Going to Cuba can be overwhelming (what are "Categories of Approved Travel", "Tourist Cards", and "convertible pesos"?).
But working with a travel agent isn’t always the best way to set up your Cuban travel.
Here, we look closely at the pros and cons of using a travel agency to go to Cuba, measured by price, experience, personalization, safety, availability, & authenticity.
Pros: Travel agencies are generally in contact with airlines, hotels, and tour groups. Theoretically, they're able to get you discounted rates.
Cons: First of all, working with a travel agent often comes with hidden fees and commission.
Ideally, trip planners who aren’t paid commission are the way to go—especially if they can also help you budget your itinerary.
Secondly, Cuba has limited internet access. That means that travel agents that don't live in Cuba don't have first-hand knowledge about what's going on—like which attractions are currently open, what places are affordable, and which spots have become tourist traps. That can make your travel to Cuba feel like a cookie-cutter trip.
Pros: Travel agents are known for their trip-planning experience. That means that, in theory, they can recommend plenty of things to do in Cuba.
Cons: Most travel agents rarely travel to Cuba. Even fewer have lived there themselves. Plus, given Cuba's limited internet access, it's tough to get up-to-date info.
Simply put, you can't beat local knowledge. When you have a local plan your trip, they can share their experience and personalized recommendations.
Plus, local trip planners have intimate knowledge of all the latest Cuba travel restrictions, including how Americans can travel to Cuba, and how to get a Cuban Tourist Card or Visas.
Pros: Travel agencies can offer degrees of trip personalization—generally, you can choose from a list of day trips, lodgings, and guided tours. But this list is limited to agents' companies and connections, which means it can leave a lot out.
Cons: Given these limits, there's not much room for a truly personalized trip. When you work with a local to plan your trip, they'll create a guidebook based on your interests. Basically, it's like having a friend in Cuba who designs a trip based around what you want to see and do.
Pros: Given Cuba's intimidation factor, working with a travel agent can feel like a safe bet. Travelers want to work with someone who knows the country well, and agents can give valuable input.
Cons: Again, you simply can't beat the insights of someone who actually lives in Cuba. When you work with a local to plan your trip, you'll receive practical Cuba safety tips based on a local's real-life experience. Plus, they'll provide phone support in case you run into any issues.
Pros: Of course, travel agents will be available to answer questions as you plan your trip. But what about once you arrive?
Cons: Depending on where you're coming from, Cuba's time difference can make getting a quick answer from an agent difficult—especially if they're busy working with other clients. When you have a Cuban local plan your trip, they'll be in your time zone and available via phone if you need them.
Like a travel agent, local trip planners in Cuba can help you get a Cuban Tourist Card or Visa.
Pros: If a travel agent specializes in Cuba travel, they'll know about the "top ten list" things to do in Cuba.
Cons: Nothing can replace local knowledge. If your travel agent doesn't live in Cuba, they'll create a trip based on what they can research. When you have a local plan your trip, they'll include locally beloved spots and hidden gems that only someone who lives there can know.
If you want to see Cuba like a local—not a tourist—work with one to plan your trip.
Finding a great Cuba travel agency can be difficult because of the specialized nature of Cuba travel.
When you work with a local, they'll introduce you to a side of their country that most visitors miss—and help you through the often-confusing process of traveling to Cuba as an American.
Welcome to traveling in Cuba like a local.
And for more on Cuba travel, check out: