Our Cuba travel guide is geared to US guests, but is useful for sojourners from any nation. Things change in Cuba at a dizzying pace. We update this page regularly based on reports from our American guests and our expert Cuban staff in Havana.
Ultimate Cuba travel planning and preparation guide
Getting ready to visit Cuba in 2021
Keeping current with rapid changes in Cuba
Travel with peace of mind – protect your travel investment
Cuba is extremely safe. But things can still go wrong before and during travel. We strongly recommend trip interruption and cancellation insurance to safeguard your Cuban holiday investment. Even you decline travel insurance, take a moment to review costs and benefits.
Documents and money matters. Don’t leave home without…
Passport Must be valid for two weeks beyond your stay.
Buy airline tickets now See list of US commercial flights to Havana.
Cuban Tourist Visa Your Cuba Explorer tour package includes a visa to enter Cuba. Keep it with your passport.
Certificate of Legal Cuba Travel Your Cuba visit is 100% legal. This document provided by Cuba Explorer verifies your Cuba trip conforms to US government Cuba travel regulations.
Cuban emergency medical insurance Included with US airline tickets. This coverage is not a substitute for trip interruption and cancellation insurance.
Cash is king US credit and debit cards don’t work in Cuba. Yikes! Don’t get caught short of funds while abroad. Carefully study Money matters in Cuba.
Trip insurance documents If you purchase this option.
What to wear in a tropical paradise – comfort + fashion
There is no dress code in Cuba. However, you still want to be comfortable and not stand out like a Christmas tree. Review What do I pack for Cuba travel? We share some bright ideas for what to wear in a warm climate, plus essential medicine and hygiene products to bring that aren’t available in Cuba.
What you can, and cannot take to Cuba
Permitted items You can bring cameras, personal DVD and CD players, and gaming devices, mobile phones, laptops, MP3 players, hairdryers, electric shavers, binoculars, radio receivers, musical instruments, and sound recording devices for personal use. If you bring more than one of these items, Cuban customs may ask if you intend to leave them on the island. If you plan to, duty may be charged.
Money If you bring more than the equivalent of USD 5,000 in cash, you have to declare it or risk confiscation. Please review Money matters in Cuba.
Prescription medicines Must remain in original containers with prescription label intact. Bring all that you’ll need for the duration of your stay. Refills in Cuba are not possible.
Prohibited items Narcotics (Cuba is a zero-tolerance nation). Explosives, pornography, anti-Cuba literature, aerial drones, stand-alone GPS devices, walkie-talkies, and things considered to be weapons are no-nos.
What about water, street food, and health services in Cuba?
Can I drink the water? We recommend you avoid tap water and drink bottled water at all times. Cuba Explorer supplies bottled water during your excursions. Bottled water is always available at your accommodations.
What about street food? It’s a personal decision. You have to weigh missing out on tasty treats over possible digestion issues. Very few visitors report tummy troubles from eating cooked street food.
What if I get sick or injured? A doctor or nurse is always available during your Cuba Explorer trip, at your accommodations, a nearby clinic, or enroute to tour activities.
Vaccinations and Cuba travel alerts. Should I worry?
Visit our Vaccinations for Cuba page for updates about COVID-19, and general health and safety concerns in Cuba.
Should I believe US government travel alerts about Cuba? All advanced nations consider Cuba to be one of the safest travel destinations. Perhaps, under president Biden, the White House will take a more diplomatic and civilized approach to Cuba and not politicize travel warnings.
Great offline Cuba map – never get lost in Havana
Paper maps can be hard to find, costly, and awkward.
Download the super best offline travelers’ map of Cuba at Maps.me.
Visitors and locals love Maps.me because it is so easy to get lost in Havana. Maps.me is a comprehensive offline map app for Android and Apple phones and tablets.
Download Maps.me now before you come to Cuba because internet on the island is slow.
Cuban internet – not as fast as in the USA
You can take your mobile phone, laptop, or tablet to Cuba and connect to the internet from local hotspots or at your hotel. Very few private home rentals have internet access. WiFi rates range from 1.00 to 2.00 USD (25 to 50 Cuban pesos) per hour. Be prepared for the Cuban internet connection to be slower than at home.
Will my US mobile phone work in Cuba?
Cuba Explorer’s Havana office provides emergency internet and US telephone calls for our guests at no charge.
Easiest mobile access in Cuba AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, and T-Mobile offer voice and data plans for Cuba. This is the surest way to stay in touch with family and work. Carefully study roaming plans before you arrive in Cuba. Mobile phone and data use in Cuba can be expensive.
Our Havana office provides emergency internet and US telephone calls to our guests at no charge.
What happens when I arrive in Cuba?
You are hosted from touch down to departure with 24/7 VIP attention. Two weeks before you arrive in Cuba, we’ll send you a detailed Arrival Instructions letter.
You are family Cuba Explorer staff meet and greet guests upon arrival at your Cuban airport. We return you to the airport for departure following your tour. Cuban airport-hotel transfers are included in your travel package. If you are arriving early or departing later than scheduled tour days, we help with airport-hotel transfers for the cost of a taxi.
Gifts and ‘donations’ for Cubans in need
Cubans welcome gifts, however small. Gift giving is an island tradition.
We have a list of suggested gifts for Cubans, things most needed during these difficult times.
You’re bringing gifts. Do not describe them as donations. On arrival, if Cuban customs asks about items you intend to leave behind, describe them as gifts. The word donation raises concerns because, in the past, bad people brought harmful things into Cuba disguised as donations.
How do I wash my clothes in Cuba?
There are no public laundry facilities in Cuba. If you need laundry services, ask your chambermaid or hotel front desk. They’ll help you. Generally, the cost is between 6 and 8 USD for a plastic shopping full bag of clothes. Ask the price first.
If you are staying at a private Cuban home, ask your host for assistance.
Electricity in Cuba is similar to America but different
Electricity in Cuban hotels is often 220 volts. We suggest you purchase a Type ‘C’ European Travel Plug Adapter for electrical devices you bring to Cuba. You can buy Type ‘C’ adapter from Amazon, Walmart, or electronics stores. Here are examples from Amazon. Example ONE, example TWO, and example THREE.
Most private homes have both 220 and 110 volt electrical outlets. Still, a Type ‘C’ adapter will always come in handy for international travel.
Be kind, be on time for scheduled activities, or opt out
Eastern Time is observed across Cuba, the same as in New York and Miami.
Cuba, unlike some Central and South American countries, doesn’t operate on ‘Latin time’. Respecting schedules is the same as in the United States.
Cubans who have worked hard for months preparing your special activities will feel bad. Perhaps they planned a special meal, guest, or presentation. If our bus is delayed, then the whole group schedule will have to be juggled.
Your guide announces the bus schedule the day prior. Your accommodations have wake-up call services.
All is copacetic for free spirits If you don’t want to participate in a scheduled activity, or if you had a really good time the night before, that’s ok. We don’t judge. Just tell your guide in advance, so she/he will not worry or lose time attempting to track you down.
Tipping and gratuities for Cubans
Feel good about tipping Cuban tour guides and tour chauffeurs depend on tips and share them with their coworkers and family. They also contribute a percentage of tips to the national health and education systems. Treat tipping in Cuba as you do at home – be kind to those who assist.
Hint You decide the amounts you’re comfortable contributing. Tipping in US dollars makes planning and budgeting easier.
Here’s the amount of tips most Americans share. You can always leave more. The amount you give is totally optional and up to you. See How much should I tip in Cuba? for more info.
Tour guide 8.00 to 10.00 USD per day per guest (200 to 250 Cuban pesos)
Tour driver 5.00 to 7.00 USD per day per guest (125 to 175 Cuban pesos)
Restaurant staff 1.00 USD or 10% per guest (25 Cuban pesos)
Hotel porters 1.00 USD or more if you have lots of luggage (25 Cuban pesos)
Chambermaids 1.50 USD per day per guest (40 to 50 Cuban pesos)
Museum guides and special guides 1.00 USD per guest (25 Cuban pesos)
Musicians at restaurants 1.00 USD per guest (25 Cuban pesos)
What about gifting instead of tips? Cubans in the service industry need money they can spend on the things they really need. They already get a lot of leftover toothpaste, toiletries, and other stuff. Give personal items you don’t need to your new Cuban friends.
Once again on safety in Cuba
Cuba is among the safest countries in the world with a meager crime rate. However, precautions with personal belongings are necessary as you would in Paris, London, or Barcelona. Don’t leave small items unattended in public areas. Don’t wear expensive jewelry. It attracts pickpockets. Keep cameras and handbags secure to your person at all times.
Participants must use a hotel lockbox for valuables, travel documents, air tickets, passport, and cash.
Only carry the amount of cash you need each day. We suggest no more than 100 USD (about 2500 Cuban pesos). Leave the rest of your money in your hotel lockbox, along with your travel documents, passport, and other valuables. (Your actual passport is necessary to exchange money.)
Taxis and public transportation
During your tour, transportation to and from activities is included. During your free time, you’ll want to explore on your own. We recommend official taxis only. However, private cars are quite common. Both are ok. Be sure to agree on a price for your destination before you enter a taxi.
Is Cuba really that different than other countries? Yes, and…
Everything is very different: language, climate, customs, and demeanor. But it is refreshingly different.
Cubans are courteous, emotive, candid, and have a great sense of humor. Yet, all of the small material conveniences and services we take for granted are absent in Cuba.
While Cubans are punctual delays can happen because of transportation and communications problems. The latter does not impact our programs because our services are independent.
Extreme shortages of everything require great innovation. Cubans continuously rise to the challenge. We advise coming to Cuba with an open mind until you get a lay of the land. Patience and understanding are the watchwords.
Words from wise travelers If you go to Cuba looking for problems, you will be inundated, as they exist in abundance. On the other hand, if you visit with an open mind, in the spirit of learning about a wonderful people and their unique society and culture, your journey will be unmatched. Cubans are as thrilled to have you as their guest as you are about getting to know them.
Race, sex, and LGBTQ+ issues. Black Lives Matter in Cuba.
Race and sex and LGBTQ+ issues are upside down compared to the United States.
Skin color is nebulous. A minority of Cubans are white or black. The vast majority of Cubans fall many shades in between. Don’t assume local comments about color are necessarily racist. The historical context is different. There are scores colors in Cuba. Best to assume every Cuban is proud of their place on the color spectrum.
Cuba is not like other Latin countries where women get pinched and squeezed on their private parts in public. Some Cuban men are not beyond issuing flirtatious comments to women. Female travelers can respond as they please – consider it as a compliment or insult. When women tell men in Cuba to desist, they do. “No means no,” reigns supreme in Cuba. Suffice it to say Cuba is among the safest nations in the world for female travelers.
Homophobia like racism in Cuba cannot be compared to the United States, where hostility and physical violence is a daily occurrence. There are no laws against LGBTQ+ in Cuba. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people don’t get shamed or beat up. They share the streets and public spaces equally. The vast majority of heterosexual people in Cuba consider homophobia to be a more significant problem than homosexuality.
Panhandlers and scammers
We strongly advise against giving money to individuals who approach you on the streets. While in tourist areas, you may 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 you are not interested) and move on.
Failure to do so means you risk getting ripped-off. Don’t be shy or feel bad. To do otherwise could cost you heartache and your wallet!
Returning to America from Cuba. Dos and don’ts.
There is no limit on the amount of money you can spend in Cuba.
Souvenirs and handicrafts require no export permission.
Original works of contemporary art require a stamped export permission letter to leave the country. The artist or gallery will provide this documentation.
Trump banned Cuban alcohol and tobacco from entering the US.
Only 5,000 CUP (Cuban pesos) per person can leave the country. Don’t attempt to leave with more.
Services at Cuban airports inside the security areas require payment in Euros or Canadian dollars. Cuban pesos are not accepted.
Sharing your memories leads to positive changes for Cuba
Did you know that American visitors to Cuba have a significant impact on improving US-Cuba relations?
Recording your trip and sharing photos, videos, and blogs with friends helps build ties of understanding between regular Cubans and Americans. Visitors before you have helped shift majority public opinion to favor normal relations with Cuba.
Parting words for US citizen-ambassadors
When visiting Cuba, locals see you as a representative of your nation and its people, reflecting the enlightened outlook of kindhearted Americans. Cubans endure extreme hardships. Their material conditions are similar to the poverty line in the United States. Many problems Cubans face are a result of the 60+ years economic blockade enforced by Washington.
Nonetheless, Cubans view regular Americans as their best friends in the hemisphere. Islanders welcome you graciously.
In Cuba, we say, “A true friend remembers the song in your heart when you have forgotten the lyrics.”
Cuban photographers reflecting the lives of Cubans
Photographs on this page are by Cuba artists Ana Lorena Gamboa Fernández, Norlys Pérez Padrón, and René Silveira Toledo. Contact us for use of their images.