Did you know that you can visit Cuba from the US now?
We spoke with Sheyla Paz to get the scoop on traveling to Cuba now that the embargoes have been relaxed. Sheyla is the owner of Your Tour Guide to Cuba.
Originally from Cuba with a degree in Music Education, Sheyla has worked as a music teacher as well as a music band manager and producer. She has various accomplishments but most recently Sheyla was one of the few independent journalists selected to travel to Cuba with President Obama as part of the White House Press Corp.
There was always a passion to share her culture with the world and to get people to see Cuba the way that she does. That is now a reality as her company provides tours that are flexible and personalized! She is the most knowledgeable person we have spoken to on this topic so we’ve put together a Q&A with her to make sure you have all of the information you need in order to plan your trip to Cuba.
She also gave us some gorgeous pictures to include in case you needed a little inspiration for your visit! I fell in love with the classic cars and vibrant feel of the colorful structures after seeing these pictures! My husband just fell in love with the idea of a Cuban cigar!
Who can travel to Cuba?
In order to travel to Cuba, you must go under one of the 12 licensed categories. All of the categories are listed here, but the one that applies to the majority of individuals is “Support for the Cuban People” which replaced people to people travel.
Can you elaborate on “Support for the Cuban People” travel license category?
The people to people category was “removed” from the licenses to travel to Cuba. It is now called “Support for the Cuban People” and it means that people traveling to Cuba will stay at private homes (Casa Particular) or Airbnb, dine at private restaurants (Paladars) and ride around in old cars. Tourists must attend educational activities such as museums, art galleries, and buy from the locals. A full itinerary is a must and travel with an agency representative to ensure they comply with the itinerary.
What documents do I need to travel to Cuba?
Passport, OFAC License Affadavit (Office of Foreign Assets Control) and Visa (See 12 OFAC categories and Visa for more information on both), Health form and Customs form filled out correctly and signed by the client accordingly.
How safe is Cuba?
Though Cuba is generally a very safe place to travel (more than other parts of the world), it is always best to watch your belongings and beware of pick-pockets and purse-snatchers. We recommend leaving your valuables, including passport, in a safe and only carry what you need for that day. Contact your casa about Safety Deposit Boxes they may provide. Having a TSA-approved lock for your luggage is also recommendable. You do not need to carry your passport everywhere with you; a copy of the passport should be sufficient for ID purposes. However, you will need your passport for exchanging currency.
How much money should I bring to Cuba?
We recommend to budget at least 100 convertible pesos per day (about $100 US dollars). This amount will cover standard meals and evening entertainment, as well as transportation costs. You may spend more but if you are mindful of where you eat and what transportation modes you use, you can easily spend less (i.e. touring around the city in a classic car is more costly). You’ll probably want to budget more if you’re considering buying gifts such as cigars and rum as well as partaking in several excursions/activities.
How and where do I exchange money in Cuba?
You can exchange USD for CUC at the airport, most hotels, exchange bureau centers and some banks. The current fee for exchanging is 13%, i.e. for $100 USD, you will get $87 CUC. The fee is the same no matter where you exchange your currency. You will need your passport to exchange money. In Cuba, they will not accept bills that are torn or written on when exchanging into CUC. When exchanging money into CUC, try to get small denominations to make purchases easier, as many places (little stores, bars and restaurants) do not always have the possibility to break down larger notes for you. We suggest that you do not use Travelers Checks because they are not insured and may not be accepted. Therefore it is essential to travel with enough cash during your entire stay in Cuba. There are small locations called “Cadecas’ where you can also exchange money.
Can I use my credit cards in Cuba?
Not yet! US-issued credit cards, debit cards, and ATM cards were not previously usable in Cuba. This is changing with new regulations and more and more places will start to accept these for purchases or withdrawals. It is advisable to bring cash in order to make any purchases in Cuba or pay for most services in advance. Most places will not take USD, so you must exchange currency upon arriving. Tips, however, can be in any currency.
How is the weather in Cuba?
Cuba offers a hot and sunny tropical climate with two distinct seasons. The dry season runs from November to April. The wet season begins in May and runs until November. Keep in mind that it may rain anytime, so it is wise to always have rain gear when traveling to Cuba. The temperatures in Cuba can range from the 60’s during the wet season (though not very common) to the 90’s during the dry season. It is common to have AC in restaurants, hotels and other indoor facilities. Keep in mind that not all places have AC in Cuba. Bring insect repellent as the tropical weather also means a lot of mosquitos at dusk and at dawn. Be aware that there is a risk of hurricane from June to November with September and October being the most threatening months.
Is there internet access in Cuba?
Wi-Fi is not available throughout Cuba except at some Wi-Fi spots and hotels. Most hotels also have a business center with computer, with limited hours, where internet service is available. Charges can be up to 12 CUC per hour depending on the hotel. Due to the limited technology in Cuba, it is not uncommon to have internet outages. There are now specific Wi-Fi hotspots throughout public areas, and a card must be purchased for access.
Will my cell phone, smart-phone or PDA device work in Cuba?
Your U.S. cell phone, texting, and a smart-phone based internet will not work in Cuba unless you have a Verizon Wireless international plan to Cuba but that doesn’t warrant that it’ll operate. Any phone calls may be placed from a guest room in a hotel. Inquire about rates before placing calls, as they are generally very expensive and must be paid for in cash. Also, please note that satellite phones, as well as physical GPS devices, are not allowed in Cuba. This restriction doesn’t apply to the GPS on your cell phones as they won’t work while in Cuba.
When is the best time to visit?
To enjoy the hot and sunny tropical weather that Cuba offers, you can visit between November and April. The peak tourist season runs roughly from mid-December to mid-March and all of July and August. We advise booking your casa or hotels will in advance since they tend to book quickly during peak season. Be aware that there is a risk of hurricanes from June to November with September and October being the most threatening months. Some resorts may only be partially open or shut down altogether due to hurricane risk.
Do I need a Cuba tour guide?
Yes, it is highly recommended as a tour guide can be very resourceful. A tour guide can provide cultural insight and help you navigate the island, as well as to assist you on any change of program or last-minute issue while in Cuba.
Check out Your Tour Guide to Cuba to see tours they have put together or to contact them about personalizing a tour for your group!