When you travel to Cuba, you immediately know you´re travelling to a different World.
Before December 2014, it was all the paperwork, the permits, and all the restrictions about not spending your dollars. Most of these issues have been eased or minimized since then. Now you can even bring a bunch of legitimate Havana cigars, and enjoy them at home.
But still, there are very evident signs that you´ll be in a very different place, and you´ll notice as soon as you arrive at the airport for your flight to Cuba. Unless you´re flying in a privately chartered plane, not shared with other passengers, the first thing you´ll notice are the Cubans, and how different they are.
Why are these people carrying so much luggage? Every Cuban travelling back home, or to visit relatives, has to bring all sorts of things that are not available there, not even for people with plenty of money to spend. Hence, the extra duffel bags, or even cardboard boxes.
The second thing is how loud the Cubans are. Cubans are very extrovert, very friendly. If they find another Cuban, they immediately start talking and laughing in loud voices, and sharing as if they were long separated friends or relatives, even if they´ve just met. Start getting used to it. In Cuba, any street corner looks and sounds like a scene from an opera. I once met a German lady in Havana. She was married to a Brazilian filmmaker, didn´t understand a word of Spanish, and had never been to Cuba before. She told me she enjoyed going out on the streets, and stand in a corner, preferably one with a “bodega” (grocery store) at it, and watch Cubans go about their daily routines, yelling and hollering across the street at friends and neighbors, commenting on everyday affairs, or on last night´s “telenovela” (TV soaps). To her, everything sounded like going to the opera…
When your plane arrives in Havana´s Jose Marti Airport, the first thing you notice, as the AC is turned off, and the plane doors are opened, is the smell. It really smells differently. The air is really warm, and carries a smell of overripe fruit, sort of. You realize you´re in a real tropical country. It´s not just warm. It´s very humid, almost stuffy. That´s why you have to dress properly, keep to the shade, and try to go to places with an AC that works.
You will have no problems with customs and immigration. All the stories about such problems only happen to Cubans, the ones with the extra luggage who bring home everything, including a kitchen sink. You’re a tourist, and your visit is appreciated. You will be shown the best of Cuban hospitality.