Traveling to Cuba

The sights and sounds of Cuba. This Caribbean country is just 90 miles south of Miami but in many ways is worlds away. It is an extraordinary place that Americans are just beginning to explore.

For author and former Newsweek photographer Cynthia Carris Alonso, it's a place that feels very familiar. She was hooked after her first trip in 1992. Since then she has been back more than a dozen times. Photos from her travels are documented in the new book, "Passage to Cuba."

Alonso calls Cuba a photographer's paradise. Around every corner it seems there's an image worth preserving in time. She says despite their struggling economy and lack of resources for basics like electricity, Cubans remain very upbeat, welcoming people. This also makes it a traveler's dream.

But I wanted to know just how easy is it to plan a trip to Cuba. For answers I went to Joe Diaz, co-founder of Afar magazine. He was the first American to travel to Cuba after President Obama's announcement last year. He was chock full of helpful tips. First one: use a travel agent. And while there are still no direct commercial flights, connecting through another city is easy.

You don't need a visa -- just a valid U.S. passport and a reason for going. There are 12 official reasons for travel there. The list is found on the U.S. Department of Treasury website.

Once you arrive, cash is king. ATMs that service U.S. financial institutions are rare. But you can change money at the airport. American dollars go far. Joe says you can easily do Cuba on $100 a day, lodging included. Instead of a big hotel like the Saratoga, try a private residence like a casa particular.

Finally, have fun. Here is joe's list of must do activities: walk around Havana, checking out all the beautiful architecture; spend some time on the Malecon, the seawall that stretches for 5 miles along Havana's coast line -- it's a perfect place to meet someone, grab a nosh or enjoy outdoor music; and finally visit the colonial town of Trinidad and the picturesque town of Pinar del Rio in the countryside.