While Havana’s Jose Marti Internacional is a comparatively modern and well-organised airport, like airports throughout the world it can be confusing for those who haven’t been there before. As Cuba’s main international and domestic gateway, its likely you’ll enter its confines at some point during your Cuban adventure, so here are our Havana airport tips to make your passage that little bit easier!
Jose Marti has five terminals, although most international flights arrive into terminal 3. Some flights coming from the United States also berth at terminal 2. Having departed the plane, you’ll need to join the short queues at immigration. Officials will want to see your passport together with your Cuban Tourist Card. Officially, they should also ask to see proof of health insurance valid for the country, although this doesn’t always happen. If you don’t have insurance you will be asked to go to a special desk to purchase some. We do recommend organising your health insurance in advance of traveling to Cuba, to avoid the delays and stress in purchasing it on arrival. You will also pass through a quick security check, and be asked to hand over your completed Health Assessment Card, which the air stewards will have handed out before your flight landed. Needless to say, it’s important to fill out this form honestly. Next you can make your way to baggage reclaim. Don’t be surprised if your checked luggage doesn’t arrive as quickly as you’re used to at other airports – it can take some time to complete in-country checks before it arrives at the carousels – on rare occasions, up to three hours! You should still have hold of a Customs Declaration Form, also given to you during your flight, and on leaving the baggage reclaim area is the time to hand it over to officials. These officials will also check the airline tags attached to your luggage, and may ask you to open them (especially if you’re carrying expensive electronics such as laptop computers). You will then be free to enter the main Arrivals Hall!
Our Havana Airport Tips continue with the best way of getting money on arrival into Jose Marti International Airport, since it is not possible to get Cuba’s ‘tourist’ currency, the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) outside of the country. There is a state-run CADECA currency conversion desk at both terminals 2 and 3, which offer similar exchange rates as other CADECA offices throughout the country. Be sure to count your CUCs before leaving the counter window to prevent being short changed (most likely accidentally), Should you be planning to get money in this way, it’s best to avoid changing US dollars, which have higher fees associated with them than Canadian dollars, Euros or British Pound Sterling. Alternatively, there are ATM’s that are signposted. Queues for both the CADECA desk and ATM can be long.
Jose Marti is located 15 km southwest of Havana, meaning getting to the Cuban capital from the airport is never particularly arduous. That said, departing from the airport is limited to a pre-arranged airport transfer (one of our top Havana airport tips) or by the yellow tourist taxis that wait for customers outside the Arrivals Hall. No official (tourist-friendly) buses run to or from the airport. The benefits of opting for a pre-arranged transfer if that there will be no concerns over payment as this is already been covered, and you also get to ride in one of Cuba’s famed vintage vehicles. By contrast, the tourist taxi fleet is modern and air conditioned, and uses meters to calculate the fare. Don’t be surprised if the journey takes 30-40 minutes dependent on the traffic and time of day. The cost should be somewhere in the region of 25 CUCs. Make sure you have the address of your hotel or casa particular clearly written down, in case the driver’s English is limited. Excellent service can be rewarded with a small tip of a few CUCs. It has been known for some unscrupulous taxi drivers gaining commission from a specific casa particular to take tourists there instead of the casa they have booked. It’s therefore best to check the street name and number if possible, and confirm you have reserved the room before settling down and unpacking.
Though you’ve already successfully passed through Havana’s airport without issue on your arrival, we also have a few Havana airport tips to ensure your departure is just as smooth. Catching a taxi from the centre of Havana back to the airport is generally a little cheaper than in the other direction, due to a number of different factors, but you should still expect to pay between 20 and 25 CUCs for the journey. Once inside the Departure Hall, check into your flight in good time, as you would anywhere else in the world. We recommend being at the airport at least two and a half hours before your scheduled departure time. There is now no airport departure tax (previously 25 CUCs) to worry about. However, you should ensure you have used up any remaining CUCs in your possession before passing through security. Not only do the shops and cafes on the other side of security refuse to accept CUCs as payment, but since it is illegal to export CUCs, it is within the rights of officials to confiscate any they find without compensation. The same rules apply whether the CUCs are found on your person, in your carry-on luggage, or in your checked bags. In both terminals 2 and 3 there are a number of stores selling refreshments and souvenirs that accept CUCs before security. If you have large quantities of CUCs remaining and would rather exchange them into exportable currency, this can be done at the CADECA exchange desk before security too. CUCs can be exchanged for US and Canadian dollars, Euros, and British Pounds Sterling. As we have already mentioned, stores beyond security do not accept CUCs. They do accept Cuba’s other ‘local’ currency, the CUP, as well as the major international currencies mentioned above. Options for food and drink at the airport is very limited, so the last of our Havana airport tips would be to eat something before traveling to the airport.