Getting to Cuba

Air


The frequency of scheduled and charter flights depends on the season, with twice-weekly flights in the winter being reduced to once a week in the summer. Some of the longer haul flights, such as from Buenos Aires, are cut from once a week in winter to once a month in summer. Most international flights come in to Havana, but the international airports of Varadero, Holguín (for Guardalavaca beaches), Santiago de Cuba, Ciego de Avila, Cayo Coco, Cayo Largo, Santa Clara (for Cayo Santa María), Las Tunas, Manzanillo and Camagüey (for Santa Lucía beaches) also receive flights.


Buying a ticket

A
specialist travel agency
, such as
Journey Latin America
will be able to get you better deals than anything you can find on the internet. The state airline,
Cubana de Aviación
, flies to Europe, Canada, Central and South America and to many islands in the Caribbean. It is cheaper than competitors on the same routes but the service is worse, seats are cramped, and some travel agents do not recommend it. Charter flights with accommodation packages can be good deals even if you ditch the hotel and tour Cuba independently. Early booking is essential as agents need at least 14 days' notice to get confirmations from Havana.
High seasons
cover the Easter period, the July to August European summer and the last three weeks of December. Prices quoted below include all taxes except for Cuban departure tax, CUC$25.


Airport information

Cuba has several airports classified as international, but only Havana is of any size. Havana now has three terminals, the third and newest one being for international flights, with
exchange facilities
open during normal banking hours, snack bars, shops, car rental and a 24-hour tourist information bureau (
Infotur
, limited information). The airport is safe at night, which is when the European flights come in, and taxi services are efficient.


Immigration
can be very slow with long queues. Coming into one of the other airports is a more relaxed and speedy affair with less traffic.

There are a couple of
casas particulares
in the Altahabana district, Boyeros, quite close to Havana airport.

The seating everywhere at Havana airport is uncomfortable. The
restaurant
upstairs, before you go through passport control, is OK for sandwiches or full meals, welcome after a long check-in and this will be your last chance to hear a live Cuban band while eating. The food on offer in the departure lounge is awful, with a choice between a microwaved hot dog or a soggy pizza. As most European flights leave late at night this can be a problem if you have a long wait for a (delayed)
Air France
or
Iberia
flight, but you can savour your last
mojito
in this vast, uncomfortable shed. At least the toilets are free and there is unlimited toilet paper. The selection of shops is limited but there is lots of rum, coffee, biscuits, a few books, postcards and magazines on sale. The selection of cigars is poor; if you know which brand you particularly want, get it in a specialist shop before you get to the airport. Rum costs much the same as elsewhere. The
Cubita
coffee, on the other hand, is marginally cheaper than in town.


Sea

Ports of entry

Before arriving in
Cuban territorial waters
(12 nautical miles from the island's platform), you should communicate with port authorities on channel HF (SSB) 2760 or VHF 68 and 16 (National Coastal Network) and 2790 or VHF 19A (Tourist Network). There are lots of rules and regulations and you
must expect paperwork to take hours while the many bureaucrats board your boat and check you out. Not many 'yachties' visit the island because of the political difficulties between Cuba and the USA. The US administration forbids any vessel, such as a cruise ship, cargo ship or humble yacht from calling at a US port if it has stopped in Cuba. This effectively prohibits anyone sailing from the US eastern seaboard calling in at a Cuban port on their way south through the Caribbean islands, or vice versa. However, it does not seem to prevent regattas being held between Florida and Cuban marinas. It is better to rent a bareboat or crewed yacht from a Cuban marina and sail around the island, rather than include it in a Caribbean itinerary. From Cienfuegos marina you can sail west to the Archipiélago de los Canarreos, visiting Cayo Largo, Isla de la Juventud and the many cays in between, or east to the Jardines de la Reina, stopping at Trinidad (Ancón) and the many cays south of Júcaro. It would be worthwhile to invest in
The Cruising Guide to Cuba
, by Simon Charles (Cruising Guide Publications, 2nd edition 1997) before embarking.

Havana, Cienfuegos and Santiago receive
tourist cruise
vessels. There are now some 20 marinas and nautical centres all around the island and the only prohibited area is the Bay of Pigs. The largest marina is the Hemingway in Havana, but there are three in Varadero and others in Cienfuegos, Cayo Largo, Santiago and several along the north coast.
This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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