There are two local currencies. The Cuban convertible peso (CUC) is used by visitors. There is also the Cuban peso (CUP) which is used by locals. Presently, the CUC is set at a fixed rate of 1.00 CUC for each USD $1.00 . This rate is determined by the Cuban Government and is subject to change at anytime, although variations to this fixed rate have not occurred for quite some time. US dollars are subject to an additional 10% surcharge when being exchanged for CUC. This surcharge is only applied to US dollars, and does not apply when exchanging any remaining CUC back to US dollars. The CUC can be obtained at any CADECA exchange house or bank, which can be found in every city in Cuba.
There is a CADECA office at Havana’s José Martí International Airport, allowing you to obtain CUC immediately upon arrival. When leaving Cuba, you can also change any leftover CUC for another currency. The CUC is a closed currency, meaning you will not be able to exchange any remaining CUC outside of Cuba. You will need to show your passport to exchange any currency in Cuba. When exchanging cash between foreign currencies and CUC, many foreign currencies will be listed, however we strongly recommend that you only exchange European Union euros, Canadian dollars, and British pounds in Cuba. US dollars can be exchanged (with the previously mentioned surcharge), and most CADECA offices will be unable to exchange other currencies, such as Australian or New Zealand dollars.
There in fact only one Casas de Cambio SA (CADECA) currency exchange booth in the arrivals hall. This is the booth that most visitors head to, and as such, the queues can become rather long when a flight arrives. Avoid the queues and make your way to the departures hall. There are two exchange booths here and there are rarely any queues. As an added bonus, you will not be approached by the numerous taxi drivers who are looking for passengers, which is an issue in the arrivals hall.
You should not expect to pay any more than 25 CUC for a taxi from Havana’s José Martí International Airport to the central city (and this is for up to 4 passengers). In the arrivals hall, taxis range from 25 to 40 CUC to the central districts of Old Havana, Centro Havana, Vedado, and Miramar. The rate of 25 CUC is something that needs to be negotiated, but you will find many drivers willing to take you for this price.
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.
ATMs in Cuba will accept the majority of Visa cards, but will not accept MasterCards. You will find an ATM on the upper level of Havana’s José Martí International Airport. At present, the only cities in Cuba with ATMs are Havana, Camaguey, Trinidad, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba. You will need a PIN code for your credit card tin order to be able to use the ATMs. Check with your bank if you need to have a PIN code assigned to your card. ATMs will not accept US-issued cards, although this is slowly being overhauled. Check with your bank if you have any questions about your card being accepted in Cuba. We have heard of isolat- ed cases of people coming to Cuba with a Visa debit card that will not be accepted by the local ATMs. It is not known why this is the case.
We have found that that Visa cards issued by the following non-US banks and financial institutions will NOT work in Cuba:
- St George
We strongly recommend that you have an alternative plan for obtaining cash in Cuba in case your credit card does not work. Check with your bank for other options that might be available.
Tipping in Cuba is subjective and it’s entirely up to you how much you wish to tip (although a small tip is almost always expected). It’s not like the US where a percentage of the overall cost is gener- ally given as a tip. To assist you in tipping your Cuban guides and drivers, we’ve come up with a straightforward guideline for rough- ly how much to give, based on your satisfaction of the services received. Please remember that this is only a guideline, and you might wish to give a higher or lower amount depending on your culture and preference:
- Cuban Tour Guide: 5 to 8 CUC per traveler per day
- Cuban Bus Driver: 3 to 5 CUC per traveler per day
- Bartenders: 1 CUC per drink
- Waiters: 15% of the cost of the meal, OR 1 CUC (whichever amount is higher)
- Housekeepers: 1 CUC per day
- Taxi Drivers: 15 percent of the fare
- Musicians: 1 CUC
- Bathroom Attendants: Use your small coins — 10 centavos, 25 centavos, etc.
Tipping in Cuba can be an extremely rewarding experience. Tips are very important when it comes to supplementing the average Cuban’s income (which is low), so we encourage our travelers to embrace the joy of giving, and feel good about leaving gratuities for the Cuban people who work to make your time in Cuba such a memorable one. Note: Please don’t leave coins unless they’re in CUC. Cuban banks will not change foreign coins into either of the local currencies.
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.
Please be aware that Cuba can be a lot more expensive than other developing countries. You can expect to pay a comparable amount for food and services as in more western parts of the world. This is largely due to the government applying a hefty tax to anything that is deemed to be non-essential (and an increased cost for certain products due to the US-imposed trade embargo). This might change in the coming years now that the US and Cuba have once again resumed formal diplomatic relations.
Everyone will end up spending a different amount of money while on our Cuba tours. Specific expenses you can expect are food (which can be between approximately 20 CUC to 40 CUC per day), drinks, souvenirs, as well as optional activities and tips. We suggest that you budget anywhere from USD $40 to USD $60 a day for the expenses incurred while on your trip, but this will depend on your personal travel budget and the type of tour you take with us.
There are a variety of different taxis in Cuba. The official tourist taxis offer a metered fare, and this makes them the most convenient choice as the meters are accurate and can be relied upon. The driver might not wish to turn the meter on, but you can request that he does so. If there are any disputes, query the cost of the journey before you begin. If you feel that it’s a fair fare, then feel free to proceed. Visitors to Cuba are only permitted to travel in taxis that charge a fare in CUC. The fares will generally start at a minimum flat rate of 1 CUC, with an additional 1 CUC per kilometer. As a rough idea, you can expect to pay around 3 CUC to 5 CUC if you were to travel from one central district to another (such as traveling between Old Havana, Vedado, and Centro Habana) To go from Old Havana to Miramar will cost around 8 CUC to 12 CUC. Please remember that these fares are only estimates.
It is not uncommon to come across tourist taxis without meters. If this is the case, ask how much the driver will charge before begin- ning your journey. Rates for metered taxis and unmetered taxis tend to be around the same. In the case of unmetered taxis, negotiating a fare is acceptable, and is expected. Pedal and yellow coco taxis are fun modes of transportation for short distances. Both can be found throughout Havana and are cheaper than traditional taxis. Negotiate the fare with your driver before beginning your journey.
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 immigra- tion 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 cover- age 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.
A very small percentage of the Cuban population are able to access the internet from their homes. These lucky few need to access a dial-up network via their telephone line, which is a method of internet access that has been superseded by high-speed wireless access in most of the world.
There are a number of hotels and a few government workplaces that have Wifi or DSL access, but everyone else is stuck with slow transmission rates of around 5 kilobytes per second. ETECSA is the largest telecommunication company in Cuba and they have outlets throughout the country. Tourists are often allowed to use the internet at these facilities, but you must present their passport before permission will be granted. Ask your guide about the locations of these outlets in each town. Prices vary significantly, and can be anywhere between 5 CUC and 15 CUC per hour. Hotels generally charge a higher rate than this for internet access. There’s a handy website that has a lot of information about accessing the internet in Cuba (with all the limitations).
More recently there have been some public Wifi zones estab- lished in Havana and in other major centers. You will need to purchase a scratch card to connect to the internet (you simply scratch the covering off the card to reveal the unique access code) and the service can be less than reliable.
Skype can be accessed from one of the limited locations that offer Wifi. Periodic official attempts have been made to block Skype in Cuba, however it does seem to function reasonably well from hotel lobbies such as the Parque Central or the Panorama in Havana.
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.