10 Things You Should Know Before Traveling to Cuba

Image Source: Flickr user Bryan Ledgard

Since the United States began allowing more access to the somewhat surreptitious island nation so close to our borders, a growing fascination has surrounded the possibility of Cuban getaways for the average traveler. Bear in mind there are many factors to ponder before heading to the beautiful country. If you're contemplating a trip in the future (near or otherwise), here are 10 things to remember, as advised by Joe Diaz, cofounder of AFAR Media.

1. The people are mostly in favor of the lift.

"Generally, the Cuban people are excited about the lift on restrictions. Tourists have been visiting the country for years, but now there will be more of an influx for American travelers. This marks a great opportunity for locals and tourists alike to learn about new cultures and understand the world from another's perspective. It also has the opportunity of providing tremendous economic benefit to the people of Cuba."

2. There are still some restrictions in place.

"Although recent rule changes have made it much easier for Americans to legally visit Cuba, especially with the president's most recent trip to Havana, travel is still only permitted as long as it fits within 12 fairly broad, legally permissible purposes. However, a key update to the rule now permits individuals to embark upon personal trips self-determined to meet the criteria."

3. You should sharpen your Spanish-speaking skills.

"Cuba knows that tourism brings much-needed dollars to their country so tourists are a valuable 'commodity.' As with any place, familiarize yourself with the customs and traditions. Speaking Spanish goes a long way, so download Duolingo and brush up on your skills."

4. Bring lots of cash.

"The things that you're used to in other tourist destinations won't be there — WiFi, credit cards — so you have to bring a decent amount of cash with you."

5. Cuba is unlike any other place in the Caribbean.

"You're going to get a unique slice of the Caribbean you just won't get in any other place — the diversity, energy, innovation, warmth, music, the culture, the art — all of those things are extremely powerful, and you feel that right away when you get there."

6. There are a few things you should always carry on your person.

"Make sure to have plenty of cash and your ID at all times. As a visitor, you are required to show your passport to authorities if requested; however, it is unlikely. I never carry my passport with me but do have a photo of it on my phone. A camera is key, as the architecture and colors make for a photographer's paradise. Other than that, Cuba is a pretty warm climate, so make sure to dress accordingly."

7. Consider flying there from another country.

"All of the major domestic carriers have applied for licenses to fly to Cuba. I know a team from United has already been working with airport officials in Havana to prepare. So while the travel embargo is still technically in place, the real obstacle is the high airfares, which currently average around $700. The cheapest way to visit Cuba as a tourist is via a flight through a third country, i.e. Canada, Mexico, and Panama. Once the domestic carriers begin flying there, prices should drop with increased supply."

8. Be sure to visit Havana.

"Spend enough time in Havana. It's a city rich in history and culture. Other must-see spots are Pinar del Rio, the cigar-making region of Cuba, Cienfuegos, and Trinidad, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1988."

9. Stay smart.

"Cuba is incredibly safe, so I wouldn't say there are specific places to avoid. I think as long as you're smart and play by the rules and use your head, you're going to be in good shape, wherever you go. There are virtually no guns in Cuba — even the police officers have to check their weapons at the door when they leave to go home every night. Like any other highly trafficked area, you're going to get petty theft."

10. There's no shortage of things to do.

"There is so much to do and see in Cuba, which is why we've put together some of our top suggestions of what to see, eat, and do on AFAR.com. Check it out!"

Follow Joe's trip to Cuba and around the world on Instagram @joediazAFAR, as well as @AFARMedia for your daily travel inspiration.