What you need to Know before visiting Cuba Legally

We recently visited Cuba legally, on a People to People trip. Before we went I was scouring the web looking for a post that would give me the scoop on what I needed to know. I never found exactly what I was looking for so I thought I would write it instead.  Some of my advice is based on what I did do and other bits are what I neglected to do. Here's the blog post I kept wanting to find. What you need to know before visiting Cuba legally.

Our trip was offered to us through the University of Illinois alumni association, that was fun. The travel agency was Go Next. I thought it was a great trip, it exceeded my expectations, in fact I cried when we left. I'm a dork, I know. Group 4Here's our fellow group of travelers, a super group of people.  There were 20 of us plus a bus driver, local Cuban guide, Go Next guide and Alumni representative. We were like a family then but we've only seen two couples since the trip.

We had great conversations with different people at every meal. From all of our conversations, I created this post on what you need to know before visiting Cuba legally, I hope it helps you.

Weather related Packing

  1. It's really hot and sunny. Bring a hat that will fold up in your suitcase.
  2. Bring sun screen.
  3. We didn't use our insect repellent even once.
  4. You will sweat a lot. You will work your way down to the bottom of your suitcase and back up to the top again.
  5. Bring ratty underwear, twice as much as you think you will need. Throw it out as you go along. More room in the suitcase.

Feet

  1. You will want 3 pairs of good walking shoes as you need to switch them up.
  2. My favorite pair gave me blisters the first day.
  3. Bring band-aids. I couldn't find any to buy anywhere and I had forgotten to bring any. Luckily, everyone on our bus donated some to me.
  4. Bring comfy socks. I ended up wearing my ugliest black walking shoes and black socks during the day. I just cropped the pictures.
  5. The streets are uneven, cobble stones and up and down, it will do things to your feet that walking at home doesn't do.

Money

  1. Our trip was all inclusive save one meal. We couldn't imagine why we would need spending money. We did.
  2. I would recommend $500.00 cash per person.
  3. You need cash to get in and out of the country. You need money to tip bathroom attendants.
  4. You will find things to buy even though you might think you won't.
  5. Not being able to use a credit card is worse than you can imagine. Bring cash.
  6. You will be taxed 13% on American dollars. You might want to consider bringing Canadian or Euros.

Food and Water

  1. I thought the food was great.
  2. We didn't even brush our teeth with tap water.
  3. Our trip guide gave us one small and one huge bottle of water every day. I always got water as my included drink and as a result I had more than enough.

People and language

  1. On a people to people trip you meet a lot of people, they will live on in your heart.
  2. I used to teach Spanish so I got lots of opportunities to talk to people in Spanish. It was fabulous.
  3. My husband doesn't speak a word and he was just fine.
  4. The Spanish was very Castellano, for example Tortilla is an omelet, just like in Spain.

Bathrooms

  1. The bathrooms in our hotels were great, European in design. (Bidet, hand held shower nozzle)Cuba 2014 335
  2. The bathrooms outside of our hotel were pretty interesting.
  3. The bathrooms at the ball park were the worst.
  4. Most toilets outside the hotels lacked toilet seats. Your thighs will be in the shape of their lives as your hovering skills improve.
  5. Usually there is a woman outside of the bathroom (Baños in Cuba, not Aseos or servicios like in Spain.)
  6. The woman will give you 3 squares of TP and expect a tip. Get change for a CUC. We gave a whole CUC at first and that adds up!
  7. Some people brought a roll of toilet paper in their person, I had purse packs of Kleenex with plenty more in the suitcase.
  8. Sometimes the toilets aren't connected to plumbing. Go get the woman, she'll throw a bucket of water in there.
  9. In Cienfuegos we used a bathroom in a hotel that had no one collecting tips. There were toilet seats, plenty of soft TP, running water plus soap and paper towels. It was like Christmas!
  10. If you want to wash your hands, it's hit or miss in general. I brought those moist towelettes like the ones you get after eating ribs.

Packing in general

  1. On our People to People trip we never had to touch our luggage once we were through Customs.
  2. We left anything extra in the hotel rooms to make room for what we bought and had planned it that way.
  3. Pack anything you buy in your suitcase, don't have it in your carry on when you leave Cuba.
  4. Bring any over the counter medication you might need. Leave it for the hotel staff when you depart.
  5. I wish I had brought a back pack as my carry on as my husband and I ended up sharing mine and it wasn't big enough.

Presents

  1. I felt like a fool because I didn't bring donations for the schools, etc.
  2. I missed the last page of the handout we got ahead of time about the donations. Read yours carefully.
  3. Bring band-aids to donate, socks, little books, writing utensils, aspirin and spices.
  4. Our tour guide took all the donations and doled them out as we went along. I thought that was a tremendous idea. She knew better who needed what.

Safety

  1. We felt completely safe the entire time. 
  2. We went to a Baseball game that wasn't on the agenda, it was our free night. That was the only place I saw a big police presence.
  3. Hang onto your People to People papers if your passport gets stamped with a Cuba stamp. You'll need it when you travel in the future. Ours got stamped.

Electricity

  1. All of our electronics could be plugged in directly, they don't need converters.
  2. In both of our hotels, the plugs worked without adapters.
  3. One time I used an adapter to change the plugs from flat to round but only because I wanted to charge everything at one.
  4. I did not bring any hair dryers, our hotel had them.
  5. People who brought curling irons, etc. had to adapt and convert them.

Internet and phone calls

  1. Cell phones don't work. I know, it's definitely different to be so cut off. 
  2. Internet is in big hotels and it costs a bit and is like 1990's dial up.
  3. Internet is slow but I did get on one night just to post on Facebook that we made it there safely.
  4. Ever wondered what it would be like to go off the grid? You'll find out.

We had the adventure of a lifetime and I am super glad we went before the embargo is lifted. The cars are fabulous! It wasn't luxury travel but it was nice. If you are used to Five Star Beach Resorts you'll have to wait for the embargo to be lifted, those are not on People to People trips.

Our hotel in Havana had a great pool but was more like a 3 star, it was a bit worn around the edges. Our hotel in Santa Clara was picturesque but again, faded glory. Air Conditioning was adequate in hotels and great on bus.

I dreamed about our trip for weeks after we got back. It was busy and full of adventures every day but the people are what stayed with me.Band-Aid

Have a great time and don't forget to pack band-aids.

¡Buen viaje!

I normally blog about quilting and sewing! They make me sew happy and I will return to those topics in my next post.

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I have written other posts about Cuba. You can find them all here.

 

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