What to Expect
Each Vantage Adventure is designed to help you fully experience local culture and to get out and explore while keeping active. We find these are the two most fulfilling and rewarding ways to transform any trip into an adventure, and into the experience of a lifetime. To that end, we’ve rated each trip to indicate the level of cultural immersion and physical activity, with “1” being the lowest and “3” being the highest.
The focus of this Cuba adventure involves cultural interactions with the Cuban people, giving you insight into the island's arts, communities, culture, history, and politics. If you are interested in understanding Cuban life and culture you will be amply rewarded by this unique Cuba adventure. For example, while your hotels are among the best available in the areas we visit, standards in Cuba are different than what Vantage Adventures normally provides. Facilities may not be as modern as you are used to, but will offer clean, comfortable rooms with air-conditioning, private bath, simple décor, and basic amenities and services. The slower pace of life makes for a very relaxed atmosphere, but sometimes that means that service, while friendly, may not be speedy. In exchange for that experience, you should be prepared to forego some of the deluxe amenities you'd typically enjoy on a Vantage Adventures tour. Cuba is considered a developing country, and visitors can expect to encounter some poverty, although much less than in many countries. Cuban medical care is quite good.
The infrastructure in Cuba is variable, and most places you visit are not handicap-accessible. There will be walking on unpaved or cobbled streets, some of which are not in good repair. As such, this trip is not suitable for those who require a wheelchair. You should be in relatively good health and able to walk unassisted for at least a mile in order to fully and safely enjoy this trip. Logistics aside, Cuba is a very safe country, and you will be well cared for by your Vantage Adventure Leader and local English-speaking Cuban guide. Come with a flexible attitude, a spirit of adventure, and goodwill toward the people you meet, and this will be a wonderful experience like none other.
Your Cuba adventure adventure includes 5 destinations in 12 nights: 2 nights in Santiago de Cuba, 2 nights in Holguin, 2 nights in Camaguey, 2 nights in Cienfuegos, and 4 nights in Havana. There will be a series of excursions and activities from each location.
U.S. government regulations state that all program arrangements in Cuba must be made by a licensed Travel Service Provider (TSP) approved by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). You are traveling under a "People-to-People" license granted to Vantage Adventures Deluxe World Travel by the U.S. Government Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). This Cuba adventure itinerary is not based on tourist pastimes, but upon a full schedule of specific People-to-People activities and cultural exchanges that you will be expected to participate in. In the course of these fascinating encounters, you'll find that the Cubans you meet are gracious, open, and just as eager to learn about you as you are about them.
CURRENCY: Cuba has two currencies: the convertible peso and the Cuban peso (pesos Cubanos.) Prices may be listed twice on menus and the like, and the words “peso” and “dollar” are used interchangeably.
CUCs (convertible pesos) have a much higher value than the Cuban peso. When using CUCs, make sure that you do not receive your change in Cuban pesos.
U.S. dollars are not widely accepted in stores and are difficult for the average Cuban to exchange, though you may find some shops willing to accept them. For simplicity, we recommend using CUCs.
Money can be changed at hotels, banks or exchange booths known as Casas de Cambio (CADECA). You'll find CADECAs in airports and business/shopping districts. They are typically open during regular American banking hours on weekdays and Saturdays.
How much to bring?
We suggest bringing $900-$1100 per person in U.S. cash; bring even more if you plan to do a lot of shopping.
This suggestion is more than you are likely to need, but you might be unable to access additional funds once you are in Cuba, so it is better to bring too much rather than too little. U.S. dollars are accepted for exchange into the Cuban “convertible pesos” (CUC) at the hotels we’ll be staying at or at official exchange locations as needed. You can exchange money as you see fit on the fly, and when you leave Cuba you can exchange your leftover CUCs back into dollars at the airport. They will be exchanged at the same rate you paid for them, but a service fee will be deducted.
Most credit or debit cards issued by U.S. financial institutions CANNOT be used in Cuba — please rely on cash.
Although violent crime is extremely low in Cuba, please only carry enough cash for one day. As always, leave valuable documents, passport, credit cards, and most of your cash in the safe in your room. Hotel room safes have an approximate charge of two CUCs daily.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Do I need a passport to travel to Cuba?
Yes — and it must be valid for at least six months after your scheduled departure to Cuba. If your passport is nearing expiration, it is wise to renew it well in advance of your journey.
Do I need a visa to travel to Cuba?
Yes. The visa cost is included in the price of your trip. Note that the Cuban visa is tourist card and not a stamp in your passport.
Visas are distributed in Miami only if passengers' flights from Vantage are originating in Miami, or they are overnighting in Miami. We will have a Vantage Representative in the check-in area distributing the visas as the passengers check in. Please note that Vantage representatives cannot enter boarding areas to distribute visas to connecting passengers. Travelers with flights from their home city who are just connecting via Miami will be mailed their visas directly approximately 15 days prior to departure.
Approximately 80 days prior to departure, travelers will receive a letter with forms and instructions on completing the requested documentation. If it is not filled out properly, Cuban authorities may require you to pay for another visa at the airport at a cost of $200 to the traveler. Please send back the required forms to Vantage for processing BEFORE 60 days prior to your departure date to avoid delays.
Mandatory Supplemental Insurance: Boarding passes are proof of your mandatory supplemental insurance for Cuba (excluding medical or hospital visits), which is included when travelers book their airfare through Vantage. Please keep your boarding passes with you at all times as proof of purchase. This insurance should be included in U.S. airline ticket prices for travelers purchasing their airfare independently, but please confirm with your carrier.
Will I have trouble on future travels if I have a Cuban stamp in my passport?
No. In general, Cuban officials will not stamp the passports of U.S. citizens.
I was born in Cuba but have U.S. citizenship. Can I still join your program?
Yes. Please advise your Vantage Adventures travel consultant when you book your trip. There is an additional supplement for a visa for Cuban-born participants. If you have previously applied for a visa and had it rejected, or if you think your application will be rejected, we strongly discourage you from joining this program because you will be subject to all cancellation fees. For more information regarding reservation policies, please read our Terms and Conditions.
What other documents will I need for my trip?
A copy of the letter of authorization that allows you to travel to Cuba under Vantage's license. You will receive this document from Vantage when you arrive in Cuba. As specified in our license, you are required to retain all records regarding your activities on this trip to Cuba for a period of five years and provide them to OFAC if they request them.
What type of currency does Cuba use?
There are two official currencies in Cuba: the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC), which is used for foreign visitors, and the Cuban Peso (CUP), which is used only by local Cubans. Foreign visitors must use CUCs for all purchases made in Cuba. It is important to bring an adequate amount of U.S. dollars with you to exchange into CUCs. How much you bring is up to you, but we recommend you bring USD $900 to $1100 per person.
Can I make purchases with U.S. dollars?
No. U.S. dollars have not been accepted in Cuba since 2004 and cannot be used for purchases. Dollars must be converted into CUCs.
Can I obtain CUCs before I depart?
No; Cuban currency is not part of the international currency exchange. Also, make sure that you convert your leftover CUCs before departing Cuba, unless you plan to keep them as souvenirs.
Where can I get CUCs in Cuba?
You may exchange U.S. dollars for CUCs at banks, hotels, or currency exchange booths known as Casas de Cambio (CADECA) and found in airports and business/shopping districts. Do not exchange currency on the street under any circumstances. Not only is it illegal, but there are scams designed to take advantage of unsuspecting travelers.
Can I use credit or debit cards in Cuba?
No. Credit cards and debit cards are not accepted in Cuba.
Are traveler's checks accepted in Cuba?
No. We do not recommend using traveler's checks, as they cannot be insured and are also not widely accepted.
What are the tipping guidelines in Cuba?
Cuba is a difficult place to make a living, and although tipping is expected, it is by no means mandatory. Some tips are included in your program price, but we suggest leaving the housekeeping staff one CUC per night in your hotel room and a tip of 10-15% in CUCs for your server for non-included meals. Musicians in bars and restaurants depend on your tips, so if you enjoy their performances, we encourage you to tip them. Other recommendations for gratuities are as follows:
- Included Meals: Gratuities are included
- Outside Dining: 10-15% in CUCs
- Local Guides: $10 per person per day
- Local Driver: $35 per person for entire tour
- Vantage Adventure Leader: $8 - $12 per person per day
- Porterage: Included except in Customs areas
Will I have Internet access in Cuba?
There is Internet connectivity in Cuba, but the speed is slower than what you're used to. In rural areas, there may be no connectivity at all. Most hotels in major cities do have either an Internet café or business center where you can access the web for a fee. Expect to pay $10-$15 per hour for what may be unreliable service and slow connection speeds.
Can I use my U.S. cell phone or tablet in Cuba?
No. Foreign cell phones do not work in Cuba, and service for smart phones and tablets is not available. If you really must call the U.S., plan to call from your hotel at a rate of approximately $2.50 per minute. It's good practice to ask about the rates before you place a call. Otherwise, you can buy a phone card in denominations of $10 to $20 (for an average per-minute rate of $2.40) that can be used at blue Etesca phone boxes that are found throughout the world. To call the U.S. from Cuba, dial 1, followed by the area code and number. If you are unable to connect, dial 119-1, followed by the area code and number.
What's the weather like?
The weather in Cuba is semi-subtropical and general warm year round, but trade winds often temper the heat. The wet season is usually from May-October, and the dry season is from November-April.
What's the food like in Cuba?
Cuban cuisine is largely limited by the lack of resources available. As a result, the primary staples of Cuban cuisine are rice, beans, chicken, pork, plantains, and root vegetables. If you have special dietary requests, please advise your Adventure Leader or better still, your Vantage Adventures tour consultant when making reservations, and we will do everything possible to accommodate you. We cannot guarantee to accommodate special diets because of the lack of available ingredients.
Do I need to bring an electrical adapter or converter?
We recommend you bring both. The most common voltage in Cuba is 110V (as it is in the U.S.), but some hotels use 220V. To prevent damage to your appliances, you should bring a 110/220V voltage converter. Cuba also uses several different outlet types, some of which can accommodate standard U.S. two- or three-pronged plugs, but some of which cannot. Therefore, we recommend you bring a universal adapter that includes all plug options.
Is Cuba safe?
Cuba is considered safer than many of its Caribbean and Latin neighbors, but certain common-sense precautions should be taken. You should never lose sight of your luggage unless you give it to a hotel porter or your bus driver. We strongly recommended that you use your hotel safe to store valuables. We also recommend bringing a money belt or a small neck pouch for your cash. When not using your camera, always keep it in your pocket, in a case attached to your belt, or hanging on a strap around your neck. There are pickpockets and purse snatchers, so be aware of your belongings and the things around you. In general, Cuba is a very safe country, and you will be well cared for by your Vantage Adventure Leader and local English-speaking Cuban guide. Come with a flexible attitude, a spirit of adventure, and good will toward the people you meet, and this will be a wonderful experience like no other.
What kinds of souvenirs may I bring home?
Technically, you may only bring home items categorized as art (which includes handcrafts and handmade clothing), music, or books. If you buy original works of art or antiques valued above $50, you need to provide a tax receipt and stamp. The traditional "souvenirs," such as T-shirts, magnets, and touristy items may present issues when you go through U.S. Customs.
Can I bring back Cuban cigars or rum?
Current U.S. Customs regulation allow a limited amount of Cuban cigars or rum for personal use. For the latest information, consult the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website at https://help.cbp.gov/app/answers/detail/a_id/36/~/importing-cuban-cigars