How To Travel to Cuba for Americans
How To Travel to Cuba for Americans
In this article, I will show you, How to Travel to Cuba for Americans, or at least how we did it. We will give you some pointers and some lessons that we learned along the way. So let’s dive in!
Yes, Americans Can Travel to Cuba
I have been hearing for years of my Canadian friends traveling to Cuba and I had been seeing the amazing images they were capturing. When we started hearing of a few Americans traveling to Cuba I was getting more and more interested.
Then my church (Oak Hills Church in Eagan, MN) announced that they were going to be doing a mission trip to Cuba in the spring of 2017. I had no idea how that was possible but I knew immediately I was going to do whatever it takes to participate in that trip.
In my travel excursions, I have been to The Bahamas, Jamaica, and Mexico. I have seen the wealthy tourist spots in all of those countries and I’ve also seen the places where the poor people live. So I had some level of familiarity with those cultures. I assumed there would be quite a few similarities traveling to Cuba but yet I was still pretty ignorant. So now I had to learn, How To Travel to Cuba for Americans.
So I was certainly ignorant of the fact that Americans can travel to Cuba on a Religious Visa.
American Visas for Cuba
The 12 categories of authorized travel to Cuba are: family visits; official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations; journalistic activity; professional research and professional meetings; educational activities; religious activities; public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions; support for the Cuban people; humanitarian projects; activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes; exportation, importation, or transmission of information or informational materials; and certain authorized export transactions.
See more details here: Americans Traveling to Cuba.
So we were going to be traveling to Cuba on a religious visa to help a religious organization build a church. I had this weird American idea that we were going to be “the great helpers” to a group in need. But what actually ended up happening was that we got to experience an explosive religious revival going on in Cuba.
Revival in Cuba
What do I mean when I say Revival? Here is a pretty good definition of the term. “Revivalism is increased spiritual interest or renewal in the life of a church congregation or society, with a local, national or global effect. This should be distinguished from the use of the term “revival” to refer to an evangelistic meeting or series of meetings (see Revival meeting).”
Let me give you a few examples of what I mean.
In 1990 there were supposedly approximately 100 churches in Cuba, now there are approximately 8000 churches. My mind was blown, I had no idea.
Experiencing Church in Cuba
The district leader of the denomination we were working with had been a communist leader. His wife was a medical doctor and at one point started going to church. She then had a baby. There were complications during the delivery and she ended up dying of sepsis shock. The church was called in and prayed for her and she came back to life. That got her husband’s attention and changed his life.
This man, Pastor Alfredo Linares, turned out to be our servant leader for much of the week while we were there. First, he drove us around Camagüey, Cuba and the region surrounding it. Then, he made sure everything was perfect for us. Also, he got us to where we needed to be to do our work. One day, he took us around to several of the smaller churches that he has been working within small poorer communities. Gosh, he works harder than anyone I know.
Our Work Week In Cuba
So our main job for the entire week was to work on building a Church in Florida, Cuba. The way this process works is that the church organization buys a home in a community, then transforms the home into a church.
This is an example of our work for the week
For this particular project, the local community pastor created a design for the church and got them certified by the local government officials. They hired a construction team which included a foreman and about 5 other workers. Then there were workers from the church itself. Our team was added to complete the group.
It was amazing to be able to work this way because we got to work with professionals and see how they do things and learn from them. We got to make friends with the locals and build strong relationships. And then we got to work and laugh as a giant team.
The work consisted of hard physical labor. The group had to build rebar formations that would weigh between 800 and 1000 pounds. Then, we would build structures that would enclose and support these rebar skeletons.
Next, we would hoist this behemoth 30 feet into the air with nothing but our human strength. Finally, we would mix, lift and pour cement in these structures to finish the process. Gosh, I’m getting tired just thinking about it.
So we were like this on Monday and Tuesday. Then we took a break on Wednesday to visit the local community churches and see all the projects going on there.
Then back to work on Thursday and Friday to try to finish up a very significant portion of the church. What a whirlwind of a week!
How To Travel to Cuba for Americans – This Was Our Work For the Week – Making Friends
Exploring The Local Community
The trip was not all work. One evening, we talked our translator, Augusto, into taking us into a little more touristy location in downtown Camagüey. We wanted to see the more historic side of the city. You see, Camagüey is the oldest city in Cuba with a great history.
Camagüey (Spanish pronunciation: [kamaˈɣwej]) is a city and municipality in central Cuba and is the nation’s third largest city with more than 321,000 inhabitants. It is the capital of the Camagüey Province.
After almost continuous attacks from pirates the original city (founded as Santa María del Puerto del Príncipe around 1515 on the northern coast) was moved inland in 1528.
The new city was built with a confusing lay-out of winding alleys. There are many blind alleys and forked streets that lead to squares of different sizes. One explanation is that this was done by design, to make the city easier to defend from any raiders; by the same version, the reason that there is only one exit from the city was that should pirates ever return and succeed in entering the city, it would be possible for local inhabitants to entrap and kill them.
However, locals dispute this reasoning as a myth, asserting that in truth the city developed without planning, and that winding streets developed out of everybody wanting to stay close to their local church (the city has 15 of them).
So we, of course, wanted to see this. We decided to rent a horse and buggy to get us to our destination. We had about two hours for this first adventure. Here are some of the views we captured.
On Saturday, the last day of our time in Cuba, we were able to get another few hours of exploring as tourists. These few hours were incredibly productive for seeing what this part of Cuba is all about.
Accommodations in Cuba
The hotel we stayed at was the Hotel Camagüey. It was a nice hotel with quite a few Canadian and European tourists also staying there. There was a little bit of a feeling that the hotel was built by the Russians and there were a few places that needed a little maintenance.
The accommodations were comfortable. The rooms were air conditioned, the electricity was always on, hot water was always available. Every morning a good hot buffet meal was available to fuel your day.
The hotel had a pool and several bars and even a dance area where they had a traveling band most nights. Heck, one night we even joined in on the dancing.
Phone Service in Cuba
This is a cautionary tale that I learned in Cuba and hopefully, you will be a little wiser when you travel to Cuba.
Turning On Your Phone Service
Before the trip, I did a little bit of checking to see if my phone provider gave me access while in Cuba. I use Sprint and they are one of the providers that do indeed have service in Cuba. I turned on the service without paying too much attention to the details and went happily on my way.
The Data Charge Surprise
Halfway through the trip, I got a text from Sprint saying I had a high international data charge. I sent them a note back asking what the heck does that mean? They responded telling me I had a balance of $1,495 for my data charges in Cuba. Needless to say, I about died. But being the social-media maven that I am, I, of course, continue to use my data.
By the time I got home my data charge was over $2,000. I called Sprint to see if they could do anything about it due to my incredible ignorance. They said they could give me $150 credit if I accepted it right now but I would still have to contact them again when the bill was actually charged. So thinking what else could I do I agreed to that.
Data Charge Miracle
After the bill was charged I contacted Sprint again and to my amazement, Miracle of Miracles I have received a $1,400 credit from somewhere. I happily accepted that and moved quickly to pay my bill.
Note for you, pay attention to the details when you’re traveling to Cuba. I’m an ideas guy, a big picture guy, and a dreamer, details kind of confuse me. So, read the small print. Check into getting some kind of wifi device.
Many people on our team got sick with some kind of bronchial infection. We have no idea of the actual details but it may be a combination of working very hard, getting dehydrated, breathing in dust and other stuff at the work site and being exposed to some odd virus that our bodies were not accustomed to.
So, plan for this and bring painkillers and antibiotics if you have access to them.
Exploring Camagüey, Cuba – The Architecture
Lessons from Cuba
The people of Cuba are amazing. They are friendly, warm and incredibly resourceful. They quickly took us under their wings to protect us and encourage us and help is in any way they could. I believe we were also a huge encouragement to them.
The women with us from our group did physical labor right alongside the men. I thing that was a surprise to our Cuban hosts. In Cuba, the women are completely in charge of everything that goes on in and around the house. They manage every little detail and keep everything spotless. So they were a little shocked that the women in our group were moving rock piles, mixing cement and lifting huge loads. It is so funny to see and experience cultural similarities and differences.
God is moving in a huge way in Cuba and it was so fantastic to be able to experience it.
I would like to take this opportunity to voice a special thank you to everyone that was involved in helping us on this trip.
Gary Lemberg is the American that made this all possible.
Pastor Alfredo Linares, I main leader and host in Cuba is an incredible servant. Thank you.
Augusto our interpreter saved our lives many times. Thank you.
Our drivers Santiel and Pastor Alfredo Linares’ son in law (medical student), got us to where we needed to get to safely and watched out for us. Thank you.
All the workers that were patient with us. Thank you
Thanks to everyone who prepared meals for us, their teams are awesome!!
Thank you, thank you, thank you
Cuba was everything I could have imagined it would be. Our time was too limited and we could always see more but this at least gives us a taste of the people and the culture. We will be forever changed and I hope the people we came into contact with will be similarly affected.
This is an example of traveling with a purpose. We came to a place we have not been, we touched the people we came into contact with and they touched us in return. This fits perfectly into our motto at Amazing Travel Beauty, “See the World, Change the World, Be Changed”. I think we can all say we have been changed.
And until next time, get out and capture the adventure.
These images and much more are available for purchase.
Find the complete online gallery here: Wayne Moran Fine Art Photography
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How To Travel to Cuba for AmericansWritten by Wayne Moran - Visit Website