A lot of people have Cuba as one of their bucket list travel destinations. Cuba has been embargoed for a long time now and getting into it is not very easy. The restrictions for Americans though have been relaxed just this year and so you can join some tour operators that offer trips to Cuba. Here are some things you need to remember if you are planning to join a trip to this enchanting country:
Cuba is not your regular holiday destination
A holiday in Cuba may not mean days of chillaxing on the beach under the sun while sipping mojitos since you have to follow a strict set of rules. You can only go with accredited and authorized tour operators in the United States and Cuba. Your itinerary should also indicate very busy schedules that will involve cultural immersions and educational trips.
The regulations of US authorities encourage travel activities that will have travelers interact with locals and be exposed to the culture of Cuba. Your schedules may vary but it may include visits to tobacco farms, art projects, orphanages, medical facilities, and recording studios.
The tour groups can go from as little as 10 or as big as around 30 individuals. The free time per day is also limited to only a few hours per day.
You can only count with your fingers the number of tour operators in the U.S. that offer a trip to Cuba. Most of these companies offer packaged tours which already includes airport transfers, most of the meals, and accommodations. The hotels included in the package are usually categorized as three to five star hotels but remember that the standards are lower compared to what you may know. The itineraries for your Cuba travel are also designed to please its government, and of course the clients.
One popular Cuba tour is being offered by Insight Cuba, a travel company based in New York. They have around 130 trips scheduled for next year that will be lead by English speaking travel guides and following themes like Bay of Pigs , arts, or jazz.
Another Cuba holiday company is Distant Horizons which is developing their travel concepts with notable institutions like Harvard, Art Institute of Chicago, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, UCLA, and Carnegie Museum of Art. Some of their permits are still pending but they have scheduled trips thru 2012. You may be required to sign up for certain organizations before being allowed to join the tour.
Plane tickets not included
The tour packages for Cuba do not include airfare. The travel companies need to tap chartered plane operators approved by the government for the journey. The traveler though must be the one to book and cover for the cost of the special flights. These air charter flights are mostly flying off via Miami. Make sure to inquire for the full amount when you book your trip which should include fees for the charter. This may cost around $450 after taxes. You also need to be at the airport around 3 hours prior to your flight since you cannot check-in for your Cuba flight online.
Most credit cards are not accepted in Cuba so you need to bring some cash to purchase snacks, souvenirs and other possible spending. It will be best to keep around $75 in your pocket each day of the tour. If you have some Canadian dollars or Euros bring them since they are cheapr to exchange for CUCs or Cuban Convertible Peso compared to US dollars. Be also prepared to lose around 10% of your money when you transact using your US dollars.
Make sure you set aside $25 CUC to pay for your departure tax since you cannot pay it using US dollars.
Be ready to experience the unexpected
Life is not easy in Cuba and what you may have back home as basic may be a privilege if not impossible in Cuba. The country still lacks some essential infrastructures which may surprise tourists. Bottled water is also impossible even in high end hotels. You need to bring your own toilet paper when you go to a public restroom and do not expect them to be squeaky clean.
Cuba is considered a safe travel destination but you may come face to face with aggressive vendors and restaurant promoters. There are also a lot of pickpockets. Do not expect domestic flights to be on time, or for that matter expect the schedules to vary from what was given on a list.
What to bring
Bring the basic medicines that you may need during the trip since stores and pharmacies are few or far flung. Do not forget to pack your toiletries and sunscreen. If you want to bring some snacks, they may come really handy too.
It will also be easier for you if you know some Spanish or at least some essential phrases which can make your experience in Cuba more meaningful as you can interact with the locals better. Most of the staff in hotels and cab drivers speak some English.
Bring a bit of knowledge about Cuba when you visit. Knowing some of it may help you understand the country more and also get a different perspective about different aspects of its history locally.
Internet in Cuba is really slow and really expensive. If you really need to make phone calls, do not avail of the hotel’s since the rates per minute can be as high as $3. Get a prepaid card or better borrow a cellphone which you can use.
Sorry, you cannot bring home Cuban cigars
As much as you want those Montecrisos and Cohibas, you cannot bring them home as well as local rum. Travelers can only bring home posters, artwork, books, and CDs.