The American’s Guide to Visiting Havana: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

Americans can finally fly directly to Cuba again!

The Obama administration made it legal for Americans to visit Cuba for the first time in decades, and while subsequent regulations attempted to roll back some of those freedoms, as of 2024, there are still flights to Havana available from the U.S. on American, Delta, and United.

And even before Americans could fly directly to Cuba, they could always get to Cuba by flying to Mexico first. Flights from Mexico City to Havana are easy to book.

As U.S. residents begin visiting Havana again and planning their trips to Cuba, they naturally have a lot of questions about exchanging currency, finding lodging, arriving at the airport, getting around by bus and taxi, finding good food, locating airport shuttles and Ubers, and dealing with crime concerns.

Read on for the ultimate guide to visiting Havana as an American with answers to your frequently asked questions!

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Is Havana worth visiting?

Of course! There’s a lot of history here, and it’s fascinating to visit a place that feels like a time capsule, with all the old cars and the lack of modern corporations.

Cuba has no McDonald’s, no Walmart, no Starbucks. (Technically, there is one McDonald’s, but it’s on the American military base and not open to the public.)

Wifi exists, but access is limited. So spending time in Cuba really feels like going back to the ’50s or ’60s. And I mean that as a compliment.

Cuba is affordable, and the people are friendly for the most part. Adventurous travelers should consider a visit.

What’s the best time of year to visit Cuba?

Cuba has nice weather most of the year, but most people believe that the ideal season is between December and April.

There are never any guarantees when it comes to weather, of course. But during these months, the days are usually sunny, comfortable (around 80 F / 26 C), and rain is sparse.

when to visit beaches cuba
Experiencing the beaches is a perk of visiting Havana!

The rain starts arriving in May or June and can stay until September. Temperatures are hotter in these months, approaching 90 F (32 C), so expect some uncomfortable days.

On the plus side, there are fewer tourists so you may score better deals. But July and August are hurricane season, so that could always interrupt your plans.

Do American credit and debit cards work in Cuba?

Generally not. Cuba does have ATMs, and some European credit cards will work. But as of 2024, most American cards do not work in these machines, and few merchants will accept the cards.

Bring cash, more than you think you will need. You don’t want to run out of money before the end of your trip (and remember to save $20-25 for taxi fare for the return trip to the airport, or book a shuttle in advance.)

Is it safe to carry around hundreds of dollars of cash in Cuba? For the most part, yes it is. See this related post on crime, scams, and safety concerns in Cuba.

If you’re worried about carrying around too much cash, consider booking day trips from Havana and other organized group tours in advance. Read our guide to the best Havana tours.

Does Cuba still use a two-currency system?

For many years, Cuba used two currencies, one for locals and one for tourists. After a number of years of promises, they finally unified their two currencies.

Today, the CUP (Cuban peso) is the only legal tender accepted everywhere. Previously, the CUC (convertible peso) was the tourist currency, and was the currency that visitors were given at the airport currency exchange.

Locals tried to get their hands on CUC whenever possible because it was the more valuable currency. One CUC was the equivalent of one American dollar, while one CUP was the equivalent of about 4 American cents.

You may still be able to find CUC around if you want to take one home as a souvenir, but you’ll be spending CUP while in Cuba.

How can you tell the difference between CUP and CUC? The CUP bills all have faces on the front. Like this $3 bill with Che Guevara.

che guevara 3 dollar bill cuba CUP

The CUC bills all had monuments and buildings on the front, and they all said “pesos convertibles.” Here’s a glimpse at some CUC bills:


What is the money exchanging process like at the Havana airport?

After you arrive in Cuba, you’ll have to convert your money into Cuban CUP. There’s a money exchange just outside the main terminal.

Be prepared: You may have to wait in line a long time to get your turn. This will acclimate you to the slower pace of life in Cuba.

If you’re exchanging American dollars, you will be hit with a 10% penalty upfront, in addition to the exchange fee. That’s why many Americans bring Canadian dollars or Mexican pesos to Cuba. Those currencies are not subject to the 10% surcharge.

havana airport jose marti

I did not have time to switch my money to Canadian prior to arriving in Havana, and I paid for it big time. The $400 USD I brought turned into the equivalent of $338 after the penalty and exchange fees. That’s a huge loss. Learn from my mistake and bring Canadian dollars instead!

One other tip: Get as many small bills as possible. I was given large bills from the currency exchange, and it was a hassle trying to get change for these as the week went along.

Taxi drivers do not have any change (or at least that’s what they claim), so if you do not have small bills for the exact fare, you could be stuck paying $50 or $20 for a $4 taxi ride.

Do you need to pay a departure tax when leaving the Havana airport?

No. Jose Marti Airport no longer collects a departure tax when you leave the country. This cost has been folded into the cost of your ticket. So don’t worry about any surprise charges at the airport.

cuba airport departure tax exit fee

Is there Uber in Cuba?

Nope. There’s no Uber or Lyft in Cuba. That makes sense if you think about it, since wifi and cell service in Cuba are expensive.

There likely won’t be Uber in Cuba for a very long time, given the governmental red tape that would be required to set it up.

There used to be an Uber-like service called Bajanda, but that no longer appears to be in business, as the app hasn’t been updated since 2019.

Can you take a bus from the airport to central Havana?

Since there’s no Uber, the only way to get from the Havana airport to the city itself is by taking a taxi or shuttle. You’ll have to negotiate a price, but expect to pay around $20-25 USD for the ride.

I was informed by locals that there is one bus that goes from the city to the airport, but it is for local airport workers and it does not stop at the passenger terminal, as of this writing.

UPDATE: GetYourGuide and Viator used to sell airport transfers that you could pre-book, but those companies no longer do business in Cuba. There are some local companies offering airport shuttles, but I cannot vouch for those as I have not personally used them.

What is food like in Cuba, can you drink the water?

For the most part, the food in Cuba is nothing special. You will find cheap, not-so-great pizza and spaghetti on many restaurant menus.

You will also find the ham & cheese Cuban sandwich for which the country is known. Otherwise, expect a lot of chicken and rice. The food generally does not have many spices or seasonings.


Upscale cuisine is slowly spreading across the island, so you can find some fine dining with quality local ingredients if you seek it out.

As for the tap water, I was advised to stick to bottled water, which is reasonably easy to find. Spend your week drinking $2 fresh mojitos instead!

How can you find cheap lodging in Cuba?

Use the casa particular system. Individuals rent out private rooms in their houses as a way to make extra income. They are usually very nice rooms with air conditioning. It’s like Airbnb.

You can book these in advance, or you can just wander the streets looking for houses with this symbol on their door:


Knock on the door, ask if their room is available, and negotiate the price. We found rooms for $20-25 CUC per night for two people, though you can pay even less if you are willing to put in the effort.

Additionally, you can now book hotels and hostels in Cuba in advance, either through Airbnb or sites like

Do you need to speak Spanish in Cuba?

As with any country, you can probably get by without speaking the local language. However, knowing at least a basic amount of Spanish is a big help.

Do not expect taxi drivers, restaurants servers, and other folks you encounter to speak any English, because most will not.

The small amount of Spanish I know is invaluable in helping me converse with locals, negotiate with taxi drivers, and ask questions of merchants.

If you do not speak any Spanish, I recommend downloading Google Translate. This phone app does not require an internet connection. You can speak English into the phone and it will automatically translate it to Spanish on the screen.

Is there Internet access in Cuba and are any websites blocked?

Yes, Cuba has limited wifi. Major cities have one or more hotspots where you can sit around the building and access the wifi. You will have to pay $2-3 per hour of use.

etecsa cuba internet

Visitors might assume that Cuban government would block some websites, but during my few hours of internet access, I saw no evidence of this.

I was able to access American news sites like with no problem, and I could easily access dating apps like Tinder (I was curious) while visiting Havana.

It seemed like every local was accessing Facebook, so obviously there are not social media restrictions. For more info, see my post on Wifi and Internet access in Cuba.

Which Havana neighborhoods are worth checking out?

Old Havana (Habana Vieja) is definitely worth a visit. This is where you’ll see many of the oldest structures in the city, including attractions like the Museum of the Revolution.

Centro Habana is a residential area with narrow streets and very old apartment buildings. It’s a good to place a spend a couple days in a casa particular if you want to get a feel of real Cuban life.

Vedado is the modern neighborhood. Vedado is Havana’s version of a trendy area, with restaurants, nightclubs, and movie theaters on Avenido 23.

It’s also the best place to hang out on the Malecon to people watch. You should spend at least a day in this neighborhood if possible.

Visiting Havana? Check out the cool Vedado neighborhood.

What is the bus system like in Cuba?

You can travel from city to city using the Viazul buses. They are large, coach-like buses with comfortable seats and air conditioning, and prices are reasonable (about $12 from Havana to Vinales.) They can sell out so you may want to book in advance, though I managed to snag a last-minute seat.

There are local bus routes that travel around the city of Havana. These are unreliable and extremely crowded. You will likely see dozens of Cubans standing at bus stops around town waiting for buses that may or may not come.

Unless you’re extremely adventurous, there is no reason for you to use the local bus system. Stick to taxis, which are affordable enough.


How much do taxis in Havana cost?

The going rate is basically whatever you’re willing to pay. Haggling is expected, and you should always agree on a price before getting into a cab.

Some taxi drivers were asking as much as $10 for a ride across town, but I usually ended up paying $4-5 from Old Havana to Centro Havana and from Vedado to the bus station.

Now that Americans can legally visit Cuba and the masses have begun descending upon the island, I expect taxi prices to rise. Many visitors will be unable or unwilling to negotiate prices, and thus taxi drivers will start realizing they can charge more.

cuban taxi view
There’s no Uber in Cuba, so get used to taking taxis.

In addition to the tourist taxis, there are unmarked local taxis that charge much less. I’m not sure if these are legal.

They might just be local car owners trying to make a few bucks on the side. We used a couple of these, but only because our local host flagged them down for us.

Can you ride in a classic car in Havana?

Of course! Cuba is famous for its vintage cars. See my post about riding around Havana in a 1956 Chevy convertible for all the details regarding price, location, and the like. Anyone visiting Havana should consider doing a classic car tour!


You can also pre-book a Havana classic car ride if you like. You’ll pay a bit more, but you won’t have to haggle or hunt down a driver on the side of the road. Cost on that site is $60 for a two-hour ride.

What are the Cuban people like?

A question like this obviously requires some generalizing. For the most part, Cubans are friendly, and they are welcoming to Americans. The people I encountered were curious to talk to me about our respective countries, our cultures, and our politics.

I was told something which was accurate: “Cubans are friendly but they are always hustling to make a buck from tourists.” If a stranger approaches you on the street and starts a conversation, he will probably try to sell you something or offer his services as a tour guide.

Live bands perform in many restaurants and will try to sell you their CD or solicit a tip. Other people try to hustle by selling art or drawing sketches for tourists.

Average wages in Cuba are very low, so you can’t blame residents for doing what they can to get by. As long as you understand this reality, chances are you will enjoy interacting with the Cuban people and getting to know their country.

Do you have any other questions about visiting Havana?