Is it legal for US citizens to go there ?
It is helpful to begin with some clarifications of the basics. Cuba welcomes all foreign travelers, including those from the US, and are very friendly to them both on a personal as well as governmental level. Cuba has no restrictions or special requirements for US visitors.
The restrictions come from the US side, whereby for many years it has not been permitted for US citizens to freely travel to Cuba for pleasure, vacation, or tourism reasons. Technically, the prohibition is financially based, and the embargo as it were, forbids the spending or bringing of US currency into Cuba. This embargo still exists, and can only be lifted by an act of Congress.
However, pursuant to recent changes to some of the details regarding the embargo, while travel to Cuba strictly for tourism purposes remains prohibited, individual non-licensed travel by US citizens is now more broadly permitted to Cuba under one of 12 different categories. Your trip with us will fall under at least one, and as many as up to three, of those categories. No special other special license, paperwork, or pre-authorization is required. (Except the standard entrance visa that Cuba requires of all foreign visitors, no matter their country of origin) This may be subject to change with the next administration; thus this trip is valid through January 20th, 2017.
What about my passport/visa?
Your standard passport will get you to Cuba and there are direct flights from cities in the US. You will need to pay for your Visa at the airport when you are departing and the price depends on the airline and there is no standard pricing as of right now.
What are the activities like?
Cuba is a beautiful, unspoiled Caribbean island with lots of wild beaches and rolling hills inland. Our activities are not extreme sports, but we are most definitely getting off the traveled paths, while also getting some exercise and a true opportunity to interact with the locals. The horse and bike trails are generally not as refined as we may be used to back home, but there is a more natural feeling to them as they are still used by the locals to move about as they always have. Cuba has many parks with short, well developed trails usually leading to a site of interest such as a waterfall; beyond that nothing much has yet been developed.
The snorkeling, swimming and diving is some of the best in the western hemisphere. And the cultural activities, such as the many museums, are very interesting to those keen on history or the politics of the region.
What should I bring?
While things are improving, it is true that it can still be a bit difficult or time consuming to buy certain products in Cuba. One should bring from home all needed medicine and personal hygiene and eyesight needs including contact lens solution. Also all batteries, chargers, memory cards, SIM cards, etc should be brought as they are not easily purchased. Oh, and bring a couple of soccer balls !
Cuba is a warm, tropical island so appropriate sunscreen, sandals, floppy hats, insect repellent and thin, loose fitting clothing is recommended. Power outlets in Cuba vary; there are usually US-standard 110v available, but some are 220. Most are marked, but some are not. Overall, it is best to bring a power adapter/surge protecter type charger for your phone, camera, or computer; check with your device manufacturer or retailer for details.
How does money work?
There are two currencies in Cuba, the local currency peso, and the convertible peso (CUC), which is tied to the US dollar at a 1:1 ratio.
However, it is not equal to the US dollar and you will lose around 12% when you change them, either at the airport or at some of the government hotels in the center of Havana. During our first day, your local guide will help you change some money into local currency. Credit cards are not generally accepted, and withdrawing money from an ATM is generally not possible, so you will need to bring with you all the cash you will need for dinners, drinks, souvenirs, etc. For most people that is from $500 to $1500.
This doesn’t have to be as difficult as it sounds though, and we can arrange for safe, free safeguarding of your spending money throughout your trip so you can just focus on having fun.
How much extra money should I bring?
All lodging, breakfasts, lunches, transport, and activities are included. You will need to bring with you all the cash you will need for dinners, drinks, souvenirs, etc. For most people that is from $500 to $1500. Dinners without alcohol would be only about $100 for the week, so it is possible to hit the lower end of that scale if a budget trip is desired; while others will enjoy the rum-flavored, Hemingway-style nightlife options found throughout the trip.
How about vaccinations or health concerns?
Cuba has a very good health care system, but you should contact your primary physician and/or local travel clinic to discuss with them your plans for a trip to Cuba. Your doctor is also the best source for advice on which, if any, special vaccinations would be required for travel but there are no unusual health concerns for a trip there. There is conflicting information regarding travel insurance requirements by Cuban authorities; in three visits the last several months, we were not asked to show any information regarding our travel/health insuarance, as reported by some travelers. We also asked the authorities if there was such a requirement and they replied in the negative, though that does not mean there is not a requirement on the books in Cuba but we can find no evidence of it.
What is the best way to get to Havana, the start location of the trip ??Currently, the easiest way is to fly in through either Canada or Cancun, Mexico, we recommend Mexico as the resorts of Cancun make an excellent and affordable gateway.
US Flights are expected to operate (up to 110 a day) beginning sometime in late 2016. Meanwhile, you can use any standard flight booking engine like Orbitz or Travelocity to book your flight to Cancun and, inside of those dates, a flight from Cancun to Havana.This can all be easily done from your phone or computer like any other US flight.
What are the accommodations like ? The vast majority of actual hotels in Cuba are large and very expensive government-owned and ran hotels. They often sell out months in advance to large, high-end European tour groups. We typically stay in what is known in Cuba as “casas particulares” . These are private homes that have been renovated by the family to host guests. This is by far the most common way for travelers to stay. You will have your own room and your own private bathroom.
We go to great lengths to choose pleasant places to stay, and you are not expected to spend time with the host family, unless you wish to. We would also add that, should you fancy a night or two in true old, colonial luxury hotels just let us know and we can help you upgrade. Some of them are truly stunning.
What is the food like ?
Cuban food can sometimes be hit or miss in terms of service or availability, but overall it is outstanding, local and fresh, and consists mostly of seafood and fresh vegetables and dairy, with plenty of beans as well.
Breakfast is included free of charge each day beginning on Day 2; it usually consists of coffee, tea, fresh bread with jam and or butter, fruit and/or fruit juice, and optional eggs.
Lunches are also included every day (except alcohol) and is often meat dishes (pork, chicken, and fish) perhaps rice and beans, plus more fruits and vegetables. We will hit up a few local gems for nighttime restaurants. We use a mix of home cooked meals in our “Casa Particulares”, combined with local restaurants. Cuban food is delicious, fresh, and always an adventure !
How much extra spending money should I budget ?
Pretty much the only things not included in the price are dinners, alcohol, and souvenirs. Dinners will average $10 to $15 per night. All breakfasts and lunches and all accommodation, all transport, and even activity prices are included.
What is the deal with scuba diving? Do I need to be certified ?
We could not more highly recommend the scuba diving in Cuba, it is absolutely fantastic. And much easier and less expensive than you might imagine!
So first off, if you are a certified diving, you are going to be able to do some amazing dives. If you are not certified, here is how it works: You can do a learning course. We use only government certified diving operators and they are all very good and safe. Scuba diving has its own risks and dangers, but the basic concepts are not difficult. They will give you about 30 minutes (this can vary and is not a promise of how long they will take) then you will go under water.
More good news is you don’t have to go way out in a boat and then scarily deep. Most of these classes you do right from shore! You gear up, learn, then go under water. Around 10 to 15 deep; never fear, the marine life right off shore is plentiful. We regularly see all kinds of colored coral, fish, manta ray, octopus, etc. The cost is around $40 for an hour dive or so. Again, we highly recommend it.
The best day to dive on your trip is Day 6 in Trinidad. The beach is beautiful, the marine life is vibrant, and it mixes in well with the trip schedule.
What about Internet access ?Regarding internet access, it is very spotty in Cuba and often is not available. In Havana, in our opinion the best option is to go to Hotel Nacional, it is right near the Capitol, Hotel Inglaterra, and the “center” of the touristic part of Havana. They have a business office on the second floor, which is open from 8am to 10pm. They sell ETECSA cards that cost $5 and have a scratchoff login name and code. Then, take a seat in a lobby chair or at the bar (they dont seem to mind as long as you order something) and just connect to their WiFi signal and enter the scratched-off login username and password. It is least busy in midday time, most busy at night and in the mornings. Many locals you will see outside on the phones, they are using the signal and their own purchased cards. There are also government WiFi signals at a few parks in Havana, as well as the main (only) park in Vinales, also in Cienfuegos and Trinidad.
You can also make phone calls from Cuba no problem, if you have a local phone or know someone that does. Just ask the guide or, if out on the street, ask anyone with a cell phone and offer them $5 to make a phone call to the USA.
To the best of our knowledge, US cell carrier service does not work in Cuba, but things are changing quickly (*note: Verizon and AT&T have just announced roaming services in Cuba !) and your carrier may have already made co-sharing arrangements. We recommend contacting your carrier to see if they offer cell phone coverage in Cuba. You could try to get a local SIM card in Cuba but expect to take more than a half day if you wish to try that. Our advice is to come prepared to not access the internet or telephone except in an emergency.
Do I need a power converter or adapter?
yes you should have a converter. The plugs in Cuba are standard US type (some are the regular 2 hole, some have the 3 hole with the round ground plug),
Some are 110v (these are fine to use as normal)
but others are 220v These are not fine to use without a converter.
They are usually marked as such, but not always.
So, best bet is a 220v to 110v ‘step down’ converter, the basic ones are fine as sold via any travel outlet, and all the houses have outlets you can use to charge your items.
What about a packing list? Is there a dress code in Cuba?
We recommend packing as any week long trip to a beach resort, with also adding a few items as described below.
Even in fancy restaurants, shorts and a collared shirt or sundress paired with sandals will get you allowed in, but many travelers in those places are well dressed. There is no formal dress code so just follow your usual instincts.
Lightweight, breathable fabric long pants (2) and/or shorts (2)
Lightweight, breathable fabric shirts, long sleeve (2) and short (3)
or sundresses for females.
T shirts, casual button down short sleeve evening shirts (2 or 3)Plus:
All medicine and all personal hygiene items needed for 1 week
Swimming Trunks or Bathing Suit
* sturdy hiking shoes
Socks and underwear
Wide Brimmed Sun Hat
Insect Repellent, non aerosol