Since Cuba is not a trip you can plan as easily as say, Hawaii, there are steps that you need to take to obtain a ticket and visa, you also need to know certain rules to enter/exit this mysterious island.
Ticket and Visa: I used the Travel Agency DMC/ Destination Management Consultants and dealt with Sheyla Diaz, a very helpful agent based in Miami, FL. Contact Info: 1850 SW 8th Street, Suite 204-A, Miami, FL 33135 // 305.443.0417 // firstname.lastname@example.org. We flew through Marazul Charter which are either American Airlines, Delta, or JetBlue planes. I paid $400 round trip and Marazul includes the exit tax ($25) in that price.
Should your charter not include the exit tax, please keep 25 CUC handy at the end of your stay so you can leave the island! Also, cash is the only method of payment in Cuba, no credit cards, travelers checks, or anything else is accepted there.
Our Tourist Visa was $95 a person. We used the addresses of family members and were not asked anything else. If you don't have family there, just ask Sheyla which would be your best option. Like I said, she was very helpful.
Tips: Your phone will not work over there. There is only wifi in the hotels, should you stay in one (I highly recommend staying at a Casa Particular, more on those below). You're able to rent one through DMC but I loved being off the grid for a week.
Bring medications (prescriptions and over the counter), sunscreen, hair products and anything else you may need as these items are difficult to find there and you don't want to waste time trying to find them.
I recommend rummaging through your closet and packing clothes that you may not have worn in a while and don't mind leaving to the beautiful people there. I brought outfits and shoes that I knew I could easily part with at the end of my stay. Even if you don't have family in Cuba, there is always someone who will know what to do with that thoughtful care package. Clothes and shoes are not easy to find or cheap for them, so this is something special you can leave behind as a token of gratitude.
Casa Particular: My intention for this trip was to see Cuba from the realest POV possible, and that would definitely omit staying in a hotel. Casas Particulares are plentiful in Cuba. We stayed with family in Havana but in Varadero we secured a wonderful little Casa for three days. Roberto & Martha's home was a 1 minute walk from the legendary beach, a short stroll to local Artisanal shops, and a quick taxi/Almendron/horse carriage ride to plenty of delicious restaurants. Roberto charge 30 CUC a night because we were in an off peak time. it's 35 CUC if you're there during the peak months. Contact information: Street 17 #102A, 1st and 2nd Ave, Varadero, Cuba. // +53.45.612958 mobile +53.52.775806 email@example.com
Bonus: If you also have Cuban roots, I highly recommend trying to locate the homes of your family. My grandfather made a map for me before I left and he circled the home where he grew up and lived until he was 17. He also showed me the home where my mother and aunt lived until they fled Cuba in 1961. He asked me to take pictures of them if I could. My aunt on my dad's side gave me the address where we have a cousin I never met. He still lives in the home where my dad was born and most of his family lived. These were very special landmarks for me and created a powerful adventure which I detailed in my travel diary.