Traveling To Cuba Is Easier Than You Think

Feb 6, 2014

Colder temperatures this week might have you thinking about warmer places than here. KPLU travel expert Matthew Brumley just got back from Cuba, and says going to Havana is easy and completely worthwhile.

Cuba Is Opening Up

It's true, Cuba is opening up, but it’s not completely open yet, says Brumley. You’ll need either a missionary license or people-to-people license, usually available through organized tour groups. Once you’re legal, though, the rest is easy.

“You can jump on a charter flight directly from Miami, and in 25 minutes, you’re in the heart of Havana,” Brumley said.

Why Cuba?

Once a playground to the rich and famous, Brumley says Cuba is now a powerhouse of Latin American culture. The rumba, the salsa and the cha-cha-cha are all Cuban. So are the mojito and the daiquiri. And Havana is the epicenter of Cuban night life.

“It’s the one city I travel to where, every time I get into bed, I feel like I’m being cheated,” Brumley said. “This is a city that doesn’t go to sleep.”

Stay And Eat

Brumley’s favorite place is the Hotel Nacional de Cuba.

“This is the old grand dame of Havana,” Brumley said. “Everyone stayed there. Frank Sinatra, the mob, Errol Flynn…the who’s-who of the 1930s and '40s always stayed at the Nacional Hotel.”

But there are other good options, too, including the Melia CohibaSaratoga and Parque Central.

For dining, look to a paladar. These are restaurants established in private homes.

“They’ve created these beautiful restaurants,” Brumley said. “My two favorite are Atelier and La Fontana."

Time Capsule

Stepping off the plane, you’ll notice a mix of old and new. On one hand, Cuba is busy with tourists from around the world. On the other hand, you’ll see American cars from the 1950s and buildings that haven’t been redecorated since about then, either.

Also: “There’s no advertising,” Brumley said. “The only billboards they have proclaim the victory of socialism.”

But it’s changing. Fast.

“Every time I walk through Old Havana, another old gorgeous colonial building has been spruced up and painted with hot pink or hot green,” Brumley said. “It’s losing a little bit of that beautiful, elegant decay that it had. In a few more years, it won’t be the same city.”