1. Do I need a visa/passport to travel to Cuba?
Yes, a valid passport and a Cuban visa are required to travel to Cuba. Americans can travel with a valid passport to Cuba under a license provided by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) (see People-to-People program FAQ below). In general, we recommend that your U.S. passport be valid for at least six months after traveling. The Cuban visa is also called a tourist card (tarjeta de tourista), and you will need to obtain this prior to your arrival. Please check with your airline as to whether you can purchase this card at the gate of the flight to Cuba. Cuban immigration will take half of your two-part visa card upon arrival and the other half when you depart. The visa is valid for one entry and 30 days once in country. If you are participating in one of our Cuba land tours, then you will be provided with a “Certification of Travel to Cuba” document that must be signed and returned to us prior to your trip. We recommend checking with your Cuban Embassy or Consulate for specific requirements.
2. What is the People-to-People Program?
U.S. citizens can travel to Cuba if they have a valid passport and are traveling under a license from the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). Currently there are 12 categories of authorized travel to Cuba, such as related to research, religious activities, family visits, or people-to-people educational visits. People-to-people educational programs allow Americans to legally travel to Cuba under a full-time schedule of activities designed to enhance educational exchanges and meaningful interactions with the individuals of Cuba, support civil society, or promote the independence of Cuban people from Cuban authorities. It is under this people-to-people license that our tours operate, allowing you to experience Cuba as never before, to get to know its people and visit places off-the-beaten track. For many travelers, this proves to be the most fascinating and rewarding part of their entire trip. Per the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR), you will be provided with a “Certification of Travel to Cuba” document that you must sign and return. Some examples of people-to-people exchanges offered on our itineraries include:
• In Trinidad, meet with Julio Munoz, whose book featuring photographs of Trinidad truly puts Trinidad into perspective
• In Pálpite, visit the Korimacao Community Project, where you can meet with teachers and young artists to learn about the community’s commitment to performance and musical arts
• In Cienfuegos, the people-to-people interaction may include a local musical performance, such as by Cantores de Cienfuegos or the local chamber orchestra
• In Contramaestre, join a local guide for a people-to-people walk among houses of local farmers to learn about the cultivation of coffee and cocoa
3. Is travel insurance recommended?
Yes! The Cuban government requires that all travelers to Cuba have (non-U.S.) travel insurance which covers overseas medical expenses. To enter Cuba, you must have proof of your travel health insurance, which includes medical evacuation, emergencies, and repatriation. Note that most U.S. companies do not provide coverage outside of the country; please check with your provider as to whether your coverage extends to Cuba. Certain airlines may include the mandatory (albeit minimal) trip insurance in the ticket price. You can also buy a policy from a Cuban insurance company at the airport upon arrival. Also be aware that cash is generally a requirement to pay medical expenses in Cuba. Cuba’s public health system does not meet U.S. standards, with shortages in providers and medications.
4. When is the best time to go to Cuba?
Cuba has a subtropical climate with two main seasons, wet and dry. Our tours are scheduled during the tourist high season in the drier months of October through April, but custom tours can be designed year-round. In the high season travelers can expect little to no rain, temperatures around 80° F with low levels of humidity, more crowds, and higher pricing.
Late spring, summer, and fall are also good times to consider traveling. April and May enjoy the most sunny days with low rainfall and low humidity. In August, temperatures can reach the 90s, with an average of about 81°F. Hurricane season starts in June, with greater rainfall and more storm activity, but by late October hurricane season has mostly passed and there is less rain.
5. What is the weather like in Cuba?
Cuba has a pleasant subtropical climate with northeasterly trade winds and weather similar to Florida in the United States. In general, Cuba is sunny, hot, and humid. The wet season occurs between May and October and the drier season from November through April, coinciding with the tourist high season. January has an average temperature of about 70°F. During the summer months of June through August, the temperature averages about 81°F and may reach into the 90s. The mean temperature in Havana is 77°F. Humidity averages about 80% year-round.
Hurricane season is from June through November, although hurricanes are rare. The eastern portion of the country is more likely to be hit by hurricanes. Cuba is also prone to tropical storms, heavy rainfall, drought, and occasional earthquakes.
6. What are the guides like?
Our Cuba land guides are local, bi-lingual, and an excellent resource for information about all things Cuba. Guides are hand selected based on language skills, skill in activity, personality, and knowledge of Cuba, and attend an intensive annual training. They are the only guides in Cuba trained in Wilderness First Aid/Wilderness First Responder to North American standards, with recurring certification every two years. Our trips use a guide team composed of a government employee of the tourism agency and professionally trained independent contractors. Together they help you discover the “real Cuba”.
7. What are the accommodations like?
Accommodations in Cuba are diverse, with all categories available from Cuban-rated 5-star hotels to private homes. Please be aware that in Cuba hotel demand exceeds supply, which means that hotel reservations may change prior to trip departure, a reality beyond our control. Hotel standards in Cuba differ from those in other parts of the world, an important point to keep in mind, but we do our best to secure quality accommodations of moderate quality. In some locations upgrade options may be available – contact us for details.
A unique experience is to stay in a Casa Particular, a bed and breakfast-style accommodation set within a private home and operated by a Cuban family. Gain a deeper educational and cultural exchange while enjoying local flavor, gracious hosts, and comfortable accommodations. The casas used in each location have been carefully researched and for many guests, these are a highlight of their Cuba trip. Special requests by families or groups of friends are honored where possible; if a casa cannot accommodate an entire family then members are placed in an adjacent casa or one within walking distance. Guests with children 18 years old or younger are always placed in the same casa. A homestay in a Casa Particular almost always includes a private bathroom. Hosts typically speak English but you should expect varying levels of proficiency. You will be provided with your trip leader's cell phone number if translation assistance is needed. This option is available on our Cuba land tours. To see examples of our accommodations, visit our Cuba lodging page
8. Do I need a converter/adapter for the electricity?
Most of the electrical outlets are designed for flat prongs with 110 volts AC, the same as in the United States. Some hotels and other locations have 220 volt AC, some may have both. We recommend that you bring a multi-adapter to ensure that you can use your device or appliance.
9. What type of transportation is used?
In Cuba a variety of transport is used including taxi, plane, train, bus, rental cars, bicycle, and your own two feet. On our tours we use fleets of vehicles from different capacities, all of them with high comfort. Yutong Chinese buses are very common means of transport. Car rental options include Cubacar, Rex Car, and Transtours. Official tourist taxis have reliable meters, but some are not metered and we recommend asking for and negotiating a fare in advance. Tourists may only take taxis that charge CUC$ (see What is the Local Currency?), with rates starting at CUC$1. We recommend that travelers take official taxis when traveling in the evenings, even in rural areas and coastal communities. In Havana, pedal and yellow coco taxis (rickshaw-style vehicles) are good for short distance transport but we do not recommend these due to safety concerns.
10. Are meals included?
Meals are included as specified in the itinerary. On our multisport, walking, and kayaking tours, enjoy breakfast and dinner at your hotel, casa particular, or a local restaurant. Lunch may be at a restaurant or served as a picnic on a beach or home-cooked meal on a family farm. Paladares are small, privately owned restaurants often located in family homes. Featuring fresh ingredients and local delicacies, such as seafood, paladares are an excellent way to enjoy Cuban authenticity. We have scheduled paladar dining opportunities on our land tours. If dinner is on your own, your guide can offer dining suggestions.
11. What type of food is typical of Cuba?
Cuban cuisine has a diverse influence from Spanish, African, Caribbean, and Native American cuisine. Cuba imports between 70 to 80% of its food that is then rationed to the public, with meats such as pork, chicken, and fish in greater supply than beef. Rice and beans (Moros y Cristianos) are a staple, and are typically served with fried plantains and root vegetables like potatoes and yucca. Sofrito, a sauté of onion, garlic, bell pepper, tomatoes, cumin, bay leaves, and oregano, is a base used in many dishes. Tropical fruits include bananas, plantains, mangoes, coconuts, papayas, guavas, avocados, and a unique tree fruit known as mamey. There are less options for vegetables, with lettuce, cabbage, cucumbers, carrots, tomatoes, and peppers typically served as lunch or dinner sides. Eggs, dairy, and wheat are usually served at breakfast, a consideration for vegetarian and vegan diets. Enjoy excellent locally grown coffee and cocoa.
12. Is the water safe to drink? Is the food safe to eat?
We recommend drinking only bottled water, which is available for purchase throughout Cuba. Tap water is generally safe at hotels for brushing teeth, although we recommend using bottled water to be cautious. Similarly, request beverages without ice.
Use safety precautions such as ensuring that your food is thoroughly cooked and is fresh. In Havana the food is generally safe, with outlying areas more on par with developing country standards. We recommend avoiding food from street vendors. Consider eating only fruits and vegetables that can be peeled and have been washed in safe (bottled or disinfected) water. Traveler’s Diarrhea (TD) is a common infection affecting visitors to Cuba from unsanitary handling of food.
13. How safe is Cuba?
Comfort and safety during your Cuba vacation is a primary focus. Click here for more information
from the U.S. State Department about travel warnings in Cuba.
The island has strict gun controls and police are a visible resource, especially in hotel areas. Strict sentences are imposed on crimes against travelers. Do be aware of your surroundings, listen to the advice of your guides and hosts, and use common sense measures such as not going into unfamiliar areas alone, especially at night. Take precautions against pick-pocketing or theft; leave valuable jewelry at home, avoid carrying large sums of money, wear a money belt, do not leave expensive items in your luggage, carry a copy of your passport, and use your hotel safe for your passport and valuables.
Traveler’s diarrhea is the most common affliction affecting visitors. Zika virus and dengue fever are also present in Cuba. While currently the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not require any vaccinations to enter Cuba, you should be up-to-date on all routine vaccines. Also consider vaccinations for typhoid, Hepatitis A and B, and rabies. For more information, visit the CDC
and speak with your physician.
14. What is the typical age range and group size on your Cuba tours? Are these trips suitable for kids?
On our land tours, the average age range is between 55-60 years old. On our multisport, kayaking, and biking trips, the minimum age required is 12 years old. There is more flexibility on the walking tours. Group size is limited to 18 individuals.
15. Are tour dates flexible? Can I extend or change my stay?
Our scheduled departures are not flexible. You may be able to extend your stay a day or two after the trip. To do so you would have to fulfill the people-to-people requirements for U.S. citizens (see What is the People-to-People Program?).
16. Are these trips a good choice for solo travelers?
Solo travelers are welcome on any of our tours. Solo travelers wanting to travel to Cuba may be able to join a scheduled departure, depending on availability (each land tour is limited to 18 spaces). Single travelers will need to pay a higher rate or single supplement. Solo travelers should also take a look at our exclusive Solo Traveler Departures.
17. How far in advance should I book?
We recommend that you book as far in advance as possible, as there are limited spaces available on each tour. We require final and complete information for all guests 90 days prior to the scheduled trip date. You may be able to book after this time based on availability. We also recommend that you wait to book your international flight until after you tour is confirmed. The sooner that we arrange the tour, the sooner that you can take advantage of flight deals as they become available. We may be able to accommodate last minute travelers and can even arrange custom trips – give us a call and we’ll do our best! For custom trips, allow at least four weeks for preparation.
18. What happens when I arrive at the airport?
Once your trip is confirmed, we will provide you with a suggested arrival time into your destination city (Havana, Holguin, or Cienfuegos). Upon arrival, your tour leader and local guides will meet you at the airport to begin your tour. The orientation for our Walking Tour itinerary will be held at a Cienfuegos hotel. If you are not able to book a flight from your home city for arrival before the confirmed meeting time, you may travel the day prior, arrange your lodging on your own for the night, and then travel to meet your group the next morning.
To enter Cuba, you must have a valid passport, visa, proof of travel health insurance, a return air ticket, and evidence of sufficient funds to cover your stay. See below for more information.
19. Do tour rates include international flights?
Tour rates do not include international flights. We find that it is usually less expensive for travelers to book these separately and this also allows you the flexibility to choose the schedule and routing that is most convenient for you. Commercial flights from the U.S. to Havana began in December 2016. You can purchase these on your own, or we can certainly help you arrange these flights with an airfare consolidator who specializes in options from the U.S. to Cuba, with the connecting point in the U.S. Cuba has nine international airports, with Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport being the main entry point. Other international air terminals are at Varadero, Camaguey, Cayo Largo, Cienfuegos, Cayo Coco, Holguin, Manzanillo, and Santiago de Cuba.
20. Can I use US dollars or do I need local currency? What is the local currency, exchange rate, etc.?
Foreign currencies are generally not accepted for making purchases in Cuba. While the U.S. dollar may be used to conduct some transactions (for example purchasing music), upon arrival travelers can exchange their US dollars into Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC$), the national currency for goods and services for visitors. The current exchange is 1 CUC = $1 USD. There is a second unit called the Cuban peso (CUP), or national coin/moneda nacional, which is a less valuable currency mainly used by locals. Note that nothing is taxed in Cuba.
When you arrive in Cuba, you can exchange your currency in exchange kiosks at the airport. CADECA money exchange bureaus, hotels, and banks are also able to make exchanges, provided you have your passport on hand. Be sure to ask for small CUC denominations for tips. Over-the-counter exchanges at hotels, while convenient, may charge higher rates since they are not regulated. Do not exchange money or the street or with an individual. The USD is the only foreign currency hit with a conversion penalty, which is typically 10%, plus you’ll pay an additional 3% exchange fee. At the end of your travels, you can exchange your remaining CUC at the airport, since you are not permitted to take them out of Cuba.
21. Should I bring cash or Traveler’s checks? Are ATMS available? Can I use credit cards?
You should bring cash to exchange upon arrival in Cuba. Amounts over US$5000 must be declared. While you can bring Traveler’s checks, we do not advise relying on them since they can be difficult to exchange beyond select Havana hotels, are subject to a commission when cashing, and are not insured if lost or stolen. Due to a lack of banking or financial relationships between U.S. and Cuba as a result of the U.S. embargo, your U.S. credit cards and debit cards may not work in Cuba, so you will need cash to cover your trip. Please check with your provider prior to traveling. Since there is a penalty fee for exchanging U.S. currency, you may want to do your research as to whether it would be prudent to bring Euros or Canadian currency.
22. How much spending money should I bring?
On our Cuba tours, we recommend:
• US$200-$400 per person for souvenirs and gifts to bring home
• US$75-100 per person for beverages and/or entertainment not included in your tour
• US$100 per person for incidentals such as unexpected needs, laundry, and tips independent of the tour
Some of the top souvenirs that U.S. citizens can legally bring back include cigars, rum, coffee, art, jewelry, music, honey, sugar, and perfume. Most of the shops in Cuba are government owned and can be found in hotels and airports. Prices for souvenirs are fixed and are similar to those in the U.S. Be sure you hold on to your official government receipts or stamps of approval for durable goods or valuables to show customs. Customs will confiscate prohibited items such as firearms, narcotics, tortoise shells, sea shells, and Cuban currency. In October 2016, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) removed the monetary limits on imports for Americans. Normal limits on duty and tax exemptions for merchandise imported for personal use and in accompanied baggage now apply: www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/Pages/cuba.aspx.
23. How much should I budget for tips?
How much you tip is at your discretion, depending on your experience and satisfaction. We recommend US$175-200 per person for your guide team. In Cuba tips are a large part of the income for tour guides and drivers, and oftentimes shared with coworkers, friends, and families. Included in our land tours are tips for specialized guides and presenters, drivers, luggage handling, restaurant staff, and activities throughout the tour. You may want to have several 1 CUC bills on hand for additional tips, such as for musicians. Do not leave foreign coins as Cuban banks will not exchange them. Gift giving is part of the culture, with unused hygiene products or school supplies acceptable at resorts and hotels.
24. What time zone is Cuba?
Cuba is in the Eastern Time Zone, or -5 UTC, which is the same as the East Coast of the U.S. Note that Cuba observes Daylight Saving Time, during which it is -4 UTC.
25. Can I use my cell phone?
Some U.S. telecommunications companies, including Sprint and Verizon, have set up roaming agreements with the Cuban provider Cubacel. Depending on your carrier, you may be able to use your cell phone in Cuba if you have international roaming enabled. If your phone operates in Cuba, you may also receive incoming calls from the United States. Check with your carrier about charges for calls, data, and text messaging prior to your trip. You may also rent a SIM card in Cuba, which comes with pre-paid minutes and a daily rental fee. To call the U.S., you can use a pre-paid calling card on a payphone, use a hotel landline (rates average about US$2.50 per minute), or use a mobile phone. For more information, consult the Federal Communications Commission.
26. Can I access the Internet?
Yes. In larger cities like Havana and Santiago de Cuba, business centers and telepuntas, or internet cafes, offer Internet access with a charge by the minute or the hour (about CUC$2 per hour). WiFi is available at major hotels and resorts, with an hourly rate from CUC$2-$10. There are also an increasing number of public WiFi hotspots, enabling you to access WiFi on your cell phone. To use these you will need to purchase an access ticket from ETECSA (the government-owned telecommunications company), which costs about CUC$2 per hour. Internet and WIFI connection speeds vary widely in Cuba, and are much slower than in the U.S.
27. What should I pack?
It’s always a good idea to check the local Cuba forecast when packing for your trip. Items may be more difficult to find in Cuba, so you should plan ahead and pack accordingly. The seasons in Cuba are similar to the United States, with weather similar to Florida. Between May through September, it will be very hot and you will want light clothes. The evenings can get cool between December and February, so we recommend packing a light jacket, sweater, or sweatshirt. Other highly recommended items include a sun hat, sunscreen, swimsuit, walking shoes or sneakers, and an umbrella. Laundry and dry-cleaning services are often available at hotels in Havana. You will receive a detailed packing list after you book your tour.