!! or let us help you customize your own trip to Cuba !!
(See some past delegations at the bottom of the page)
To be part of a delegation:
- Complete the Application Form,
- Complete and sign the Release from Liability.
- If possible, scan both forms together with the signature and photo page of your passport in high resolution and color (may be in jpg, jpeg, png, gif, or pdf format – Max size 3MB) and email to email@example.com.
- Or snail-mail the entire package together with your $500 deposit and send to:
The Friendship Association
7265 Hwy A1A South, Apt. D-1,
St. Augustine, FL 32080.
- “Optics for the Tropics” birding delegation (27 Dec 2014) – PDF from Joni Ellis and Ted and Barbara Center
- Cuba March 8-20, 2013 – PDF courtesy of Adam and Gina Kent
- A different kind of Conservation – blog by Susan Chaplin, Professor Emeritus of Biology, University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, MN
- Birding Expedition Notes – March 2012 – PDF from Kim Kaeser
- Our Journey to Cuba (2009 video by Dave Perkins and Nana Royer)
- My Impressions of Cuba – by Bonnie Devine
- People to People + Endemics, PDF from Ted and Barbara Center
DELEGATIONS TO CUBA – Sensitivity Issues
You are traveling to Cuba with a very special mission: to meet and interact with Cuban professionals and ordinary people. Our delegations have a particular emphasis on Cuban national parks, archaeological sites, and UNESCO world heritage sites. You will have ample opportunity for cultural and intellectual exchanges.
We ask you to be respectful of the laws as set forth both by the U.S. and the Cuban authorities. Please be sensitive to the political situation in Cuba. Cuba is a Communist country. As visitors we are expected to abide by Cuban laws. We encourage you to speak to as many people as possible and exchange ideas with them without being confrontational. You may, of course, engage in political discussions, but it is considered rude to criticize the government or its leaders.
Until about 30 years ago the Cuban economy was, practically speaking, guaranteed by the Soviet Union. More than 80% of Cuba’s agricultural production was absorbed by the Soviet block in exchange for Soviet technology and oil.
When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1990, the consequences were disastrous: from one day to the next there was no market for Cuban products and no fuel. The entire infrastructure of Cuba began to crumble. Anywhere else in the world there would have been a social collapse, but Cuba already had a contingency plan, based on the possibility of a United States military blockade. The plan was put into immediate effect in what the Cubans refer to as “the special period in a time of peace”.
Bullocks replaced tractors; bicycles and horse-drawn carriages replaced automobiles and buses. Families were reduced from a middle class standard of living to virtual poverty. The last 30 years have demanded major political and social adjustments. Lifestyles changed. Eating habits changed.
Funds that ordinarily would have been channeled to social services were diverted to build an impressive tourist infrastructure.
The Cuban people have learned to live with two parallel economies: one designed for the tourists and the other for Cubans. Strict laws have been introduced to curb corruption, the black market and prostitution. Most Cubans understand and accept these economic measures.
Over the past few years, the Cuban government has allowed a new category of enterprise: cuentapropista – the small business owner. Many visitors are still shocked by the apparent disparity of this economic divide, which is reducing in some areas and increasing in others.
Then along came COVID and Donald Trump. Cuba is experiencing a social and economic crisis far worse than the special period. We will see firsthand the difficulties the Cuban people suffer daily. Our presence is a small grain of support to the private sector.
Please avoid making promises or building expectations that you may not be able to keep. From a visitor’s perspective, what might seem like a gesture of kindness and generosity may feel humiliating to the recipient, or create a sense of dependency on begging from tourists. Please do not give gifts to children in the streets.
If any concern arises that you feel might affect the overall program, please advise one of the delegation coordinators as soon as possible and let her/him deal with it. Prevention is a lot easier than damage control.
Updated August, 2022
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 CARDS yet. This may change at any moment.
At the time of this writing, Cuba has transitioned from the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) back to the Cuban Peso (CUP) and is now using the EURO as the official foreign currency, though the US dollar continues to be used on the street. We will keep you posted. Drinks (water, beer or colas) run from the equivalent of $1-5 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 bring $500-$1000 in mostly large, clean, unmarked, and undamaged bills.
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 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 camera and bag or wallet lying around.
What to wear?
It is almost always hot. Either dry hot, or wet hot. January/February is a bit 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 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, 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 are 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.
Some Past Delegations:
- Discovering the roots of Cuban Culture and Cuisine of eastern Cuba (October 14-26, 2022)
- Nature, Birding, Hiking, and Culture: A blended Cuban experience! (Feb-Mar, 2022)
- Esoteric Eastern Cuba (December 2020)
- Hiking light, birding light, throughout the Cuban Countryside (February 2020)
- Art and Culture (December 2019)
- Architecture and Archaeology (April 2019)
- Conservational Spanish (February 2018)
- Undaunted (October 2017)
- Birds Caribbean (July 2017)
- Friends Across the Straits (January 2017)
- With my SUP – Across the Straits (December 2016)
- Artists Across the Straits (November 2016)
- Musicians Across the Straits (June 2015)
- Following Birds Across the Straits