Cuba Shore Excursions: What You Need to Know

Cuba Shore Excursions: What You Need to Know

ViaHero · Updated June 5, 2019

Even though American cruise ships can't go to Cuba anymore, there are still tons of small excursions that you can take when you travel to Cuba. And yes—Americans can travel to Cuba legally. They just can't take a cruise there anymore. For more info, check out this policy update or connect with a Cuban travel planner for help planning your legal trip.

Want to explore Cuba differently? Have a local plan your trip.

If I can't cruise to Cuba, how can I travel there independently?

So you’ve decided to travel to Cuba. That’s awesome! We’re thrilled you’ve booked a trip to one of our favorite destinations. Sadly, cruises to Cuba were banned by President Trump, effective June 5, 2019. Luckily, you can still see Cuba if you travel under one of the US government's 11 categories of authorized travel.

These categories reflect the activities travelers will do while in Cuba. There used to be a 12th category, called "People to People", but it was eliminated along with the cruises.

And while you can't travel for pure tourism (there's no category for that), you can travel under categories that will allow you to have an incredible trip, like the Support for the Cuban People category

Tourist Cards and Cuba Excursions

Trying to figure out how to travel to Cuba can be confusing. And after the June 5th restrictions, it's even more difficult. Here's the scoop.

Regardless of how you arrive in Cuba or how long you stay, if you are visiting Cuba from the US then all you need is:

That’s it. No fine print, no hidden agendas. Just two simple things.

Cruises and boats on a Cuba shore excursions

Only one of these things is a piece of paper that you need to have—the Cuban Tourist Card. Once you have the tourist card (sometimes called a Cuban visa), you may enter Cuba and travel independently, doing as you please.

Most airlines offer Tourist Cards at the airport. But you may also purchase one online, in advance of your trip, with companies like Cuba Visa Services if you want to save yourself the hassle. 

The travel category is even easier to manage than the tourist card. It’s just a self-declared reason for your visit. You don’t need to fill out any paperwork, just choose the category that best suits your trip. There are eleven approved reasons for travel, but most independent travelers qualify under the Support for the Cuban People travel category. Activities like exploring museums, taking walking tours guided by locals, shopping at independent markets, and chatting with locals you meet all count as Support for the Cuban People.

That means that you can 100% travel independently in Cuba if you have your Cuban Tourist Card and an approved category of travel.

Still have questions about travel categories or tourist cards? Have a local travel planner help you with the details.

How do I know what to do in Cuba? What excursions should I go on?

ViaHero's local Cuban travel experts (aka Heroes) can make it easy. A local Cuban Hero can book vintage car tours, recommend authentic restaurants, and give you the inside scoop on activities your guidebook won’t tell you about (like how to find studios run by independent artists who sell their work). Plus, you’ll get custom maps, phone support, and someone you can pepper with questions about Cuba before you even leave on your cruise. It’s like having a best friend in Cuba planning your trip.

The biggest thing: your Hero will make sure your itinerary is 100% legal and compliant with the Support for the Cuban People category.

Things to do in Havana

Norwegian Cruise ship docking in Havana for some Cuba shore excursions

Even if you only have one day to explore Havana, there are many wonderful activities that you can enjoy on your own. These are just a few ideas to inspire you to think outside the Cuba shore excursions box by booking a unique and fun day.

1. Take a Walk Through Old Havana (La Habana Vieja)

Have your travel planner book you a guide for an hour or two, or take an independent Havana tour on your own. Walk the cobblestone streets to admire the colonial architecture. Stop at street stalls for snacks and handmade souvenirs. Your Hero can recommend excellent guides to show you Old Havana’s hidden gems.

2. Visit the National Museum of Fine Arts

Immerse yourself in Cuban culture by learning about Cuban art from the colonial period to the present in a building dedicated solely to Cuban art. Or experience art from around the world in the second building run by the National Museum of Fine Arts. Both are sure to impress.

3. Grab some grub at El Chanchullero

This tiny restaurant serves hearty, Spanish-style meals for about $5 per entree. It’s off the beaten path and well worth the trek. Wash down your meal with some of the coldest beer in Havana.

4. Go on a food tour and learn to salsa dance.

Dreaming of taking a Havana food tour or learning to salsa dance? Or maybe you’d like to see a baseball game or drink mojitos where Hemingway once did? A Havana local can plan a day filled with your dream activities and be your phone support during your trip. They’ll really do everything but pack your bags.

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Don’t believe anyone that says you can't travel to Cuba You can absolutely plan an independent Cuba excursion, personalized just for you by a local expert. And if you have any questions at all, message us any time!

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