The Republic of Cuba is a beautiful archipelago in the Caribbean about 90 miles from the Florida coast. The landscape is generally flat and divided into two mountain ranges, the Sierra del Rosario in the east and the Sierra de los Organos in the west. The climate in Cuba is tropical with the rainy season typically lasting from April to November and the dry season typically lasting from November to April. During the rainy season the temperature rarely exceeds 93 degrees Fahrenheit, however, the humidity can make the weather hot and sultry.
Cubans are very warm and welcoming people and come from a multi-ethnic background. The multi-ethnic composition of the Cuban people was a result of the Taino (native Indians) who were the original inhabitants of the island when Christopher Columbus arrived in 1492. The Spanish invaded Cuba, which led to a small pox epidemic that killed approximately 90% of the Tainos. In the late 1700s the Spanish captured and enslaved an estimated 800,000 West Africans to work the sugar cane and coffee plantations. Throughout time the people on the island procreated and produced what you see today a variety of Cubans spanning from very European to very African features.
The Cuban people are proud of their heritage with roots from the Motherland, Europe, and their native land. These things are ingrained in the music, dance, food, and religious beliefs. Cuban music is heavily influenced by its African roots with rhumba, jazz, salsa, soukous, timba, and son. Cuban food is influenced by Africa with foods such as Malanga, plantain, quimbombo, and Guinea chicken. Some native West African foods you will recognize like fufu, funche, tostones, etc. Most Spanish colonies have a high majority of their inhabitants practicing Catholicism, however, it is estimated 80% of Cubans practice some form of Santeria. Santeria combines the influences of West Africa’s Yoruba spirituality and elements of Catholicism.
While many US citizens believe the current administration blocked access to the island nation, US Americans still have 11 legal authorized categories to travel to Cuba:
- Family visits
- Official business of the US government
- Professional research and professional meetings
- Religious activities
- Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions
- Support for the Cuban people
- Humanitarian efforts
- Activities of private foundations, research, or educational institutions
- Exportation, importation or informational materials
- Certain export transactions
How to travel with your US passport:
- Declare a valid travel category before departure
- Get a tourist card (United provides at the gate 1 hour before departure for sale $75 per person)
- Get valid health insurance (United provides as part of ticket cost, check with the airline. US insurance is not accepted)
- Prepare an itinerary
- Don’t spend money anywhere on the restricted list (check with the state department)
- Keep your receipts and records for 5 years
Things you need to know before you go:
- Cuba has two currencies the CUP (Cuban Peso Nacional) and CUC (Cuban Convertible Peso). The CUP is used only for locals and has a conversion rate of 25 CUP to 1 USD and the CUC is used primarily by tourists and has a conversion rate of 1 CUC to 1 USD minus a 10% tax. If you want avoid the 10% tax bring Canadian or Mexican currency to convert.
- US credit cards and debit cards do not work in Cuba, so you need to plan your trip wisely.
- If you need financial help, Cuba does have Western Union
- The US allows travel from its borders, such as Houston, Miami, etc.
- Internet is hardly ever free and often times may be unavailable, however, you may purchase an internet card ($5 USD for 5 hours)
- Bring bug repellant (e.g. Lemon Oil of Eucalyptus works excellent and is natural) tropical destinations almost always have mosquitos.
- The US allows Americans to bring back as many as 100 cigars and the first liter of alcohol duty free as long as the value is under $800 for personal use.
Please enjoy Cuba, it’s a gem and share your experiences you’ve had on the island.
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