CUBA TRAVEL INFORMATION
This is the most up-to-date information regarding your Cuba travel on an Eco Cuba Network trip that is available to us at this time. If there are any changes to this information, you will be informed in a timely manner. You will also receive, between now and departure, your final program, updated emergency contacts and additional reading materials.
DEPARTING THE U.S.
Before you Travel: Be sure you have with you:
* Your current and valid passport: Ideally, passports should be valid for a period extending at least 6 months beyond your tour departure date. If your passport is not valid, you will not be allowed to leave the United States.
* CV or resume if you are traveling as a professional
* Copy of a letter from your university, attesting that you are traveling to Cuba for credit toward your degree, if you are a college or university student
* Cuba Travel Affidavit (the form where you have checked off and signed the legal category under which you are traveling to Cuba, either #3 for professional travel OR #10 for academic/student travel).
* Research tour program: a sample program is subject to change on the basis of the professional interests and needs of the participants on the trip and availability in Cuba; you will have the final program prior to departure…
* Emergency contact information for the US, Cancun, and Cuba (There is some information at the end of this document and you will receive more prior to departure.)
* Tickets for your chosen airlines, Cuban visa and voucher for Cuban health insurance (these will be issued to you with your round trip to Havana tickets at your point of departure for Cuba; prior to departure you will receive an “e ticket” with your name, confirmation number and flight information.)
You will need some combination of these documents when leaving the US, some upon arrival in Cuba, some when leaving Cuba and some when arriving back in the US. (You will be informed at your final meeting in Cuba, regarding which of the documents you will need to carry with you when you return to the US.)
For simplicity’s sake, we ask each participant to carry all the documentation with them during all legs of the journey.
Keep a copy of each document in your carry-on luggage and in your check-in luggage, along with a copy of your passport.
IF YOU MISS YOUR FLIGHT!
If your flight to the point of departure from the US is delayed, and you miss the flight to Havana on January 2, you will need to book the next available flight to Havana, hopefully later in the day, but possibly, the next day. We will send you the name of our contact person in the departure city who can hopefully help you with your re-booking. Please also call or email Pam Montanaro at Eco Cuba Exchange, to let us know you will arrive late.
Prior to your departure we will send you all the relevant emergency contact numbers for your group, in the US, in Cancun, and in Cuba. You will also find some of them at the end of this document.
When you arrive in Havana, if you are not with the group, you will simply take a taxi to the Hotel. The cost for the taxi will be $20 dollars or less. You will need to convert at least this much cash to Cuban Convertible Currency (CUCs) in the airport to pay the taxi driver. We will provide you with the name and contact information for the hotel prior to your departure.
Havana Immigration and Customs: Upon your arrival in Havana, you will first go through Immigration and Customs. The Immigration officer will ask you to present your passport, Cuban visa and health insurance voucher. The officer will then stamp an entry approval on the visa, and give it back to you. The visa officially authorizes your entry into Cuba and serves as a “stamp” in your passport (please note that they will not stamp your passport). The card must be surrendered upon your departure so keep it a place safe during your time in Cuba. There will be a security box in your hotel room.
Cuban Health Insurance: If you have purchased your flight to Havana through Global Exchange Reality Tours, your Cuban health insurance has already been paid for this tour. You will have a voucher for your health insurance, issued to you at your point of departure. If asked, you simply tell the Cuban official that your health insurance is covered in your tour package arranged by AMISTUR/ICAP, (pronounced “EE-kap”), your Cuban host organization, and show them the voucher (which may be a stamp on the back of your ticket).
You will then collect your luggage and wait for the rest of the group to collect theirs. Once the group has collected all its belongings, you will all go through the basic Customs procedure, which rarely involves a luggage search. After going through Customs, and exiting the airport, your Cuban tour guide will be waiting to take you to the AMISTUR bus. He or she will be holding a sign that says, “Global Exchange.”
Spending Money In Cuba: Under current U.S. regulations, any persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction traveling to Cuba as licensed travelers (as are all of you) are legally permitted to spend up to $100 per day for the extra practical and personal expenses not included in our tour price.
We recommend bringing at least $50-100 per person per day. You will need money for one meal each day, bottled water, other beverages, private excursions and cultural activities separate from the group, and for tipping various individuals who serve you during these separate excursions, as well as the tour guides. Also keep in mind that if you are planning to buy artwork of a higher price range, or attend a number of optional cultural performances in the evening, you must budget accordingly.
U.S. dollars: U.S. dollars are not accepted in Cuba. You will change your cash into the Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC’s) upon your arrival at the hotel in Cuba. In the interest of time, especially in a large group, we recommend handling your money exchanges at the hotel where we will be staying. You might save some money by exchanging U.S. currency for Euros or Canadian dollars before you depart, although the rate of exchange is always changing and recently has not been particularly worth the effort.
Most hotels have safety deposit boxes where you can keep the bulk of your money and your passport, but we recommend that you purchase a money belt (the kind worn under the clothing) so that you can keep some money with you at all times and a photocopy of your passport and other documents.
What you may bring back to the U.S.:
Even under the current U.S. travel restrictions, persons authorized to travel to Cuba may purchase unlimited amounts of educational and artistic materials, which will be brought back with them to the U.S. in accompanied luggage. This includes: books, periodicals, paintings, sculpture, records, tapes, CD’s, films, video cassettes, photographs, posters, lithographs, microfilm and other informational, artistic and educational materials.
Under current regulations, Cuban cigars, rum, coffee and other Cuban products are prohibited imports. We advise against your attempting to bring back these prohibited items. You run the risk of having them confiscated by U.S. Customs officials upon your re-entry to the U.S. This can also subject you to a level of scrutiny of your luggage and legality to travel to Cuba that could cause you to miss your next flight.
Please remember to save money for the end of the trip to tip the guide and driver. We suggest budgeting at least $20 for the driver and $20 for the guide. This is optional, a suggestion, and is entirely up to you. And, although it is an optional practice, we suggest tipping at restaurants and the hotel (if the service is good).
(Individuals who manage to find jobs in the tourist industry in Cuba are usually supporting a large extended family with their salaries and tips. Especially in the current global economic recession, and despite their professional and cheerful manner and expertise, many of our Cuban guides, translators, drivers and speakers are living in extremely difficult circumstances.)
HOTEL AND MEALS
Prior to departure, we will let you know the name of the hotels or hostels where your group will be staying, its location, and emergency contact information.
At the hotel or hostel, you will have a buffet-style breakfast and dinner each day. Breakfasts will include the normal: eggs, bread, fruit, yogurt, some meat, cereals, and pastries. The dinner too will be simple, Cuban-style cuisine of meat, fish, rice and beans, root vegetables, salad, fruit, bread and dessert.
Lunches will normally be in different restaurants and cafes around town, and will include vegetarian ones, as well as restaurants in interesting neighborhood and those run by private families, the paladares. In general lunch is the meal not covered by the tour fee, although sometimes we are able to work this into the tour fee.
There will probably be a pizza/sandwich cafe in the hotel or hostel. There are also “rapidos” in town where you can purchase inexpensive pizza or sandwiches on your own.
During the buffet meals at the hotel, you will be able to eat your fill and even take a little snack — fruit or bread for the day (you might want to bring along a small plastic bag or container for this purpose).
If you have very strong dietary restrictions, we recommend that you bring along packaged trail mix and power bars, or whatever packaged foods meet your particular dietary needs to supplement your daily nutritional needs.
PREPARATIONS AND WHAT TO EXPECT
Baggage: Travel as lightly as possible. You, and the group as a whole, will have a much easier time if you keep your baggage to a minimum. These days, most U.S. airlines allow a maximum total weight of 50 pounds per checked bag and charge a fee for each bag. Cuba allows 66 lbs of luggage per passenger. Any additional luggage may be subject to charge by the charter airlines ($1.30 per lb). If you know that you are going to be overweight, please budget extra money.
Donations: In agreement with Cuban Customs policies, there is an allowance of maximum excess weight of 30 lbs., classified as follows; 20 lbs. of medicine as donations, 2 lbs. gift items, and 8 lbs. of other Customs-taxable items. (As you are traveling as a group, you may want to arrange a group discussion in regard to this. There is a list included in this packet of suggested donations.)
Clothing: When packing, please keep these things in mind: versatility, modesty, and ease for washing and drying. In general, Cubans wear quite casual attire, but there may be occasions in which it is more appropriate to wear pants and skirts, rather than shorts. Wear comfortable walking shoes. A lightweight jacket is helpful for cool evenings and air-conditioned rooms.
Please do not bring along expensive clothing or jewelry or anything that, if lost, would upset you.
Electrical Current: Voltage is usually 110 V, the same as in the U.S., but occasionally is 220 V, which requires a converter.
Internet: Most hotels and hostels have computer, Internet and email access through a DSL line in the Business Center. It is slow and there is a fee for its use.
Climate: Cuba is hot, and humid, with an average temperature around 80 degrees F during the winter months. However, the influence of the northeastern trade winds result in a gentle sea breeze that reaches most parts of the island all year round. There are only two differentiated seasons: the dry season (November to April) and the rainy season (May to October). Hurricanes take place between June and November, although the most severe storms in recent years have been late summer and early fall. Weather conditions are usually similar to those in southern Florida, so the weather reports for that area can provide the traveler with an idea of what to expect.
Time: Cuba will be on Eastern Standard Time in November.
Correspondence: International calls can be made from most hotels in Havana, but it can cost as much as $3 per minute to call from Cuba. The cheapest way to call home from Cuba is to purchase a phone card at a Cuban hotel, and use public phones. Postal service between the US and Cuba takes 5 to 6 weeks, sometimes longer, and is not reliable. SIM cards can be purchased in Cuba for your cellphone if you have that kind of cellphone service; ask your provider about it. There is also now an international cell phone service called Global Mobal for international calls that works in Cuba; you can check it out online.
Medical Donations: If you plan to bring medical donations to Cuba, remember that Cuba cannot accept expired medications, The most needed items currently are over the counter medicines, such as vitamins (especially children’s), aspirin, allergy medications, cold and flu medications, soap, shampoo, etc. If you have access to acquire more extensive medical supplies, or if you would like a more comprehensive medical supply list, please contact our office and we can send you more information.
Packing Medical Donations: Please keep the original labels on all medicines. Once you arrive in Cuba, you may be asked to leave the supplies at the airport for general distribution to hospitals, day care centers and other institutions in need. If you have a few gift items in your luggage, you may give these supplies to your trip leader or take them with you on your visits to hospitals, clinics, day care centers, etc. If you prefer to make one large group donation, please talk to your tour leader to set this up.
Theft: With the austerity and hard times in Cuba, there has been an increase in petty crime. It is nowhere near the level it is in the U.S., and in other low-income countries, and violent crime is extremely rare, but you must take some precautions. Do not put your camera or knapsack down on a table and stroll away. Do not leave your hotel or patio doors unlocked. Please take extra precautions, as you would during international travel anywhere, while walking on crowded urban streets, especially in Old and Central Havana and along the Malecon. Again, the money belt is the recommended option for carrying your valuables during travel.
Web Resources for Cuba Travelers:
Recommended travel books on Cuba:
The Lonely Planet Guide to Cuba
Eyewitness Guide to Cuba
Eco Cuba Exchange Web page:
Articles on Sustainable Development in Cuba on the Global Exchange Web Site:
SUGGESTED PACKING LIST
* Passport and a photocopy of the vital statistics (front page) of your passport.
(Pack this copy in a separate bag)
* Extra passport–sized photos (2 or more in case you lose you passport)
* Some form of identification other then your passport
* Money belt to carry money, plane ticket and passport
* Any medication you use, packaged in the original containers
* Shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, toothbrush/tooth paste
* Sun-hat, visor, sunglasses and sunscreen
* Mini- travel alarm clock
* Flashlight and batteries (important for occasional unexpected blackouts)
* Laundry Detergent
* Travel sewing kit
* Tissue packets
* Moist toilettes
* Pepto Bismol/Immodium), stool softener, antacid, aspirin or Tylenol, etc.
* Notebook and pens
* Camera and Film, digital memory cards
* Possibly a tape recorder (bring all the cassettes and batteries you may need)\
* Contact lenses kit, glasses (and repair kit)
* Tampons or sanitary napkins
* Washcloth and beach towel
* Book to read during flight, Spanish-English dictionary
* Mosquito repellent
* Bag for soiled clothes
* Day pack
* Bathing Suit
* Poster tube (if you want to buy posters or prints)
* Ear plugs (in case you are a light sleeper and your roommate snores)
* Luggage locks
* Sweater or light jacket for air conditioning / evening mosquitoes
* Gifts for new friends (please see “Tourism and Gift giving”
HEALTH AND INNOCULATION INFORMATION
Health care is free to residents in Cuba but there are nominal charges for tourists. There is the new regulation, mentioned earlier, regarding the required purchase of Cuban health insurance for US citizens. This is included with your tour fee and this should cover you for any medical emergency. The health system is good, so you will be well taken care of in case of an emergency.
No inoculations are required for travel to Cuba.
Mosquito repellent is recommended: The most effective repellent should contain at least 90% of DEET (N,N-diethyl meta-toluamide), an ingredient in most insect repellents. Mosquito repellents like OFF! (which can at times contain 90% of DEET) are the most effective. (Please be aware that continued use of DEET over a long period can be harmful to your health.) Citronella, a natural repellent that does not contain DEET, is an alternative, although not as effective. Taking B-12 vitamins and garlic pills have also been recommended to help ward off mosquitoes. DEET containing repellents can be purchased in drugstores, hardware, backpacking or military surplus stores. Citronella can be found in health food stores.
Taking care of yourself: This is probably the best protection against getting sick. Please try to get enough rest. We hope that you get a reasonable amount of sleep before our trip. And remember that you do not have to attend all planned events. If you are exhausted, you may rest for an afternoon. The most common afflictions for visitors are mild diarrhea and heat/sun problems. Be sure to bring sunscreen to protect yourself, and drink lots of non-alcoholic drinks during the day.
Water: We recommend that you drink bottled water during your stay in Cuba. It is available in stores throughout the island. It is most expensive in hotels. Hopefully the group will have time to stop at a large convenience store where you can purchase large bottles of water for less.
There are advantages to traveling with a group. First, as a group you will have access to individuals and organizations that you would not normally meet on your own. Secondly, you will benefit from questions and input from your fellow travelers and have the opportunity to discuss issues with people from various backgrounds and experiences. Finally, upon your return home, you will have a network of people to communicate with, as they are the ones who will have shared in this unique experience with you.
It is important to remember that throughout your visit in Cuba, you will be viewed as a representative of your group, Eco Cuba Exchange and Global Exchange Reality Tours, as well as your country of origin. Therefore, your words and actions can reflect on the group. Please remember that we are guests in Cuba, a different culture with a different history; it is best to approach each new situation with an open mind.
Please be courteous to your fellow participants, our country hosts, guides, translators, waiters and hotel staff and those Cubans who choose to make presentations to our group. If a difficult situation should arise, try to think in terms of how you, as a member of the group, can contribute to a solution.
During the tour, please think about ways that you will share the information you’ve learned with your own community.
For reasons of safety or for the interest of the group, there may also be times when the group leaders will advise against a particular action. Please respect their request.
PUNCTUALITY & FLEXIBILITY
On past trips there have occasionally been participants who have wandered off to take a photograph, speak to someone, or purchase something, when the bus was about to leave, causing the group to wait for them, and possibly be late for the next appointment. There have been participants who were late rising in the morning, missed breakfast, then complained that they were hungry and needed something to eat mid-morning, when the group was nowhere near a food stand or restaurant. Please try to be at our agreed upon meeting places on time. Being mindful about punctuality will ensure that the group isn’t late and/or you won’t be inadvertently left behind. Your group leader will remind everyone daily of the time you should begin boarding the bus for the next meeting.
If you do choose to engage in a separate activity, be sure that the group leader knows where you are.
Traveling to Cuba will require a degree of patience and flexibility on everyone’s part. Cuba is struggling, these days, with the same economic hardship that other poor countries, and poor sectors of wealthy countries, are struggling with. The itinerary is subject to change due to the busy schedules of individuals and organizations with whom we hope to meet and to other unforeseeable events, but we all do our best to ensure a quality experience for our groups!
TOURISM AND GIFT GIVING
One negative aspect of tourism is the creation of an economic state dependent on tourists. Giving money or gifts sporadically to individuals on the street does not help solve overall economic problems. For example, in a case where you might feel moved to give a child on the street money or a trinket or chewing gum, you may then find yourself immediately surrounded by other children asking for a similar thing. It is impossible to fulfill each person’s needs in this manner.
However, there ARE ways you can be helpful and supportive. We encourage you to give donations to organizations rather than individuals. These institutions will distribute items equitably. If you are interested in giving money or gifts to a specific place, please speak to your trip leader. In cases where we visit day care centers, hospitals, or schools, we may give donations directly to the directors.
In past trips, groups have given gifts to the people who helped to arrange our program, such as the drivers, translators and tour guides. We suggest that you rather give such gifts that you bring with you to your trip leader, who can then arrange a way to distribute them equally among the Cuban staff.
You may also want to give personal gifts to Cuban friends you might make, on private visits with them, during the tour. This is a different matter. Some good gift ideas are:
q Games, jump ropes, building blocks, jacks, crayons, and stuffed animals for small children; small solar calculators are great for teens
q Posters or calendars from your community, workplace, or organization
q Pens, pencils and paper, briefcases and bags and other office supplies
q Aspirin, multivitamins, cologne, scented soaps, toothpaste, shampoo, candles
q Tapes, books, or magazines
q Mementos from your state or community such as T-shirts, etc.
q Tote bags, back packs
Upon your return from Cuba you will receive information to access an online evaluation form for the tour, called Survey Monkey. Please fill out this form as we do study them, and it does help us to improve the quality of our tours.
Also, please consider taking some photos to contribute to Global Exchange’s publications – photos that capture the essence of your experience as a promoter of people–to–people exchanges. These pictures can accompany any articles or report backs we have in our newsletter and our website. It also helps to get others enthusiastic about future delegations and may spark interest in issues about Cuba, Eco Cuba Exchange, and Reality Tours.
We are always interested in the written and audio-visual material you produce as a result of your tour: articles, journal entries, blogs, essays, dissertations, videos. Please share with us your impressions and experiences.
IMPORTANT CONTACT INFORMATION
There will be someone in the Global Exchange office during the working hours of 9:00 am to 5:00 pm (PDT) Monday through Friday. Please give our office phone number to family and friends who may need to reach you in the case of an emergency. We also have a 24 hour voicemail system.
Phone: 415-255-7296 or 800-487-1994 Fax: 415-255-7498
2017 Mission Street, Second Floor, San Francisco, CA 94110
REALITY TOURS DEPARTMENT
Carol Steele, 415-575-5528 (secure line) , Cuba Reality Tours Associate
Alessandro Isola, Reality Tours Director, 415-255-7296 (ask for Alessandro)
ECO CUBA EXCHANGE PROGRAM COORDINATOR/U.S.:
Pam Montanaro 510-649-1052 home office line;
510-318-1049 cell phone;
ECO CUBA EXCHANGE PROGRAM COORDINATOR/CUBA:
Dr. Michele Frank (53 – 7) 763 – 9261 or (53 – 7) 763 – 9215;
cell phone: (53 – 5) 263 – 6243. In Cuba dial 05-263-6243
CITY OF DEPARTURE/AIRLINES CONTACT:
We will provide you with this information prior to departure
(will help you at the Airport with check-in and, when possible, with flight difficulties)
US INTERESTS SECTION, HAVANA
Calzada between L & M Streets,
Phone: (53) (7) 833-3551 through 59
Phone: (53) (7) 833-2302
CUBAN INTERESTS SECTION IN U.S.
2639 16th NW Washington, D.C. 20009