CUBA THE COUNTRY
Do you have any material to help me learn more about Cuba?
What is the culture like in Cuba?
With Spanish, African and Creole influences, Cuba is home to a fascinating tapestry of cultures. This is evident in the music, dance, and food that the charismatic Cuban people are happy to share with visitors. It’s well known that Cubans love life, and it permeates the atmosphere of clubs, bars, restaurants and street corners everywhere. Living in a Communist country, Cubans often go without luxury items like certain foods and products. Despite, special events like birthdays, holidays and marriages are celebrated with gusto in Cuba. This love of life is evident in the street parties, festivals and fiestas celebrated throughout the year. Coffee, cigars and rum are consumed freely and people dance with confident grace. Visitors quickly get enamored with this uniquely infectious way of life and culture, seen nowhere else in the world.
Do you have any tips for interacting with the Cuban people?
Gardner Tours is committed to traveling in a way that is respectful of local people, their culture, local economies and the environment. It’s important to remember that what may be acceptable behavior, dress, and language in your own country, may not be appropriate in another. Please keep the following in mind while on your tour:
- Be considerate of Cuba’s customs, traditions, religion and culture.
- Always dispose of litter thoughtfully, including cigar and cigarette butts.
- Learn some local language and don’t be afraid to use it – simple greetings will help break the ice.
- Don’t be afraid to greet Cubans with a hug and a kiss, especially after your have already met them once.
- Shop for locally made products. Supporting local artisans helps keep traditional crafts alive.
- Please ask and receive permission before taking photos of people, including children.
- When in the community, please refrain from giving gifts or tips without speaking to your guide first.
How far in advance do I need to book my tour?
We suggest you book as soon as your plans are finalized, as our available travel destinations are extremely popular. If booking at short notice, we will always try and accommodate your plans, but we do recommend booking at least two months from your departure date if possible.
When do I pay for my tour?
Gardner Tours is unique to the tour business in Cuba, as we are the only tour operator that allows you to book, pay, and receive booking confirmation information immediately. That being said, you will pay after you have chosen your desired tour and clicked “Book”. You will pay during booking and that’s it! There is no need to pay as you go while in Cuba, like many other tour operators. We are a one-time-pay tour operator!
Do I pay all at once for my tour?
Yes, we are a one-time-pay tour operator and that allows you to relax and enjoy your tour because you won’t have to pay as you go like many of our competitors require. However, don’t worry, although you pay in full when you book, we do have a refund policy that can be viewed on our Booking Terms & Conditions page.
What is your refund policy?
You may view our refund policy on our Booking Terms & Conditions page.
When will I receive more information about my tour?
After you book your tour, you will receive an email confirming your booking, and in that email you will receive more details about your tour including itinerary, preparation tips, list of souvenirs and prices, preparation tips & reminders, visa instructions (if applicable), a detailed tour packet, and other necessary info. If more tour details need to be shared later, we will get them to you with an ample amount of time remaining before your tour.
Will other people be able to book the same tour that I book?
All of our excursions and tours are private. This means that if you book with us and your chosen tour is not marked “Public Tour,” you and your chosen travel companions will be the only travelers on your tour. For example, if you choose the “Couple’s Package”, you and your other travel companion will be the only two travelers on that tour.
If you are booking a tour that is marked “Public Tour” then yes, other travelers will be able to book the same tour. However, you’ll barely know the others are there! You’ll be free to tour as you please, choosing in or out of any activity provided for you. If you choose a “Public Tour”, remember that traveling with new people is always a joy if you let it be!
If I book a 'Public Tour', is there a limit to the amount of people on that tour?
Yes, to avoid overcrowding, we set a limit of 14 travelers per tour that is open to the public. We do our best to keep our tours low-maintenance and stress free, and we have found out that between 6 and 14 travelers is more personal and fun.
Can I completely customize a guided tour for a group?
Yes, you are free book a custom tour for any of our available locations! Please begin thinking about how you would like your custom tour to be structured and submit a Custom Tour Request!
When can I purchase my flight to/from my tour location?
After receiving your booking confirmation email, we ask that you please confirm that all the booking information is correct. Once you have confirmed the correct information, you may book your flight according to the dates you booked. After you have secured all of the traveler’s flights in your booking, please communicate each person’s flight information with Gardner Tours to ensure that you are picked up and dropped off at the airport at the correct times.
Flight Booking Tips: Being knowledgeable in the travel industry, we recommend that you book your flights 8 to 6 weeks before the departure date of your tour to get the best rates. This is not always a guarantee, but is a general rule amongst travel that has proved itself valuable over a span of many years. We also recommend using Google Flights in private or incognito mode to search for the proper flight for you.
Can Gardner Tours arrange my accommodations and transportation?
Yes, of course! We have independent travel options for you, but if none of them fit your travel desires, we will be glad to book your accommodations and transportation for you! Please contact us to get started building your custom solo vacation now!
Do I really need a guide while traveling Cuba?
Not necessarily, but 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 with any changes, needs, or last minute issues that you may encounter while in Cuba. Our guided tours are also amazing because our guides are trusted and ensure that you are well taken care of in numerous ways such as refusing to let you be taken advantage of by locals when you are purchasing souvenirs, arranging transportation (on all excursions or tours with Gardner Tours, you will never have to worry about bartering for transportation because all of our prices are pre-set with our trusted partners), etc.
Nonetheless, we understand that you may choose to travel Cuba without a guide. If you choose to do so, please use wisdom in your travels, do your research, and be sure to browse our excursions and day tours for your best options, because we guarantee that we can increase your travel satisfaction and safety by serving you.
Will a Gardner Tours representative accompany me from the USA to Cuba and back?
No, it’s not necessary to be accompanied by a Gardner Tours representative if you have proper documents in possession. The way Gardner Tours works is that you book with us we will serve you while you are in Cuba. In some cases, detailed on each tour page, you may be picked up at the airport or you may be met by your guide at a predetermined location.
How will I find my tour guide?
You will find the location you will meet your guide under “Beginning Location” on each tour page. It can also be found in the “Itinerary” tab on each tour page. If you can’t find it there, your meeting location will also be shared with you in the tour packet that you receive via email after booking. Also, you will be informed of your guide’s name, information, and you may also view their photo on our About page so you know who to look for.
How much does a Cuban make on average as opposed to your tour guides?
The average Cuban makes between $8 and $25 per month depending on their position and job. However, all Gardner Tours professional guides start at a minimum of $8 per hour because they are honest, hard working, and great at serving our travelers! We take delight in being able to create a win-win situation where they can make an honorable living and create incentive for them to serve you well, which also gives them the opportunity to earn a raise!
VISAS & REQUIREMENTS
What documents do I need to travel to Cuba?
You will need a valid Passport, a Cuban Customs Form (received and filled out on your flight), and if you are a citizen of the United States of America or are traveling to Cuba from the USA, you will also need an OFAC License Affidavit that qualifies you for a Cuban Visa (see the 12 OFAC licensed categories below). All excursions or tours purchased from Gardner Tours qualify you under the Support for the Cuban People (see §515.574) category.
How do I apply for a passport?
If you are a US citizen, please find our blog on how to apply for a passport. If you are a citizen of another country, please consult the process of your home country.
I heard that I have to qualify for a special visa. Is that difficult and what are the categories I qualify under?
That is correct, in order to travel to Cuba, all persons traveling from or through the USA must travel under one of the 12 licensed categories (last updated October 18, 2018). To help you, we have ensured that all excursions and tours purchased from Gardner Tours qualify you under the Support for the Cuban People (see §515.574) category. This means that with Gardner Tours, you are legal to travel to Cuba and you are to select either for your reason of travel to Cuba when prompted to choose. It’s that easy!
The 12 licensed categories include:
1. Visiting Family (see §515.561);
2. Official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments & certain intergovernmental organizations (see §515.562);
3. Journalistic Activities (see §515.563);
4. Professional Research & Professional Meetings (see §515.564);
5. Educational Activities(see §515.565);
6. Religious Activities (see §515.566);
7. Public performance, clinics, workshops, athletic or other competitions and exhibitions (see §515.567);
8. Support for the Cuban People (see §515.574);
9. Humanitarian Projects (see §515.575);
10. Activities of private foundations, research or educational institutes (see §515.576);
11. Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or informational materials (see §515.545); and
12. Certain export transactions that may be considered for authorization under existing Department of Commerce regulations and guidelines with respect to Cuba or engaged in by U.S.-owned or -controlled foreign firms (see §§515.533 and 515.559).
Are there any other requirements I should be aware of?
Yes, we ask that you keep a copy of your day-to-day tour itinerary to avoid any issues with US Government upon your return to the USA.
Keep a copy of your passport on your person while traveling in Cuba as a form of ID and leave your actual passport in a safety box or simply locked in your room at your accommodations. You will only need your passport in Cuba when checking into your accommodations or if you need to exchange money/accept money wire transfers.
Your visa comes in two halves. Ensure that you retain your visa after entering the country and keep it in a safe place with your passport. Cuban Customs may keep half of your visa or they may let you keep the entire visa upon entry.
Is there a departure tax on my return flight home?
There is a Cuba departure tax but it is included in the ticket price, therefore you will not need to pay a departure tax before exiting the country.
I was born in Cuba, so am I legal to visit Cuba? If so, what kind of visa do I apply for?
Yes, you can legally visit Cuba. Cuba considers all persons born in Cuba, regardless or current nationality, to be Cuban citizens. You will need either a valid Cuban passport or HE-11 visa prior to entering Cuba if you were born in Cuba and left Cuba prior to December 31, 1970. If you were born in Cuba and left Cuba after January 1, 1971, you will need to obtain a Cuban passport regardless of holding US citizenship and a US passport. You don’t have the option of applying for an HE-11 visa.
If I have a Cuban passport, do I need to apply for a visa?
No, if you have a valid passport with a habilitacion and valid prorroga, you won’t need to obtain a visa prior to entering Cuba. Your Cuban passport has a validity of six (6) years, but a prorroga must be obtained every two years in order to keep it valid until the expiration date.
What is a Habilitacion?
A Habilitacion is an entry permit stamped on your Cuban passport for Cubans who have emigrated to the United States or to another country. A request for an habilitacion needs to be made only once for Cubans who have left Cuba to emigrate and for those who left Cuba for tourism or any other reason and have not returned to Cuba for at least 24 months.
What is a Prorroga?
A prorroga is a passport extension and must be obtained every two years from Cuban authorities in order to keep your passport valid until the passport expires. Note, this only applies to those with a valid Cuban passport.
How do I fill out my visa?
Please view our How to Obtain A Cuban Visa and click on the sample image of the visa. There you will see a full size image of the visa and how to fill it out. Be aware that the date is your birthday and that the day comes first when filling it out. If you fill it out incorrectly, you may be asked to purchase another.
Where do I purchase my Cuban Visa? / Can I purchase my visa at the airport on the day of my flight?
We recommend purchasing your visa at the airport on the day of your flight to Cuba. Don’t worry, it’s a simple process that we’ve helped guide our travelers through hundreds of times without any hiccups. Please visit our How to Obtain A Cuban Visa page to review the simple process. And don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions. Note: If you’re flying into Cuba from the USA, no matter your nationality, you will need a Cuban Visa. See below for more details.
I am an international citizen flying out of the USA. Do I also need to register under one of the 12 OFAC categories and purchase a visa?
Everyone traveling from the United States to Cuba, including international citizens residing in the USA or flying out of the USA must self-qualify under one of the 12 licensed categories of authorized travel and have a visa. You may view the 12 licensed categories on our How to Obtain Your Cuban Visa page.
How long is my Cuban Visa valid?
Your Cuban Visa is only valid for 30 days. However, if you must, it may be extended twice to a length of 90 days. If you request an extension, it must be done so in Cuba and you must pay for the price in Cuban CUC.
What does the TOUR COST include?
Some of our tour costs include/exclude different amenities, so please refer to the details found on each tour page.
How is Gardner Tours able to offer such competitive prices?
Our unique style of off-the-beaten-track, face-to-face travel is the only way to really experience a destination, but it also serves to keep the costs down. We spend your money providing an authentic, yet high class experience, instead of on lavish hotels (it is forbidden by the government of the USA for American travelers to stay in the hotels anyways) and expensive western-style meals. We pass these savings on to you with our low prices.
Another thing you’ll notice are the inclusions of transportation, breakfast, dinner, experiences (the unique cultural experiences that fill each day of our overnight tours), etc. Most of our tours include private transportation, four course meals, and six or more highly desired cultural experiences, and in order to keep the price of these amazing additions down, we partner with trusted professionals that provide the best experiences at the right cost to make it a win-win for everyone while providing the most professional, most desired experiences in Cuba. On every tour page, you may find the amenities on your tour under the “Included” section, of which many of our offered experiences are unique to not only Gardner Tours, but Cuba, where no one else offers those opportunities. Gardner Tours is committed to delivering you the most professional, comprehensive, entertaining, and cost-efficient tours offered in Cuba!
Do you offer large group booking prices?
We are happy to offer large group pricing for groups larger than 15 persons, and have served groups of up to 26 people in the past, so your group will not be too much for us. We are honored to serve you! Please contact us for special group pricing.
Do I get a better price per person if I'm booking for more than one person?
Yes, the more persons in your booking, the better price you get, to the point it doesn’t effect operating costs. However, you must book all of those persons under the same booking in order to receive a discount. On each tour page, you may select a booking package with varying costs per person. If your group is larger than the options viewed, please contact us using the form just below the booking sidebar.
MONEY IN CUBA
Where can I exchange money in Cuba?
You can exchange money at the airport (just outside the exit door on the ground floor there are two money exchange locations), some hotels or banks in the cities. We suggest that you do not use Travelers Checks because they are not insured and may not be accepted. That being said, be aware of what is “Included” and “Not Included” in your excursion or tour and know that it is essential to travel with enough cash for your entire stay in Cuba. Note: You may also find small locations called Cadecas where you can also exchange money.
I have heard that I can exchange Euro or Canadian Dollars at a better rate in Cuba. Do you suggest this?
Yes, that is true, however you may want to consider the exchange rates between your currency to Euro / Canadian Dollar and then to Cuban Convertible Peso. If your native currency is not the Euro or Canadian Dollar, you will have to exchange twice on the front-end and twice on the back-end, so it is likely not that much of a difference between converting USD to CUC. Long story short, count your conversion fees and add them up to see if they are greater than 13% and weigh whether it is worth it to you or not.
How much spending money should I bring to Cuba?
How much money you bring depends entirely on your personal spending habits and financial situation, however, if possible, we recommend to budget at least 75 CUC per day (about $85 USD). Being that our tours include almost everything you need while in Cuba, this amount of cash may cover lunches (about $12 on average depending on your choices), alcoholic drinks (about $4 on average), guide tips, souvenirs, or any other item/service you may want to purchase in your travels. You’ll probably want to budget more if you’re considering buying gifts such as cigars, coffee, and rum. To help you formulate a budget, we provide a page with numerous examples of what items cost in Cuba. Note: We recommend you bring large bills (ex: 100s & 50s) in your currency for better exchange rates.
What is the currency in Cuba?
Cuba has two currencies–a tourist currency (CUC) and a local currency (CUP). You may use both, but you need to know the difference.
The tourist and major legal currency for Cuba is the Cuban Convertible Peso, CUC. It’s what you exchange your foreign currency for and make all your purchases with in Cuba. Most tourists will only ever deal with CUC. For international exchange purposes 1.00 Cuban Convertible Peso = $1.15 USD. Note that there is a 13% penalty charged when exchanging USD, so, you will only receive .87 CUC for 1 USD when changing the money, allowing for the 13% interest. One way to determine if you have CUC is noticing the monuments on the bills. Monuments determine that they are CUC. Please see the example below.
The second legal currency in Cuba is the Cuban Peso, CUP, which is primarily used by locals, but it’s still something you should know about, as it is perfectly legal for tourists to use. 1 CUC is equal to about 25 CUP. One way to determine if you have CUP is noticing the faces on the bills. Faces determine that they are CUP. Please see the example below.
Can I convert CUC back to USD before returning to the USA?
Yes, you may do so at the airport, but keep in mind that a conversion fee may apply.
Can I use my credit card or traveler’s checks in Cuba?
US-issued credit cards, debit cards, and ATM cards are not yet usable in Cuba. However, this is changing with new regulations and more places will begin to accept them, but not yet! It is advisable to bring cash in order to make any purchases in Cuba. Most places will not take USD, so you must exchange currency upon arriving at the airport. Tips however can be given in any currency. Traveler’s Checks may also be difficult to cash while in Cuba, so we do not recommend them.
What is ATM access like in Cuba?
ATMs are accessible in large cities like Havana or smaller cities with a large amount of tourists like Viñales, but are rare/non-existent in other parts of Cuba. Please note that you won’t be able to use cards that are linked to US banking institutions. Ensure you have other payment options available in case you can’t access an ATM while traveling in Cuba. The ATM restrictions are another great reason to budget properly and bring the proper amount of cash.
Is tipping custom in Cuba? / Is tipping included in my tour? / How much is proper custom to tip?
Considering that the average Cuban monthly salary is somewhere between $12 and $25, tipping is appreciated. Outside of dinners, other tips are not included in the tour price and tipping is entirely at your discretion. The magic number for tipping in Cuba is 10%. In this case, it is a great idea to carry a few 1 CUC bills or coins with you each day for tips. If you are unsure if you should tip or how much you should tip, you may ask your tour guide and they will guide you in the right direction.
Tip Recommendations: Meals: 10%, Transportation: $1 to $2, Bellhops: $2 to $3, Restrooms: .50¢ to $1, Entertainment: $1 to $2, Guide Tips: $2 to $5 per day
When will I receive my fully detailed itinerary?
You may view a daily itinerary by clicking on the itinerary tab on each tour page, but you will receive a fully detailed itinerary (including suggested times to help with structure) directly after booking.
What will my tour look like?
On our tours, you will be guided to the most interesting places, to awe-inspiring views, to eat at the tastiest restaurants, and also to interact with the locals like never before to learn about them and their country. You will learn of the culture and encounter it in a way that is truly remarkable, in a way that is not your typical tourist experience. All you will have to do is follow along and enjoy yourself. If you do desire, you are free to adjust your itinerary at any time, but before you get too carried away, see the “Included” and “Not Included” sections and the itinerary tab on each tour page for more understanding on exactly what your tour will look like. Remember, all itineraries are flexible and modifiable. This is your holiday and Gardner Tours is here to serve you and deliver the best experience for you.
What will my housing accommodations be like our my tour? / Where will I be staying in Cuba?
We book all hand-picked housing accommodations in central locations of interest and only with our trusted partners. In Cuba, you will stay in local Bed and Breakfasts (American travelers are required to stay in Cuban BnBs by law), run by a Cuban host or host family. Many of the homes are mid-1800s classic-style Cuban homes with ornate columns and decorations, some are more modern with a stylish Cuban touch. Don’t stress, you will have your own personal space in some of the best accommodations in the land. You will have a private room with a private bathroom and air conditioner. You will also receive an immaculate Cuban breakfast in your BnB each morning, served by your host.
I am traveling with my family. Can we all stay in one room?
If you desire your family to sleep in one room during your travels, please note that in the comments section of your booking. We are glad to accommodate your request, however, note that most rooms accommodate for three persons. We do have partners with accommodations that allow up to five persons, yet depending on when you book and their availability, these accommodations are not always guaranteed. Do know that if you make this request, we will do everything we can to accommodate for it.
Can I book extra nights of accommodations before or after my tour?
Yes, in most cases we can arrange additional accommodations at the beginning or ending location of your tour. Please contact Gardner Tours directly to arrange an extended stay. Please note that extra accommodations must be booked 30 days prior to your departure.
How do I get to Cuba?
You may get to Cuba either on an international flight or a cruise line. Depending on your chosen mode of transportation, we suggest utilizing a flight search engine such as Google Flights (use it in private mode or incognito for best results) or by visiting your desired airline or cruise line’s website directly. And don’t worry, travelers have been arriving in Cuba for many years without issues. The international airport in Havana as well as the cruise terminal is as easily navigable as other international terminals around the world.
Are airport transfers included?
Most of our tours include airport transfers, but please view the “Included” and “Not Included” sections of each tour page to ensure whether or not airport pickup and drop-off is included. If it is not included in our excursion or tour and you need it, feel free to contact us in order to add that to your excursion or tour.
How far is it from the airport to my accommodations in Havana?
It depends on the location of your accommodations. Typically from the José Martí International Airport in Havana to Old Havana, it’s approximately 30 to 45 minutes via car. If your tour takes you to Viñales first, the drive is approximately 2 hours 30 minutes to 3 hours.
What type of ground transportation is used on your tours?
On the road, we generally try to us use partners that provide air-conditioned vehicles, but air-conditioner is not always available – depending on demand and available transportation. Where transport is included in your tour, know that we partner with trusted service providers that operate vehicles in good working order. Buses are often utilized for transporting larger groups, and minibuses or passenger cars (sometimes they are classics, sometimes they are more modern) are used for transporting smaller numbers of travelers. Seat belts are not always present, particularly in the back seats of vehicles in Cuba, but where seat belts are present, we strongly recommend you use them. We’ve found that how you get where you’re going significantly influences the tone of your tour, thus we strive to provide you with the best vehicles provided by our most trusted partners.
What is the average pricing of taxis and transfers in Cuba?
The good news is that all Gardner Tours excursions and tours include pre-reserved transportation and you will never have to barter for or arrange any transportation unless you choose to venture out on your own. If you choose to do so, depending on where you go, pricing varies. A typical one-way trip within a city may range between $10 and $30.
Why don’t your tours include international airfare?
Our travelers arrive from all over the world for excursions and tours, and it is not possible to include international airfare in our prices without increasing the prices by a substantial amount. If you would like help in booking flights, we are happy to help you arrange your flights.
When can I purchase my flight to/from my tour location?
Once you book a tour, you will receive a confirmation email. In that email, amongst many other necessary tour details, you will find details to help you in booking your flights, such as the proper airport information, etc. Also, if airport transportation is included in your tour, you are responsible with communicating your flight information to Gardner Tours so that you may be picked up and dropped off at the proper time.
Do I really have to arrive at the airport 4 hours prior to my departure?
That is the time requested to check-in for international flights, to avoid long lines. Gates close 1 hour prior to all international departures, therefore we strive to get all of our travelers to the airport at least 3 hours prior to their departure from our destinations. It is not always convenient for you to have extra time at the airport, but to ensure that you get on your flight home, we will get you to the airport with a sufficient amount of time to allow for a relaxing and trouble-free departure.
Can I use my Advantage program membership when traveling to Cuba?
Yes, as you are flying commercial flights, you may always utilize your advantage member number as normal.
Can I use Global Entry in Cuba?
Global Entry is not accepted in Cuba, but you may use it at airports on all other connecting flights.
Is the food in Cuba safe to eat?
Of course, and not only is it safe to eat but it is delicious! Gardner Tours only partners with restaurants that are known for great hygiene in the way they prepare their foods, but also unique touches to ensure their food and service is above and beyond that of other restaurants. We guarantee that you will greatly enjoy each one of our restaurant selections!
Is it safe to eat food from street vendors in Cuba?
It is not recommendable to eat food from the street vendors due to hygiene reasons. However, your tour guide can recommend on site accordingly.
What are some common foods found in Cuba?
All of these foods can be prepared in different ways, but common foods found in Cuba are pork, chicken, seafood, fish, and occasionally, beef. Garnishes include rice, beans, salad, or other vegetables like onions, mushrooms, garlic, etc. In general, Cuba has a great and tasty variety in their cuisine.
Is the water safe to drink in Cuba?
It is best to drink bottled water while in Cuba. You will find that both still and sparkling water are available for your purchase at almost any location. Water is purified in the hotels and restaurants, and it is ok to drink beverages with ice wherever we take you on the tour. It is not necessary to use bottled water to brush your teeth, but if you prefer, it is always best to be safe rather than sorry. Salads and fruits are also acceptable to eat at all included or recommended restaurants.
I am vegan/vegetarian/allergy-prone and have special dietary needs. What is the best way to ensure I will not ingest something I shouldn’t?
We recommend to advise Gardner Tours in advance so that all parties involved (your guide, restaurants, BnBs, etc) are conveniently informed on your dietary needs or restrictions. Also, we recommend that you always remind your tour guide to advise every restaurant on this issue. We will do our best to ensure that your dietary needs or restrictions are taken care of, yet please remember that in Cuba, not all menu items are available at all times and Gardner Tours can not be responsible for these inconsistencies.
CUBAN CUSTOMS & GOODS
Do I need to declare how much personal money I am bringing into Cuba?
Travelers must declare how much cash they are carrying to customs if it exceeds $5,000 USD per person.
Can I bring materials to give away to people I meet on my tour?
It’s more recommendable to use the word gifts instead of donations, as donations require other customs procedures to be entered into Cuba. Small amounts of items are acceptable to bring in while visiting Cuba. Bring limited quantities of small items because too many of one-single item may cause delays upon entry. If you bring gifts, out of honor for those people you may meet, please inform your tour guide and they will be able to advise you as to whom/where and when you can distribute them most conveniently.
You are free to bring what you please (please use wisdom), but if you desire, we recommend utilizing the ongoing relationships that our guides and Gardner Tours already has to distribute any gifts. We have other non-business partners in Cuba that we work with such as churches and language schools that are always in need of certain items. These partners would greatly appreciate your gifts if you decide to take part. With any questions or concerns, please contact us.
Can I bring things back from Cuba to the USA?
Americans are allowed to bring unlimited amounts of items such as artwork, music, or informational material if purchased from independent Cuban entrepreneurs that have obtained a license from the Cuban Government to operate as an independent Cuban entrepreneur.
What are typical souvenirs to purchase in Cuba?
Cuban Rum: Cuba houses many different brands of rum, but the most famous are Havana Club or Santiago.
Cuban Cigars: The cliché is true–cigars are everywhere in Cuba. Buy authentic cigars from authorized sellers, as homemade cigars are commonly posed as certified cigars from Habanos. Purchasing from the factory is best, as there you may purchase popular brands like Cohiba, Romeo y Julieta, etc.
Coffee: Cuban coffee is top quality with a lot of texture, so stock up before you leave to enjoy a taste of Cuba from the comfort of your own home.
All certified government-regulated rum, cigars, and coffee will be priced the same around the country, no matter if you get it at a store in the city or at the airport.
Music: With such a rich musical heritage, Cuba is a great place to pick up a hand-crafted musical instrument or, if traveling light perhaps a CD from a local entertainer.
Hand-made Arts & Crafts: Cuba has a keen appreciation of the fine arts, so it’s not hard to find unique artworks by up-and-coming Cuban artists being sold at galleries and markets. Some may include paintings, wood carvings, hats, Cuban clothing (guayaberas), leather goods, home decor, etc.
Cuba may not be known for it’s shopping, but look closely and you’ll find lots of unique souvenirs to take home as a reminder of your holiday.
Before returning home, contact your customs officials to ensure you’re able to import certain items into your home country. For example, the United States has restrictions on the amount of tobacco (4 boxes or 100 cigars) and alcohol (3 liters) that can be brought back from Cuba.
Can I bring Cuban cigars, coffee, and rum back into the USA? If so, is there a limit?
Yes, Americans traveling abroad can purchase Cuban cigars, coffee, and rum as long as they are for personal consumption only. Normal limits on duty and tax exemptions will apply. For more information on limits on duty and tax exemptions, visit this page provided by the United States Government.
In short, you may take up to 100 cigars and 3 liters of rum into the United States, but if you exceed that amount, you are required an official invoice from the store where you purchased them.
What will it cost for a…?
To help you budget the proper amount of spending cash for the items not included in your tour, we have compiled a list of Cuban items and services and how much each generally cost: Budgeting for Cuba
ELECTRONICS & INTERNET
Is there internet access in Cuba?
Wi-Fi is not available throughout Cuba except at some hot-spots, which are often at or near hotels and/or city parks. Many hotels also have a business center with a computer and limited hours, where internet service is usually available. Charges can be from 3 CUC per hour, yet up to 12 CUC per hour depending on the hotel. Because of the limited technology in Cuba, it is not uncommon to have internet outages. There are now certain Wi-Fi hotspots in Cuban cities where a card can be purchased for access. If you desire to get connected, please ask your guide and they will assist you with obtaining a card.
Will my cell phone work in Cuba?
Many United States based cell phone companies now offer service in Cuba, yet rates can be expensive. To ensure you receive the access you desire, we recommend contacting your service provider before your arrival in Cuba. Calls and texts can be very expensive and we want to ensure that you are up-to-date on what your company provides and of their rates before your travels. Also, please note that satellite phones as well as the 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. However, if you are a map-lover, we recommend downloading the Maps.me application and Cuba map on your smartphone before departure. Maps.me is an offline map system that works wonderfully in Cuba!
How do I call home from Cuba?
Dial: 119 or (+) + country code + area code + telephone number
What is the electric current and outlet used in Cuba?
Electric Current: Cuba uses the same electric standards as in the United States: 110V, though it is common to find both 110 and 220 in the more modern accommodations in Cuba (they are usually labeled). It is advisable to bring a converter, if your electronics are not travel-ready (105-240 V).
Outlet: Type A (North American/Japanese 2-pin) & Type B (American 3-pin) outlets are used on the island.
SAFETY & EMERGENCIES
Is Cuba safe?
Though Cuba is generally a very safe place to travel (much safer than other parts of the world), it is always wise to watch your belongings and beware of pick-pocketers. We recommend leaving your valuables, including your passport and visa, locked in your room at your accommodations and only carry what you need for each day. Having a TSA-approved lock for your luggage is alway recommended for international travel. You may encounter a few children or older adults begging on the streets, sometimes asking for soap, pens, etc. Though these people can make travelers uncomfortable, these people are usually not considered to be dangerous. Note: You do not need to carry your passport everywhere with you; a copy of the passport should suffice for ID purposes. You will, however, need your passport for the exchanging of currency.
For more information on how Gardner Tours helps ensure your safety, visit our Safety Guidelines page.
Do I need to purchase travel insurance prior to arriving in Cuba?
All passengers traveling with Gardner Tours are required to purchase travel insurance before the beginning of your tour. Ensure that you have travel insurance that includes coverage for all activities featured as part of your tour. If you have an existing travel insurance policy, please take a few moments to ensure it is up to date, and cover is adequate for your chosen destination and activity. Due to the varying nature, availability, and cost of health care around the world, travel insurance is very much an essential and necessary part of every journey. Though our travelers have never been required to show proof of travel insurance, it may be requested at the airport by officials. Travelers failing to produce a valid document will be required to purchase a new policy at the airport, before being granted access into Cuba.
For more information and/or to purchase your travel insurance, please visit Allianz. Should you chose not to purchase travel insurance, know that Gardner Tours is in no way responsible for your decision.
What shots do I need for traveling overseas?
We are not doctors and have very little medical training, so we are not qualified from a medical perspective to say that you should or should not get certain shots. We suggest that you determine which shots you may need by visiting the CDC website or consulting your local travel health specialist and reviewing their recommendations based on your chosen location. It is simply your choice on whether or not to receive all the recommended immunizations.
Who do I contact in case of an emergency in Cuba?
If you have an emergency and you are a US Citizen or resident, you may contact the US Embassy. Otherwise, please contact your corresponding embassy or consulate. If you need to call the police or for any emergency, you will dial 106 from a local telephone. Otherwise, you can also dial 104 for an ambulance and 105 for the fire department. Note: You will not find an English-speaking person that answers, so, if possible, we suggest speaking with your tour guide or host before making any calls. Also, your hosts are usually well connected in their areas and might be able to assist before emergency lines.
U.S. Embassy contact information:
Address: Calzada between L & M Streets, Vedado, Havana
Phone: (53) (7) 839-4100
Hours: 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (closed on U.S. and Cuban Holidays)
Emergencies/After Hours: Call (+53) (7)-831-4100, dial 1 to speak with emergency operator. If you get into trouble in Cuba (financial, medical etc.) and are in dire need, then we suggest you contact Asistur (Assistance to Tourists). Office locations, phone numbers, and fees for this company can be found on their website.
We suggest printing a list of emergency numbers and addresses to have in case of an emergency.
WHEN TO GO & WEATHER
When is the best time to visit Cuba?
To enjoy the best warm 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 tend to book quickly and require advance booking during peak season so we advise to book well in advance.
When is tobacco planting/harvest in Cuba?
Tobacco planting season is from mid-October to late-November.
Tobacco harvest is from mid-February to late-March.
When is coffee harvest in Cuba?
Coffee harvest is from mid-August to late-December.
What is the weather like in Cuba?
Cuba offers a warm 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 October. Keep in mind, it may rain at any time, so it’s always wise to have rain gear with you. Temperatures in Cuba can range from the 50’s during the wet season to the 90’s during the dry season. It’s common to have air conditioning in restaurants, BnBs, and other indoor facilities in Cuba, but it’s not guaranteed. Bring insect repellent, as tropical weather means mosquitos at dusk and at dawn, especially during the rainy season. Know that there’s risk of hurricanes from June to November with September and October being the most threatening months.
What public holidays are celebrated in Cuba?
- 1 January – Triumph of the Revolution / Liberation Day
- 2 January – New Year Holiday
- 14 April – Good Friday
- 1 May – Labor Day
- 25 July – National Revolutionary Festival
- 26 July – National Revolutionary Festival
- 27 July – National Revolutionary Festival
- 10 October – Independence Day
- 25 December – Christmas
- 31 December – Year End Celebration
What time zone is Cuba in?
Cuban Standard Time is UTC/GMT –5. Hours, EST +0 , CST +1, PST +3
WHAT TO PACK
What is the most appropriate type of luggage to bring?
We strongly recommend bringing a backpack or a medium carry-on size bag, as large suitcases can be cumbersome and difficult to store in buses or under seats, etc.. Keep in mind that you may have to carry your luggage up and down BnB staircases. Suitcases with wheels may not work well on dirt or cobblestone roads.
What should I pack for my trip to Cuba?
Depending on the length of your stay and the weather, we may recommend a few different variations of items. However, after you book your tour with Gardner Tours, you will be provided a detailed, seasonal packing list with our best suggestions on size of luggage, the proper clothing to bring, what additional items are important to pack, and also items not to pack.
Nonetheless, considering the more than often warm weather as well as the cobblestone streets and hills, we recommend comfortable and lightweight clothing and shoes. The style in Cuba for both men and women is colorful clothing, often displaying a confident and bold appearance. In the cooler months, we recommend, especially if you are cold-natured, to bring a light sweater or jacket. During the rainy season, a light waterproof jacket is recommended. More formal clothing is required for theaters, concert halls, nightclubs and formal venues.
Can I bring materials to give away to people I meet on my tour?
It’s more recommendable to use the word gifts instead of donations, as donations require other customs procedures to enter Cuba. Small amounts of items are acceptable to bring in while visiting Cuba. Bring limited quantities of small items because too many of one-single item may cause delays upon entry. If you bring gifts, out of honor for those people you may meet, please inform your tour guide and they will be able to advise you as to whom/where and when you can distribute them most conveniently.
You are free to bring what you please (please use wisdom), but if you desire, we recommend utilizing the ongoing relationships that our guides and Gardner Tours already has to distribute any gifts. We have other non-business partners we work with such as churches and language schools that are always in need. These partners would greatly appreciate your gifts if you decide to take part. With any questions or concerns, please contact us.