Air travel to the island is currently dominated by charter flights. Many charters to Cuba originate in Canada, Mexico, and Europe and are part of package deals that include stays in one of Cuba's burgeoning number of all-inclusive resorts. U.S. citizens traveling to Cuba with a licensed tour operators also fly via charter service.
Commercial air service from the U.S. to Cuba is expected to begin by mid-2016, possibly sooner. A December 2015 agreement between the two countries has paved the way for regularly scheduled air service from Miami, New York, and other American hubs by carriers including American Airlines, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, and United Airlines.
Before you leave Cuba, you'll need to pay an airport departure tax of CUC$2–in cash. Cuba is slowly moving to a system of bundling the tax into the airfare, so confirm with your airline or tour operator if this requirement persists when you visit.
Airlines and Airports
Airline and Airport Links.com. www.airlineandairportlinks.com.
Transportation Security Administration. www.tsa.gov.
Most visitors to Cuba arrive on charter flights, usually in conjunction with a package tour. Flights from the United States are filled with U.S. citizens authorized by one of the 12 permitted categories of travel to Cuba, often to visit relatives or as part of people-to-people tours. Charters from Canada and elsewhere are filled with vacationers.
Flight times. Approximate non-stop flight times to Havana are: New York, 3 hours; Miami, 1 hour; Toronto, 3 ½ hours; Mexico City, 2¾ hours; Nassau, Bahamas, 1 hour.
From the United States
Charter flights. U.S.-based airlines that fly to Cuba—American, Delta, United, JetBlue, and Sun Country—have been doing so for years, only under the guise of what are called Special Authority Charters. These are open solely to U.S. citizens approved for travel to Cuba, and may not be booked with the airline directly.
Marazul Tours—which pioneered charters between the United States and Cuba—offers flights from Miami to Havana, Camagüey, Santa Clara, and Santiago de Cuba. Cuba Travel Services books weekly Tuesday flights from New York (JFK) to Havana.
Commercial flights. On December 17, 2015, the U.S. and Cuba reached an agreement that will allow commercial flights between the two countries to resume for the first time in more than 50 years. American, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, and United Airlines are among the first large carriers seeking to establish commercial service to Cuba in 2016. Precisely when travelers can begin booking directly with the airlines or through online travel aggregators and agencies is uncertain because the Federal Aviation Administration needs to ensure certain safety regulations are in place. Industry experts are hopeful that regular commercial service will begin by mid-2016 or sooner. Until such time, the only available air service from the U.S. is via charter flights on carriers such as Jet Blue and Marazul Tours.
From Outside the United States
Cubana (officially Cubana de Aviación), Cuba's national carrier, flies international routes on mostly Russian-built planes, with a few European Airbus and ATR aircraft in the mix. Service is adequate but somewhat below North American and European standards. Cubana offers nonstop service between Havana and Toronto and Montréal, Canada; and Cancún and Mexico City, Mexico. Cubana also connects various Canadian cities with nonstop flights to Varadero, Holguín, Cienfuegos, Santiago de Cuba, Camagüey, Santa Clara, Cayo Coco, and Cayo Largo.
Several foreign carriers also serve Cuba. Air Canada flies from Toronto to Havana, as well as connecting various Canadian cities with nonstop flights to Varadero, Holguín, Santa Clara, Cayo Coco, and Cayo Largo. Canadian airline WestJet flies nonstop from several Canadian cities to Varadero, Holguín, Santa Clara, and Cayo Coco. AeroMéxico connects U.S. gateways to Havana via Mexico City or Cancún. Bahamasair connects to Havana via its hub in Nassau; Cayman Airways does the same through its hub in Grand Cayman.
Charter flights. Air Transat offers flights and packages from Montréal and Toronto to Varadero, Cayo Largo, Santa Clara, and Holguín. It also flies from Vancouver, Edmonton, and Calgary to Varadero. Canada-based Sell Off Vacations books charter flights from several Canadian cities to Varadero.
International Airline Contacts
AeroMéxico. 7203–9796; 800/237–6639; www.aeromexico.com.
Air Canada. 7836–3226; 888/247–2262; www.aircanada.com.
Avianca. 7833–3114; 800/284–2622; www.avianca.com.
Bahamasair. 7649–7311; 800/222–4262; www.bahamasair.com.
Cayman Airways. 7204–2331; 800/422–9626; www.caymanairways.com.
Copa. 7204–1111; 800/359–2672; www.copaair.com.
Cubana. 7834–4446; 866/428–2262; www.cubana.cu.
WestJet. 888/937–8538; www.westjet.com.
Charter Flights Contacts
Air Transat. 866/847–1112; www.airtransat.com.
Cuba Travel Services. 112 W. 34th St., Suite 17018, New York, New York, 10120. 800/963–2822; www.cubatravelservices.com.
Marazul Tours. 771 N.W. 37th Ave., 33125. 800/993–9667; www.marazul.com.
Sell Off Vacations. 877/735–5633; www.selloffvacations.com.
Flying on regional airlines in Cuba is extremely affordable by North American and European standards and provides the fastest and most comfortable way to get around. Routes connect most major cities in the country. Cubana, the national carrier, offers daily service from Havana to several destinations around Cuba. You can buy tickets at agencies or local airport representatives in major cities. Domestic plane tickets are never refundable, no matter what the reason. If you miss your flight or your plans change, you're out the money and must buy a new ticket. Note that it's illegal for U.S. citizens to fly on Cubana, as it constitutes a cash payment to the Cuban government—a trade-embargo no-no.
Cuba's major international airport is Havana's Aeropuerto Internacional José Martí, 15 km (9 miles) south of the city. It has four terminals: Terminal 1, for domestic flights; Terminal 2, for U.S. charter flights; Terminal 3, for other international flights; and Terminal 5, for some flights of domestic airline Aero Caribbean. (There is no Terminal 4.) Buses connect the four terminals.
Cuba has eight other international airports—in Varadero, Cayo Largo, Cienfuegos, Cayo Coco, Camagüey, Holguín, Santa Clara, and Santiago de Cuba—and several smaller, regional airstrips. If you book a resort package in Varadero, Guardalavaca, or the Cayos, you'll fly directly to those places and never pass through Havana.
Aeropuerto Internacional Abel Santamaría. Carretera Malezas, Km 11, Santa Clara, Villa Clara, 50100. 4222–7525.
Aeropuerto Internacional Antonio Maceo. Carretera Ciudamar, Km 3½, Santiago de Cuba, Santiago de Cuba, 90100. 2269–1053.
Aeropuerto Internacional Frank País. Carretera Vía Bayamo, Km 12, Holguín, Holguín, 80100. 2446–2512.
Aeropuerto Internacional Ignacio Agramonte. Avenida Finlay, Km 7½, Camagüey, Camagüey, 70200. 3226–1010.
Aeropuerto Internacional Jaime González. Carretera Caonao, Km 7½, Cienfuegos, Cienfuegos, 55100. 4355–1328.
Aeropuerto Internacional Jardines del Rey. Carretera Cayo Coco, Cayo Coco, 67100. 3330–9161.
Aeropuerto Internacional José Martí. Avenida Nguyen Van Troi al final, Havana, 10800. 7275–1200.
Aeropuerto Internacional Juan Gualberto Gómez. Avenida Mártires de Barbados, Varadero, Matanzas Province, 42200. 4524–7015.
Aeropuerto Internacional Juan Vitalio Acuña. Cayo Largo del Sur, Km 5, Cayo Largo, 25300. 4524–8207.
Customs and Duties
Expect X-ray machines and a thorough search by customs officials upon your arrival. You may enter Cuba with three bottles of wine or liquor, a carton of cigarettes or 50 cigars, gifts totaling no more than $100 in value, and prescription medicines (for personal consumption) either in their original bottles or in other bottles accompanied by a doctor's prescription. A laptop computer, tablet, mobile phone, and camera are also permitted as personal effects. Be sure to declare valuable items (such as a laptop) upon entering Cuba.
Firearms and illicit drugs aren't allowed—pretty standard anywhere—and Cuban authorities may confiscate written or visual material viewed either as "pornographic" or "counter-revolutionary."
Upon departure from Cuba, you are allowed to export up to 50 cigars and five bottles of liquor. Cuban officials require you to show store receipts. U.S. Customs is far less generous, however, allowing authorized travelers to Cuba the import of just a combined $100 of alcohol and/or tobacco products of Cuban origin for personal use only; with quality Cuban cigars selling for $25 each, that $100 does not go far.
Cuban Customs. 7883–8282; www.aduana.co.cu.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection. www.cbp.gov.
Visitors arriving on an all-inclusive package will be picked up at the airport and shuttled to their respective hotel. Independent travelers flying into Havana can take one of the taxis lined up outside each terminal. The 30-minute trip into town costs CUC$25; Vedado and Miramar districts are slightly more expensive. While there is a public bus to Havana from Terminal 1 (the domestic terminal), fares must be paid in local CUP; even if you succeed at boarding, you're in for a slow and crowded trip, especially if you're carrying bags. Some hotels offer airport transfers, so do inquire in advance.