Getting ready for Cuba
We want your journey to be safe, without complications, and culturally rewarding. Please study this orientation and preparation guide. It’s based on feedback from thousands of our past travelers. It’s updated every week.
- Passport, must be valid for one week beyond your island stay
- Airline tickets
- Cuban tourist visa (generally supplied with your air tickets)
- Cuban medical insurance supplied by Cuba Explorer
- Money (major US credits will work after May 2015), visit Money matters in Cuba
- Personal effects, see What to take to Cuba
Download the most amazing super best offline travelers map of Cuba: Maps.me
Never get lost in Havana or anywhere in Cuba. Maps.me is a comprehensive offline map app for Android and Apple phones and tablets. Download before you come to Cuba, because the internet in Cuba is too slow. Click here for more details.
Cuba restricts total incoming luggage weight to 30 kilos (66 pounds). If you bring more you could be subject to a 10 CUC (Cuban Convertible Peso) surcharge per extra kilograms (2.2 pounds). An additional 10 kilograms (22 pound) allowance is made for medicines and medical items. Learn more at Gifts and donations.
Permitted items. You can take photo and video cameras, personal DVD, PDA, CD and game devices, cell phones, laptops, MP3 players, a hair dryers, electric shavers, binoculars, radio receivers, musical instruments, and sound recording devices for personal use. If you take more than one of the above items, Cuban customs may ask if you intend to leave them on the island. If you do, duty may be charged. If you take more than the equivalent of $5,000 USD in cash, you must declare it. Prescription medicines should remain in their original containers with labels intact.
Prohibited items. Narcotics, explosives, pornography, anti-Cuba literature, stand-alone GPS devices, walkie-talkies, drones, and items that are considered weapons.
See our Cuba travel tips page. It addresses climate, suggested gifts for your new Cuban friends, clothes and accessories, medicine and hygiene.
Mosquitos and no-see-ums are a nuisance and affect visitors normally resistant to pests at home. Bring repellant. We suggest nontoxic citronella oil.
Internet and WiFi. You can take your laptop to Cuba without complications, but connecting it to the internet can be difficult and when successful slow. WiFi is available at the Meliá Cohiba and Hotel Nacional. If you want to access your email at the Habana Libre, you’ll have to use computers at its business center. Rates per hour vary between 5.00 and 10.00 CUC (Cuban Convertible Pesos). All internet access is limited to dial-up connection speeds
Cuba Explorer travelers have access to emergency highspeed internet and long distance telephone calls from our Havana office.
Cellular phones. If you want to use your cellular phone in Cuba, first check with your US carrier and ask if they provide this service in Cuba. Alternately you can rent a SIM card for your unlocked cell, or a cell phone and SIM card from ETECSA at the Havana upon arrival. Cost to rend a SIM card for 3 CUC per day. Rent for a phone and SIM card is 9 CUC per day. You must prepay a minimum of 10 CUC for calls. You can add more.
Landlines. The least expensive way to make international or local calls is on public ETECSA blue phones using ETECSA calling cards you must buy in Cuba. To call the US or Canada you must dial 119+1+(area code)+phone number. The cost is about $2.50 per minute. For calls inside Cuba, you must dial 0+(area code)+phone number at a cost of about 5 cents per minute. If you plan use your hotel room phones consult with the front desk for rates – they can prove costly!
Cubans welcome gifts however small. Gift giving is an island custom.
Donations for schools. The most needed are pens, calculators, pencils, erasers, memory sticks, candles, flashlights, markers, note pads, stuffed animals, games, dolls, toy trucks and cars. Also appreciated is toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap, shampoo and good quality used clothing and shoes. Baseball bats, balls and gloves are very popular. Do not distribute donations on the street. Your guide will suggest schools and institutions in need. Learn more at Gifts and donations.
Personal gifts. While on your tour, you’ll make many new friends. Consider small gifts such as aspirin, multiple vitamins, makeup, manicure and sewing kits, perfume, chocolate, watches, wallets, keychains, purses, scarves, jewelry, pen sets and other things that you yourself would like. See What to Take to Cuba.
Hint: Please do not tip your guide, bus driver, chambermaids or restaurant staff with leftovers, national pesos or gifts in place of the Cuban Convertible Peso. See our Gratuities in Cuba page.
Bringing donations to Cuba. When arriving to Cuba, if you are asked about items you intend to leave behind as donations by Cuban customs, it is best to describe them as gifts. For example, if your luggage is searched and you are questioned as to why you’re bringing 100 pencils (for example), say, “they are for friends” and leave it at that. The word donation raises concerns because, in the past, bad people have brought harmful things into Cuba as donations. In the unlikely event your gifts are confiscated rest assured they’ll be distributed to Cubans most in need. Luggage inspections rarely happen unless your bags exceed weight limits, or you bring prohibited items.
There are no public laundry facilities in Cuba. If you need laundry services, ask your chambermaid or hotel front desk. They’ll give you costs and instructions for this service. Generally the cost is between 6 and 8 CUC for a shopping bag of clothes.
Electricity in most Cuban hotels is 110 volts, 60Hz (same as the US and Canada), however some hotels and resorts also have 220 volt service and outlets. An electrical adapter is rarely needed. Check the hotels listed on your tour page for electrical specifications.
Eastern Time is observed across Cuba, as in Toronto, New York and Miami.
When you arrive on a scheduled group tour flight from Tampa, our airport concierge meets you as you get off the plane. You are ushered through immigrations, assisted in locating your luggage, and led through Cuban customs. Once in the main airport lobby, your guide will have a “Cuba Explorer” sign. Your guide will help you with currency exchange at the airport, ensure your luggage is put onto our bus, then take you to your hotel and assist with check-in.
Tour members arriving on other flights need to make airport transfer arrangements prior to arrival with Cuba Explorer.
Cuba doesn’t operate on “Latin time.” If you are late for tour activities the whole group is held up. Cubans who have worked hard preparing your activities feel very bad. And the whole schedule gets messed up.
Don’t get angry if your miss the bus. We’ve instructed our guide and chauffeur to leave ten minutes after the agreed upon bus departure time. Your guide announces the bus schedule a day prior. Your hotels have wake-up call services.
However, if you have to miss an activity, that’s ok. Just tell your guide in advance so they will not worry or lose time looking for you.
We advise you review our Money matters in Cuba page. It is essential for up-to-date currency, exchange and safety issues.
Travelers should carefully evaluate daily spending needs prior to departure. A minimum of $75 per day is recommended. It is better to plan to take more money than to get caught short of funds.
Warning: Change your money into CUC at a bank, your hotel, or at a CADECA (Casas de Cambio SA – exchange bureau). Never exchange your money on the street or with an individual Cuban.
Feel good about tipping. When you give a tip to a Cuban the whole island benefits. Cuban tourist staff share tips with their co-workers and family who don’t have access to them, and they all donate a portion of their tips to the national health and education systems. Click here for tipping and gratuity guidelines.
Cuba is considered among the safest countries in the world with a very low crime rate. However precautions with personal belongings are necessary – do not leave things unattended. Don’t wear expensive jewelry – it attracts pickpockets, which are a growing problem. Keep cameras and handbags secure to your person at all times. Participants should use a lockbox at hotels for valuables, travel documents, air tickets, passport and cash. A reasonably informative and objective traveler’s website for Cuba is published by the Government of Canada.
Always carry some cash in small amounts each day, we suggest between 40 and 60 CUC. The rest of your money remains in your hotel lockbox, along with your travel documents, valuables and passport.
While most foreign guests and Cubans have no problems with the water, we recommend you drink bottled water at all times for peace of mind. A doctor or nurse is available to participants throughout the tour either at your hotel, nearby clinic or en route to destinations. No vaccinations are required.
Take official taxis. Private cabs aren’t worth the hassle, nor are they necessarily roadworthy or cheaper.
Everything is very different: language, climate, customs and demeanor. Cubans are ultra courteous, effusive, candid and have a great sense of humor. All of the small material conveniences and services we take for granted are absent at every level on the island (except at your hotel). While Cubans are punctual delays are common because of transportation and communications problems. Yet the latter is not typical for our programs. Extreme shortages of everything require great innovation. Cubans have risen to the task. Practical problem solving skills are an asset especially when combined with patience and understanding. We advise going with the flow with eyes wide open until you get a lay of the land.
Words from wise travelers. If you go to Cuba looking for problems you will be all consumed, as they exist in abundance. On the other hand, if you go in the spirit of learning about a wonderful people and unique culture, and are prepared to fully engage and contribute, your rewards will be unequalled. The Cubans are as happy to have you as their guests as you are about getting to know them.
Race and sex and gay issues are up side down compared to North American mores. Color is nebulous. Only a minority of Cubans is white or black. Everyone else seems to fall in between. Don’t assume local jokes about color are necessarily racist. The context is different. There are dozens of shades of color and most Cubans are happy, if not proud, of this condition.
Cuba is not like other Latin countries where women get pinched and squeezed on their private parts. Cuban men are above this. However Cuban men are not beyond issuing very flirtatious comments to women. Women travelers can answer back to them as they please. Suffice it to say Cuba is the safest country in the world for female travelers. “No means no,” reigns supreme in Cuba.
Homophobia like racism cannot be compared to the North American extreme that can verge on hostility or violence. In Cuba, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people are safer than in the States. Their situation is similar to the counterparts in Canada. Straight people in Cuba are refreshingly open-minded.
Some people get upset when they read this section. OK. We can attest to many instances where those who disregarded our advice have ended up losing a lot of money.
We strongly advise against giving money to individuals who approach you on the streets. While in tourist areas you’ll encounter professional scam artists who pester foreign guests with sob stories that win them hundreds of dollars a week. When an individual approaches you on the street and asks for money, or with offers to provide guide or other services, just say no. Wag your finger back-and-forth with determination (indicating your are not interested) and move on. You risk getting ripped-off. Don’t be shy, don’t feel bad, and don’t let them waste your precious time in Cuba. To do otherwise could cost you heartache and your wallet! Remember, nearly half of every dollar you spend on this trip goes into the island’s healthcare and education system – to Cubans who need and deserve it.
All visitors must set aside 25.00 CUC for your Cuban airport departure tax.
Hint: Don’t forget to save money to tip your guide and bus driver at the end of the tour.
While there is no limit on the amount of money you can spend in Cuba, travelers can only return to the US with up to $400 of Cuban goods for personal use, including up to $100 of alcohol or tobacco products. Cuban artwork and informational materials are exempt from this limit.
Exempt Cuban artwork and informational materials include books, films, posters, photographs, CDs, and works of art. Souvenirs and touristy handicrafts are not considered works of art. Original works of contemporary art require an export seal or export permission letter to exit the country. This documentation is provided by the artist or gallery.
When visiting Cuba you are seen as a representative of your people reflecting their attitudes and culture. Cubans live with many hardships. Material conditions on the island are far below those of the United States. Don’t be quick to judge. Many problems Cubans face follow from more than 50 years of a harsh economic blockade still enforced by the US government.
We’d totally appreciate you sharing a story about your Cuba experience with us upon your return. We’d love post your contribution on our website for your family, friends and colleagues to enjoy. New Cuba travelers too will benefit from your candid observations and reflections on what you witnessed.
+ 877-687-3817 toll free
+ 604-874-9041 facsimile
Lonja del Comercio, Piso 3, F2
Plaza San Francisco de Asís
La Habana Vieja, Cuba 10100
(7) 860-4459 oficina
(5) 322-6791 móvil
(5) 284-0415 móvil
(5) 281-5155 móvil
(5) 388-0205 móvil