CUBA: Pre-Departure Information
Revised by Cubanow.org
Taken from "Notes From Cuba Pre-Departure Meeting: Saturday, January 27, 2001"

This is a research trip. Tourism is illegal in Cuba.

Do not forget to bring your passport. Tape your visa inside your passport so you do not lose it. It is highly encouraged that you keep a photocopy of your passport or your driver's license with you at all times. Upon arrival in Cuba, you should keep your passport and airline ticket in the hotel safe, along with all other valuables. You will only need to carry a copy of your passport on your person.

Cuba is usually hot. The angle of the sun also makes it feel warmer than it actually is. However, in winter (January and February) it is recommended that you bring some warmer clothing, such as a jacket or windbreaker. Nights can sometimes be cold. You can follow the weather in Cuba at www.weather.com.

Dress should be casual and comfortable. It is important to wear comfortable shoes and, on warmer days, breathable fabrics. People usually bring some dressier outfits, but mostly of the "average night out to dinner and a movie" variety. It is highly recommended that you bring at least one pair of long pants, one long sleeved shirt, and one sweater/cardigan. It is better to be prepared for cool evenings or air-conditioned buildings. You do not need to bring a dress coat or a tie.

Travelers are strongly encouraged to read the following two books prior to departure:
o Cuba: Travel Survival Kit, by David Stanley
o Cuba: Handbook, by Christopher Baker

Do not bring credit cards or traveler's checks. You can bring $100 bills and the hotels will cash the money for lower denominations. You will be paying for everything in dollars. Cubans want American dollars, so don't change your money to Cuban pesos unless you want to take the money home as a souvenir. You may also want to bring a roll of quarters to tip restroom attendants.

Most beverages like bottled water and soft drinks cost $1. Alcoholic beverages are priced higher. Meal prices can vary from $5 for a ham and cheese sandwich with a drink to $35 for salad, bread, lobster, vegetables, rice, drink, and dinner at a finer restaurant. While chicken and black beans and rice are Cuban staples, you can also find comfort foods such as pizza, hamburgers, or a Snickers bar. Seafood is wonderful in Cuba and it is worthwhile splurging on lobster or shrimp. There are also many ice cream and pastry shops, most of which serve coffee.

Vegetarian food can be difficult to obtain. Rice and beans are readily available, but most are cooked in lard or animal fat. Most restaurants have salads (many times using cabbage in place of lettuce), but when eating uncooked and unpeeled vegetables washed in tap water you do run the risk of getting sick. Some restaurants will make a "vegetarian plate" if asked. Vegetarians who are not strict or who eat fish should not have too much trouble finding something to eat. Strict vegetarians who eat no meat products or vegans may be upset at the choices (or lack thereof). It is advisable to bring food like peanut butter or other staples to supplement your diet.

Eat moderate amounts of candy, ice cream, and sweets, because these products are made with larger quantities of pure cane sugar than Americans are accustomed to in their foods, which can cause stomach problems.

There is no pepper or Tabasco sauce in Cuba. If you enjoy using these items, you might want to bring your own. The food is generally salty, not spicy.

Like in Mexico, you should only consume sealed, boiled, or peeled foods to avoid stomach problems.

You can bring in granola bars, snacks, etc., for the plane and the trip. Fruits, seeds, and vegetables are not permissible.

Please, do not hand out money, pencils, or other items to Cubans while we are traveling in a large group. In moments, you will have attracted a large crowd of Cubans who will hassle the rest of the group. If you want to bring items to hand out, please do so when exploring on your own.

As in the U.S., tipping is a part of life. The chambermaids should receive $1 per day. Taxi drivers and restaurant staff should also be provided gratuities. Gratuities for the Cuban guide, translator, and bus driver are not included in the program; it is recommended to tip each of them $1 per day. It is up to your discretion to decide whether you want to provide more. You should tip them at the end of the trip.

You should negotiate your cab fare before entering the cab. Fares generally run about $5. A trip from Havana to its outskirts can incur taxi fees from $12 to $35.

The least expensive way to make an international or national telephone call is by using public phones (blue) that accept calling cards. To call the U.S., you must dial 119+1+(area code)+phone number. The cost is $2 per minute. For calls inside Cuba, you must dial 0+(area code)+phone number. Calls inside Havana cost $0.05 per minute. It is highly encouraged that you do not use the hotel phones to make calls because it can be very expensive.

If a family member or friend needs to reach you while you are in Cuba, the fastest and easiest way to do so is to contact our offices, either by phone during working hours at 502-479-3666 or by email at cubanow@mindspring.com. Messages will be relayed to Dr. Gilderbloom, who will be in Cuba, and he will forward the message on to the appropriate people. It is very difficult to contact people by phone in Cuba. The operators do not speak good English and you seldom reach the person you are calling.

The hotels all have security guards on duty 24 hours a day. Cuban law prohibits Cubans who are not hotel employees from entering a hotel at any time. Chambermaids will clean your room thoroughly. They have been known to wash and fold your clothes and place in dressers any items you may have left out.

Porters will bring your luggage to your room at the beginning of your stay and they take it back down when you leave. Please make sure your bags have identification on them.

We will leave for our first session at 9am sharp every morning. It is recommended that you eat a large breakfast between 7:30 and 8:30 am. If you will not be able to make the tour on a given day, please notify the tour guide as soon as possible. The bus will not wait for late participants.

Some bus rides may last 4 to 5 hours. These trips are planned with stops along the way. A bathroom is located on the bus, but it is also encouraged that you use the restrooms at the stops. Bring some toilet tissue with you. Please realize that the facilities are not all modernized. Tips for the restroom caretaker are generally 25 cents. Use the restrooms that are recommended because they are known to be clean. Always use a restroom if it is available. Some restrooms do not have toilet seats and some restrooms require that you purchase toilet paper.

It is recommended to bring a daypack with you containing water, camera, film, and handy-wipes.

When going out at night, bring only a small amount of money (i.e. $20) with you. While Cuba is a safe country, people have been pick-pocketed before. Leave the rest of your money in the hotel safe while you are out.

Please note that cultural events require appropriate attire (nice casual - slacks and a short sleeved shirt for men and the same or a skirt for women).

Medicine must be in its bottle with the original label on it. There are doctors in the hotels, but it is recommended that you bring a sufficient amount of medicine to last you the entire trip. There is a limited amount of medicine located at the Cuban drugstores. You are allowed to bring antibiotics and allergy medicine as a precaution. If you wear glasses, it is recommended that you bring an extra pair in case of breakage.

You do not need any inoculations before visiting Cuba. There are no major health risks for travelers in Cuba. It is recommended that you drink bottled water, which is easily accessible.

Bring a flashlight with you. There are random losses of power frequently in Cuba.

Postcards can be sent from Cuba to the United States, but arrival time varies. All mail first goes through a sorting plant in Mexico. Delivery is usually several weeks, so people will most likely receive the postcards after your return. Mail sometimes gets lost.

There are mosquitoes. We recommend bringing all non-fragranced products to avoid attracting them. Avon's "Skin So Soft" lotion has an anti-bug agent in it. People with allergies may want to ask their doctor for a steroid prescription, and make sure to bring allergy pills. Cortisone cream or calamine lotion are also helpful.

It is the policy of Cuban Research and Education Programs not to allow smoking on the tour bus, during lectures, or in private rooms.

Bring plenty of film. Film may be purchased in Cuba, but for best results stick with Kodak or Fuji.

You can use your hair dryer while in Cuba. The voltage is the same as in the U.S., although some hotels are switching to European configuration due to the high volume of travel from Europe. Please leave laptops at home. E-mail stations are at many hotels, and cost $7 per half hour to use.

When outside Havana, there will be little opportunity to spend money. The most relaxing part of the trip is when you are away from the tourist sites.

Souvenirs and other items vary widely in price. There is a $100 spending limit on cigars and a limit of two bottles of rum. Cuban rum can cost anywhere from $6 to $95 for a 15-year rum. Artwork can be purchased for $10 to over $400. Items like maracas are typically around $2. Wood and marble sculptures can range from $3 to $300. There are a wide variety of artisans in Cuba, and the quality of the items is often very good.

Customs:
1. You will go through Customs as an individual, not a couple.
2. Do not bring "questionable" readings such as Playboy, because they will be confiscated.
3. There will be random checks performed at Customs.
4. You can bring an unlimited amount of books, music, and art (research and educational material) back to the U.S. without declaring it on your U.S. Customs form.
5. You must declare cigars, liquor, and coffee ("tourist items") on your US Customs form.
6. There is a limit on the amount of coffee, cigars, and rum you may bring back.

Masking tape is good to bring for artwork, broken bags, and other needs.

We recommend bringing antibacterial hand gel for when you are unable to wash your hands.

Be sure to bring a copy of your passport (and any other important documents) in case yours is lost or stolen.