Cuba has removed the requirement for PCR testing and quarantine on arrival. A great step for Cuba, as the mandatory hotel quarantine felt like a prison stay but with two major differences.
The food was worse than prison and unlike prison guards, the hotel staff would repeatedly shake you down for money.
Here’s my own experience of the Cuban hotel quarantine experience in Havana, and some points you should keep in mind if deciding to travel to Cuba while COVID is still around. Covid era travel to Cuba, is not for the faint of heart but it’s definitely worth the discomfort.
My own experience traveling to Cuba during COVID
Getting To Cuba | PCR Testing And Vaccination
You will likely need to be vaccinated and take a PCR test to be able to get to Cuba.
Cuba may have removed the requirement for vaccination and PCR testing on arrival. However, the airlines and international travel hubs likely have different rules. And Cuba does still require comprehensive travelers medical insurance to enter the country.
As Madrid is the largest travel hub that most visitors to Cuba will pass through, check out the rules for Madrid Airport before booking.
Arriving In Cuba | Tarjeta Del Turista
On arrival in Cuba you won’t be required to go into a 7-10 day hotel quarantine cycle. Cuba has abolished hotel quarantine.
It’s also likely you won’t be required to have a PCR test at the airport. Which is better than taking a plane load of people and squashing them all into a room 1/6 the size of the plane. Where they could all rub elbows in the name of COVID testing. Which was the process in 2021 and probably wasn’t as effective as social distancing.
Also, I use the term ‘likely’ in reference to PCR testing because COVID is the new global travel reality. And rules and regulations around the world, not just in Cuba, can change rapidly depending on how COVID is evolving.
If new strains pop up, vaccine efficacy suddenly changes or any one of a myriad of other COVID related events occur, so will your travel requirements change.
Have travel insurance that covers COVID related problems, plan the best you can and then, cross your fingers and hope COVID doesn’t mess up your trip to Cuba.
With all that said, you will still need to acquire a Cuban Tourist Visa, also called a Tourist Card, Tourist Boleto or Tajeta Del Turista. You can get these online from the website in this link. Or the website from the Cuban Embassy present in your country. Personally, I get my card from the airline on checkin.
Don’t fall into the trap of waiting to buy a tourist card on arrival. If the office is closed when you arrive you will be stuck at the airport. And you’ll quickly find the service level standards in Cuba are much different to other countries. If the cashier decided to take a 2hr break or play hooky the day your flight arrives, you’ll be screwed.
Buying My Tarjeta Del Turista In Germany
In my case, I asked a Cuban in Germany where I could get a Tourist Visa. And he provided me a contact at a local travel agency. That travel agent had literal boxes of blank visas and offered to sell me as many as I would like for Cuba. And any other countries in the region. All Cash. Ah, border security, taking a backseat to cash every time…
Arriving In Cuban Hotel Quarantine
Hotel quarantine in Cuba is now abolished. Yay for that. It was like being trapped in the 2.5 star equivalent of a prison. With all the ‘guards’ (i.e. hotel staff) constantly insisting it was a 5 star prison.
First rule of Cuba, nothing is ever as good as the rating it gives itself. 5 Star hotel in Cuba? It’ll be 2.5 stars or less by world standards.
The prison, I mean quarantine hotel, even had random body cavity searches where someone wearing a nurses outfit would suddenly appear without notice and stick a swab so far up your nose it’d tickle your brain.
In my case the hotel quarantine stay in a ‘5 star’ establishment meant being confined to my room, with majestic views of a nondescript building seen through barred windows.
And to add extra enjoyment the cell came with a soothing soundtrack to help quarantine weary travellers drift off to sleep. A soundtrack that sounded like an indy 500 event at all hours of the day and night.
In any prison it’s the meals and social interactions you look forward to. In Cuban quarantine the all inclusive food consisted of a randomly variable menu of stale bread, a lettuce leaf or some other green thing here or there and maybe some sort of meat product, when they could find (or maybe catch) something to cook. Well, at least I think it was meat.
But the food did come with your daily ration of 1 litre of potable water and a coffee. If you washed your coffee mug in the bathroom sink and left it outside your door for them to refill.
It was a fabulous stay where at the end of it they insisted I pay them via bank card in Euro, USD or Pounds as they don’t accept Cuban currency. Despite being a hotel in Cuba.
Unfortunately it was bad news for them as I’m Australian. My cards don’t work in Cuba and so as I explained to my former captors on liberation day, they had a choice of CUP, CUP or CUP. In cash.
Masks | Wearing Masks In Cuba
Mask mandates are still in force in Cuba. As they probably should be in most parts of the world. I mean, I personally don’t mind the mask mandates. I look better with a mask and as I’ve been told many times, I have a face for radio (or blogging).
You will need to wear a mask in all indoor common areas and on public transport. It’s probably worth taking a decent 3 layer cloth mask as the paper masks wear out quickly. And the paper masks are uncomfortable in humid zones where you really will want to be able to wash the mask out daily to get rid of the sweat it generates.
Exiting Cuba | PCR Tests For Airlines And Travel Hubs
Once again, you will probably need to get a PCR test to board your flight and to transit through major international hubs like Madrid.
You should check with your airline and keep on top of any changes to travel restrictions while you are in Cuba. As the rules can change often. If you do need a PCR for the airline or transit hub you will need to be able to show a negative result. That is dated no more than 72hrs.
There are a few places to get the tests in Havana and all major tourist areas throughout the country. In Havana the main location was the Hospital Clinico Quirurgico Camilo Cienfuegos in Vedado.
This wonderful 2.7 star establishment in Cuba comes with unorganized lines that will stretch out the back door, across 2 streets and around the nearby park. Also remember the first rule of Cuba is halve the star count to get a feel for what it’d be in any other country.
In my experience a guy with a converted hotdog cart in Germany can take a thousand PCR tests in a day. But this ‘hospital’ will be hard pressed to complete 20. And when you get to the front of the line after a day of queuing, be sure to have the correct payment method that isn’t stated on their website (or anywhere) ahead of time.
If you happen to be from a country, whose bank cards won’t function in Cuba because of US sanctions, you will need to either get a prepaid ATM card from CADECA, or take a friend with a functional bank card. Cuban hospitals only take cards for PCR tests. With electronic transactions conducted in Euro.
Conclusion | Should I Travel To Cuba?
You absolutely should travel to Cuba at some point in your life. Cuba is gorgeous. Whether you travel now, while COVID is still a pain in every travellers proverbial backside depends on the level of adversity you feel comfortable overcoming.
It likely won’t be easy to get to Cuba, or at least as easy as it once was. But it will be rewarding. The Cuban government for its part seems to have seriously listened to travellers and has taken common sense steps to make it easier in 2022 than it was in 2021 to travel to Cuba.
The Cuban government have scrapped hotel quarantine and PCR testing on arrival now that they’re smashing out vaccines. And they’ve introduced the prepaid CADECA card that you can use to overcome payment hurdles in places that only accept cards. Better still they are opening more PCR testing locations for travellers and locating them in major hotels which (likely) will decrease lines.
On the other side of the equation there are a lot less tourists. But the same number of scams and scammers in Cuba. So expect to be approached quite a lot while walking around Cuba in the era of COVID travel.
All in, Cuba is definitely a travel destination you should visit. Because, well, just look at those views in the picture below! I took them during my 3 month stay on the Island during COVID. And check out this other article, of free things to do in Havana Cuba, so you know what to see in Cuba.
Where Can I Get More Information About Cuba?
I’ve made my Complete Guide To Traveling Cuba available on this website. And I recommend you read it, before traveling to Cuba. It will help you navigate Cuba and Cuban society.
My Complete Guide To Cuba will save you a lot of time and a significant amount of money on your trip to Cuba. Cuba is not the sort of destination in which you can just arrive unprepared.
Read the most Complete Guide To Traveling Cuba here.