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In summer, Cuba can be too hot, but November through April is a very pleasant time of year. Generally daytime temperatures will be in the high 70s and at night it will be in the low 60s. If there is an unexpected cold front, it could drop into the 50s, so it's best to dress in layers. Winter is usually not rainy, but there is always the chance of a shower, so consider bringing a light rain jacket or umbrella, just in case.
– Casual clothing is fine, but you might want to bring one "nice" outfit for dining out or parties.
– Cubans tend to dress up when they go out at night. Lightweight pants are good choices for men and women. Adult men seldom wear shorts on city streets, but women may wear knee-length shorts or capri-length pants. Women might also like to wear summer dresses or skirts. Short sleeve shirts, blouses and t-shirts are good choices.
– Bring one lightweight jacket or sweater.
– Men almost never need to wear a jacket and tie in Cuba. A button-down shirt and long pants are dressy enough.
– Bring comfortable, stable shoes for the walking tours.
– Bring a swimsuit if you plan to use the hotel pool for exercise.
– Bring plenty of sunscreen, sunglasses, and consider bringing a hat, because the sun in Cuba is very strong.
– Whatever toiletries you anticipate you will need, bring with you. It's not always possible to buy what you need in Cuba.
Additional useful items are:
– Alarm clock;
– Extra batteries for cameras; mosquito repellant;
– Anti-itch cream for mosquito bites;
– Over-the-counter medications like aspirin, antihistamines, tums, band-aids, cough drops;
– Tissues/ tampons.
The airline allows only 44 lbs. of baggage (including carry on and hand luggage), so pack light! For anything over 44 lbs, you will have to pay between $1 and $2 per pound (depending on the airline) and you must pay excess baggage fees in cash.
Laundry service is available at our hotels, if you need it. You can also wash out small garments in the hotel sink.
No, to the contrary, they are warm and welcoming. The people of Cuba feel that despite ideological differences between our governments, we are all human beings and we should be able to get along. The Cuban people are hospitable, gracious and friendly and they will go out of their way to make sure your stay in Cuba is pleasant. Many people in Cuba are curious about life in the United States, and they welcome the opportunity to show you what Cuba is really like. But, be aware that with the growth of international tourism, there has been an increase in street hustlers who will try to make money from you. If someone offers you a "special deal" on something, be careful, it could be a scam. For example, cheap cigars you buy on the street will be fake, even if they have a prestigious label and the seller swears his cousin gets them directly from the Cohiba factory.
Yes, according to the most current Department of Treasury Regulations on Legal Travel to Cuba you must be engaged in full time educational and cultural people-to-people activities, such as those planned for our group. If you escape for a day at the beach on your own, you are violating the conditions of the license and you put the whole group at risk for sanctions. There are also limits on what you can buy and bring back into the USA. These are conditions set by the US Government, not Cuba.
Because of the economic embargo the USA has established against Cuba, you cannot yet use your ATM card, credit cards, or traveler's checks while you are in Cuba. All transactions must be in cash. Bring the amount of money you plan to spend in U.S dollars, Canadian dollars or Euros. Once you arrive in Cuba, you can exchange your cash for the CUC (Cuban Convertible Peso). Though the CUC is "officially" at par with the U.S. Dollar, there is a flat 13% exchange rate. In our experience, costs of converting U.S. Currency to Canadian (or Euros); and then converting that into CUCs will likely be near the 13% U.S. dollar fee, so it is advised to just bring US Dollars. Please remember to keep your extra cash locked up in the hotel safe, and carry with you on the street only what you anticipate you'll need.
The U.S. Treasury Department announced on October 14, 2016 that it has removed the previous limits on bringing Cuban cigars and Cuban rum into the United States.
This applies only to cigars and rum you will either enjoy yourself, or give as a gift to another individual. The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) stresses that resale of Cuban cigars, distribution or commerce of any kind are still illegal, as the trade embargo remains in effect.
While this ease in restrictions means that the number of personal cigars is technically unlimited, duty will have to be paid after a certain quantity is exceeded. OFAC's website points to an $800 exemption of duty every 31 days, and stresses duty-free limits of 100 cigars. According to OFAC's website: "A traveler may include up to 100 cigars and 200 cigarettes in the $800 exemption from duty... Additional cigars and cigarettes may be brought into the country, but they will be subject to duty and Federal excise taxes." Excess amounts are subject to a 4 percent flat rate of duty.
Cuba has excellent health care and if you become sick in Cuba, you will receive first-rate medical attention. If you need to take any medication on a regular basis, bring it with you (in the original pharmacy container), and also bring over the counter medication like aspirins, since these things are hard to find and very expensive in Cuba. You will have health insurance for the time you're in Cuba, so you can receive free treatment at the International clinic if you need it.
You will not be visiting areas of Cuba where tropical diseases are a problem, but if you are in doubt, talk to your doctor.
No, you should drink bottled water and, if you use ice, be sure it's made from purified water. If you drink tap water, you will likely get diarrhea. Be careful about eating raw fruits and vegetables that have not been properly sanitized or peeled. Usually salads and fruits served in hotels or state run restaurants are fine, and ice served in drinks at tourist restaurants or bars is safe.
We are staying in two of the best hotels in Cuba. The rooms are all air conditioned with cable tv, and hair dryers. Both hotels have 110 outlets, but it is always a good idea to take an international 220 plug adapter just in case. There will either be a safe in your room closet, or at the hotel reception desk, where you can store your valuables. Both hotels have pools, bars, multiple restaurants and workout room.
Meals range from simple to the elaborate. Typically, breakfast in the hotels is served buffet style and consists of eggs, ham, dairy products, bread, fresh fruits and juices, coffee. Lunches and dinners in the paladars usually include vegetables, salads, rice and beans, and some kind of meat, fish or seafood. The most common meats are chicken, pork and ham. Beef isn't common. Some restaurants serve pizza or pasta dishes. Cuban food is not spicy hot like Mexican food; it more closely resembles Spanish or Mediterranean food. Generally, you're limited to what's in season and what is locally produced. Restaurants normally offer rum drinks, Cuban and European beers and a limited selection of imported wine. US brands are virtually non-existent.
Most of our activities will be done as a group and we will have a private bus at our disposal with a driver and a guide. Once our work day ends, if you want to go out and explore on your own while you are in Cienfuegos or Havana, you will need to walk or take a taxi.
No. One of the conditions of our license is that we will be engaged in "full time educational and cultural activities." This trip is meant to be a learning experience, so most of your time will be taken up doing things with the group. We aren’t going to Cuba as tourists but as students, artists, and diplomats representing our country. You’ll have a chance to talk to people from all walks of life and you’ll learn how people really live in Cuba. You’ll learn about Cuban culture, but also get a look at the inner workings of their political system, their educational system, and their health system. We’ll get a tour of historic landmarks, listen to music, meet writers, musicians, and artists, and learn something about Cuban history. In the evening, we will be invited to concerts, receptions, and other cultural events. It will be a week full of rewarding and enriching experiences.
Yes. An interpreter will accompany the group at all times and some Cubans speak English.
Here's a link to a translation device that many people like to use while traveling in a Spanish speaking country: (and it's on sale now!) http://www.amazon.com/Franklin-Merriam-Webster-Spanish-English-Dictionary-BES-1850/dp/B00006IFTL
Yes, if you must, but it’s not convenient or easy. To call the United States, you must buy a telephone card that can only be used from special telephones located in major tourist hotels or ETECSA offices. International calls are expensive, and the call quality is usually poor. E-mail is available only in a couple of locations, and you must buy a card to access the internet. It costs about $6 an hour, and the connections are slow. Often, there are long lines to use the computers. There are no internet cafés, and you will not have access to wireless internet until Havana. Melia Cohiba Hotel does have wi-fi, but it is slow and it is not practical to send large attachments. Most US cell phones don't work in Cuba. You will be provided with emergency contact information that you can give to your family and friends, in case they need to reach you.
Of course, but bring extra batteries and memory cards with you. They are sometimes hard to find and expensive in Cuba. The only restriction on photography is at military installations, airports, and other areas where national security is an issue.
No, it's not a good idea to randomly distribute things to people you don't know on the street. This encourages begging, and often the things you give away are later sold on the black market. If you want to take donations for the Cuban people, it's better to do it in an organized way. We'll supply you with more information about donations at our orientation.
Here are some recommendations available from Netflix:
– Havana (1990) by Sidney Pollack, with Robert Redford and Lena Olin
– Our Man in Havana (1959) by Carol Reed, with Alec Guiness
– Fidel (2002) by David Atwood, with Victor Huggo Martín and Gael García Bernal
– Fidel, the Untold Story by Estela Bravo (documentary)
– Fidel (2009) by Saul Landau (documentary)
– Che (2008) by David Soderburgh, with Benicio del Toro
– Viva Cuba (2005) by Juan Carlos Cremata Malberti (in Spanish with subtitles)
– The Waiting List (2000) by Juan Carlos Tabio (in Spanish with subtitles)
– Guantanamera (1995) by Tomás Gutierrez Alea and Juan Carlos Tabio (in Spanish with subtitles)
– Hello Hemingway (1997) by Fernando Pérez (in Spanish with subtitles)
– Barrio Cuba (2005) by Humberto Solís (in Spanish with subtitles)
Here are some recommended books available from Amazon:
– Lonely Planet Cuba (2009) by Brendan Sainsbury
– Cuba (Eyewitness Travel Guides) (2010) by DK Publishing
– Frommer's Cuba (2011) by claire Boobbyer
– Cuba, What Everyone Needs to Know (2009) by Julia Sweig
– The Cuba Reader (2004) by Aviva Chomsky et. al.
– The History of Cuba (2005) by Clifford L. Staten
– The History of Havana (Palgrave Essential Histories) (2008) by Dick Cluster and Rafael Hernández
– Cuba, Culture Smart! A Quick Guide to Customs and Etiquette (2006) by Mandy McDonald
– Cuban Revolution Reader (2008) by Julio Garcia Luis
– The Splendor of Cuba: 450 Years of Architecture and Interiors (2011) by Michael Connors and Brent Weinbrenner
– Cuba, The Sights, Sounds, Flavors and Faces (2010) by Francois Missen and Pierre Hausherr
– The Houses of Old Cuba (2001) by Lillian Llanes and Jean-Luc Laguarigue
– Havana: History and Architecture of a Romantic City (2009), Maria Luisa Lobo Montalvo, et. al.
– Havana Nocture: How the Mob Owned Cuba and Then Lost It to the Revolution (2009) by T.J. English
– An Island Called Home: Returning to Jewish Cuba (2009) by Ruth Behar and Humberto Mayol
– AfroCuba: An Antology of Cuban Writing on Race, Politics and Culture (2002) by Jean Stubbs and Pedro Perez Sarduy
– Cuba: A Traveler's Literary Companion (2002) by Ann Louise Bardach
– Cubanisimo: The Vintage Book of Contemporary Cuban Literature (2003) by Cristina Garcia
– The Voice of the Turtle: An Anthology of Cuban Literature (1998) by Peter Bush
– Lost and Found in Cuba: A Tale of Midlife Rebellion (2010) by Jeanne Parr Lemkau
What you will need money for in Cuba (prices are in CUCs; everything must be paid in cash):
We will be collecting 200 CUCs from every patron and staff member to cover all the tips. This includes hotel maids, food servers, translators, bus drivers, and gifts to the cultural groups and schools with which we will be interacting. These will be for positions and places where it is customary to provide a tip or donation. In order to facilitate the movements of our group we have elected to collect one payment from each patron and distribute them as one.
Meals not included in program
Cienfuegos: One Lunch; Two Dinners
Havana: Two Lunches; Three Dinners
Depending on where you go and what you eat, you can expect to pay roughly what you would pay in the US at a low-end to mid-price restaurant.
Drinks, bottled water, coffee, cigars, snacks
Depending on where you buy things, prices vary. Count on prices being roughly the equivalent of what you would pay in the US. Occasionally you might find prices a little lower, but not always.
Taxis if you want to go somewhere on your own
Tourist taxis have meters. Up to 4 people can take one cab and share the cost. A ride from the Meliã Cohiba Hotel to Old Havana might cost around $10.
Purchases (books, cds, dvds, art; the only things you can bring legally into the USA from Cuba). Prices are roughly equivalent to what you pay in the US for similar items.
If you are bringing expensive items into Cuba that you plan to donate, give away, sell, you may be charged duty on those items at customs.