USA-CUBA Tours wants to make sure you have thought of every little thing so your trip to Cuba is enjoyable, stress free, without complications, safe, and culturally exciting. Below are some lessons learned from our guests to help you prepare yourself.
Required for travel
- Cuban Tourist Visa (We provide this for you)
- Airline Tickets (We provide this for you)
- Cuban Medical Insurance (We provide this for you)
- Money (Cash is King, no credit cards or debit cards or travel checks)
Packing your bags
Each airline has a separate baggage policy. In addition, each Carrier Service Provider has separate charges that it may impose for excess baggage. The excess baggage rules will be stated in the Carrier Service Provider’s Operator-Participant Contract. As a general rule, each Licensed Traveler may be restricted to 44 pounds of baggage. The Carrier Service Provider may charge a $2 per pound fee for any additional pounds that the baggage may weigh (after the 44 pounds). Some Carrier Service Providers may charge a separate fee of $20 per checked bag and a Cuban Exit tax of $30.00. These charges are collected at the airport.
Some of the items that are acceptable to bring into Cuba:
- Cameras and Video cameras
- DVD, PDA, MP3, CD players
- Game devices
- Cell phones
- Sports equipment
- Hair dryer
- Electric shaver
- Musical instruments
- Dry foods (crackers, candy, etc..)
Cuban customs may ask if you intend to leave any of the items on the island if you take multiple of the same items. If you do, duty fees may be charged. Prescription medicines should remain in their original containers with labels on it.
WARNING: Prohibited items. Narcotics/Illegal drugs (marijuana, cocaine, heroin, molly, ecstasy, etc..), fire-arms, explosives, pornography (DVD, videos on iPad or laptop, magazines), anti-Cuba literature, aerial drones, stand-alone GPS devices, walkie-talkies, and any items that could be considered a weapon.
Typical wear while touring
Typical wear in Cuba while visiting different areas is shorts, light fabric pull-over shirt, comfortable shoes (walking shoes (tennis)) or sandals, sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat.
Night time activities vary, but most people wear slacks/jeans and a nice collared shirt or t-shirt, with comfortable dress shoes or tennis shoes. A light sweater or jacket could be valuable during the winter season.
Communication while in Cuba
USA-CUBA Tour leaders can provide travelers with emergency long distance telephone calls, since they will be equipped with international cell phones in case any situation arises.
Cell Phones: If you want to use your cell phone in Cuba, you must first check with your US carrier and ask if they provide this service in Cuba. Another way to have cell phone access is to bring an unlocked quad band cell phone and rent a SIM card from ETECSA. This can be done at the Havana airport upon arrival. The cost to rent a SIM card is 3 CUC per day and prepay a minimum of 10 CUC, which can be used for calls. You can recharge the account at most hotels.
Landlines. To call the US you must dial +1+(area code)+phone number. The cost is about $2.50/min. Using the hotel room phones can be very expensive, please consult with the front desk for rates.
Recommendation: Rent a SIM card for your unlocked cell phone. The cost of the calls back to the US are under $1.70/min and the flexibility is nice.
Internet in Cuba
Taking your laptop to Cuba can be rewarding. However, the internet connection can be frustrating. WiFi is available at the Melia Cohiba, Hotel National, Habana Libre, and a few other expensive hotels. Rates per hour vary between 5.00 and 10.00 CUC (Cuban Convertible Pesos). Internet access is very slow.
Laundry Service in Cuba
Laundry services are available in the hotels. Just ask your maid or hotel front desk and they’ll give you costs and instructions for this service. Generally, the cost is between $6 and $8 CUC for a bag of clothes.
Electrical Service in Cuba
Electrical outlets in most Cuban hotels are marked as 110 volts, 60Hz (same as the US). However, some hotels, casas, and resorts have 220 volt outlets (they should be marked). Having an electrical adapter is rarely needed, but always nice to have just in case. When you check into your hotel ask the front desk about the electrical service.
Time Zone in Cuba
Cuba is located in the Eastern Time zone, same as New York and Miami.
Arriving in Cuba
When you arrive in Cuba for your scheduled group tour your tour leader will help everyone through the immigration process, custom process, baggage claim, declaration form, and we’ll meet our Cuban tour guide in the main airport lobby, the guide will have an “USA-CUBA Tours” sign. Your tour leader and guide can help you with currency exchange at the airport, ensure your luggage is put onto our bus, cell phone service, take you to your hotel, and assist with check-in.
Tour members arriving on other flights need to make airport transfer arrangements prior to arrival.
All tour members should evaluate daily spending needs prior to departure. A minimum of $100 per day is recommended per person. It always safer to bring more money than you have budgeted for then running out of money to early. (But don’t worry we can help out if this happens for certain circumstances).
Warning: Exchange your money into CUC at a bank, your hotel, or at a CADECA (Casas de Cambio – exchange bureau). If you need help ask your tour leader, they will glad to help you. Never exchange your money on the street or with an individual Cuban.
What can you say about tipping, everyone has certain expectations when receiving service, especially when on vacation. So keep in mind that Cuba is a state run country and sometime there is no incentive to provide outstanding service, but most places provide excellent service and great atmosphere. So with that I say tip accordingly based on your experience and how you feel. Cuban tourist staff do share their tips with co-workers and family who don’t have access to jobs within the tourism sector, so tipping does go a long way.
Here are some examples of common tips most Americans give. You can always leave more.
- Tour guide 3.00 to 5.00 CUC per day
- Tour bus driver 1.00 to 3.00 CUC per day
- Restaurants staff 1.00 CUC or 10% per meal per person.
- Hotel porters 1.00 CUC per person or more if you have lots of luggage.
- Hotel maids 1.00 CUC per day per person.
- Museum guides and special guides 1.00 CUC
- Musicians at restaurants 1.00 CUC
Being Smart – Safety in Cuba
Cuba is considered one of the safest countries in the world with a very low crime rate. Police presence is always on the street and sidewalks, but common sense should come into play here. However, caution should be taken with your personal belongings (don’t leave them unattended), don’t wear expensive jewelry, keep cameras and handbags secure at all times. Tour members are encouraged to use the lockbox at your hotel for valuables, travel documents, air tickets, passport and cash.
While touring it’s always smart to separate your money into two groups, the 1st pocket will contain 20-30 CUC (small bills), which will be used to pay for everything while in the streets. The 2nd pocket will contain the remainder of your daily money (nice and secure). Always carry some cash in small amounts each day, we suggest between 80 and 100 CUC. The rest of your money remains in your hotel lockbox, along with your travel documents, valuables and passport.
Two words!!! Bottled Water. While most foreign tourist and Cubans have no problems drinking the water, we are recommending that you drink bottled water at all times for peace of mind (brushing your teeth – use bottled water). A doctor or nurse is available to tour members at any time during the tour either at your hotel or at a nearby clinic. No special vaccinations are required.
Most of the transportation will be by bus, but on certain occasions you may want to explore on your own. We recommend using an official taxi or coco taxi. If you’re adventurist and want to experience how Cubans travel the take a private taxi or Cuban taxi.
Being Punctual – Time
Cuba is a step back into time and sometimes Cubans operate on their own time, but for most they are very punctual and professional. So!!!! Arriving for your tours, your tour leader will do their best to contact all tour members and make sure everyone is moving towards the tour meeting place on time. However, If you are late for your tour activities the whole group is held up and this presents additional problems with the logistics of activities that have been scheduled by our wonderful Cuban tour guides who have worked hard preparing your activities.
Don’t get frustrated or angry if your miss the tour bus. We will have a dedicated chauffeur wait an additional ten minutes after the agreed upon bus departure time. If you arrive in this time he will take you to the tour bus location (fees are extra). Your tour leader and tour guide announces the bus schedule a day prior. So use your hotel wake-up call services and employ the buddy system to knock on doors and get people up and moving. If you’re not feeling well or you are too tired to participate that morning that’s ok, just let your tour leader know so he/she can document it.
Hmmm…. What to expect in Cuba
Cuba is a reminder that life’s simple pleasures are its most precious.
In its cities and towns, children play ball among decrepit houses. Neighbors congregate on door stoops to share gossip. Women hang laundry on improvised ropes outside windows lined with shattered glass. Car owners are seen patching up vintage Chevy and Ford jalopies from the 1950s and 1960s.
The familiar signs of consumerism—fast-food restaurants like McDonald’s and billboards—are nowhere to be seen. Violent crime is rare.
The sounds of Cuba may be the most uncomplicated of all. Thunderous Afro-Caribbean rhythms seep out of cafes, dance halls or just a simple street corner turned into an impromptu concert, instantly persuading hips to start moving to tunes born from salsa, rumba, mamba and cha-cha-cha. Frequent laughter penetrates the thick air of a humid night.
Practical problem solving skills are an asset especially when combined with patience and understanding. We advise going with the flow with eyes wide open until you get a lay of the land.
The spirit of learning about the wonderful people and unique culture, and prepared to fully engage and contribute during your tour will result in rewards that will be unequalled. The Cubans are as happy to have you as their guests as you are about getting to know them.
Some people get upset when they read this section. OK. We can attest to many instances where those who disregarded our advice have ended up losing a lot of money.
We strongly advise against giving money to individuals who approach you on the streets. While in tourist areas you’ll encounter professional scam artists who pester foreign guests with sob stories that win them hundreds of dollars a week. When an individual approaches you on the street and asks for money, or with offers to provide guide or other services, just say no. Wag your finger back-and-forth with determination (indicating you are not interested) and move on. You risk getting ripped-off. Don’t be shy, don’t feel bad, and don’t let them waste your precious time in Cuba. To do otherwise could cost you heartache and your wallet! Remember, nearly half of every dollar you spend on this trip goes into the island’s healthcare and education system – to Cubans who need and deserve it.
Bringing things home
While there is no limit on the amount of money you can spend in Cuba, travelers can only return to the US with up to $400 of Cuban goods for personal use, including up to $100 of alcohol or tobacco products. Cuban artwork and informational materials are exempt from this limit.
Exempt Cuban artwork and informational materials include books, films, posters, photographs, CDs, and works of art. 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.
When visiting Cuba you are seen as a representative of your people reflecting their attitudes and culture. Cubans live with many hardships. Material conditions on the island are far below those of the United States. Don’t be quick to judge. Cuba has been cut off from the United States for over 60 years.
Share your memories
We’d totally appreciate you sharing a story about your Cuba experience with us upon your return. We’d love to post your contribution on our website for your family, friends and colleagues to enjoy. New Cuba travelers too will benefit from your candid observations and reflections on what you witnessed.