With the new policies announced by the U.S. Government June 16, 2017, can I still travel legally to Cuba?
Yes! The new policies did change some aspects of travel to Cuba. Most notably, individuals may no longer travel under the category of educational "People-to-People" travel on their own. This category is reserved for travel within a group tour, such as the tours Cuba Unbound offers.
The new rules prohibit direct commercial dealings with the Cuban military or security services. The Cuban military has a large branch involved in tourism and owns and manages some of the country's hotels. Thus, once the new regulations are enacted, it's possible that our tours will no longer be able to stay in hotels owned or managed by the military. Since we used very few of these in the past, this isn't a very big issue.
You bet! However, you still can't embark on a self-guided vacation, or spend days at a beach resort, but you can travel to Cuba under an approved itinerary. There is a general license procedure to travel to Cuba with a tour group and if you travel with Cuba Unbound we take care of everything for you! Under the general license, the OFAC (Office of Foreign Assets Control) has approved 12 categories of travel for a US citizen going to Cuba. All of our tours meet the requirements for the Educational, People-to-People travel category.
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 tours are active with sea kayaking, hiking, bikie, 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.
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. The rainy season runs from May through October, and these months see the highest temperatures and humidity. The most active tropical storm months are September and October. For a complete month-to-month guide on Cuban travel weather, go here.
You need what is called a Cuba Tourist Card (aka Cuba Tourist Visa). It is just as important as your passport and is required when you go through customs and immigration upon arrival in Cuba. How you purchase your Cuba Tourist Card will depend on the airline with which you fly. Some commercial airlines will have these for sale when you check-in at the airport or they will have a “Cuba Ready” kiosk near the departure gate where you can purchase one. Some airlines connect you with a service where you can purchase the Tourist Card online ahead of time. We always recommend checking with your airline about the Cuban Tourist Card to find out what your options are for purchasing the card. The cost ranges from $50 to $100. Be very careful when filling the form out because if you make a mistake you will have to buy a new one.
There are now many options for commercial flights between the US and Cuba! While the vast majority of travelers will fly in and out of Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport, there are ten cities with international airports on the island, so there are many possibilities. Airlines with direct flights from the US include American, Delta, United, Southwest, JetBlue and Alaska. American Airlines in general offers some of the best flights for our 2017/18 itineraries, but the right airline will depend on your home location and preference. It's also possible to fly to Cuba from Mexico or Canada, or other countries.
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 your tour, that category is "People to People Travel". As of June 16, 2017, individual travel under the People-to-People category is not allowed. However, we can arrange a custom, guided extension as a private group tour should you wish, or you can choose from one of our standard tour extensions. Please contact one of our Adventure Consultants if you want us to plan these extra days for you.
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 Cuban-specific 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. The mandatory level of insurance required to travel to Cuba is likely included in the cost of your commercial flight to and from Cuba, although we do recommend verifying this with your airline. 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. In addition, some guests will want a travel protection plan that protects them in case they must cancel their trip for any number of reasons. We have partnered with Travel Insured International for supplemental coverage. The cost of this additional coverage will vary based on coverage amount, age of traveler, and length of travel.
There are two currencies in Cuba, although our guests will only use the Cuba Convertible Peso, or CUC. US dollars are not accepted anywhere in Cuba. Currency in Cuba can be a bit complicated, so we have a whole section on this website dedicated to all money questions visit our Travel Essentials page and click on the Money tab.
The short answer is probably not. However, this is another travel detail that may change in the coming months. For now, it is best NOT to count on debit and/or credit cards working in Cuba. Stonegate Bank in Florida is the only bank we know of that offers a US-based credit card that works in Cuba.
If you have a card issued by a non-U.S. bank, it may work. However, there are very few businesses that accept credit cards, so they are not that useful.
Plan to bring enough cash to cover all your expenses in Cuba – and then bring a little extra to have “just in case.”
This is something you'll hear in Cuba a lot. Casa particular is a phrase meaning private accommodation or private homestay in Cuba, very similar to bed and breakfast. Some casas have just a simple room in a family’s home, while some are more similar to a boutique hotel. There are thousands of casas in Cuba, and we incorporate stays in these on many of our tours.
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. Seafood, rice, beans, and local fruits are likely to be common items on your plate. You may encounter very simple meals along the way, but even these simple dishes can be a memorable experience when prepared by a traditional Cuban chef or owner of a casa particular. We have carefully selected unique and authentic restaurants that will give you a taste of this varied and authentic cuisine. 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. Since these regulations could change, be sure to double check.
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.
We strongly advise you to approach your Cuba Unbound tour as an opportunity to completely unplug. 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 only a few US cellular companies that have service in Cuba. Check with your provider to see if they have coverage in Cuba.
Internet service is also very limited and spotty at best in most locations. There may be WiFi in some of your tour hotel lobbies, and a number of “hot spots” can be found in city parks, however you will need to buy an Internet card to access WiFi. You may be able to purchase one of these cards at your hotel for about 2 CUC for an hour of internet access. These cards can also be purchased from an ETECSA.
If there is an emergency, our guides are equipped to communicate using phones and internet as needed.
Gifts for Cuban friends you meet along the way - This is a complex subject that we hope you will take a moment to reflect on. We understand that some people truly enjoy sharing their bounty and we believe there is an appropriate and conscientious way of doing so that reinforces dignity and respect rather than the flawed image of a charitable savior.
We are very sensitive to the idea that we don't want to contribute to a culture where children see tourists and immediately think "I'll go ask for candy or a pen." Or where adults view tourists as if they are a vending machine. Our goal is to provide meaningful interaction with people and establish genuine relations across a diverse world.
If you are interested in supporting the economic empowerment of Cuba’s people, we encourage you to purchase locally made products and support small businesses along the way. There are also organizations well equipped to provide large scale support across Cuba for health, education and more such as CARE (https://www.care.org/country/
It can be appropriate to bring some gifts to give to people along the way, in the manner in which you might give a token of appreciation to a friend. However, the giving needs to be done in a sensitive way and after some sort of relationship is established between you and the local people you are meeting.
Many of our trips stay in Casa Particulares, which are private homes set up like a Bed & Breakfast. These are great places to meet a local family and get to know more about Cuba. At the same time, these people are already more well off than most Cubans as they are renting rooms in their homes. The most appropriate gifts for your hosts might be small souvenirs from your home town such as postcards to show them what it looks like, or some specialty product from your region.
Along the way you'll meet many musicians and they always have tip baskets set up. We encourage you to contribute to those, but you might also think about bringing guitar or bass strings, or saxaphone reeds.
If you do decide to bring gifts, they should be things that won't simply end up in the landfill because they are cheap and break. Things that require batteries are also not a good choice as batteries are expensive for Cubans and they have no recycling system for them. Here are a few ideas: Because Cubans have limited access to the internet, flash drives are common and quite expensive for the average Cuban. Travel umbrellas, small solar lights like "Luci Lights", crayons, colored chalk, rubber playground balls, inflatable globes, quality bandaids, quality kitchen gloves and sponges, simple medicine like ibuprophen, etc. can also be meaningful gifts for families you meet along the way. Our guides are happy to help you with any questions you may have and coordinate your efforts.
Remember too that the service industry in Cuba is just like anywhere else in the world. Hotel bellhops, taxi drivers, servers in restaurants and bars all depend on tips as part of their wages. Cuba Unbound includes most all incidental tips on the trip (at group restaurant meals, hotel baggage handling, etc.) but you are always welcome to add your own tip over and above this. This money makes its way into the economy and in the end also is a big help to the locals. Again, your guides are happy to help navigate what an appropriate amount might be.