Airports & Duty-Free
As soon as you get off the plane, your travel adventure in the tropical socialism is going to begin. Although several Cuban airports are operated by foreign companies, they are very simple and communist in character. When leaving the country, you can go shopping in the duty-free shops that you reach after the security check. Keep reading this article to find all important information about the airports, departure and duty-free.
Cuba has a total of ten international airports, but the majority of passengers are handled at two of them: mainly the airports in the northwest of the island in the capital Havana and the vacation paradise Varadero.
Havana Airport is the most important on the island. The airport of the Cuban capital is the national as well as the central international hub of the island. It can therefore be considered as the main airport of Cuba. It is located about 15 kilometers southwest of the city center and has three terminals.
Terminal 3 is the main one and is used for international scheduled flights. In contrast, Terminal 2 primarily handles low-cost airlines and charter planes. Finally, domestic flights operate at Terminal 1.
The mentioned Varadero Airport is about two hours east of the capital. It is primarily used to handle package tourism and has just one terminal.
If you travel directly to a resort on the Cayos on the north coast (Jardines del Rey & Cayo Santa Maria), you often reach Cuba at Santa Clara Airport. In case your destination is the east of the island, it is better to fly to Holguín. Like Varadero, Santa Clara and Holguín airports are used almost exclusively for package tourism.
Depending on your country of origin you can fly to one of the other international airports, like Santiago de Cuba, Camagüey, Cienfuegos or Guantánamo. In addition, there are several national airports, that serve regular domestic flights across the island. In that sense, Baracoa and Nueva Gerona on the Isla de la Juventud are particularly important for tourism.
What to expect at the airport in Cuba
If you arrive in Cuba after a long flight, you usually want to get to your accommodation as soon as possible. In case you have not organized a transfer, you will have to travel on your own. Find the transfer options at all Cuban airports in the article Airport transfers.
You cannot completely avoid the waiting times at the airport. But you can use it in the small stores, cafés or simple snack bars. The shops are located in the departure area, but also outside the terminals. Generally, the most important groceries and goods can be purchased in the facilities, although - as all over Cuba - the supply situation is also limited.
In Varadero, there is a kiosk and snack bar not far from the airport hall. You will find them at the car rental (Cubacar), which is about 100 meters away on the right-hand side after leaving the building. There is also a simple state cafeteria on the upper floor of the airport.
When traveling with a rental car, you should buy all important goods directly at the airport in the best case. We recommend you so because often the range of products there is at least a little better than in the rest of the country.
You will also find several shops outside the airport in Havana. At Terminal 3 there are some travel agencies offices, car rental companies and a kiosk outside the airport.
The toilets are very tight and also frequently in poor condition.
In all airports you can find both ATMs and exchange offices. But you also must expect defective machines and regularly long waiting times. The exchange is possible after the security check. Somehow the rate is worse at airports. You can know the details about the supply and exchange of money in the article Money & Currency.
When leaving the country, the remaining CUP must be exchanged for foreign currency again. All the important information about the departure process can be found in the article entry and exit.
To pass the time, you can use wireless internet in the departure halls and security areas. You need the regular ETECSA cards, which can also be purchased at the airport, but are usually a bit more expensive there (2 USD / h). Some news for smokers! There you can also find a smoking lounge.
In the security area there are different shops that are well stocked by Cuban standards. The prices are far from the regular prices outside the airport. So it is often advisable to buy the desired items in advance. Since November 2019, the goods can only be purchased in foreign currencies: Euros, Swiss Francs & US Dollars are accepted.
The prices for products such as rum, cigarettes and coffee are the same in all supermarkets, gas stations and kiosks throughout Cuba. They cannot be obtained cheaper at airports either. Most goods have the same prices and if they are different, then the cost will be higher than outside the airport. The different stores have small price differences for some products. So there is a kind of communist price competition.
A carton of the "Hollywood" brand filter cigarettes, popular in Cuba, cost around 13 USD and a carton of Lucky's cost twice as much. For safety reasons, anyone who buys drinks must get a sealed plastic bag for one USD.
As all over Cuba, it must be expected that employees will charge excessive prices at the airport. If you have doubts, you should ask for the receipt. In case you do not receive it, probably an inflated price has been charged. To avoid discussions, it is better to only buy goods with marked prices - although they are sometimes manipulated.
Duty free in the socialist island means that the most important goods can be purchased conveniently at the airport, but the products are no cheaper than in the rest of the country.
In conclusion, it can be said, that in Cuba there is are no real duty-free stores.