Cuba’s hot, but how do I get there?

Cuba has certainly been a ‘hot’ destination for Discover Travel clients over the last decade, especially during the last years of the Obama administration. During the thawing of diplomatic relations and resumption of direct American scheduled flights, demand surged. However, these friendlier relations have been rolled back by the Trump administration and it’s still classed as a ‘sanctioned’ country under Biden. There is plenty of confusion on how to get there as it’s not quite as straightforward as other destinations.

Can I travel direct from the USA? 

Not really! There are direct scheduled flights from the USA to Havana, but you probably won’t meet the criteria so we don’t recommend it. Furthermore, you need to be aware of the issues facing travellers to Cuba who wish to visit the US afterwards.

The U.S. Department of State designated Cuba as a State Sponsor of Terrorism (SST) on January 12, 2021. With limited exceptions, a traveller who is found to have visited Cuba on or after this date is not eligible for travel under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) using an Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) and must apply for a visa to travel to the United States. Ineligibility for an ESTA is not a bar to travel to the United States. Individuals who are not eligible to travel under the VWP may apply for a visa at any U.S. embassy or consulate.

CUBAN TOURIST CARDS For entry via any other country than the USA, you will need a Cuban tourist card which is green in colour.

The USA via Mexico Route

This has traditionally been the most cost-effective way to get from NZ to Cuba. You can fly from NZ via San Francisco or Houston to either Mexico City or Cancun.

Due to the continuing US/Cuban embargo, you can’t buy a through-ticket from NZ to Havana via the US, so the Mexico-Havana-Mexico flights must be done as a side-trip on Aeromexico or Cubana. This route works well if you are combining Cuba with Mexico or Central America (Belize/Guatemala) as you’d use Cancun as the ‘jumping off point’. We’d envisage the total combined airfare from NZ to Havana return to be approx $3800, but it could be a little less if there are USA specials, or more if going in high season (June-Aug or Dec/Jan)

The South America route 

This is a good option if you are keen to combine Cuba with South America. LATAM fly from Auckland to Santiago, Chile daily. They haven’t yet reinstated their Santiago-Lima-Havana service yet though, so the best option is to fly COPA from Santiago via Panama City to Havana. You need to spend the afternoon and evening in Santiago on the way out, but there’s a nice airport hotel right by the terminal. Airfares usually start around $4400 in the winter (Apr-Oct), higher in the summer – you do need to book well in advance for travel in high season (Dec-March).

 Other options

There are regular scheduled flights to Havana from Toronto, Panama City, San Jose (Costa Rica), Bogota (Colombia), Caracas (Venezuala),Quito (Ecuador) and Grand Cayman but these routes are usually much pricier for NZ travellers than the Mexico or Santiago/Lima routes.