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Cuba – So close but yet so far

Cuba – So close but yet so far


As a Cuban American who left Cuba some forty-four years ago when I was 4 years old, I had no real memory of my homeland.  I grew up hearing fascinating stories from my elders about how beautiful the island was, about my family that still lived there, and the struggles they went through to come to the U.S.


Two years ago I had the opportunity to travel to Cuba with my husband and daughter.   It was an eye opening experience for all of us.   Not only did it gave me a chance to connect with my family which I had never met, it also give me the opportunity to see where I was from.

Cienfuegos, Cuba

Living in South Florida I think about how close we are to Cuba all the time.   It saddens me to know how close but yet so far apart from my family we are.

I decided early this year that I wanted to revisit Cuba again and invited along my aunt and cousin who haven’t been back since we left Cuba. Although most American citizens are not permitted to travel freely in Cuba, Cuban-born Americans are allowed more freedom to travel.  We are required to use a local agency here in Miami called Marazul to obtain our PE11 Visa to travel to Cuba.   After waiting six weeks for the paperwork, our visa finally came.   We were ready to go.

I spent several months collecting clothes and everyday items that were basic necessities for my family.    We had over 250 pounds of luggage and since only 45 pounds were allowed per person, we had to pay $20 for each additional bag plus $2/pound for every pound we went over.   It cost us a fortune but we knew it was going to be expensive bringing everything over.

The trip in itself is short.  It took us 45 minutes to fly from Miami to Cienfuegos.  We decided to travel to Cienfuegos instead of Havana because the airport is much smaller and it was closer to where my family lives.  Another airport that we considered was Santa Clara.  However, flights only ran two days a week to/from Santa Clara.

Cienfuegos Airport

Once we got to Cienfuegos we collected our bags and they weighed them again at the airport.  Since we went over on the weight we had to pay extra.   In Cuba you are allowed to bring up to 66 pounds per person which includes food items as well. Any medicines and medical supplies have to be packed separately since these items are not weighed. In Cuba they charge you $5/pound for excess weight.   You have to pay in Cuban pesos.   They have counters at checkout where you can change American Dollars/Euros into Cuban pesos to pay the fee.   I suggest you only change what is needed to pay the fee.    The exchange rate is better in other places.

Arrival in Cienfuegos, Cuba


Filled to the rim with bags, leaving us with little space in the car
_MG_7065 web
Packed like Sardines in the back

As we walked thru the exit doors we met up with my cousin who had been waiting for us. He went by himself to pick us up.  I had warned him that we needed the room in the car for all our luggage. We packed his car to the rim leaving barely enough room in the back for my aunt and me to get in.  I had a hard time closing my door.

We decided to stop in the town of Cienfuegos since we were already there to look around.  The first thing we noticed were all the antique cars driving around and the old homes/buildings.  People walking around in the streets enjoying their Saturday afternoon. trip
Cienfuegos, Cuba trip trip

Antique Car on the streets of Cienfuegos, Cuba
Benny Morè in Cienfuegos, Cuba
_MG_7078 web
Street Vendor selling fruit in Cienfuegos, Cuba

After our short visit to the town of Cienfuegos, we got back in the car and drove another hour and forty minutes to the town of Placetas, Cuba where we met up with my family who was waiting for us. Since we had such a rich experience, I’m breaking our trip to Cuba into several episodes.  Next one, Reconnecting with my Cuban family – Part 1.   




About the author

Carmen Edelson is the Founder of Carmen's Luxury Travel. Carmen has been traveling the world for over a decade. Her travels allow her the opportunity to pursue her itch to travel to the best luxury destinations, and experience those first class tastes from around the world.


  1. Vicky Alonso [MissArretrancos]
    March 17, 2014 at 1:24 pm

    Wooow, how many luggage! You look so funny into the car.
    I’m waiting for the next episode.


    • Carmen
      March 17, 2014 at 2:00 pm

      Hi Vicky, Yes, we had a lot of luggage. I had to leave another bag home because I was afraid they wouldn’t let me bring it. Since we have so many cousins and family there it’s hard not to want to bring each of them something that we know they will need.

  2. SJ @ Chasing the Donkey
    March 17, 2014 at 8:02 pm

    HOW AWESOME that you got to go back home, after so long! I am already looking forward to part II where you reconnect! Thanks for linking up again to the #SundayTraveler, great to have you back!

    • Carmen
      March 19, 2014 at 11:02 pm

      Thanks, it was really a treat to see the family again. I just wish we were able to stay longer.

  3. Lauren
    March 17, 2014 at 10:09 pm

    That’s amazing that you were able to travel back home! That’s fantastic that you brought all of that extra luggage with you to bring things back for your family – I am sure they really appreciated all of your hard work & effort! I look forward to reading more!

    • Carmen
      March 19, 2014 at 11:27 pm

      Hi Lauren. I was worried that we were going to have an issue bringing so many bags that I left one home. Thank goodness it all worked out. It breaks my heart to see how excited the kids get when they get new toys and clothes.

  4. Adelina | PackMeTo
    March 17, 2014 at 11:49 pm

    Wow, so much luggage! That is impressive how you guys managed to stuff it all into the car. I’m sure your family really appreciates it. Thanks for linking up to the #SundayTraveler! See you next week 🙂

    • Carmen
      March 19, 2014 at 11:29 pm

      Hi Adelina. I don’t think we would of been able to fit one more bag in the car. 🙂 It’s hard to say “No” when you know that everything you take will be put to good use.

  5. Samantha @mytanfeet
    March 18, 2014 at 5:09 pm

    it’s always an enriching experience to go back to your home country. I would love to visit Cuba and have heard mostly great things about it. It’s pretty close to Costa Rica so hopefully one day!

    • Carmen
      March 20, 2014 at 12:01 am

      Hi Samantha. Cuba is very similar to Costa Rica in many ways. The people are very friendly and offer you the little they have. I hope you get the chance to go to Cuba someday.

  6. frankaboutcroatia
    March 21, 2014 at 8:13 am

    So great that you’ve made it Cuba and had a chance to meet all your family back there. It’s amazing how geographically close it is (only a 45 minutes flight from Miami), and yet so far away in any other sense. At least Cubans living in the USA are allowed to travel to Cuba more freely. I’ve been to Cuba several times, and enjoyed it a lot. Thanks for linking up to the #SundayTraveler.

    • Carmen
      March 24, 2014 at 11:44 pm

      Cuban can travel back but we have to go thru a lot of paperwork to get our Visa’s. I hope one day soon they’ll make it easier for all of us to travel back. It’s such a beautiful island.

  7. Ashley @ A Southern Gypsy
    March 21, 2014 at 5:57 pm

    I’d love to go to Cuba one day and holy cow, that’s a lot of luggage haha. Thanks for linking up to the #SundayTraveler again this week 🙂

    • Carmen
      March 24, 2014 at 11:47 pm

      Ashley, when you have 20+ cousins in Cuba it’s hard not to bring them all a little something. 🙂

  8. Jess
    March 23, 2014 at 4:28 am

    I’m glad Cuban-born Americans have some freedom to visit – it always seems bizarre to me that there’s this island so close to the Flordia Keys, and no one from the US is supposed to go there!

    • Carmen
      March 24, 2014 at 11:52 pm

      Jess, I agree with you. Once, they open the gates for people to travel from the U.S., it’s going to become a very popular destination for many.

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