What to Pack and other Idiosyncrasies
Passport (Valid for 6 months) bring a photocopy as well for good measure. I can keep them all in the safety deposit box in the hotel and shred them at the end of the trip.
Printed out flight details and program itinerary
I bring my driver’s license just in case – although I’ve never actually driven there and I carry the driver’s license as ID and keep my passport in the safe in the hotel.
Bring CASH ONLY – American cards do NOT work. Most of your expenses are covered except tips or some of the nightclubs and perhaps theater or dance performances. You may want to buy art, internet access, souvenirs, taxis, drinks (beyond the two given at each meal), tips/donations, emergencies (i.e.: a lost passport)
You can exchange money into CUCs at the airport, hotel, or a CADECA money exchange office. US dollars require an additional tax when changing to CUC so if you have other currency you will get a better deal on exchange but for me the small tariff is not worth the hassle of exchanging. The exchange rate was 1 US dollar was exchanged for .88 cents Cuban Convertible Currency called CUC.
Bring $50-$100/day or more just to be safe. You don’t have to exchange it all but most people say they wish they brought more as they encounters some delightful thing/project/experience that was unplanned.
I recommend a MONEY BELT and $100 bills.
What is the dress code?
First, know that it will be hot. And humid. And it might rain. Dress for comfort. The custom is to shower and change into clean clothes for dinner. We will attend at least one nightlife event and a fancy final diner.
I recommend to bring one long sleeve shirt or light jacket for airplane, air conditioned events, or sudden rain.
What should I pack?
Prescription Medications (in original bottles)
Toiletries (the hotel will provide soap and shampoo) -In tourist locations people may ask (beg) for soap and shampoo because they know you get it free at the hotel.
Pocket-sized hand sanitizer – many buildings in Havana do not have running water all the time.
Pocket sized tissue (public toilets often do not have Toilet Paper) bring a small pack you can keep in your pocket.
Sunscreen – make sure to bring mineral sunscreen only as we will be swimming in the coral reef and fresh water rivers.
Should we bring gifts?
Yes. Pack some gifts to give to people you meet and to leave behind. Examples of things that would be appreciated: thumb drives, baseball caps, tiny flashlights, phone chargers, you can also pack some of your own clothes that you’d be willing to leave behind (making room in your suitcase for souvenirs). New and use smart phones and tablets make wonderful gifts.
Pens are often a welcome gift. Students and professionals must buy their own pens (a ball point pen is about $1 CUC so giving a gift of a pen is often appreciated. Often people enjoy receiving a pen with your organizational logo to remember you by.
HOWEVER – the baggage limit is 40lb for baggage and carry on together and the overweight is EXPENSIVE
Will internet be available?
Yes but it will be spotty. To be on the safe side, tell people you’ll be totally out of touch. If/when you can connect, it will be a nice surprise. There is a $1/hr charge for internet at hotels and other hotspots.
The hotels in Cuba have 220 so check if your appliance can use 220 – many modern electronics can charge on either 110 or 220. If not, get a converter.
Will my cellphone work?
Cell phone coverage is expensive and not all carriers cover Cuba. However, I will carry a cell phone that I keep in Cuba for true emergencies.
Can I pass out business cards?
Yes! Bring lots of them. Your Cuban counterparts will want to exchange.
Safety and Illegal or Unpleasant Issues
Best to drink bottled water. The driver will supply one bottle per person that he keeps on the bus cooler.
Cuba has a very low crime rate. However, in Havana there have been quite a few purse snatching so avoid hanging bags or purses.
People may beg or hustle you for money, soap, shampoo, candy, etc. or to sell cigars. These cigars are either counterfeit or stolen. Please only buy legal cigars and respect Cuban Tobacco tax laws.
What to Expect
The itinerary is designed to provide an in-depth cultural experience, with numerous opportunities for meaningful interactions with Cubans.
Trip activity level will vary. Travelers should be in good health and be able to walking on uneven terrain. Also travelers must be able to walk up and down a flight of stairs. Elevators and accessible entrances are rare in Cuba. While we do our best to adhere to the itinerary, traveling in Cuba requires flexibility and itinerary changes should be expected.
Throughout the expedition, we stay in private homes that are also bed and breakfasts. Each room will have air conditioning and access to a bathroom and shower. Cuban breakfasts are hearty and include eggs, toast, fruit, and often yogurt or cheese. We will spend two nights at the eco-hotel that has air conditioning, a TV, pool, bar, restaurant, and free well stocked mini-bar. Please note that hotel internet service is not reliable and may be at additional cost.
What to Buy in Cuba
Art in Cuba is relatively inexpensive ranging from $100 for emerging artist to $5,000 for established world renowned artists.
Authentic factory cigars are run about $200CUC a box but US customs only places restrictions on the amount you can bring in.
Leather and crochet handicrafts run from $20CUC for handmade leather shoes $40-85 CUC for leather backpacks and purses.
Cuban film/music CD/DVD $10 CUC
Cuban Coffee $7-18 per pound
Cuban Rum (US customs – 1 liter limit tax free)
Straw hats $5 CUC
Night club entrance fees 2-$115 CUC
Alcoholic Beverages $2-$8 CUC
- Jutias, one of the few mammal indigenous to Cuba