Cuba Travel Guide
You should only consume bottled water while in Cuba. This is sometimes easier said than done. When you find a store that sells bottled water it can be advisable to buy more than you need (for later use). Water is sold in CUC and is ordinarily priced at approxi- mately 1 CUC per bottle.
During your time in Cuba you might be lucky enough to meet amazing people or forge special friendships. You also might be fortunate enough to be shown that sensational hospitality that Cuba is known for. Gifts from your home country are always well-received. In addition to this, leaving gifts such as hygiene and beauty products (toothpaste, shaving products, makeup, shampoo, conditioner, nice hand soaps, etc.) or school supplies (pens, pencils, notebooks, colouring books, crayons), are very much appreciated. Any gifts you might choose to give are more appropriately given in Casas and hotels rather than in restaurants or other places. If you become friends with someone in your host family, a nice gift is always appropriate.
In an official sense, the maximum value of any gifts brought into Cuba must be less than USD $50. A good rule of thumb is to not overtly flout the rule by bringing in 50 baseball caps or expensive electronic equipment, for example. This makes it look like you’re importing goods. Items that are over USD $50 (even items intended as gifts) will be subject to a tax of 100% of the item’s purchase price.
Yes. Everyone traveling to Cuba will need a valid passport. It’s suggested that your passport should be valid for at least six months after your departure from Cuba. Please be sure to check the expiration date of your passport and obtain a new passport if necessary. The processing times for this can vary, so please make any arrangements as soon as possible.
The majority of people traveling to Cuba will need a visa, which is known as a Cuban Tourist Visa (or Cuban Tourist Card) to enter the country. This visa allows you to remain in Cuba for 30 days (or 90 days for those traveling on a Canadian passport). Cuban immigration policy also requires you to have booked accommodation for your first night in Cuba. It can be a good idea to have the name of your hotel or accommodation provider for this first night, as well as their address. Visit www.cubavisas.com to see a list of coun- tries that require a visa for travel to Cuba. Please be mindful that some airlines will not allow you to check in for your departing flight without a Cuban Tourist Visa. While this is not universally enforced, it’s really not worth the risk. You can obtain your visa from the Cuban Embassy or Consulate in your home country and via some travel agencies and airlines. It can be wise to enquire as soon as you’ve booked your flight.
The Cuban Tourist Visa is segmented into two sections, and one of these will be checked upon arrival. You need to retain the other section for the entirety of your stay in Cuba. It’s vital that you keep it in a safe place as you will not be able to leave the country without it. You have a number of options for obtaining a Cuban Tourist Visa:
- Check with the airline taking you to Cuba. They might be able to provide you with a visa with the purchase of the ticket, making this the most cost-effective option.
- Check to see whether you can purchase a visa from your departure airport. Some large airports such as Toronto (Canada), Cancun (Mexico), and Frankfurt (Germany) can issue visas prior to departure. This is generally a fairly inexpensive option.
Apply for a Cuban Tourist Visa through your the Cuban Embassy or Consulate. Prices and processing times can vary, so please enquire and make the necessary arrangements as soon as possible.
- Use a reputable visa company such as www.visacuba.com.
You will find that obtaining a Cuba Tourist Card is fairly straightfor- ward when departing from North/Central/South America and the Caribbean. You will almost always be given the Tourist Card as part of your plane ticket, or will be given the opportunity to purchase the Tourist Card at the airport when you’re departing from Canada, Mexico, The Bahamas, Costa Rica, The Dominican Republic, The Grand Cayman Islands, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Panama, Colombia, etc. If you are traveling to Cuba directly from the UK or Europe, please check with your airline to see if they are able to provide you with a visa (which might be classed as a separate purchase), or if you need to apply for one through a Cuban Embassy or visa company.
Yes. To be granted entry into Cuba, the Cuban government (and us here at Locally Sourced Tours) requires that you have proof of travel health insurance, which you are officially required to show to immigration authorities when entering the country. We have found that this is more of a random spot check, and that about half of our travellers entering Cuba have had their travel insurance checked at immigration.
We do not issue insurance policies ourselves. You have the option of purchasing insurance from a provider of your choice or via our recommended provider, World Nomad’s. You can also purchase your insurance on arrival in Havana, although this is not generally the most cost-effective option. A local insurance provider (Asistur) will sell you travel insurance prior to clearing customs (their booth is next to the immigration counter). Their costs and level of coverage are as follows (subject to change). Please note that US citizens have to purchase the Special category.
It depends on your personal circumstances. While there are no compulsory vaccinations required to enter Cuba, the following vaccinations are advisable as a precautionary measure. They might also be required to satisfy the requirements of your travel insurance. Check with your insurance provider for details. These vaccinations must be administered at least two weeks before you travel, although two months before travel is preferred. These vaccinations are usually offered by your local GP or travel clinic and are generally offered free of charge. We’re of the opinion that it makes sense to have these ‘basic’ vaccinations no matter where your holidays may take you.
Typhoid: The disease is transmitted to humans via food or drinking water. This means that it’s primarily hygiene and sanitary conditions that determine its spread.
Hepatitis A: This virus can be found in faecal matter passed by infected persons. It can be transmitted via contaminated food, such as shellfish and ice cream, as well as via contaminated water (and other drinking beverages). The virus can also be spread through contact with an infected person’s stools as the result of poor hygiene (an infected person not washing their hands properly after using the toilet).
Diphtheria: This disease is primarily transmitted by droplets of bodily fluids from the nose or throat being passed from person to person, usually when coughing or sneezing. Protection from diphtheria comes from having antibodies present in your blood, and this is what the vaccination gives you. A person who shows no sign of illness can be a diphtheria carrier, and as such, can pass the infection onto others. Diphtheria can also be transmitted by skin-to-skin contact.
Tetanus and Polio: These vaccinations should be up to date. If any of your travel vaccinations are not up to date, you will need to receive a booster injection within six months of the initial vaccination. This gives you 10 years of protection, with the exception of typhoid which requires an injection every three years.
One of the things that makes Cuba such an alluring destina- tion is the fact that it enjoys a tropical climate, with a year-round temperate weather. March to April, and October to November are generally the months with the least rain and the most appealing temperatures.
The tourist season typically lasts from December until the middle of April. This is the high season, with slightly higher prices and often significantly higher visitor numbers. Tropi- cal storm activity can often be found from June until November, which makes this period the official hurricane season.
It’s not usually a major concern, as Cuba experiences a much lower frequency of hurricanes and tropical storms than other parts of the Caribbean. Cuba is well-prepared for hurricanes and storms and there are comprehensive evacu- ation procedures. It’s unlikely that hurricane season will affect your time in Cuba.
The type of electricity in most buildings in Cuba is 110 V / 60 Hz, but in resorts it’s usually 220 V / 50 Hz. The plug is the same that is used in the US.
We offer tours that are suitable for all ages and levels of physical fitness, targeted towards travelers who want a unique cultural experience, away from the crowds. We have welcomed guests from all over the world, and the average age of participants on our tours tends to be from around 30 to 60 years old. Having said this, we host people who might be younger or older than this average age group.
The diversity in age range results in a rich range of perspectives on our group tours. We have a combination of solo travelers, couples, and groups of friends who travel with us on our group tours.
A paladar is in fact a small, family-run restaurant, and is probably the best way to enjoy local Cuban cuisine. It’s usually in a convert- ed part of a family home. They operate just like a normal restau- rant. There are constantly new paladares opening up across Cuba – some are good, so are not so good! We can certainly make a few suggestions if you don’t know where to eat.
Cuba is fairly vegetarian friendly. You perhaps can’t expect to have as many options you would in other parts of the world, but you can expect to be able to find something delicious at most restaurants. All the restaurants that Locally Sourced Cuba Tours recommends are vegetarian friendly. In terms of food allergies or special dietary needs, we will do everything we can to meet your requirements.
Cuba is very safe in terms of crime, and while violent crime is almost non-existent, there are still occasional incidents. Use your best judgment when it comes to your personal safety, and when it comes to keeping your possessions safe. There is generally a strongly visible police presence in most cities, and there is currently no known terrorist threat. Here are some helpful safety tips when it comes to traveling through Cuba:
- Do not be obvious with your wealth. Cubans are very poor compared to most tourists so it can be smart to be aware of this, which is respectful.
- Look after your belongings in crowded areas to avoid becoming the victim of a bag snatcher or pick pocketer. While rare, these things can happen (particularly in areas heavily frequented by tourists).
- At night, travel in taxis in groups of two or more.
- If you are doing anything adventurous, you might not know the level of applicable safety inspections, regulations, and training involved. Use your best judgment and avoid doing anything that does not feel safely controlled.
Here at Locally Sourced Cuba Tours, we pride ourselves on our extensive network of ground operations, tour leaders and local contacts in Cuba. These people and groups keep us informed and up-to-date on all local situations in the areas in which we operate. The safety and wellbeing of our passengers is our priority. We rely on these networks to allow us to make any operational decisions neces- sary to keep our trips running safely and smoothly. We often know of situations on the ground before the media, and are in constant contact with our local offices, tour leaders, local operators, and colleagues in order to closely monitor and inform you of the most current information affecting any regions where we operate.
Cuba is an excellent destination for female travelers in terms of personal safety and wellbeing. Violent crime is almost non-exis- tent and so you can walk the streets alone at night. Cuban men can often have a machismo nature, meaning they tend to be very chivalrous and protective of females. There are two sides to the same coin, and this machismo nature means that some Cuban men will pursue a solo female (at a bar or club) to the point of being annoying. You might find that some Cuban men will make incessant whistling and kissing sounds as you walk past, which can understandably make some women uncomfortable.
Simply ignoring this behaviour is the best course of action, and is the only necessary course of action in most cases. In some cases you might have to be a little more forceful and some simple, clear Spanish phrases should do the trick. As with all travel destinations, it is good to be very clear with local men as to what you are and are not interested in. Some helpful phrases you can use are: “No moleste” (don’t annoy me); “Esta Bueno ya” (that’s enough); and “Que falta respeto” (you are being disre- spectful). This should make it clear to any potential suitors that you have no interest in them.
The Cuban national phone company is called ETECSA and they have roaming agreements with most major international carriers. This means that your phone should work in Cuba. Check with your phone service provider for further informa- tion. US phone service providers do not have a roaming agree- ment with Cuba, and so these phones will generally not work in Cuba. It’s important to query roaming charges with your service provider before you go in order to avoid a hefty phone bill once you arrive back home.
You can make an international call at a hotel, directly from your room or from one of the hotel’s phone booths located in the lobby. A call from one of the hotel’s phone booths are generally charged at a rate of USD $2.50 per minute, but you should query this before placing the call. If you call directly from your room, please remember you will need to pay for this along with any other incidental charges when checking out. This will need to be paid in cash if you have a credit card issued by a US bank or financial institution. The cost is generally the same as when making a call from a hotel phone booth. You can also purchase calling cards in hotels and many other places in Cuba that will allow you to call the US at a reduced rate.
Technically yes, but you shouldn’t. The postal service in Cuba is very unreliable. There are also frequent instances when a tempting package that has been posted to or from Cuba has “mysteriously” gone missing.
A Casa Particular (which is Casa Particulares in the plural form) is simply Spanish for ‘private home.’ They’re a fairly new development in terms of accommodation options for Cuba, since it was only in 1997 that the government began to allow local people to rent out their properties to visitors for the first time. Before this, all accom- modation on the island was owned and operated by the govern- ment, and this is why these Cuban-style B&B’s or rental apartments are called Casa Particulares to clearly identify them as privately run establishments, as opposed to state-run establishments.
The quality of the facilities at an average Casa Particular has improved dramatically since 1997, as has the level of service on offer. This is because Cubans have wholeheartedly embraced the opportunity to own and operate their very own businesses. While they still retain a distinctively Cuban nature, your time at a Casa Particular will be more in line with the type of B&B experience you would expect elsewhere in the world.
Owner-operators of a Casa Particular have to pay an annual per-room tax to the government which allows them to “advertise” their establishment by placing a small sign by the door. This is a sign you will see throughout Cuba, and is comprised of two blue triangles (which represent roofs) against a white background. Most owner-operators are justifiably proud of their businesses and will bend over backwards to give holidaymakers a brilliant and authen- tic Cuban homestay experience.
There are different categories of Casa Particulares in Cuba, so be sure to enquire if you have specific needs. For the most part, you will be renting a private room with ensuite in a renovated family home. Breakfast is generally included. There is sometimes a shared kitchen, lounge and terrace. Most Casa’s have three to four rooms that are available to guests, but there are also some smaller and larger options as well. Some Casa Particulares have private apart- ments that allow for self-catering, and these are a particularly attractive option for families who would prefer a little more freedom and space.
Children are included in all aspects of Cuban life, and so your little ones will be warmly welcomed. In the countryside, your Casa Particular could be on a working farm, or even in a small traditional village, allowing you to experience the authentic Cuban rural life, even if just for a few days. Your hosts will be more than happy to arrange local guides for hiking or horseriding, and you will be able to enjoy real home-cooked meals using farm fresh ingredients, as well as fresh seafood if you’re lucky enough to be on the coast.
It’s fairly unlikely, so it’s advisable to bring your own hairdryer.
You’re able to do your laundry at most of your destinations during your tour with us. Your guide will easily be able to arrange this through the casas or hotels you stay at. Just let your guide know that you need to do some laundry and they will help to organize this for you. You can expect to pay anywhere between 2 CUC and 5 CUC for each standard-sized bag of laundry.
There are usually private ensuite bathrooms in each room in the Casas. If a private ensuite bathroom is necessary for you, please let us know prior to booking.
The Cuban government is very protective of the services it offers to its citizens, such as education and healthcare. This means that visits from foreigners are generally not permitted in an official capacity. It might be possible to arrange something informally while on tour, but we are not able to guarantee that this will be possible.
Certainly! Many hotels in the popular resort areas have bikes for you to rent. There are also generally bike and scooter rental companies in the towns and cities that are popular with visitors. Ask the owner of your Casa Particular as well, as they often have a number of bikes available.
Since May 1, 2015 the Cuban Departure Tax will no longer be paid at destination. It should be included in the price of your trip when buying a flight-only or vacation package to Cuba, check with you travel agent, carrier or tour operator if you are unsure.