When I reached Costa Rica, I had to check in for my flight to Havana because it was on a different reservation than the U.S. flights. A TACA agent asked to see my Cuban visa…I was not even aware that one was needed.
Turned out I could purchase one directly from her. Digging through a drawer, she pulled out a ziplock back with Cuban migration cards. No passport sticker, unfortunately, just a perforated card that you must pay about $30USD for (though apparently they made a little profit on it) and present to Cuban immigration authorities upon arrival (they take half when you arrive and the other half when you leave).
As the plane landed in Havana and pulled up to a Soviet-era jetbridge, I was hit with a blast of hot, humid error. It was June, it was hot. Following the dimly lit passageway I came out in a concrete arrivals hall with towering ceilings, dirtied windows, and florescent lighting.
Following the signs toward immigration, I was surprised to see a man holding up a sign bearing my name. It was Marco, assistant to the travel agent I was about to meet. He greeted me, grabbed my bag, and escorted me down a set of stairs into a very dimly lit square room with immigration agents sitting behind glass on the north side.
He took my passport and did all the talking, his Spanish too fast for me to decipher. The conversation went on for several minutes, sometimes with raised voices, before I was asked to step up to the window so the agent could compare my face to the picture in my passport. He nodded in approval and handed me back my passport. Apparently the delay was due to the fat size of my passport – the agent was curious why I had been to so many places and noticed stamps from such exotic destinations as most of the former Soviet SSRs, Iraq, and Iran.
Cuban policy is not to stamp American passports. Some people want to hide their trips to Cuba and immigration agents have been instructed to facilitate that. But I wanted a Cuban stamp in my passport and handed back my passport to the agent, simulating stamping motions with my left hand playing the role of a passport and my right hand the stamp. With a curious look, he opened up my passport, found a blank page, and stamped it in pink ink.
Just an example of the stamp — I was in Cuba in June 2012
I was now into Cuba!
Read more of my Cuba trip report:
Planning a Trip to Cuba
Los Angeles to Havana in TACA Economy Class
Visa Requirements for Visiting Cuba
Day One in Cuba: A Tour of Havana
Day One in Cuba: An Evening Surprise
Day Two in Cuba: Accused of Being An American Spy!
Day Two in Cuba: Escorted Flying
Day Two in Cuba: The Juxtaposition of Two Cubans
Havana to Los Angeles in TACA Economy Class
10 Tips for Visiting Cuba
Why You Should Visit Cuba Now