Is it possible to do a day trip to Cuba from Miami? Yes, it is possible, but I would not recommend it.
Having lived on and off in Cuba for over two years, I can tell you that by going to Cuba for one day only, you will miss out on many wonderful adventures. Cuba is home to colonial Havana, no less than nine Unesco World Heritage Sites, and several natural parks, amazing marine life, and even a mountain range!
That said, it is entirely up to you, so if you still want to do it, I am going to tell you everything about Cuba day trips and “how to” visit the biggest of the Caribbean Islands bordering the Gulf of Mexico to the west!
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Day Trip To Cuba From Miami
If you have decided to take a day trip from the Magic City Miami to Havana, I am here to tell you how to do it the easiest way and the best things to do with your time there. If you do this, you will be blown away by the contrast between Miami with glamorous Miami Beach, Fort Lauderdale, and the modern city vibe, and Havana, Cuba, only 120 miles away!
Also, if you are unsure whether Americans can travel to Cuba, the answer is; YES, they can!
So when we have got that out of the way, read on for my best advice on ” doing Havana” in one day.
What Do You Need For A Day Trip To Cuba From Miami?
Bottom line up front, here is the short version of what you need to do and what you need to do to take a one-day trip from Miami to Cuba and have a day of live music and beautiful beaches (if you want to).
These are the things to need to have in order to travel to Cuba from Miami (or the United States):
- Passport valid for at least six months
- All the money you need in Cuba in cash (for Americans)
- A tourist visa, also called a tourist card, for Cuba
- Fill out the online entry registration form
- Have valid travel insurance, including health coverage
American citizens also need to ensure they follow the regulations the US Government sets to legally travel to Cuba.
This is not very complicated, but to make sure you stay within the rules and regulations, here they are.
- US Citizens need a pink tourist card for Cuba (not the green one).
- Travel under one of the pre-approved reasons to visit Cuba from the US; see below.
- US citizens can not shop in Cuban governmental stores, only in privately owned shops (called particulares) under the Cuba Restricted List.
- (And American citizens can not stay in Cuban governmentally-owned hotels, only in private ones. But there are a lot of private ones!).
You can buy a Cuban tourist card from the Cuban Embassy (it will take some time), from selected airlines, or from an online visa provider.
If you want to check out the details of the US regulations for travel to Cuba, you can find them in the Cuba Restricted List.
Pre-Approved Reasons For Cuba Travel
Here is the extensive list of pre-approved reasons to travel to Cuba, and note that due to the travel restrictions, Americans can not travel as “tourists.”
Most Americans travel under the “support for the Cuban people” clause.
- Support for the Cuban People
- Educational Activities (including studies abroad for students, teachers, and educational staff) and “People-to-People travel” for regular Americans.
- Participating in Humanitarian Projects
- Professional Research
- Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes
- Public Performances, Clinics, Workshops, Athletic and other competitions, and Exhibitions
- Journalistic Activity (for electronic and print media reporters, including bloggers)
- Religious Activities
- Family Visits (connecting with close relatives in Cuba)
- Certain authorized export transactions (for businesses and NGOs)
- Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials
- Official business of the US government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations
Read about the easing of Cuba measures implemented by the Biden Administration in 2022.
The Best Way To Do A Day Trip To Cuba From Miami
If you have decided to take a day trip to Cuba from Miami, you should need to start really early.
Book the first flight out of Miami; American Airlines has several departures every day.
The first American Airlines direct flight leaves at 7:05 a.m., which is the best option for leaving early from Miami. As the flight is just around one hour, you should be on the ground in a taxi heading for Havana before 9 a.m.
Delta Airlines also has direct flights from Miami Airport to Havana, but in June 2023, the first flight is at 9 a.m., giving you less time.
Before your flight, you need to register your entry in Cuba electronically on the D’Viajeros home page, and after January 2023, you are formally required to fill that out 48 hours prior to departure according to the Cuban government.
You can buy the pink Cuban tourist card just beside the American Airlines check-in counter at Miami International Airport, so you don’t really need to get one ahead of time.
The pink tourist card costs around $100 (more expensive than the green one).
As the staff at American Airlines in Miami is used to people traveling to Cuba, you probably will not encounter any issues checking in as an American.
(In other airports, where Cuba travel is not that common, the staff sometimes are unsure of the rules and regulations, so be prepared for that).
As soon as you are checked in, relax – you are on your way!
What To Expect In The Cuban Passport Control
And so you arrive in Cuba!
Once you arrive, the standard of the facilities is not what you probably are used to.
There is supposed to be a wifi at the airport that you should be able to connect to without a wifi card (which you need to go online in Cuba), but I have never experienced it working yet.
So you probably should prepare to be offline for at least the first few hours.
There are always a lot of taxis outside the arrival gate. The price should be around $25 to go to the center of Havana, and the journey is around half an hour, depending on traffic.
And there you are!
What To Do For One Day In Havana!
There are so many things to explore in Havana, but I will set up a slightly ambitious itinerary for you so you have a few things to choose from!
If you ask the airport taxi to take you to Parque Central, that is a good starting point as it is on the verge of where Old Havana meets Central Havana, two different city districts in Havana.
If you need breakfast before you start exploring, I have a couple of suggestions.
Close to Parque Central, you find a super nice place called El Cafe, where you can get fresh juices, scrambled eggs, or a great sandwich!
You also have a really cool and chill bar & restaurant on the corner of Parque Cristo called El Dandy, which serves a great breakfast but also killer tacos, strong coffee, and even a Cuba Libre if you feel so inclined.
When you are ready for your first adventure, from Parque Central, you can take one of Havana’s famous Classic Car Tours, which is “touristy” but gives you a great overview of the larger city.
You will drive through Central Havana, down the Malecon boardwalk (a popular spot to hang at night for Cubans), through Vedado (the most modern city district), the Havana forest (above), Plaza de la Revolucion, and touch into Miramar, the uppest uptown district of Havana.
In the Havana Forest, you will probably also stop at a small bar by the river, where you can have your (possibly) second Cuba Libre or Mojito for the day!
This tour takes one hour (1,5 if you choose the longer version that also stops at Fusterlandia Art Center) and will drop you off at Parque Central again.
Arriving back at the Parque Central, you are within walking distance of the Capitolio and the Museum de la Revolucion.
Explore Havana Old City
You are also right on the edge of the Old City and can stroll down Obispo Street, which is the main street in Old Havana.
From there, you can easily see the Plaza Vieja (the old square), where lots of life, restaurants, bars, and museums exist.
Stop by the Plaza de la Catedral, too, and take the time to visit the oldest cathedral in Havana.
In this area, you are also super close to the bay and can follow the bayside back to the start of the Malecon boardwalk and Avenida El Prado, a historic avenue that once was the home for the wealthiest people in Havana in incredible mansions.
Along the Prado, which has a decorated pedestrian zone in the middle covered by a green canopy of ancient trees, the mansions still have an aura of ancient grandeur.
They are hidden behind facades of fading paint and decay, but the ornate elements are still there if you pay attention.
If you want to get insight into Havana’s history, choose to take part in an organized walking tour of Old Havana that will show you new and old popular sights.
You will stop by the famous Bodequita del Medio bar, Plaza de Armas, walk the little streets and get the history of several of the most important buildings and people in Havana’s past.
For an authentic Cuban food experience for a late lunch, you can head for Cafe Cristo on the corner of Parque Cristo, where you can sit down or get a takeaway.
You will get a comida (meal) the Cuban way, with chicken, arroz morro (blackened rice), and a bit of veggie or salad for 280 pesos (around 3-4 dollars dependent on currency rate).
Have A Late Lunch In Central Havana
Central Havana district is a lot like the Old City, only not with the important landmarks and also not with quite the same grandeur as the buildings in La Habana Vieja.
It is easy to get lost here, so going into the narrow, noisy streets, it is best to hail a bicycle taxi to take you exactly where to go! Make sure the “driver” understands where you want to go, the place, and the address.
I have three suggestions for you for amazing high-end restaurants or paladares in Old Havana with excellent food, service, and ambiance.
The first is Paladar San Cristobal, with a unique blend of eclectic, colorful, and elegant interiors and also great food and service! Obama had dinner here during his visit to Havana!
The second one is Paladar Mischifu, a little more relaxed, with a super bar for aperitifs right inside the door and a wonderful dining area.
Lastly is the incredible Paladar La Guarida, whose architecture and interior are stunning.
You can choose a table on one of the rooftop terraces with an unsurpassed view of Havana and enjoy the exquisite atmosphere, service, and, not least, food!
As these places are “paladares,”; privately owned local restaurants, US citizens can enjoy them without breaking any rules. They are also by far the best places to eat! Pay in cash in all places; they all accept Cuban pesos, euros, and dollars.
Activity Suggestions For Havana
Here is a bullet point version of the organized activities that are short enough to fit into your one day in Havana (although not all of them in one day).
These tours are organized through Civiatis tour company, using local resources and people, and are approved for US citizens to use.
- Classic Car Tour
- Classic Sidecar Motorcycle Tour of Havana
- Cuban Cigar Workshop
- Havana Dance Class
- Havana FREE Walking Tour (you pay tips)
- Guided tour of El Capitolio (show up and buy a ticket)
- Visit the Museum of the Revolution (ticket at the entrance)
- Walk the Malecon boardwalk, and
- Stroll up Avenida del Prado
- Have a Mojito at Bodequita del Medio or the Floridita (Hemingway’s favorite bar! He also had a house here called Finca Vigia that you can visit).
And that is about it; this is probably more than what you have time for (you have the freedom to choose), but within the time frame of one day, this really is a lot of options!
Have you suddenly decided to take a longer trip?
The Return Flight From Havana To Miami
In June 2023, the last American Airlines flight from Havana leaves at 9:10 p.m. (Delta departs earlier), and you probably want to be at the airport a couple of hours prior to your return flight to be on the safe side.
Taking into account that the taxi ride from Havana is about half an hour, it is a good idea to get a taxi around 6:40 pm.
If you only have hand luggage, you do have a bit more flexibility on the time.
After check-in in Havana, which normally goes smoothly (but expect some queues), you also need to enter the outbound passport control.
They will ask you to return your tourist visa (tourist card), so ensure you have that!
Inside the security check, there are not a lot of shops and restaurants, but the few that are there only accept card payments.
That is important for US citizens to know, as US credit cards are not accepted in Cuba. Hence, you cannot buy anything inside the security check until you are on your flight.
So it is a good idea to bring some snacks that are allowed through the security check (or find a non-US person who can buy something for you and pay them back with dollars in cash!). This is going to be a full-day trip, and you will be back in the “new world” and Downtown Miami before you know it!
Smart Havana Travel Tips
- Bring all the cash you plan to spend for your day in Havana
- Download an offline translator if you do not speak Spanish
- Bring a water bottle with a filter
- Consider booking tours beforehand to make sure you don’t waste time waiting in line or negotiating prices
- If you feel generous, bring painkillers to give away (Cuban pharmacies are empty)
Getting Online In Cuba
You can easily get online in Cuba, but for one day, it might not be necessary.
You will need to go to the Etecsa store (the one official phone company) and buy a Wi-Fi card.
This is a scratch card with a username and password you can use to log onto the Etecsa server from one of the Wi-Fi hotspots in Havana.
There are often lines outside the Etecsa store in Old Havana, which will cost you valuable time.
If you still want to do it, you need to bring your passport for the purchase and pay in cash (Cuban pesos).
Once you have your card, you head to a wifi park/hotspot, open the wifi on your phone, connect to Etecsa, insert the username and password code, and you are ready to surf.
Read everything you need to know about wifi and phones in Cuba here.
Changing Money To Cuban Peso
You can change your foreign currency in official changing offices at the airport, where they give you the official changing rate, which fluctuates.
There are also ATMs here.
For US citizens, you need to know that US credit cards are not accepted in Cuba due to ongoing sanctions, which is why you must bring the money you plan to spend in cash!
For only one day, it is not strictly necessary to change into Cuban pesos, as you will be able to pay with dollars or euros in most places, but it can be handy to change a small amount for holiday shopping and propina; tips.
You can check what the currency value currently is here. On this page, you also find the current exchange value for the informal money market in Cuba.
Quickly About Money In Cuba
Because in Cuba, there is an official and an unofficial currency rate, and the unofficial one is the “street value” of dollars and euros, which is higher than the official one.
People are going to approach you on the streets and offer you to change money from your foreign currency to the Cuban peso.
They do this because foreign currency in Cuba is “impossible” to get, yet, several shops require foreign currency for any purchase. Yep, weird.
Although doing this would help the Cuban people (and the rate is higher, so you get more pesos for your dollar), there is a risk as counterfeit money exists in Cuba.
So unless you know the person that wants to change your money, I would be very careful doing changing on the street.
The monetary system in Cuba, formally, and how it works in real life is a bit complicated, and you don’t really need to know it all.
You just need to know that you must bring cash, in euros or dollars, and you can use dollars and euro almost everywhere.
If you do want to know more, you can read extensively about the what and how of money in Cuba here.
FAQs Miami to Havana
Is There A Miami To Havana Ferry?
No, unfortunately, there is currently no Miami to Havana ferry with commercial transport options.
The only way to travel commercially from Miami to Havana is by air.
So that was a whirlwind day with excess suggestions for things to do in Havana in a day!
It is possible, but hopefully, you have already seen that it would be a lot better to go for a weekend.
Or maybe even a week, to have time to explore the city and also make some day trips from Havana to surrounding areas and sights that will fascinate you as well.
You can find all my best travel tips for Cuba here if you want to find out more.
Either way, it is your choice – happy travel planning!
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