I normally go the SXM this time of year for the Heineken Regatta. But with the crime and prices I have been looking at other venues. I will miss the camaraderie and friends I have at Regatta time.
There are several airlines that service Cuba now. Many flights are not listed on internet based travel sites like Expedia and Orbitz. So Google can be your friend to find the airlines that service Cuba and then book directly on the airlines' site. Prices and adminities vary quite abit. I chose American as they had a sale for STL to HAV, $380 PP. This price does not include the Cuban Tourist Card. AA is in conjunction with Cuba Travel Service to buy these. CTS will call OR send you an link to purchase you AFTER you purchase the tickets. From the CTS site the price is $85 per person ( $50 for the tourist card + $35 fee). You can also wait and purchase on concourse D at a kiosk for $100 per person. The Cuba Travel card is pink. Other Cuba Travel Cards are different colors for other countries WITH different pricing. So if you see cheaper pricing for these cards it is because it is for another country. You will have to show your passport, Tourist card and boarding slip at the gate to get a stamp on the Tourist card to embark the flight.
Different airlines have different prices and ways to purchase for the Tourist card ranging from $50 to $100. So keep this in mind when shopping for your flight.
You will also have to declare one of the twelve reasons for your trip up front. Most travelers from the USA select Cultural person to person.
You will have to have health insurance with proof while visiting. Most airlines say this is included in the ticket price. And you have to have your arrival boarding pass with you at all times while visiting as proof of this. I have read you can purchase at the arrival airport health insurance for $3 a day per person. So I think I am going to pursue this on arrival as the cost is cheap and "probably" easier to prove in case something happens.
PLACES TO STAY:
The hotels can be expensive in Cuba upon researching. And a high price doesn't necessarily equate to luxury accommodations. So I booked an apartment through airbnb.com . They had about 350 places to choose from in Havana. I chose one in Old Havana at $54 a night plus the airbnb $45 service fee. Prices range from $10 to $120 a night. Please do due diligence when searching for a place to stay. Some are on the 6th floor ( no elevator),some are on ground floor, some have breakfast included, some charge $5 per person. airbnb shows feedback from previous clients and has pictures of the units. If you find a place you like, email them through airbnb. Internet is very spotty in Cuba so you want a place that you can communicate with so this will be a test. Some places respond rapidly some a week later.
Payment and confirmation is made through Airbnb via credit card so you don't have to worry about money exchange or have to hassle with this on arrival. Also who you book with and who manages the room might be 2 different persons. But this is because a person is representing the room owner and the representative has a better web access. This is a normal thing. I asked the room representative if they had someone that could pick us up at the airport. Sure, no problem mon ( probably a relative). Was told it is $35 from the airport to the apartment in Old Havana and a 1/2 hour ride.
I was also told you can find representatives of places to stay at the airport when arriving. I am adventurous but not that adventurous anymore.
CREDIT CARDS from the USA are NOT accepted in Cuba. ATM's are scarce.
There are 2 currencies in Cuba. One for the locals and one for the tourists. The tourist currency is called the CUC peso. Make sure when spending money on the island you are conversing about the same currency. ALL tourists purchases are made in the CUC currency. So there are a lot of money exchanges available. Exchange rates are set by the government so no need to go shopping for the best rate. The US dollar when exchanged gets hit with an additional 10% government fee along with the normal 3% transaction fee for all currencies. So changing a dollar will get you $.87 CUC. Euros (and other currencies) are not hit with the 10% government fee. I am going to take some Euros and dollars to see how this plays out. You can order Euros from your local bank here in the USA. One bank had a $5 fee and had to know my travel dates ( they were told that is none of their business), another had a $14.50 shipping fee with 2 day lead time, there are online currency exchanges that over a certain amount will next day the Euros to you, AND there are currency exchanges in the airport ( in my case MIA). Some say that the best exchange rate is at the airport. So this will be a learning curve for me.