Christopher Cloonan traveled to Havana as soon as the island's José Martí International airport lifted COVID-19 travel restrictions.
Photo credit: Christopher Cloonan

Updated December 3rd 12 PM

Disclaimer — As someone who works as a travel professional, university lecturer, and freelance journalist, all involving Cuba, I felt a personal, moral, professional, and humanitarian obligation to get down to the island as soon as physically possible. This is not the case for most people, and I strongly urge you to avoid any unnecessary travel until there is a COVID-19 vaccine.

En Route

I was, seemingly, the only non-Cuban or Cuban-American on my flights. There were plenty of stares and even pointing at the oddity of seeing someone who looks like an American tourist traveling to Havana right now.

I flew through Miami, though if you’re coming from the Northeast I recommend the JetBlue flight from JFK. It’s direct and has free WiFi. 

Cubans are super serious about COVID-19. It is an immediately noticeable step up from the United States.

Have low expectations for airlines or airports to take COVID-19 seriously. At the airport State-side, mask wearing is hit-or-miss depending on the individual and there are zero attempts at social distancing. You must protect yourself.

During the flight, masks are mandatory and there is no food or beverage service.

In Havana

Cubans are super serious about COVID-19. It is an immediately noticeable step up from the United States. You will be tested at the airport and quarantined in your casa until you get the results.

Information is evolving on requirements for tourists (non-residents), but the consensus seems to be that arriving passengers who go directly to a hotel or casa must await the negative result of the PCR test administered in the airport before leaving their isolation, which can take up to 72 hours. Arriving passengers who go directly to the community (their homes, or the homes of friends/family) must await the negative results of two PCR tests and are expected to self-isolate for 10 days from arrival.

DO NOT put your casa owner or anyone else at medical or legal risk. Follow the rules. For those returning to New York, you must get a negative COVID-19 test in Cuba within 3 days of your return flight. 

Photo credit: Christopher Cloonan

The medical professional who took my temperature was sitting in a Havana Club Rum chair, which put a smile on my face. It helped to break the tension in the air.

Related Post: What It’s Like in Havana During the Second COVID-19 Lockdown

Your taxi driver will wear a mask. Masks are mandatory and enforced by the police at all times in public.

There is a shortage of everything in Cuba, so your host will need adequate time to prepare for your stay. Also, request for them to escort you to your mandatory COVID-19 test on Day 5.

Be prepared to quarantine in Havana during the pandemic. This means having a discussion with your casa host ahead of time about having food provided for your first night and morning. (Keep in mind that Americans are prohibited from staying in Cuban hotels, so a stay at a casa particular is, at least in the waning days of the Trump Administration, mandatory).

Photo credit: Christopher Cloonan

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There is a shortage of everything in Cuba, so your host will need adequate time to prepare for your stay. Also, request for them to escort you to your mandatory COVID-19 test at the local policlinica on Day 5. This is where either the ability to speak Spanish or your casa owner’s ability to translate is important.

Be safe, smart, masked, distanced, and prepared if you decide to go to Havana during the pandemic. 

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2 comments

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  • I traveled to Havana on American Airlines thru Miami and I did not get my test results for 8 days. A doctor called the casa everyday to see how i was feeling and one came to the casa the 6th day, to say I could go out because no one on my flight was sick but she did not have my test results. I was there 11 days.

    • These types of scenarios make it very difficult to entice travelers to go and/or follow the rules. I learned through some digging that there is a “medical statistics” office on Neptuno which had my test results. The distribution of them to the local doctors was very slow.

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