Below you'll find the answers to most frequently asked questions by Cuban travelers.
Cuba has good structure in place for visitors coming to see the island. Although relations with the United States are changing quite rapidly at the moment, and Americans might view Cuba as a country in transition, the political climate inside Cuba is stable. Additionally, its people are friendly and there is a remarkably low crime rate in comparison to other relatively poor countries. Travel to Cuba does require a flexible attitude as there may be a lack of hot water at your hotel, schedules may not run exactly on time, and finding many things we take for granted (soap, toothpaste, snack foods) can be a challenge. That said, the people of Cuba are kind and welcoming, and they want us to get to know their people, culture and island! Because our tour is an active tour with sea kayaking, hiking and transport, there are inherent risks which would be the same regardless of where you are traveling. Several people on our staff have visited Cuba recently so feel welcome to contact us with any concerns or questions.
You bet! As of September, 2015, you still can't embark on a self-guided vacation, or spend days at a beach resort drinking your favorite adult beverages all day, but you can travel to Cuba under an approved itinerary. There is a general license procedure to travel to Cuba independently or as a tour group, but if you travel with Cuba Unbound we take care of everything for you! Learn more about traveling as a US Citizen here.
Our favorite time to visit Cuba is the dry season, between November and April, when the high temperatures are generally between 75 and 80 degrees F, lows generally in the 60's F, and the average rainfall is at its lowest. This is also the time of year when you will avoid the summer crowds and the worst of the Caribbean humidity. For a complete month-to-month guide on Cuban travel weather, go here.
You might hear it called a visa, but Cubans call it a tourist card (tarjeta de tourista)...so to keep things straight and cover all bases, we'll call it a Cuban Tourist Visa card. And yes, you will need this to travel to Cuba. It is just as important as your passport. Most commercial airlines will provide it for you when you check-in at the airport the day of your departure. If you are wanting to purchase the Cuban Tourist Visa Card ahead of your departure youc can do so through Cuba Travel Services. We always recommend checkng with your airline about the Cuban Tourist Visa first because you get it for a lower price.
Since the restoration of diplomatic relations with Cuba, there have been reductions on travel restrictions for U.S. citizens and a resumption of limited commercial flights to Havana and other cities.
Commercial Flights to Cuban Cities other than Havana
On June 10, 2016, the Department of Transportation issued an order authorizing six U.S. airlines to provide scheduled passenger flights between various U.S. cities and cities in Cuba other than Havana. DOT’s order grants the applications of American, Frontier, JetBlue, Silver Airways, Southwest, and Sun Country. These carriers are now authorized to provide various services to Cuban cities other than Havana, from Miami, Chicago, Ft. Lauderdale, Philadelphia, and Minneapolis. They have flights to Santa Clara, Holguin, Camaguey, Cienfuegos, Matanzas and Santiago de Cuba.
Our scheduled or custom tours indicate the starting point of each tour. If you choose to fly in or out of a different city than that of the tour origin, you will be responsible for providing your own transportation to the tour’s meeting point.
Commercial Flights to Havana
As of July 7, 2016 The Department of Transportation listed Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta, Frontier Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, Spirit Airlines, and United Airlines as the airlines given permission to begin scheduled flights between Atlanta, Charlotte, Fort Lauderdale, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Newark, New York City, Orlando, and Tampa to Havana. Many of these flights can be purchased now and are scheduled to begin operating December 1, 2016.Commercial flights vary in price and are limited to specific destinations, departure dates and time of day. For more specific information visit the airlines website.
You may arrive in Cuba prior to our tour or stay for additional time after our tour concludes. However, if you are a U.S. citizen, any additional travel must meet the requirements of one of the approved travel categories for U.S. travelers. In the case of our tour, that category is "People to People Travel". If you are not traveling under an approved category, you will be traveling illegally. For non-U.S. nationals who are flying to/from Cuba from anywhere other than the U.S., you may extend your stay as dictated by Cuba visa/travel laws as well as those of your home country. We do advise being educated on any restrictions that may be in place, as we are not apprised of all requirements for non-U.S. citizens.
It is always best to check with the airline(s) that you will be traveling with for specific luggage allowance policies. Most airlines charge for checked bags, and we recommend avoiding checked bags whenever possible.
All travelers to Cuba must have health insurance as required by law in Cuba, and the company providing your insurance plan must have the ability to make payments from a non-U.S. banking institution. If you are a Canadian or UK traveler, buying additional coverage may not apply to you. The mandatory level of insurance required to travel to Cuba may be included in the cost of your commercial flight to and from Cuba. Guests may purchase supplemental coverage at their discretion and we highly recommend it, as the mandatory level of coverage included with your ticket is quite low, both for medical coverage in case of illness/injury while on your trip, as well as for emergency evacuation or repatriation. We have partnered with Travel Insured International for this supplemental coverage. The cost of this additional coverage will vary based on coverage amount, age of traveler, and length of travel.
Currency in Cuba is complicated, and exchanging money after arrival is unavoidable. When traveling to many countries, you can go to the bank in advance and get the currency you need. Not so for Cuba. We have a section of this website dedicated to all money questions...go here: Cuban Currency.
The short answer is probably not. However, this is another travel detail that is rapidly changing and will likely continue to change in the coming months. For now, it is best NOT to count on debit and/or credit cards working in Cuba. Most U.S. banks are not set up in Cuba due to the trade embargo as well as lack of infrastructure. However, you may want to check with your bank to find out if your card might work while in Cuba as some banks and credit card companies are slowly establishing agreements and infrastructure to allow use of their cards in Cuba. If that is true of your card, we recommended asking what the foreign transaction fee will be (it is likely to be higher than fees assessed in other countries). If your card will work there, taking it as a backup to cash as well as for any unexpected emergencies might be reassuring for you.
Even if you have a card issued by a non-U.S. bank, many establishments do not accept them, and technical issues with credit and ATM/debit cards are frequent in Cuba. Furthermore, if they do work, purchases, withdrawals, and especially cash advances can be slow to process, and all transactions are likely to come with exceptionally high foreign transaction fees.
This is something you'll hear in Cuba a lot. Casa particular is a phrase meaning private accommodation or private homestays in Cuba, very similar to bed and breakfast although it can also take the form of vacation rental.
Cuba's food has not generally been known as its strongest attraction in recent decades, as trade embargoes and the general economic situation has limited access to ingredients. However, things are rapidly improving as the political situation changes and restrictions ease, and foodies often love Cuba for the overall culinary experience, spices, and variety of dishes served. Traditional Cuban cuisine is a unique and interesting blend of African, Caribbean, Spanish, and Native American food. We have carefully selected unique and authentic restaurants that will give you a taste of this varied and authentic cuisine. However, you may encounter very simple meals along the way as well. Rice, beans, and local fruits are likely to be common items on your plate. But even these simple dishes can be a memorable experience when prepared by a traditional Cuban chef or owner of a casa particular. We are sure that along the way on your Cuba Unbound Tour, your taste buds will be doing the rumba!
The electrical current in Cuba is 110V with a current of 220v (same as the U.S. and Canada). Therefore, you should not need a converter. However, while most outlets are of the same type as those in the U.S. and Canada, there are a variety of outlet types in certain parts of Cuba (common types of plugs shown below), so to be safe we recommend bringing a plug adapter.
US Travelers: Well, how many can you buy with $400? The spending limit, per person, is $400 for US citizens for any personal use items. As of October 2016, this limit now includes rum and cigars.
Canadian Travlers: If you are from Canada traveling to Cuba, you are allowed 20 "loose cigars" or "50 packaged cigars" with proof of purchase. Canadian travel forums sometimes will say "50 cigar limit" which leads Canadians to believe any type of cigar is fine. But there is a 20/50 rule. If you want to get 50, make sure they are packaged with proof of purchase!
UK Travelers: You get to bring back ONE of the following: 200 cigarettes, or 100 cigarillos, or 50 cigars, or 250g of tobacco. If you decide you want half of one...say 100 cigarettes, than you can bring 25 cigars. Make sense?
Something to keep note of, Cuban custom officials have the right to request proof of purchase from anybody leaving the country with more than 50 cigars. They don't always do it, but they do reserve the right. Keep your receipt and only buy from authentic sources. Most street vendors are selling banana leaves, fyi!
We strongly advise you to approach your Cuba Unbound Tour as an opportunity to completely unplug for 8 days. If you embrace that attitude, we believe you will have a most authentic Cuban travel experience. While cell phones are not uncommon in Cuba, there are almost no U.S. cellular companies with service and infrastructure in Cuba. Likewise, internet service is very limited and spotty at best in most locations. There may be WiFi in some of your tour hotel lobbies, however you will likely need to buy an Internet card to access WiFi, hotels often limit how many cards they sell (or they run out), speeds are slow, and access is generally unreliable. There are increasing numbers of internet cafes, and other locations with service, however considering your full itinerary, we strongly encourage you to take advantage of the opportunity to be disconnected from the digital world during your time in Cuba. If there is an emergency, our guides are equipped to communicate using phones and internet as needed.
Having said that, you may want to check with your specific cellular service provider and ask if they have coverage in Cuba. And if you must have cellular access, an unlocked quad-band GSM cell phone will work in Cuba. You will need to buy a SIM card as well however. Cell phones can also be rented in Cuba but are in very short supply.
While on your tour, you’ll make many new friends. If you want to take gifts consider small items such as aspirin, multiple vitamins, makeup, manicure and sewing kits, perfume, chocolate, watches, wallets, key chains, purses, scarves, pen sets, flash drives, and other things you’d like to receive.
Don't forget that anything you take for your personal use, (clothing, towels or face clothes, sunscreen, hair conditioner, etc.), are also appreciated if you don't need to take them home. Makes more room for your souvenirs!