disaster on Cuba’s roads after dark.
  • Confirm taxi fares prior to beginning a trip, take the correct change, and be polite but firm with drivers.

How to Get Around Cuba in 2023

A taxi bike in Cienfuegos Cuba
Getting into Cuba is one thing, getting around Cuba is another…

Cuba doesn’t have a public transport system available to foreigners.

In general, there are four main ways to travel between cities in Cuba. Domestic flights, private taxis, collective or shared taxis, and self-driving in a rented car.

In our opinion, catching a private taxi is the best way to travel long distances.

Domestic Flights in Cuba 2023

Domestic flights are unreliable, uncomfortable, and can feel a bit dangerous in older planes (although the reality is that air travel is safer than traveling by car). The distances between towns and cities in Cuba are usually short and considering the time and effort it takes to get a flight, often, driving makes more sense. If you need to travel longer distances within Cuba and are short on time, a domestic flight might make more sense.

Private Taxis in Cuba 2023

Private taxis are relatively expensive and will cost somewhere around $25 per hour of travel. The upside to taxis is that they can be a lot less stressful than self-driving. Taxis can vary wildly in age and state of repair, so it can be worth keeping your eye out for a more modern vehicle and striking a deal with the driver.

Renting a Car in Cuba in 2023

Renting a car in Cuba costs around $50 – $150 USD per day and depending on how far and how quickly you plan to travel will often cost a similar amount to taking private taxis.

The upside to renting a car is freedom. You can drive where you want and when you want. The downside is that driving in Cuba can be quite challenging. The roads are usually in poor condition and the way the locals drive is often questionable. Furthermore, if you get into an accident the outcome could be serious if you have to deal with local authorities or are injured and need to be treated in a Cuban hospital.

Collectivos in Cuba in 2023

Collectivos or shared taxis often run between major tourist towns and cities. You purchase a seat in a car or minivan and the cost might be around $5 USD per hour of travel. If you are on a tight budget this is the best way to move between cities and regions within Cuba. The downside of collectivos is that your trip will be longer and potentially much more uncomfortable, depending on how full the collectivo is.

Traveling Short Distances in Cuba 2023

Traveling short distances within a city or region you can usually take a taxi, a moto-taxi, a horse and buggy, or even rent a moped or small motorbike.

Where to Stay in Cuba in 2023

A photo of classic cars in front of the Hotel Inglaterra Havana. Where to stay in Cuba 2023? We recommend staying in a casa particulare.
There are hotels in Cuba, but the best place to stay is in a Casa Particulare

Cuba is known for its Casa Particulares. Essentially a Casa Particular is a bed and breakfast or a private residence with approval from the state to rent out rooms. Casa Particulares are economical, comfortable, and the best way to get a genuine Cuban experience with real Cuban people.

Of course, Casa Particulares can range in price, comfort, and level of interaction with your host. In 2023, the best way to find the perfect Casa Particular for your needs is to look on Airbnb.

If you are traveling as a US citizen, staying in a Casa Particular will also satisfy your requirement not to do business with any state-owned businesses as most hotels are state-run. Interacting with the host of a Casa Particular will also contribute to hours spent interacting with the Cuban public if you are that requires you to do so.

Final Thoughts on Traveling to Cuba in 2023

Despite the challenges the people here face, iconic Cuba remains the beautiful colonial architecture, the classic cars, the ubiquitous palms, the free-flowing rum, and the indomitable spirit of the Cuban people.

For those travelers seeking a beautiful, challenging, unique, uplifting, and reflective experience, we can’t recommend enough traveling to Cuba today.

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Hopefully, you found the information you needed to travel to Cuba in 2023. If you have any questions or comments about traveling to Cuba now, please let us know in the comments below or send us an email at thevanabonds(a)thevanabondtales.com


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