Thinking of traveling to Cuba?

Then think of crystal blue waters of the Caribbean lapping at pristine shores.

Think of the beat of salsa music and cigar smoke drifting in the air. Think of friendly locals with ready smiles and beautiful baroque architecture lining narrow streets.

Traveling to Cub? Here are 10 things you need to know!

Cuba has the romance Paris would kill for.

But things are changing fast for this politically isolated fledgling tourist spot. Perhaps too fast.

So what effects have these changes made to the country? Is it safe to go to Cuba? And is it still worth visiting Cuba?

We asked Cuba travel tips expert, and founder and owner of the Cuba tours company Cuban Adventures, John Ahrens about what it’s like to visit Cuba now.

A Brief History of US Tourism in Cuba

Cuba has seen an enormous amount of change happen over the past few years. And considering prior to 2014, Cuba had been forced into a time warp since the 1950s, these changes will have been momentous.

In 2014, President Obama – the first US president to visit Havana since Coolidge in 1928 – loosened restrictions on traveling to Cuba and trade between America and Cuba.

Obama didn’t remove the embargo completely, but the changes he made had an instant impact on Cuba and the travel community at large.

Talk of mass tourism, chain restaurants, globalization and the spoiling of the Cuban culture have created a lot of uncertainty for those that want to visit Cuba.

And concerns over President Trump’s movements to reverse travel restrictions – not to mention Hurricane Irma’s devastating run – have also dampened people’s urge to go there.


Typical building in Cuba

1. What Can American Travelers Do?

Prior to 2014, it was very unusual to find any visitors from the USA in Cuba. Restrictions on US citizens traveling to Cuba meant that Americans had to be part of educational tours and there were no commercial direct flights to Cuba from USA.

John says:

The Obama changes in 2014 made it legal for Americans to travel to Cuba without having to go on an escorted group tour. This led to a surge in American visitors.

By presidential decree, Obama did as much as he could to let Americans take trips to Cuba, and for the 2 countries to trade and coordinate, though he was not able to end the trade embargo itself, which is written into the Constitution.

2. How Many Tourists are Visiting Cuba Now?

Common street scene in Cuba

Over 4 million people visited Cuba in 2016.

Obama’s changes to travel restrictions mean that US citizens being allowed to come into Cuba easier and because of this, travelers from other countries have seen Cuba as a viable travel destination too.

John says:

The effect of this was a large increase in tourist numbers in 2016. The figures I’ve seen mentioned are an increase between 25% to 30%, which was on top of a similar increase in 2015.

This may not sound like a lot but, during peak holiday periods, Cuban infrastructure couldn’t keep up. There were not enough beds for all the visitors.

3. Is There Enough Accommodation in Cuba?

10 things to know about traveling to Cuba

Unless you know what you’re doing, finding accommodation in Cuba independently can be quite tricky and even more so now with so many people visiting.

John says:

Independent tourists were forced to sleep in the public squares of popular towns such as Trinidad and Vinales, and Cubans, ever the improvisors, were renting out the back seats of their parked vintage Chevys for $10 a night.

4. What New Accommodation Options Are There For Tourists?

Hotels in Cuba had a reputation for often being expensive and poorly maintained.

However, locals are allowed by government licence to house visitors in their homes called casa which is a wonderful way to see the real Cuba.

John says:

Many more families have built an extra room in their home and licensed their house as a guesthouse for tourists to stay in.

In some popular Cuba destinations such as Vinales, where the original town is quite small in size, nearly every house is a licensed guesthouse for tourists.

In the centre of Vinales, it’s actually hard to find a house these days that is not a guesthouse.

Many guesthouses that already existed have added extra rooms. Some guesthouses now have up to 12 rooms for tourists (much like a mini hotel), which is something that was hard to imagine just a few years ago.

The Cuban government has built more hotels and given out contracts to large foreign hotel groups to build and manage new hotels, such as the impressive Manzana Kempinski on Havana Central Square.

5. Is Now the Last Chance to See the ‘REAL’ Cuba…?

Common food scene you'll see when traveling to Cuba

The rise in numbers traveling to Cuba aren’t all from America – but this could have a contributing factor in why all the world wants to see Cuba now.

John says:

Visitors from other countries increased as well. The motive for them being able to see Cuba before laws further relax meaning even more Americans would flood the island, changing it forever.

Read More – 4 Places to Visit in Cuba (and one to avoid)

6. What Should You Say at US customs?

One of the biggest concerns about how to travel to Cuba from USA is getting back into the States after a trip to Cuba. Leaving America isn’t a problem and providing you know what to say when you’re coming back in, you’ll be fine.

John says:

At Cuban Adventures, we get our US travelers to report their experience to us when returning to the US and passing through immigration. So far, none of them have reported having their paperwork checked.

The harshest interrogation was “what were you doing in Cuba”, and providing the answer “people-to-people tourism” was enough to get waved through.

One client reported to us that when she answered “people-to-people-educational”, the official replied with a very friendly “that`s the right answer”.

7. Can You Still Find ‘THE REAL CUBA’ if You Visit Now?

Common street scene you'll see when traveling to Cuba

These changes to travel into Cuba have had a positive effect not only on incoming tourism but also on the locals too. Private business ventures are popping up everywhere, especially in the most popular places to visit in Cuba.

John says:

What’s great about that is that these are all small-scale private businesses run by the local Cubans themselves, and owned by individuals and families.

So if you’re visiting Cuba now, with the exception of spending time at a beach resort, you are very much in contact with authentic Cuban culture and society for the entirety of your visit.

These freedoms and increased income opportunities mean that Cubans are also happier and more relaxed.

Is it safe to travel to Cuba? You can still see the odd hustler in the streets in Old Havana, but those sorts of encounters are now much less frequent.

8. What Are the Biggest Challenges for Visitors to Cuba?

Common street scene you will see when you visit Cuba

Make no mistake, Cuba is still a challenging place to explore.

Infrastructure is still poorly equipped to accommodate so many visitors and – in spite of it seeming like a developed country – there are still many parts to Cuban life that are stuck in the past.

John says:

Internet access is still difficult, however I would say the biggest challenge for travelers is getting access to their money.

You can’t pay for things with credit cards in Cuba. You have to pay in cash in Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC).

You can get CUC cash out of ATMs, however many foreign bank cards do not work in Cuba. Cards from American banks and banks that are owned by American banks (e.g. Citibank, Westpac, St George) do not work in Cuba either.

Other banks simply take the extra precaution of not having their cards work in Cuba even though they are not American banks.

However, this situation is better than it was before.

In 2015, Mastercard allowed its cards to work in Cuba, but some banks still block transactions from their clients trying to use Mastercards there.



“Oh my Gawd, what am I going to wear?”

You’ve heard the wail and I’m sure you’ve made it. The great dilemma of a woman’s life is how she is going to present herself to the public, especially what to wear on a cruise.

A cruise is the ultimate catwalk for cruise wear. You’ve got lounge chair wear, swimwear, cruise walking wear, dinner wear, workout wear, evening wear and on shore excursion wear!

Cruising is a fun time for fashion.

But, there’s no need to walk the plank with an overstuffed suitcase. My simple cruise packing checklist and handy packing tips for a cruise will help you!

Carnival Vista Ship in the Grand Caymans
Safe and sound in the Grand Caymans

There are many different types of cruises, but it’s easy to have just one cruise packing list to make your life simple.

We’ve done multiple cruises of varying lengths and my list of things to pack for a cruise has never changed – just the style of the clothes has.

I’ve used our recent 6 day Western Caribbean cruise as the example for this cruise packing checklist.

With the following six questions, you’ll rarely go wrong when planning your outfits and packing for a cruise.

They will help you adapt your packing and cruise outfits for any destination and length of cruise.

Grab a coffee and a pen and start planning your list for your cruise.

1. What will the weather be like?

The ultimate question when deciding what to wear on a cruise is what will the weather be like. Cruise wear is governed by what the sun, rain and wind are doing!

Of course, you don’t have a crystal ball, but the weather forecasts should help with your cruise planning.

Before our Carnival Vista Western Caribbean Cruise we had our eyes peeled to it thanks to the arrival of Hurricane Irma!


2. How long is the cruise?

No you know how many pairs of undies and change of clothes you need. Be sure to consider day wear (activities based) and evening attire (casual and more elegant evenings).

3. What type of cruise activities am I doing?

Good planning is essential for a happy cruise.

Research your cruise for the kind of activities they offer and what outfits you’ll need, not just for the boat but your on shore excursions.

It’s more than likely you’ll be spending most of your time in a swimsuit and flip flops, which is great news for your packing.

Our simple cruise packing checklist  (which you can download a free printable copy of below) will help you.

4. Who am I traveling with?

If you’re traveling as a couple you may choose to pack your sexy lingerie.

If you’re traveling with kids, the old granny ones will do, because you’re not going to have much time or space for romance.

If your’re single, you might pack more outfits for the nightclub to party with your friends.

5. What are my luggage limitations?

The luggage police are out to restrict our wardrobes. Plan carefully, you don’t want to get stuck with excess luggage fees getting to the cruise (if you fly).

Cruise luggage limits are typically 2 x 50 lbs (23kg), although they do recommend you bring only one suitcase. I also recommend that!

6. What’s my transportation to the cruise and back? (Bag drag)

If getting to the cruise departure port involves dragging your bag around, you may want to reconsider how much you pack.

If you are moving from your front door, to the car, to the cruise front door, you might feel okay with packing a little more as you won’t be lugging the luggage.

My packing list will work for any kind of cruise. It’s simplistic so you don’t over pack or over stress.

I’ve not listed quantities so you can use it for any length of cruise. I think you can easily determine how many dresses, shorts, undies and tops you need.

It all depends on the length of your cruise and your activities.

What to wear on a cruise
Lounging all day in swimwear is great

Okay, let’s dive into a little of the types of cruise clothing you’ll need.

Excursion outfits

What are you going to do when you are in port? This will determine what to wear.

For example, on our recent cruise, here were our three island destinations and what I wore.

  • Ochos Rios, Jamaica – we were zip lining and walking through the water up waterfalls. I wore my board shorts, costumes, and a simple tank top, my Keen shoes and my day pack.
  • Grand Cayman Island – we hired a car to cruise the island. I wore my swimsuits and a summer dress with my flip flops
  • Cozumel, Mexico – we had a lazy beach day swimming in the ocean. I wore my swimsuit, kaftan, beach dress and flip flops. Beach bag had cruise towels, reading book, journal and sunscreen.

If you are exploring the city, you might wear shorts and a tank top.

Whatever your activity, make sure you have comfortable walking shoes as the days can be long and the feet sore.

On board the ship

Your cruise wear will be multi-dimensional on board the cruise. You might put your workout gear on for early morning yoga, walks on the deck, boot camp or gym workouts.

Breakfast can be casual shorts/ skirts and tops. If you eat at the buffet, you can even walk in with your swimwear! Maybe put a kaftan over the top.

If you eat in the restaurant for breakfast or lunch then definitely wear an outfit. It can go over your swimsuit though. And make sure you wear shoes.

There are lots of activities you can do on board the ship like mini-golf, basketball, and high ropes course, which will see you more in your active gear.

Otherwise, you’ll be in your swimsuits in the water or by the pool deck. That’s when your hat, sunglasses and kaftans, and summer dresses come in handy!

It’s very laid back and casual.



New Zealand Bird Species

1: Kereru 

If you can hear heavy wingbeats overhead, it’ll be the kereru. NZ’s handsome native pigeon is widespread through the country and fond of powerlines and branches. 


 Sounding less like a bell and more like Adele, this enchanting songbird sounds big but is a small, green slip of a thing, fond of nectar and found on both islands. 


This little charmer will entrance you up close, but in truth it cares not a jot about you, merely the insects you displace. 

4:Grey Warbler/Riroriro

 NZ’s most widely distributed endemic bird species is also one of its smallest. Tending to hide in dense vegetation, the featherweight affirms its presence by warbling its jolly head off. 


Often mistaken by visitors to NZ as a kiwi, this large flightless bird has a keen nose for lunch crumbs and will often appear at well-frequented picnic spots. 


Often seen pecking about in paddocks or crossing the road in front of high- speed traffic. Territorial, highly social and easily recognised, it looks like a smooth blue chicken with a red forehead. 

7:Paradise Shelduck 

This colourful, conspicuous and honking waterfowl could be mistaken for a small goose as it hangs out in wild wetlands, river flats, sportsfields and other open grassed areas. 

8:Rifleman/Tititi Pounamu

 NZ’s smallest bird, this hyperactive forest-dweller produces a characteristic ‘wing-flicking’ while moving through the canopy and foraging up and down tree trunks. 


A national icon with an onomatopoeic name, at least for the male which cries ‘kiwi!’ The females make an ugly sound, a bit like someone with a sore throat. There are five different species. 

10: Robin 

Inhabiting forest and scrub, the distinct North Island and South Island robins stand leggy and erect, sing loud and long, and will often approach very close- ly. 


 Widespread inhabitants of forest and shrubland, the tomtit is often reclusive and hard to see, but occasionally moves in for a closer look. 


Resident only in the South Island, this is the world’s only true alpine parrot. Kea appear innately curious, but this is simply a pretence to peck destructively at your possessions. 


 The NZ falcon is a magpie-sized bird of prey found in both forest and open habitats such as tussocklands and roughly grazed hill country.