Cuba is a country where the clocks stopped for decades. The largest and most populous island in the Caribbean, Cuba’s 1959 socialist revolution and the subsequent US trade embargo has frozen the island in time. Vintage American cars still roar through the ramshackle streets of its cities, while horses and carts clatter through the countryside. Far from becoming the American neo-colony it once was, however, this proud nation, whose stature and influence within Latin America has long outweighed its small size, is holding on tight to what makes it so special. Salsa still runs through the veins of every Cuban; world-class ballerinas, baseball players, doctors, and engineers continue to work for a state salary ($30-50/ month); and the island’s pristine beaches and forest-covered mountains aren’t going anywhere.
Travel Documents and Requirements
A tourist card (visa) is required for all American citizens traveling to Cuba. In addition, your passport must be valid for at least six months from your time of entry. For Cuban-American dual citizens, the Cuban government requires that the traveler enter and depart Cuba on his/her Cuban passport, even though the traveler will use his/her passport to depart and re-enter the United States. Contact your local embassy, or consulate for the most up-to-date visa requirements.
The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has issued general licenses within the 12 categories of authorized travel for many travel-related transactions to, from, or within Cuba that previously required a specific license (i.e., an application and a case-by-case determination). Travel-related transactions are permitted by general license for certain travel related to the following activities, subject to criteria and conditions in each general license: family visits; official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations; journalistic activity; professional research and professional meetings; educational activities; religious activities; public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions; support for the Cuban people; humanitarian projects; activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes; exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials; and certain authorized export transactions. Close relatives are also now allowed to visit or accompany authorized travelers for certain activities. No further permission from OFAC is required to engage in transactions covered by a general license.
To enter Cuba all travelers are required to have Travel Medical Insurance. This will be checked by an immigration official when you arrive in Cuba. The insurance coverage is from the moment you arrive in the Republic of Cuba until you leave the country. For flights arriving from the US, the mandatory insurance is usually included with your flight cost. There is also the option to purchase through the local provider (Asistur) at the Havana Airport, prior to clearing customs.
– Passport (with photocopies)
– Cuban Tourist Card (Visa)
– Travel Insurance policy (with photocopies)
– Flight Information & Boarding Pass
– Cash (Canadian dollars, Euros, GBP Sterling or Swiss francs are preferred)
– Travel dossier, pre-departure info & itinerary
– Any vaccination certificates
Clothing and Footwear
– Pants and shorts
– Shirts and T-Shirts
– Skirt or slacks for evening events
– Sweater or light jacket
– Hiking pants/ track pants
– Windproof/ Waterproof jacket
– Comfortable walking shoes
– Waterproof sport sandals
– Closed-toe shoes for evening events
– Under garments and socks
– Toothbrush, toothpaste & dental floss
– Razor & shave cream
– Biodegradable laundry soap
– Eyeshades/ earplugs
– Sun hat
– Insect repellent w/ Deet (no more than 30%)
– Lip Balm
– Fingernail clippers
– One roll of toilet paper
– Sanitary napkins or tampons
– Hand sanitizers/ antibacterial wipes
– Rain Cover or plastic bags for daypacks
– Fanny pack or money belt
– Plastic bag for wet items
– Small , quick dry towel
– Headlamp or flashlight
– Camera and extra memory card
– Binoculars (optional)
– Water bottle
– Watch or alarm clock
– Power Adapter (please see the section on Plugs & Adapters)
– Chargers for electronics
– Luggage lock(s)
– Sleep sack (optional) *Please see blog post for Essential Travel Gear)
– Reading/writing material
– First-aid kit (should contain Aspirin, Band-Aids, antihistamines, motion sickness remedy, Imodium or similar tablets for mild cases of diarrhea, and re-hydration powder)
– Personal prescription drugs, contact lenses, glasses
– Gifting supplies
Essential Trip Information
Our trip leaders and guides are carefully chosen professionals and are often the highest-rated aspects of our trips. In Cuba, our guide(s) will be English and Spanish speaking, highly experienced outdoor enthusiasts who are all exceptionally knowledgeable about the area in which they live and the activities they guide. Your trip leader is there to take care of all the details of your trip, but they’ll become your friend and companion. They are there for anything you need and they’re the person you can rely on when traveling in a place you don’t know. They will provide information on the places you are traveling through, offer suggestions for things to do and see, and recommend great local eateries. Our mission is to ensure that every traveler has the best possible experience with the least hassle.
You will be flying into Jose Marti International Airport (HAV). Upon arrival, a private mini-bus or car will greet you at the airport for transportation to your B&B. The transfer to the hotel takes approximately 30-40 minutes, depending on traffic. Please be prepared to tip your driver 5CUC for taking you to your hotel. You can exchange a small amount of money at the airport.
We recommend that you check your government’s advice for the latest travel information before departure. Cuba is considered among one of the safest countries in the world with a very low crime rate. The security environment is relatively stable and characterized by a strong military and police presence throughout the country. Travelers should always act with precaution with personal items: do not leave things unattended; don’t wear expensive jewelry; keep cameras and handbags secure to your person at all times; use a lockbox at hotel for valuables, travel documents, passport, and cash.
Demonstrations aren’t frequent and have been peaceful in nature, but U.S. citizens should avoid all demonstrations.
Participating in adventure activities and water based activities have an element of danger and excitement built into them. We recommend only participating in activities when accompanied by guide(s). We make every reasonable effort to ensure the fun and adventurous element of any of our planned activities, and we take all prudent measures in relation to your safety, but please use your own good judgement. Participating in adventurous activities is always at your own risk.
Cuba is usually very hot. However, in winter, especially in January and February, it is recommended that you bring a jacket to wear at night, since it can often get cold. The dry season runs from November to April and the rainy season is May to October, but it usually rains just a little. The average temperature throughout the year varies between 16ºC and 35ºC (60ºF and 95ºF). Hurricane season in Cuba runs from June to November, although between August and October is statistically the more likely time for a hurricane to occur.
Eastern Time is observed across Cuba, as in Toronto, New York, and Miami.
A casa particular is basically a private home that provides paid lodging (think Airbnb). This has been part of the “Cuba experience” since 1997 when the Cuba government started allowing residents to rent rooms in their houses to tourists. All of our accommodations promise to be comfortable, quality experiences chosen for their location and character.
You can find detailed information on vaccinations and other health precautions on the CDC website and http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/country/cuba.html. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the World Health Organization (WHO) website, which contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information. You should always consult your physician for up-to-date medical travel information well before departure.
We recommend that you carry a First-Aid kit and hand sanitizers/ antibacterial wipes as well as any personal medical requirements. Tap water in Cuba is generally safe, but it is recommended that you drink bottled water.
Medical care in Cuba typically does not meet U.S. standards. While medical professionals are generally competent, many health facilities face shortages of medical supplies and bed space. Many medications are unavailable, so travelers to Cuba should bring with them any prescribed medicine in its original container and in amounts commensurate with personal use.
Travelers may also wish to consider bringing small additional amounts of prescribed medicines and over-the-counter remedies in the event that a return to the United States is delayed for unforeseen reasons. A copy of the prescription and a letter from the prescribing physician explaining the need for prescription drugs may facilitate their entry into the country.
Travelers to the Havana area should be aware that U.S. and other foreign visitors seeking medical care are generally referred to the “tourist” Cira Garcia Hospital located in the Miramar neighborhood of Havana. Medical consultations and treatment at Cira Garcia require payment in cash in Cuban convertible pesos (CUC) or by credit card issued by a non-U.S. bank (see section on Medical Insurance below).
Diarrheal illness is common among travelers, even in those staying in luxury accommodations. Travelers can diminish diarrhea risk through scrupulous washing of hands and use of hand sanitizers, especially before food preparation and eating. The greatest risk of traveler’s diarrhea is from contaminated food. Choose foods and beverages carefully to lower your risk (see the CDC Food & Water Safety website). Eat only food that is cooked and served hot; avoid food that has been sitting out on a buffet. Eat raw fruits and vegetables only if you have washed them in clean water or peeled them. Drink only beverages from factory-sealed containers, and avoid ice because it may have been made from unclean water.
Cuba is probably the only country in the world that runs on a dual currency system, the Cuban peso (CUP) and the Cuban convertible peso (CUC). The Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) is the main currency used by island visitors. It can only be obtained in Cuba and is worthless outside of Cuba. The purchasing power of the CUC is similar to that of the US dollar. The CUC is benchmarked to the US dollar at one-to-one. However, changing US dollars into CUC’s carries an additional 10% fee. This fee does not apply to other currencies, so it is suggested to bring Canadian dollars, Euros, GBP Sterling or Swiss francs — currencies for which there is no additional conversion fee.
Travelers should carefully evaluate daily spending needs. It is better to take more money than you think necessary than to get caught short of funds. US credit and debit cards don’t yet work in Cuba. Take all the money you anticipate spending plus some extra (suggestion: $100/ day). If you plan to do a lot of shopping, double that amount.
*Please be advised that slightly torn notes, notes that have been heavily marked or are faded may be difficult to exchange. It is best to bring notes in fairly good condition, in dominations lower than 100USD (or equivalent).
You are advised NOT to change money on the street outside the airport. Reliable money exchange may only be done at Cadecas (change houses) or banks and some hotels.
You should always calculate the exchange rate yourself before making the exchange and be sure to re-count it in front of the person who gave it to you. Make sure you also get a receipt.
Some vendors may try to do a “switcheroo” and give you CUP’s instead of CUC’s (50 CUP’s is worth approximately 2 CUC’s). Be sure to take note of the bills you are receiving. CUP’s have images of Cuban leaders while CUC’s have images of monuments. Ask your guide to show you the difference.
Connecting to the internet in Cuba is not impossible but it will be very slow and very expensive. There’s only one internet service provider in Cuba and it’s called Empresa d Telecommunicaciones de Cuba S.A. or ETECSA. The government pretty much owns everything in Cuba, including ETESCA and there’s some censorship as well. WiFi is available at a few hotels and WiFi hotspots with the purchase of a WiFi card, but rates very between 2.00 and 5.00CUC per hour. Internet connections are much slower in Cuba (think dial-up speed), therefore it is recommended that you download your email, disconnect while responding, and reconnect to send them as to preserve your minutes, however not all webmail servers allow you to do this. You should also be aware that many Samsung phones will not be able to locate a WiFi signal in Cuba.
Cellular service in Cuba is controlled by Cubacel, who has offices at the Jose Marti International Airport in Terminals #2 and #3. You can either bring your own cell phone or rent a cell phone in Cuba. If you rent a phone, there is a 100CUC refundable deposit, plus 7CUC/ day rental for the equipment and 3CUC/ day rental for a line. If you bring your own phone, it’s only 3CUC/ day to rent a line, but you’ll have to take out a minimum of 10CUC credit to use the phone. If you want to use your own cell phone in Cuba, it must be unlocked and must be a GSM working in the 900 MHz band width or else it won’t work. A tri-ban phone is even better. Be advised that there’s no internet access available on Cuba’s wireless telephone company provider.
Cubans welcome gifts, however small. Gift giving is an island custom.
Donations for schools. The most needed are pens, calculators, pencils, erasers, memory sticks, candles, flashlights, markers, note pads, stuffed animals, games, dolls, toy trucks and cars. Also appreciated is toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap, shampoo and good quality used clothing and shoes. Baseball bats, balls and gloves are very popular. Do not distribute donations on the street. Your guide will suggest schools and institutions in need.
Personal gifts. While on your tour, you’ll make many new friends. Consider small gifts such as aspirin, multiple vitamins, makeup, manicure and sewing kits, perfume, chocolate, watches, wallets, keychains, purses, scarves, jewelry, pen sets and other things that you yourself would like.
Bringing “donations” to Cuba. When arriving to Cuba, if you are asked about items you intend to leave behind by Cuban customs, it is best to describe them as gifts. For example, if your luggage is searched and you are questioned as to why you’re bringing 100 pencils (for example), say, “they are for friends” and leave it at that. The word donation raises concerns because, in the past, bad people have brought harmful things into Cuba as donations. In the unlikely event your gifts are confiscated rest assured they’ll be distributed to Cubans most in need. Luggage inspections rarely happen unless your bags exceed weight limits, or you bring prohibited items.
Eating is a big part of traveling, so we choose to not include all meals as part of the trip price to give you a choice of eating options. This allows for maximum flexibility in deciding where, what and with whom to eat. It also gives you more budgeting flexibility. Our groups tend to eat together, of course there is no obligation to do this. Your guide will be able to suggest favorite restaurants in Cuba. Please let us know at the time of booking if you have any dietary restrictions or food allergies.
It is customary in Latin America to tip service providers such as waiters, tour guides, bus drivers, hotel porters, chambermaids, museum guides and special guides, taxi drivers, and musicians. Feel good about tipping. When you give a tip to a local, the whole island benefits. Cuban tourist staff share tips with their co-workers and family and the all donate a portion of their tips to the national health and education systems. Tipping is an expected — though not compulsory — component of your tour program and an expression of satisfaction with the persons who have assisted you.
Below are the suggested tip amounts. You can always give more if you are feeling generous.
Tour guide 5.00 to 10.00 CUC per day per person.
Tour bus driver 3.00 to 5.00 CUC per day per person.
Restaurant waiters 1.00 CUC or 10% per meal per person.
Restroom attendants .50 CUC per person.
Hotel porters 1.00 CUC per person or more if you have lots of luggage.
Chambermaids or Casa Particular Hosts 1.50 CUC per day per person.
Museum guides and special guides 1.00 CUC per person.
Taxi drivers 10% of fare.
Musicians at restaurants 1.00 to 2.00 CUC per person.
Everything is very different: language, climate, customs, and demeanor. Cubans are ultra-courteous, effusive, candid, and have a great sense of humor. All of the small material conveniences and services we take for granted are absent at every level on the island (except at your hotel). Cubans are punctual. If you are late for tour activities, the whole group is held up and the whole schedule gets messed up.
Race and sex and gay issues are upside down compared to North American mores. Color is nebulous. Homophobia like racism cannot be compared to the North American extreme. Straight people in Cuba are refreshingly open-minded.
Sexuality is very open in Cuba and that can shock some travelers. There are many Cuban men and women (known as Jineteros), who make a living escorting foreigners. Offers of this service are very common in Havana. Be aware of this practice and keep in mind that some locals who approach you may do so to take advantage.
Our advice is to pack as lightly as possible as you are expected to carry your own luggage. We recommend keeping the weight of your bags between 22-30lb and using a well-labeled rolling duffel bag, soft bag or backpack (whichever you find easiest to carry). Suitcases or heavy luggage are not recommended. A good size day-pack (25-40L) is also recommended.
There are no public laundry facilities in Cuba. If you need laundry services, ask your chambermaid or casa particular host. They’ll give you costs and instructions for this service. Generally the cost is between 6-8CUC for a shopping bag of clothes.
Cuba uses types A, B, C, and L plug outlets. The norm is 110-230V, 60Hz, American-style flat two-pin 110V, however some hotels have 220-volt service and outlets. We recommend bringing a universal power adapter, but be sure to read the instructions before plugging your appliance into it. Most adapters are not capable of running power hungry appliances, such as hair dryers. Furthermore, these appliances are not advised as many of the hotels and private homes have low quality wiring. For more information, click here and also see our blog post for Essential Travel Gear.
There is no longer a limit on the amount of Cuban cigars and rum you can bring back to the US, as long as it is for personal consumption only. That means you can’t import and sell Cuban cigars and rum in the US. Normal limits on duty and tax exemption will apply, just as they do with any other country. Should you purchase artwork, there is a 3CUC fee at the airport to carry-on your paintings, but shipping is free. Souvenirs and touristy handicrafts are not considered works of art. Original works of contemporary art require an export seal or export permission letter to exit the country. This documentation is provided by the artist or gallery.
Illegal drugs will not be tolerated on any trips. Possessing or using drugs not only contravenes the laws of the land but also puts the rest of the group at risk. Our philosophy of travel is one of respect towards everyone we encounter, and in particular the local people who make the world the special place it is. The exploitation of prostitutes is completely contrary to this philosophy and therefore prohibited. The trip leader has the right to expel any member of the group if drugs are found in their possession or if they use prostitutes.
The REAL Cuban Sandwich
In the US, we’re used to a Cuban Sandwich having pickles and cheese. Well my friends, I hate to inform you… this is all wrong!
Cuban Anti-Stress Drink
Everyone loves the “Anti-Stress Drink” they receive at the organic farm in Cuba so we managed to get the recipe just for you!