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I Traveled To Cuba & The US Government Didn’t Like It


Modified: January 3, 2024

by Francoise Turk



Traveling is a passion that enriches our lives and broadens our horizons. It allows us to immerse ourselves in new cultures, explore undiscovered destinations, and create lifelong memories. However, sometimes our travel choices can encounter unexpected obstacles, as I discovered during my recent trip to Cuba.


As an adventure enthusiast, I always seek out unique and off-the-beaten-path destinations. Cuba, with its vibrant culture, rich history, and picturesque landscapes, had long been on my travel bucket list. The opportunity presented itself when restrictions on travel to Cuba were loosened, and I decided it was time to experience this Caribbean gem firsthand.


Little did I know that my decision to travel to Cuba would lead to a clash with the US government. Despite the easing of travel restrictions, there were still complications and scrutiny surrounding travel to the island. Nevertheless, armed with my curiosity and a sense of adventure, I embarked on this journey with an open mind and a desire to embrace the Cuban way of life.


Join me as I take you through the highs and lows of my travel experience in Cuba, from the picturesque streets of Old Havana to the challenges I faced upon returning to the United States.


My Decision to Travel to Cuba

It was a decision fueled by a desire for adventure and a yearning to explore a country with a rich history and vibrant culture. The allure of Cuba’s colonial architecture, classic cars, and colorful streets had always captured my imagination. So when the opportunity arose to visit this unique Caribbean island, I couldn’t resist.


Before embarking on this journey, I researched the current travel regulations and requirements for Americans traveling to Cuba. While there were still certain restrictions in place, such as the need to travel under one of the 12 authorized categories, it had become easier for US citizens to visit the country compared to previous years.


I was determined to experience Cuba not just as a tourist, but as an inquisitive traveler eager to interact with the locals and delve deeper into its culture. I planned my itinerary carefully, ensuring that I would have the opportunity to explore the capital city of Havana, learn about the historical significance of the Revolution, and unwind on the sun-kissed beaches of Varadero.


It’s worth noting that while Cuba is often associated with vintage cars and vibrant music, the country also has a fascinating political and social backdrop. As an adventure enthusiast with an interest in history and global affairs, this aspect only heightened my curiosity and fascination.


While some may have been dissuaded by the potential challenges and uncertainties of traveling to Cuba, I was determined to follow my passion for adventure and exploration. The allure of immersing myself in a culture untouched by time, meeting locals who could share their stories, and experiencing a different way of life was too enticing to ignore.


With my bags packed and my sense of adventure in overdrive, I embarked on this exciting journey to the captivating island of Cuba. Little did I know that my decision would soon lead to a series of unexpected twists and turns, as I encountered both the charms and challenges of this intriguing destination.


Arrival in Havana

Stepping off the plane in Havana, I immediately felt enveloped in a sense of nostalgia and intrigue. The warm Caribbean breeze, coupled with the sight of vintage cars lining the streets, signaled that I had truly arrived in a place frozen in time.


The capital city of Cuba, Havana, is a vibrant mix of history, culture, and architectural beauty. As I made my way to my accommodation in the heart of the city, I couldn’t help but marvel at the colorful facades of the buildings that lined the streets. Each one seemed to have its own story to tell.


Exploring the streets of Havana felt like stepping back in time. Classic cars from the 1950s roamed the streets, with their brightly painted exteriors and polished chrome details. It was as if I had stepped onto the set of a vintage movie, where time stood still and the past was seamlessly intertwined with the present.


The historic neighborhood of Old Havana, a UNESCO World Heritage site, was high on my list of places to explore. Its narrow cobblestone streets, colonial architecture, and charming plazas transported me to a bygone era. I wandered through the bustling streets, taking in the vibrant atmosphere and admiring the grandeur of the old buildings.


One of the highlights of my time in Havana was visiting the iconic Malecón, a promenade stretching along the city’s coastline. As the sun began to set, locals and tourists alike gathered along the seafront, enjoying the cool sea breeze and the mesmerizing views. It was a perfect spot to soak in the vibrant energy of Havana and witness the daily rhythms of life in this bustling city.


During my stay in Havana, I made it a point to visit some of the city’s renowned landmarks. The Plaza de la Catedral, with its magnificent Baroque cathedral, left me in awe of its architectural beauty. The Plaza de Armas, the city’s oldest square, was a peaceful oasis amidst the bustling streets, surrounded by historic buildings and shaded by majestic trees.


As the days passed, I couldn’t help but fall in love with the charm and character of Havana. The friendly and welcoming nature of the Cuban people, coupled with the city’s enchanting atmosphere, made me feel right at home.


Little did I know that the challenges of my Cuban adventure were just beginning, as I would soon find myself facing scrutiny and obstacles upon my return to the United States.


Exploring the Streets of Old Havana

As I wandered through the narrow cobblestone streets of Old Havana, I couldn’t help but be captivated by the vibrant energy and rich history that permeated the area. Every corner seemed to reveal a hidden gem, whether it was a beautifully restored colonial building or a lively music performance taking place in a local plaza.


The architecture of Old Havana is a beautiful blend of Spanish colonial and neoclassical styles. The pastel-colored facades and ornate balconies added to the charm of the streets, creating a picturesque backdrop for exploration. I found myself constantly reaching for my camera, wanting to capture the essence of this unique place.


One of the most iconic landmarks in Old Havana is the Plaza de la Catedral. As I stood in awe of the grandeur of the Baroque cathedral, I couldn’t help but imagine the history that had unfolded in this very spot. The plaza, with its well-preserved buildings and the sound of live music floating through the air, was a hub of activity and cultural significance.


As I continued my stroll, I came across the Plaza de Armas, the oldest square in Havana. Surrounded by historic buildings and shaded by majestic trees, it exuded a serene and peaceful atmosphere. The square’s centerpiece, a statue of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, a key figure in Cuba’s fight for independence, served as a reminder of the city’s rich revolutionary history.


One of the most memorable experiences during my exploration of Old Havana was stumbling upon the Callejón de Hamel. This narrow alleyway is adorned with vibrant Afro-Cuban street art and sculptures, showcasing the cultural diversity and African roots of the Cuban people. The rhythmic beats of Afro-Cuban music filled the air as locals and visitors alike danced and celebrated in this lively hidden gem.


As I meandered through the streets, I couldn’t help but be drawn into the rhythm of the city. From the melodies of live music pouring out of open doorways to the sound of laughter and conversation, there was a palpable sense of joy and community. It was as if the streets of Old Havana were alive with the spirit of the Cuban people.


Of course, no visit to Old Havana would be complete without a stop at one of its charming cafés or local eateries. I savored the flavors of traditional Cuban cuisine, from succulent roast pork to crispy plantain chips. Each bite was a culinary delight, offering a taste of the country’s vibrant and flavorful culinary heritage.


Exploring the streets of Old Havana was truly a sensory experience. The sights, sounds, and flavors immersed me in the rich tapestry of Cuban culture. It was a journey that left an indelible mark on my heart and further solidified my love for travel and adventure.


Experiencing the Cuban Culture

One of the highlights of my trip to Cuba was immersing myself in the rich and vibrant Cuban culture. From the lively music and dance to the strong sense of community and resilience, the Cuban people have nurtured a culture that is truly unique and captivating.


Music is an integral part of Cuban life, and I was fortunate to experience its enchanting melodies firsthand. Whether it was the rhythmic beats of salsa, the soulful tunes of bolero, or the infectious energy of son, the music seemed to be ever-present. I found myself drawn to lively music performances that spilled out onto the streets, where locals and visitors would dance and sing along with carefree abandon.


Dance is another essential element of Cuban culture, and I eagerly enrolled in a salsa dancing class during my stay. Under the guidance of passionate instructors, I learned to move my feet to the infectious Latin rhythms. The dance floor became a place where people from different cultures and backgrounds connected, using the universal language of movement and music.


Art also thrives in Cuba, with its vibrant and expressive works adorning the streets and galleries. I took the opportunity to visit local art studios and galleries, where I was captivated by the creativity and talent of Cuban artists. Their vivid and thought-provoking pieces reflected the complexities of Cuban society and provided insight into the country’s history and identity.


The Cuban people are known for their warmth and hospitality, and I was fortunate to experience this firsthand. Whether I was enjoying a meal at a family-run paladar or conversing with locals in the streets, I felt an immediate sense of welcome and connection. The Cuban people eagerly shared their stories, their traditions, and their love for their country.


Another aspect of Cuban culture that left a lasting impression on me was its resilience in the face of adversity. Despite the economic challenges and limited resources, the Cuban people have maintained a strong sense of community and pride. I witnessed neighbors helping one another, children playing joyfully in the streets, and families coming together to celebrate the simple joys of life.


During my stay, I had the opportunity to partake in traditional Cuban ceremonies and rituals. From observing a Santeria ceremony to learning about the rich Afro-Cuban religious traditions, these experiences offered a deeper understanding of the cultural fabric woven into the everyday lives of the Cuban people.


Experiencing the Cuban culture was a transformative journey that left me with a profound appreciation for the resilience, creativity, and joyful spirit of the Cuban people. It was an immersion in a world where music, dance, art, and community are celebrated with passion and authenticity. Cuba will always hold a special place in my heart as the country that taught me the true essence of culture and the power of human connection.


Interacting with the Locals

One of the most rewarding aspects of my journey in Cuba was the opportunity to interact with the locals. From heartfelt conversations to shared meals, these interactions allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of the Cuban way of life and forge connections that I will cherish forever.


The Cuban people are incredibly warm and welcoming, always ready to engage in conversation and share their stories. Whether I was exploring the streets of Havana or venturing into the countryside, I found that a simple smile and a friendly “Hola” opened the door to meaningful interactions.


During my stay in Cuba, I had the privilege of staying in a casa particular, a private home converted into a bed and breakfast. This provided a unique opportunity to immerse myself in daily Cuban life and connect with the local hosts. From lively conversations over breakfast to evenings spent sharing stories and laughter, I felt like I was part of their family.


One of my most memorable encounters was during a walk along the Malecón, Havana’s iconic seafront promenade. I struck up a conversation with an elderly gentleman who shared his experiences of living through the Revolution and the subsequent changes in Cuban society. His passion for his country and his resilience in the face of adversity left a lasting impression on me.


Beyond the city streets, I had the chance to explore rural areas and venture into local communities. Whether I was visiting a tobacco farm in Viñales or hiking through the lush landscapes of the Escambray Mountains, I was greeted with open arms by the locals. Their warmth and hospitality made me feel like a long-lost friend rather than a tourist.


Interacting with the locals also provided me with valuable insights into their daily lives and the challenges they face. Conversations about education, healthcare, and the struggle for economic stability provided me with a deeper appreciation for the Cuban people’s resourcefulness and determination.


Food has a way of bringing people together, and sharing meals with locals was a highlight of my Cuban adventure. Whether it was indulging in a delicious home-cooked meal prepared by my host or trying street food at a local vendor, each meal became an opportunity to bond over shared culinary experiences. From the perfectly seasoned beans and rice to the succulent pork and flavorful Yuca, Cuban cuisine never failed to tantalize my taste buds.


The connections I made with the local people in Cuba left a lasting impact on me. Their resilience, warmth, and zest for life inspired me to treasure the importance of human connection and cultural exchange. Through meaningful interactions, I not only learned about their way of life but also gained a deeper appreciation for the power of authentic connections that transcend language and cultural barriers.


Visiting Historic Landmarks

One of the highlights of my trip to Cuba was the opportunity to visit its historic landmarks, which provided a fascinating glimpse into the country’s rich history and cultural heritage. From iconic architectural marvels to significant sites of historical importance, each landmark told a story of resilience, revolution, and the indomitable Cuban spirit.


One of the most iconic landmarks in Havana is the Castillo de la Real Fuerza. This fortress, dating back to the 16th century, stands as a testament to Havana’s strategic importance as a hub of trade and defense. As I explored its mighty walls and intricate fortifications, I could almost imagine the battles and sieges that unfolded within its historical confines.


Another prominent landmark is the Plaza de la Catedral, located in the heart of Old Havana. This picturesque square is home to the majestic Catedral de San Cristobal, a masterpiece of Baroque architecture. Stepping inside, I was awestruck by the grandeur of the cathedral, with its ornate altars and exquisite artwork. It was a testament to the profound influence of religion on Cuban culture.


The Revolution Square, or Plaza de la Revolucion, holds immense historical and political significance in Cuba. This vast open space is dominated by the iconic Jose Marti Memorial, a towering statue honoring the Cuban national hero. It was here that Fidel Castro delivered numerous passionate speeches, rallying the Cuban people and championing their revolutionary ideals.


No visit to Cuba would be complete without venturing to the historic city of Trinidad, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Exploring its cobblestone streets, I found myself transported back in time to the colonial era. The Plaza Mayor, with its pastel-colored buildings and fountain at its center, serves as a focal point of this picturesque town. Each step revealed beautifully preserved mansions, museums, and churches that showcased the architectural beauty of the time.


For a glimpse into the country’s pre-Columbian history, a visit to the archaeological site of Chichen Itza is a must. This ancient Mayan city, located in the province of Pinar del Rio, boasts impressive ruins, including El Castillo, the iconic pyramid temple. Learning about the fascinating Mayan civilization and experiencing the wonder of these ancient structures was a humbling experience.


Visiting these historic landmarks not only allowed me to appreciate the architectural beauty and historical significance of Cuba but also deepened my understanding of the Cuban people’s struggle for independence and their unwavering spirit. Each landmark served as a tangible link to the past, reminding me of the resilience, passion, and determination that define the Cuban identity.


Taste of Cuban Cuisine

A trip to Cuba is not complete without indulging in its vibrant and flavorful cuisine. Cuban cuisine is a fusion of African, Spanish, and Caribbean influences, resulting in a delightful blend of bold flavors, aromatic spices, and hearty dishes that truly tantalize the taste buds.


One of the most iconic dishes in Cuban cuisine is the classic ropa vieja. This slow-cooked shredded beef is simmered in a savory tomato-based sauce, along with onions, peppers, and a variety of aromatic spices. The tender and flavorful meat, paired with a side of fluffy white rice and sweet plantains, creates a gastronomic experience that is nothing short of exquisite.


Another beloved dish is lechon asado, a succulent and flavorful roast pork. The pork is marinated in a blend of citrus juices, garlic, and herbs, then slow-roasted until it’s tender and juicy. The result is a melt-in-your-mouth delicacy that is often served alongside traditional black beans, rice, and yuca.


For seafood lovers, Cuba offers a wide array of fresh and delectable options. From the popular camarones al ajillo (garlic shrimp) to the mouthwatering lobster dishes, such as lobster enchilado, seafood dishes in Cuba are a true delight. The abundance of the Caribbean Sea provides an abundance of flavorful fish and shellfish, which are expertly prepared and seasoned to perfection.


One cannot forget the classic Cuban sandwich, a culinary gem that showcases the country’s fusion of flavors. This delectable sandwich is made with layers of roast pork, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard, all pressed between slices of crispy Cuban bread. The combination of savory and tangy flavors, along with the satisfying crunch of the bread, makes it a go-to choice for a quick and satisfying meal.


Vegetarians need not worry, as Cuban cuisine offers plenty of plant-based options as well. Moros y Cristianos, a traditional dish made with black beans and rice, is a staple in Cuban households. Pair it with tostones (fried plantains) or a side of yuca con mojo (yucca with garlic sauce), and you have a delicious and satisfying vegetarian meal.


And of course, no culinary journey in Cuba would be complete without sipping on a refreshing mojito or enjoying a glass of flavorful rum. Cuban rum is renowned worldwide for its smooth and rich taste, and it serves as the perfect accompaniment to a leisurely afternoon or a lively night of music and dance.


Exploring the flavors of Cuban cuisine not only nourishes the body but also provides a deeper understanding of the country’s cultural heritage. From humble street food stalls to family-run paladares, each bite offers a taste of the passion, history, and diverse influences that have shaped Cuban cuisine into the vibrant culinary experience it is today.


Challenges of Traveling in Cuba

While Cuba offers a unique and unforgettable travel experience, it is important to be aware of the challenges that can arise while exploring this captivating country. From logistical hurdles to cultural differences, navigating these obstacles can require patience and adaptability.


One of the main challenges of traveling in Cuba is the limited infrastructure. While major tourist areas like Havana have well-developed amenities, other regions can lack basic services such as reliable internet access and consistent transportation. It’s important to plan and manage expectations accordingly, and be prepared for occasional inconveniences.


Another challenge is the dual currency system. Cuba operates with two currencies: the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) and the Cuban Peso (CUP). The CUC is primarily used by tourists, while the CUP is for locals. Understanding the exchange rates and knowing which currency to use in different situations can be confusing at first, but local vendors and guidebooks can provide helpful guidance.


Communication can also be a challenge in Cuba. While access to mobile networks and internet has improved in recent years, it is still limited and not as accessible as in other countries. It’s a good idea to have offline maps and important information downloaded before arriving in Cuba. Additionally, knowing some basic Spanish phrases can go a long way in facilitating communication with locals.


Transportation in Cuba can be somewhat unpredictable. Public transportation options can be overcrowded and unreliable, so it’s recommended to plan ahead and book private transfers or taxis if necessary. It’s also important to be flexible and patient when it comes to travel times and schedules.


One aspect of Cuban travel that some visitors find challenging is the government’s regulations and restrictions. These regulations can change frequently, and it’s important to stay updated on the latest travel advisories and requirements. Visitors must also be prepared for potential scrutiny and thorough inspections upon entering and exiting the country, especially if traveling from the United States.


Despite these challenges, traveling in Cuba is a rewarding experience that offers a glimpse into a unique and resilient culture. By embracing the adventure, being adaptable, and maintaining a positive attitude, travelers can navigate these hurdles and fully immerse themselves in the wonders that Cuba has to offer.


Return to the United States

As my time in Cuba came to an end, I prepared for my return to the United States, hoping to carry with me the cherished memories and experiences from my adventure-filled journey. Little did I know that facing scrutiny and obstacles would be part of my journey back home.


Upon arrival at the Cuban airport, I experienced strict security measures and thorough inspections by both Cuban and US authorities. It was a reminder of the complexities and tensions that exist between the two countries, and the heightened scrutiny placed on travelers coming from Cuba.


As a US citizen, returning from Cuba meant adhering to specific travel regulations set by the US government. The nature of my visit fell within one of the authorized categories, which allowed me to travel legally. Nonetheless, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of unease as I approached the US immigration checkpoint at the airport.


I went through a series of interviews and extensive questioning regarding the purpose and details of my trip. It was a nerve-wracking experience, as I provided documentation and explanations to prove that my travel was in accordance with the authorized category. While it was within my rights to travel to Cuba, the process of scrutiny and potential backlash made me acutely aware of the political climate surrounding travel to the country.


After what felt like an eternity, I was finally granted entry into the United States. As I walked through the immigration checkpoint, a wave of relief washed over me. While the challenges and scrutiny were taxing, they couldn’t overshadow the incredible experiences and the cultural immersion I had encountered in Cuba.


Returning home from Cuba served as a reminder of the importance of advocating for open borders, cultural exchange, and understanding. The restrictions and barriers only reinforced my belief in the power of travel to bridge divides and foster human connections.


While my return journey had its challenges, it also reminded me of the privilege I have as a traveler. The ability to explore different cultures and embrace diverse experiences is a precious opportunity, and one that should be cherished and protected.


As I settle back into my everyday routine, I reflect on my time in Cuba with a sense of gratitude and admiration. The challenges I faced upon returning to the United States serve as a reminder of the need for continued advocacy and support for cultural exchange, celebrating the richness of different cultures, and embracing the shared experiences that unite us as global citizens.


Facing Scrutiny from the US Government

Returning from my adventure in Cuba, I found myself facing an unexpected obstacle: scrutiny from the US government. While I had traveled to Cuba under authorized categories and adhered to the regulations, it was disheartening to experience the level of scrutiny and questioning upon my return.


Upon passing through customs and immigration, I was pulled aside for additional questioning and scrutiny. I was asked to provide detailed documentation and evidence of my travel activities, including itineraries, receipts, and even photographs. It felt as though my every move was being scrutinized, and the burden of proof lay on my shoulders to demonstrate that my travel was within the authorized parameters.


This experience was not unique to me; many US citizens who travel to Cuba have faced similar challenges and interrogations. It is a testament to the complex relationship between the US and Cuba, and the strict regulations that surround travel to the country.


While I understood the need for the US government to monitor travel under certain categories, this level of scrutiny felt excessive and invasive. It was a reminder of the political tensions and differing perspectives that continue to shape US-Cuban relations.


The scrutiny I faced was a stark contrast to the warm and welcoming nature of the Cuban people. Their hospitality and openness towards foreigners stood in stark contrast to the suspicion and skepticism that I encountered upon my return home.


Despite the challenges and interrogation, I remained resolute in my belief that cultural exchange and travel promote understanding and bridge divides. Traveling to Cuba had broadened my horizons, allowed me to immerse myself in a different culture, and understand the complexities of the Cuban way of life. It had reaffirmed my commitment to advocating for open borders and the freedom to explore and learn from different cultures.


As I reflected on my journey and the scrutiny I faced, it became clear that there is still work to be done to foster better understanding and facilitate easier travel between the US and Cuba. It is my hope that through dialogue and diplomacy, the regulations and barriers will be eased, allowing for a more seamless and respectful exchange between the two countries.


In facing scrutiny from the US government, I was reminded of the importance of remaining steadfast in my belief in the power of travel to challenge preconceptions, break down barriers, and promote mutual understanding. I will continue to advocate for the freedom to explore the world and embrace the richness of different cultures, despite the obstacles that may arise.



My journey to Cuba was an adventure unlike any other, filled with unforgettable experiences, vibrant culture, and unexpected challenges. From the moment I set foot in Havana to the scrutiny I faced upon my return, this trip tested my resilience, expanded my horizons, and reinforced my passion for travel and cultural exchange.


Exploring the streets of Havana, I immersed myself in the history, art, and music of this captivating city. Interacting with the locals opened my eyes to the warmth and resilience of the Cuban people, who welcomed me with open arms and shared their stories and traditions.


Visiting historic landmarks and indulging in the flavors of Cuban cuisine provided a deeper understanding of the country’s rich cultural heritage. From the colonial architecture of Old Havana to the savory delights of ropa vieja and lechon asado, each experience was a sensory journey that left me hungry for more.


However, my trip also presented challenges. Navigating the limited infrastructure, communication barriers, and government restrictions required patience and adaptability. Facing scrutiny from the US government upon my return was a reminder of the political complexities that surround travel to Cuba.


Despite these challenges, my journey to Cuba reaffirmed the power of travel to transcend borders, foster connections, and promote understanding. It taught me the value of embracing the unfamiliar, stepping outside my comfort zone, and cherishing the human connections that are formed along the way.


Cuba, with its vibrant culture, rich history, and resilient people, has left an indelible imprint on my heart. It serves as a reminder that the world is a diverse and beautiful tapestry, waiting to be explored and appreciated.


As I return to my everyday life, I carry with me the legacy of my Cuban adventure. The memories, lessons, and friendships forged during my journey will forever inspire me to seek new horizons, challenge preconceived notions, and advocate for a world where cultural exchange is celebrated and boundaries are erased.


Cuba may have presented its fair share of challenges, but it was through these obstacles that I discovered the true essence of adventure: embracing the unexpected, finding beauty in the midst of adversity, and connecting with people and cultures that enrich our lives.