TRAVEL INFORMATION

Arrival and departure

Arrival
To enter as a tourist (duration of stay max 30 days) you need: a valid passport with a minimum validity of 6 months or longer from the day of departure, a tourist card, supplied by your travel agent or obtained from the Cuban Embassy. The card has to be filled in full and in block letters. Incomplete or incorrect forms will not be accepted and have to be bought again in Cuba. Upon arrival, one part of the tourist card will be retained by the authorities; the other part must be kept during your whole stay together with your passport. On your departure the other part must be handed over at customs.

Departure
Reconfirmation of your flight back to Europe is not required, but you should be at the airport around 3 hours prior to the planned departure of your flight.

Airport Havana
At the customs area you can find (most of the time) baggage carts, which can be used to carry your luggage to the parking area. On departure you will not need a baggage cart as the buses usually park near the check-in desks. We recommend that individual travelers exchange an adequate amount (e.g. € 200) into the local currency (CUC) for the first 1 – 2 days at the exchange office at the airport. Apart from that it is usually possible to exchange money at the hotel. For groups we recommend that the tour leader or a trusted member of the group exchanges some money for the whole group at the airport for the first night.

>> further information about the airport Havana

Airport Varadero
On arrival at Varadero airport you can find a free baggage cart at the custom office and take it with you out to the bus parking area. On departure the bus will stop directly by the terminal, so no baggage cart will be needed.

Luggage
Please lock your baggage securely as there can be pilfering at the airport. There is usually no danger of a whole piece of luggage being stolen, but single items out of your pockets or suitcase may be targeted. Please carry valuable items value such as cash, cameras, jewelry, etc in your hand luggage.

Accommodations & Restaurants

Casas Particulares
These Cuban private accommodations are a great alternative to hotel accommodation as you have the opportunity to get to know the locals a little bit.
Attention: At many places you will find so-called ‹‹Jineteros›› who try to stop cars at various locations or they wait for people at the exit of bus stations and offer to help you find the Casa you have already booked. They often also pass themselves off as a family member of the Casa owners and inform you that your Casa is overbooked and that they have booked another Casa for you. Please do not listen to them and look for your booked Casa’s address yourselves.

Hotels
Please be aware that the standard of hotels in Cuba, and more so in the provinces,is usually not comparable to foreign hotels despite their high star-category and membership of an international hotel chain.
A lot of hotels in Havana, because of their colonial architecture, do not have any windows in the rooms. We always try to make sure our clients’ rooms are booked with windows but unfortunately cannot always guarantee them.

Restaurants outside of the hotels
On Cuba you can choose between state-run restaurants and so-called ‹‹Paladares›› (private restaurants). The food at the private restaurants usually tastes a little better and the standards are higher. Please be aware: whoever recommends a Paladar to you, a man on the street or a taxi driver, will get a commission which you will cover by paying a higher price (about 10%) in the restaurant. If you take a taxi to a restaurant or Paladar, the driver will often try to recommend another restaurant, where they will get their commission. They may even tell you the restaurant you have chosen is closed, they don’t know it or they know a cheaper one. Please insist on going to the restaurant you have chosen.

Vegetarian food
Vegetarian food is not very common in Cuba. There are some vegetarian restaurants, which are rarely visited by Cubans. Cubans usually prefer solid meals like rice, beans and meat (e.g. chicken, pork and beef). Fish and seafood are often served in private restaurants (Paladares). In state-run restaurants meat is often replaced with egg dishes (for example as tortillas). Also the salad selection is usually not that exciting. Fruit and vegetables are always seasonal. At the hotels it is easier to get a vegetarian meal as there are usually special selections for vegetarians.

Health

Health system
At this time there are no special vaccinations required to travel to Cuba. Cuba has good doctors, but because of the US embargo there is a shortage of medication. For foreigners there are special clinics where almost all types of medication is available. In better hotels there is always a doctor available. Treatment for foreigners in hospitals is very expensive, as this is the how the state can afford the equipment. Therefore travel health insurance is recommended and obligatory (see ‹‹insurance››).

Mosquito protection and diarrheal diseases
There is no Malaria in Cuba, but there is Dengue fever, which is transferred by a Mosquito active during the day. Symptoms of the disease are usually fever, eczema as well as rheumatic pains. The only way to protect you against this virus is to try to not get bitten by using a good Mosquito repellent and covering up. You should bring your mosquito repellent from home as it is not always available in Cuba. Especially in Varadero and on the Cayos (Cayo Coco, Cayo Largo, Cayo Santa Maria etc.), but also around Holguín/Guardalavaca and on excursions into the countryside (Viñales, Bay of Pigs etc), you should use good mosquito protection. Biting sand flies are usually found at the beach at Ancón but also on other beaches.
Diarrheal diseases can be avoided with good food and water hygiene. There are some cases of Cholera too, but mostly because of inefficient processing of potable water or raw food. There are very view Cholera cases and most of them have very mild symptoms.

Food
Cuba is not a gourmet country. The Cuban kitchen is very simple and spices are rarely used. A lot of recipes were lost during the revolution. Furthermore there is not a very good selection of goods available. The food is usually based on rice and beans, chicken, pork, beef and fish. Sauces are very simple and tasteless. (Cuba is not famous for sauces, salad or bread!!!)

Insurances
Highly recommended: travel health/accident insurance, travel cancellation and baggage insurance.
Attention: obligatory travel health insurance: Entry to Cuba is only possible with travel health insurance (not US-American insurance). If you cannot show a confirmation of your insurance when entering the country, you will have to buy a Cuban travel health insurance at the airport. The cost is about 2.5 Euro per person/day. Further information is available on request.

General information

Taking pictures
Usually Cubans do not mind if you take a picture of them; they sometimes even like to pose for you. Nevertheless please always ask permission before taking pictures of someone. Depending on the situation you should also give them a small gift or tip as a “thank you”. In Museums and at events (e.g. Tropicana Show) there can be an additional charge of about 5 CUC to take pictures or videos. You should buy memory cards, films and batteries in Europe, as they are very expensive in Cuba and not always available.

Clothing
We recommend light cotton clothing. Men should wear long trousers, shoes (not sandals) as well as a shirt in better hotels and restaurants. Jackets and ties are not necessary. The dress code should be taken seriously in good restaurants as well as at evening shows (Tropicana Show and other Cabarets) as men with shorts will not be allowed inside.Although Cubans like to show lots of skin and wear little, ‹‹topless›› sunbathing at the beach and the swimming pool is forbidden.

Climate
You can travel to Cuba all year round. The dry season is from November to April. The rainy season is from May to October (usually only short heavy rain during the afternoon and lots of sun with many days rain free even if it is the ‹‹Rainy season››). Hurricanes are possible from June to November. The average temperature is 25 degrees; during summer the maximum temperature is 30-34 degrees together with high humidity (approx 81%). In the east of the island (Santiago, Baracoa, Holguín) it is usually about 3 – 5 degrees warmer so warm year round.

Air conditioning
Often restaurants, bars and cabarets are air conditioned American-style. During winter (especially from December to February), the temperature can sink to 15 degrees at night, therefore a light jacket or a t-shirt below your shirt would be a good idea!

Services, Punctuality & Organization
The Cuban mentality is very different. Everything works more slowly than you are used to in Europe. Please be patient if you have to wait and be prepared for changes to your program.

Shopping & Souvenirs
We recommend you check the custom regulations for your country. For somewhere like Germany, you can take 50 cigars or 200 cigarettes as well as one liter of rum (or other spirits with more than 22% alcoholic content). You can export up to 20 loose cigars (without proof of purchase and origin) as well as up to 50 cigars on the condition that they are transported in the closed and sealed original packing with its official seal. The import or export of Cuban pesos is officially forbidden.

Security
Violent crimes against tourists almost never happen. Even at night you can usually walk around without a problem, but you will often be approached, especially at places where there are lots of tourists. The goal of this approach is to sell you different services like restaurant recommendations, cigars, rum or sex. Pickpockets are often found in Old Havana and the Malecón. Here you should particularly watch your wallet, watch and camera. Also more and more children steal as they are very good at diversionary tactics. In general in Cuba, as well as other countries, you should not have valuable things, such as jewelry on show.

Electricity
International hotels usually have220 or 110 volt, often both. You will need an adapter (American norm). We recommend you bring an adapter from your own country, as they are usually not available in Cuba.

Money & additional costs

The local currency: the Peso Convertible (CUC)
A complex theme: the Peso Convertible (CUC) is for tourists the only valid and solid currency. There is the normal Cuban Peso (MN= Moneda Nacional), which is worth a little less. The difference between these bank notes is very small, but you should remember that on the Peso Convertible notes you will see monuments and sightseeing attractions while the Cuban Peso is less colorful and you will find personalities of the Cuban revolution on it.

Credit cards
Cuba is generally a cash country. Credit cards are usually only accepted in hotels or better restaurants. Therefore you should always have enough cash with you. This particularly applies if you are traveling outside of Havana. Now you can usually obtain money at most of the ATMs with your credit card, but please note that American cards are not accepted (e.g. American Express, Diners).

Additional costs
Contrary to conventional wisdom Cuba is not cheap, especially at tourist restaurants, bars and discos. Entrance fees for a disco frequented by tourists are usually between 5 – 15 CUC (live concerts can be up to 35 CUC). In the countryside and places without many tourists, prices are usually a little cheaper.

Taxis, local traffic, ‹‹Hop-On/Hop-Off››
Using local transport is not recommended in Havana. Buses are mostly overloaded and there are no time- tables. Taxis are usually the only appropriate transportation for tourists. Furthermore, there are Hop-On/Hop-Off–buses (5 CUC), which follow a city-tour route and continue to the eastern beaches. State-run taxi drivers are more privileged as they have access to tips in hard currency. Nevertheless they often try to earn a little extra. Always insist on turning on the taximeter. If you bargain the price of your taxi ride you will usually pay more.
Yellow Cuban taxis and small Japanese/Korean cars, as well as white Ladas without air conditioning, are usually cheaper than the modern yellow taxis with white roofs. Bigger cars (e.g. Mercedes) are more expensive, especially when they are parked in front of 4- or 5-star hotels. Tips for cab drivers should be around 25 – 50 cents. Keep coins ready, as they often do not have any change - or claim not to. There are taxis where you will have to agree the price before departure as they do not have a taximeter. These taxis are usually not recommended for tourists as they may not know the correct prices.

Traveler-Checks
Checks from Thomas Cook or Master Card (with original sales receipt) can be used. However, checks from American Express or other American banks cannot be used – not even if they are in EUR or CHF - they will not be accepted. Problem: exchanging checks outside of the hotels often requires long waits in a queue and high commission charges(min 4 %). Benefit: In case of loss Travelers’ Checks will be replaced. In general you are advised to ask your bank which travelers’ checks are accepted in Cuba before traveling.

Tips
Cuba is not cheap and often tourists find they are always being asked for an additional CUC (about 1 USD), as the local average salary is only around 15 – 20 CUC. Also living in Havana is much more expensive than in the countryside. The prices in shops are often 20 – 50% higher as in Europe. A family with an average income can often not afford to survive on the average salary and the monthly grocery-card (Libreta). People usually undertake some “black labor” or have secondary businesses to earn much-needed Pesos Convertibles (CUC). More and more Cubans also get help from their families living in the US or other countries. With tips from tourism they can often feed the whole family. As already mentioned, Cubans can’t pay with Cuban Pesos Convertibles, they therefore try to get access to them. Nevertheless this does not excuse the often brash methods used to obtain money from tourists. You do not always have to give 1 CUC but, as elsewhere you should reward good service. Often the coins you get as change are enough. But in the end it is your decision.