Communication with home:
Calling home is easy and expensive. You will be given the Cuban cell number of the tour leader for your families to be able to reach you in case of emergency. Check with your cellphone provider how you can use your smart phone without incurring roaming charges. Beware of roaming charges.
Wifi is available throughout the country. You can buy a scratch card which will give you several hours of use. However, it is spotty outside of major cities.
How much cash to take?
YOU CANNOT USE A U.S. CREDIT CARD or TRAVELLOR’S CHECKS yet. This may change at any moment. Cuba uses the Cuban Peso (CUP) as the official currency, though the EURO and the US dollar continue to be used everywhere. We will keep you posted. Drinks (water, beer or colas) run from the equivalent of $2-5 each. You are allowed to bring $400 of goods back to the U.S. You are NOT allowed to bring back alcohol and cigars. Depending on your interest in art and mixed drinks, we suggest you change $500-$1000 to Euros before leaving the US. Or change $600 into Euros and bring $400 in US dollars.
Cuba uses 110 volts and the same outlets as the U.S. They have begun using 220 for some outlets but they are marked.
Freedom to photograph:
You can photograph anything except military installations and communication facilities. It is polite to ASK before taking a person’s photo, even children. It is NOT polite to photograph falling down buildings or deplorable toilets when our hosts are present. They are very sensitive to their economic situation.
You are obliged to have Cuban health insurance (included in the delegation price). At the moment, there are NO shots needed or recommended. If you have any special meds or dietary needs, BRING THEM WITH YOU. There are no Walgreens in Cuba. Other things you might want to bring: Pepto-Bismol, maybe even Imodium, antibiotic cream, anti-fungal cream, anti-itch meds like cortisone, insect repellent, sun screen. If you should become ill or have an accident, the Cubans will take excellent care of you.
You are not allowed to bring fresh food into Cuba. Because of food shortages in Cuba, we recommend that you bring sealed granola/trail-mix/snack type items. Bottled water is usually available. So are beer, rum and cola drinks.
No more and much less than in most countries of the world. Just be prudent and don’t flaunt your wealth and don’t leave your cell phone/camera and bag or wallet lying around. Leave the jewelry at home.
What to wear?
It is almost always hot. Either dry hot, or wet hot. January/February are cooler. Wear light cottons, bring a rain poncho and windbreaker. Culturally you are safe if you dress cleanly and neatly but not ostentatiously. If you are meeting with people or going to their homes, dress nicely – no cut offs or stained tee shirts. Cubans love to dress up and dance. Bring a sexy dress or a nice dress shirt and long pants for evening gatherings. Guayaberas are perfect. No ties or jackets necessary. Sandals and walking shoes. Think rain.
Washing your clothes:
The B&B will usually wash your clothes for you. It’s expensive, but quick if it doesn’t rain. No Laundromats. If you plan to do your own laundry by hand, bring some dry detergent.
If you are invited to someone’s home it is polite to bring a gift. A bottle of wine or rum is fine (There isn’t much else to buy). If you want to bring something from home a nice soap or a package of La Llave Cuban coffee or similar will do. If you expect to meet and get to know artists, they are always in need of tubes of acrylic paint and brushes (white and black are useful colors).
PLEASE, DO NOT HAND OUT PENCILS OR ANYTHING ELSE TO CHILDREN ON THE STREETS. This may be gratifying to you in the short-term, but it will have devastating long-range consequences on the population if the relationship between visitors and the locals becomes one of begging. Our donations will be channeled in such a way that they get to those who need them. Tipping is acceptable and a real necessity to the existence of the workers. 10% is good.
The Cubans are very polite, warm and friendly. They are also trusting and believe that if you say something you mean it. We try not to make promises that we may not keep or to build up expectations. They are also very proud and will offer you their last bit of food. Try to be sensitive to their financial limitations. We encourage you to invite Cuban friends to eat or have a drink with you, but always pay for them. If they eat with you in a cafe or restaurant, they would have to pay about the equivalent of a month’s salary.
There are locals who hustle visitors. They are usually easy to detect – they speak passable English, they are well dressed, very friendly, and they offer to help you do anything for free and say they want to practice their English. This is your choice. But they will expect something in return. This goes for men and women. Please do not embarrass us by trying to take a Cuban into your room for any reason. This will compromise the entire group and especially our hosts.