Why is Tauck offering travel to Cuba?
The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control has granted Tauck a license to provide People-to-People educational exchange travel to Cuba. Our 8-day small group cultural educational trips will enable travelers to meet face-to-face with local Cuban residents from different professions to share thoughts, gain knowledge, and connect with Cuba’s deep cultural heritage over six days of People-to-People educational and cultural exchange. Our long experience has shown that the power of travel brings people the world over closer together. In the words of Arthur Tauck, Jr. – “It is my strongest conviction that travel is a key to world peace. By exploring new lands and new cultures, we increase our understanding of others and their understanding of us. It is fortunate that man has always had an innate need to explore the world. By facilitating this appetite, we fulfill a fundamental need of humanity and we make the world a better place.”
What does “People-to-People” travel mean?
People-to-People travel is an initiative allowing U.S. citizens and others to travel to Cuba on a limited basis to participate in cultural experiences and have direct contact with the Cuban people in order to learn more about them and their culture. A highly rewarding educational experience, People-to-People travel encourages your direct engagement with the Cuban people you will meet during activities focusing on education and cultural exchange. Our experience has found Cubans to be interested in and well-informed about world events and open to frankly discussing the pros and cons of their country, as long as you are open to the same.
Will I be traveling with a group on Tauck’s trips to Cuba?
Yes; your small Tauck group will average from 20 to 30 travelers. However, depending on the destination and institution you’re exploring, some of your People-to-People discovery will be conducted in smaller groups accompanied by local guides, offering you special opportunities to truly connect with the local people through cultural and educational exchange.
Who are Tauck's local guides in Cuba?
Upon arriving with your Tauck group in Havana, you will be introduced to Tauck's Cuban local guides, who will accompany your group along with your Tauck Director throughout your trip. Trained and experienced professionals fluent in English as well as in Spanish, Tauck's handpicked Cuban guides will share their knowledge of and passion for their homeland with you, and pave the way for the direct personal and cultural contacts you will make with their fellow Cubans through your People-to-People explorations – personally introducing you to the real Cuba and enabling you to connect with the country, its people and its culture as only Tauck can.
Who Can Travel to Cuba
Is it legal for me to travel to Cuba with Tauck?
Yes. Because you are traveling with Tauck on a People-to-People itinerary operated under a Specific License granted to Tauck by the United States Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), you are legally licensed and authorized to travel to Cuba. Before departing on your trip, we will give you a Letter of Authorization from Tauck stating that you have permission to travel under that license, to keep as part of your travel documents.
Please note that you will not be traveling to Cuba as a tourist. You will be traveling as part of the People-to-People educational exchange.
What is OFAC, and what is its function?
According to the official U.S. Treasury Dept. website: “The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the U.S. Department of the Treasury administers and enforces economic and trade sanctions based on U.S. foreign policy and national security goals against targeted foreign countries and regimes… and other threats to the national security, foreign policy or economy of the United States.” Due to trade and travel restrictions concerning Cuba that have been established by current U.S. government sanctions, all matters relating to the travel of U.S. citizens to Cuba are handled by OFAC, who has granted Tauck a specific license to conduct People-to-People travel to Cuba.
What about non-U.S. citizens who are not U.S. residents traveling to Cuba on this trip?
Travelers who are neither U.S. citizens nor legal U.S. residents may travel to Cuba under Tauck’s license, but must be sure to have the proper documentation that allows them to enter the U.S. for the start of their trip and return to the U.S. at the end of the trip. A one-time-entry U.S. visa is not sufficient in this case. Travelers should contact a Cuban consulate or embassy to determine what travel documentation is required for citizens of their country to travel to Cuba.
PREPARING TO GO
Travel Documents Required
Will I need a passport to travel to Cuba?
Yes, as in the case of anyone traveling internationally, you will need a passport valid for six months beyond the completion of your Tauck trip to Cuba. Be sure to make note of your passport's expiration date and renew your passport if it is nearing expiration.
Is a visa required for travel to Cuba?
Yes, but the nature of the visa is somewhat different than what many other countries require. The Cuban government requires all foreign visitors to have a “Republica De Cuba Visa – Tarjeta Del Turista”, sometimes referred to as a Cuban Visitor’s Visa. Cuban immigration officials will collect one half of this two-part card upon your arrival in the country, and the other half upon your departure. Tauck will obtain your Cuban Visitor Visa for you and will give it to you in Miami, along with the documents for your included charter flight from Miami to Havana.
What other travel documents will I need to travel to Cuba?
- Tickets for your included round-trip charter flights between Miami & Havana (which you will receive prior to boarding)
- A copy of the Letter of Authorization that allows you to travel to Cuba under the auspices of Tauck’s license
Both of these documents will be provided to you in Miami.
VERY IMPORTANT: As specified in the 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.
We recommend that you make at least two photocopies of your travel documents. Include copies of the photo page of your passport that contains the date of issuance, the date of expiration and your citizenship. Secure one set of copies in the safe in your room while traveling and leave one set behind with someone at home who will assist you in the event your documents are misplaced, lost or stolen.
What do I need to know about customs & immigration forms when returning to the U.S.?
When checking in at the airport in Havana you will receive a standard U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CPB) customs declaration form to fill out and submit to officials at Miami International Airport. This is the same form given to everyone entering the U.S. from a foreign country. Your Tauck Director will brief you on how to properly fill out this form prior to your return flight, but be sure to list Cuba when answering the question, "Countries Visited on this Trip Prior to U.S. Arrival?”, and state that you were traveling for pleasure, not business.
Traveling with Children
What is the minimum age for a traveler on Tauck's trips to Cuba?
Based upon our experience with family travelers, we accept children 5 years and older for this trip to encourage comfort and enjoyment for all of our travelers. All children must be accompanied on activities by a parent or guardian. At least one traveler in your party must be 21 years of age or older in order to make a reservation.
What do I need to know about traveling to Cuba with children under 18?
If you are traveling with children under 18, you have the sole responsibility for ensuring that the child with whom you are traveling follows all rules of safety throughout the trip. By traveling with us, you release Tauck, Inc. and our partners of all liability for any risks and/or injuries to the child with whom you are traveling.
You should be aware of the following when traveling into or out of the U.S. with children under the age of 18: Because of increasing incidents of child abductions in disputed custody cases and because children are at risk as possible victims of child pornography, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) strongly recommends that unless the child is accompanied by both parents, you should have a notarized note from the child's other parent (or, in the case of a child traveling with grandparents, uncles or aunts, sisters or brothers, or friends, a note signed by both parents) stating that the parent(s) not traveling acknowledge that the parent(s), family members, etc. who are traveling into or out of the U.S. with the child have permission to do so. While CBP may not ask to see this documentation, if they do ask, and you do not have it, you may be detained until the circumstances of the child traveling without both parents can be fully assessed.
If there is no second parent with legal claims to the child (parent deceased, sole custody, etc.), other relevant paperwork, such as a court decision, birth certificate naming only one parent, or a death certificate, will be useful. Many other countries also share this concern for children who travel without both parents. To ensure smooth travel, we require you to comply with the travel regulations of each country visited. This information may be obtained from a country’s consulate or embassy.
What if a child under 18 needs emergency medical treatment while traveling with me?
In the unlikely event of a medical emergency, a medical facility will require permission from the child’s parents to provide treatment. Therefore, we strongly suggest that you bring along a letter from both parents (including other pertinent documents as cited above) authorizing emergency medical treatment for their child. Children who are U.S. citizens must have a passport valid for at least six months beyond the completion of the journey.
We are not responsible for the disruption of travel caused by the improper documentation of any traveler, including children traveling without both parents. While there is no definitive format or standard, click here to view a sample letter for guardians or one parent traveling with a child.
Are the hotels I'll be staying in air conditioned?
Yes; both the Hilton Miami Airport and the Meliá Habana provide air conditioning in their hotel rooms and public spaces.
Clothing & Packing
What should I pack for my trip to Cuba?
Your Tauck People-to-People trip to Cuba is casual. Dress for comfort and convenience with a wardrobe that is adaptable and allows for layering. Comfortable, cotton clothing is suggested. High temperatures and humidity in most areas make lightweight clothing practical. Long pants and long sleeves are suggested for sun and mosquito protection. For most evenings, resort casual attire is perfectly acceptable. However, you may enjoy dressing up a bit for our welcome and farewell dinners – a light sport coat with or without tie for men, and a cocktail dress for women are appropriate and may also be suitable for other nights during your trip. Most importantly, bring comfortable yet sturdy walking shoes that have already been broken-in.
Please Note: Medicines, toiletries and other items that are easily obtainable in drugstores and pharmacies in the U.S. are in very short supply in Cuba, and may be expensive and very difficult or impossible to obtain. We recommend that you pack an adequate supply of your prescription medication in its original container to last through your entire journey, together with a copy of your doctor’s prescription (or a letter from your health-care provider on office stationery explaining that the medication has been prescribed for you), a list of the generic names of your medication, your travel documents and a change of clothing in your carry-on bag to avoid any inconvenience in the event that your flight or luggage is delayed.
The following is a list of recommended items to pack for travel to Cuba:
- Casual daytime wear – shorts, slacks, long and short-sleeved shirts
- Sunglasses, sunscreen, hat (essential items to protect you from the hot, tropical Cuban sun)
- Swimwear – the Meliá Habana features three pools and a sauna
- Gym wear – the Meliá Habana features a gym and a wide range of sports facilities
- A light sweater or jacket for a breezy night or an air conditioned restaurant
- A basic personal first-aid kit containing aspirin or other analgesics, antihistamines, antacids, antibiotic ointment, adhesive strips, etc.
- Insect repellent
- Hand sanitizer
- Camera, lenses, batteries, memory cards and/or plenty of film
- Extra pair of prescription glasses and/or reading glasses (which may be difficult to obtain)
- Lightweight, comfortable, sturdy walking shoes that have already been broken-in
- Battery-operated travel alarm clock
- Travel packs of tissues
- Small, pocket-sized flashlight
- Rain poncho and collapsible umbrella
- Zipper-lock bags
- Daypack for camera equipment
- Any sundries and toiletries you may need
- Copies of your travel documents that should be secured in the safe in your hotel room while traveling
Is it necessary to have medical insurance while traveling to Cuba?
Yes; since May 2010, the Cuban government has required all foreigners traveling to Cuba to carry medical insurance under an approved plan. Cuba offers medical care through a network of clinics and hospitals located throughout the island. Basic health care is available 24 hours a day at your hotel in Havana for a nominal fee. As part of the cost of your People-to-People trip, Tauck will purchase this coverage for you for the duration of your journey.
What precautions should I take when traveling to Cuba?
By most world standards – and contrary to some popular misconceptions – Cuba is a fairly safe country for foreign travelers, with a low incidence of the violence and street crime common in many other countries. Especially during daylight hours, travelers are generally quite safe on the streets, in the hotels, at museums and historic sites, and at the many institutions you will see as part of your People-to-People exploration with Tauck.
While Cuban citizens and foreign travelers alike can generally move about without a great fear of criminal behavior, and uniformed police officers patrol city streets with regularity, petty crime – such as purse-snatching or purse-slashing, pickpocketing, theft from luggage and scams aimed at travelers – does indeed exist. The best defense against these threats is common sense – be aware of your surroundings and be cautious while walking in crowds and through the streets at night. Carry only as much cash as you’ll need for the day or evening; don’t keep your wallet in your back pocket, but wear a secure money belt instead; don’t leave valuable items in your luggage, but lock them in your hotel room safe; don’t carry purses or cameras slung loosely over the shoulder; don’t wear expensive watches or valuable jewelry.
What scams should I know about while traveling in Cuba?
One scam to watch out for when visiting Cuban restaurants, nightclubs or bars on your own – many of which have a minimum charge (consume mínimo) – is the practice in some establishments to charge foreign travelers higher prices than those quoted, or charge for items that were never served or consumed. Be sure to always insist on an itemized bill, check it closely and add it up carefully, and always count your change.
What should female travelers be aware of while traveling in Cuba?
In general, Cuba is among the world’s safest countries for women travelers, with an extremely low incidence of sexual assault. Women can typically go anywhere they choose to freely; however, to guard against the possibility of purse-snatching or unwanted approaches by local men, it’s always wise to be aware of your surroundings, exercise caution and good judgment while walking city streets. And as in virtually any other country you may visit, walking with a companion is recommended after dark.
Will my cell phone, smart phone or PDA device work in Cuba?
Probably not; generally, you won’t have service for your cell phone in Cuba, and service for smart phones and PDAs is not available. If you really need to call home, using your hotel phone would be a far more reliable, albeit not inexpensive, option. The average rate for a call from your hotel phone in Cuba is approximately $2.40 per minute. It’s always a good idea to inquire about the rates you’ll be charged prior to making an international call from a hotel phone, wherever you may be traveling.
Currency & Exchange Rates in Cuba
What currency is used in Cuba?
Cuba employs a dual-economy system that features one currency for foreign visitors – Cuban Convertible Pesos (or CUCs) – and another for Cubans – Cuban Pesos (or CUPs), also referred to as Moneda Nacional. Foreign visitors are expected to use CUCs for any purchases made in Cuba, and are not permitted to change their CUCs into Cuban Pesos or CUPs.
CUCs are issued in the following denominations: 1, 3, 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100. Because CUCs are not part of the international currency exchange, they cannot be bought, sold or exchanged outside of Cuba. For up-to-date currency exchange information, we recommend that you visit www.xe.com, www.oanda.com or other similar currency information websites.
Will I be able to exchange money in Cuba?
Yes, you will be able to exchange U.S. and other foreign currencies into CUCs at banks, as well as at official exchange bureaus operated by CADECA (Casa de Cambio), the official government exchange agency, at the airport and at the Meliá Habana. Banks are typically open weekdays between 8 AM and 3 PM, while hotels’ hours are generally more flexible. The procedure for exchanging currency is similar to that elsewhere in the world, and you’ll need to have your passport handy as an official form of ID. The exchange rate is the same regardless of location. Please note that your hotel in Havana cannot change CUCs back into U.S. dollars, so we suggest you try not to accumulate too many CUCs. There is a limit of CUC 200 which may be taken out of the country.
Please Note: In Cuba (or anywhere you travel), never exchange currency with anyone who approaches you on the street with an offer to do so. Any such transactions are not only illegal, but also constitute an all-too-common scam practiced worldwide to exploit travelers’ unfamiliarity with foreign currencies. Such scams can be particularly prevalent in Cuba, whose often-confusing dual currencies can cause travelers to be easily taken advantage of.
Is Internet access available in Cuba?
Although Tauck has arranged for complimentary wireless Internet service throughout the Meliá Habana and at the four computer work stations in the Royal Service lounge – and provides wireless Internet in your hotel room – Internet service may not be reliable or up to the standards you may be accustomed to at home, with spotty wireless service, slow connection speeds, etc.
Am I allowed to bring cameras and/or video recorders to Cuba?
Yes; the Cuban government allows foreign travelers to bring one camera and one video recorder (amateur or home type) into the country; please be aware that all cameras will be X-rayed upon your arrival at Havana’s José Marti International Airport.
What am I allowed to photograph while traveling in Cuba?
Please note that taking photographs of schoolchildren in the Cuban schools we visit is prohibited. Otherwise, with the exception of military installations, industrial complexes, shipping ports, airports, secure government buildings, military personnel and other uniformed officials – all of which are generally off-limits for photography in most any country around the world, including the U.S. – you’re free to photograph virtually anything while visiting Cuba. Having said that, courtesy and common sense should always rule when taking pictures; in any culture, it is polite to ask permission before photographing someone, and the same is true in Cuba. Many of the Cubans you’ll meet on your People-to-People travels will have no problem with you taking their picture; you can often ask permission by simply holding up or pointing to your camera. The bottom line is, should you have any doubts about the propriety of a photograph, don’t take it.
Please note that some Cuban museums and historic sites may charge a nominal fee for taking pictures (and/or using a flash camera) inside exhibits; your Tauck Director or local guide will advise you of such situations.
Can I buy a replacement if I lose my camera while traveling in Cuba?
Should you lose your own camera while visiting Cuba, you may be able to purchase small instant or digital cameras at establishments like Foto Video and Photo Service; however, professional photographic equipment, lenses and other accessories may be difficult to find and expensive to replace – and if they are purchased in Cuba, you may not be allowed to bring them back into the U.S. with you. In addition, spare batteries, film, memory cards and other photographic needs may not always be easy to find, in Cuba, either, so we suggest that you pack and bring extras along with you.
Will I need an adapter and / or converter in Cuba?
In the Meliá Habana, the current is 220 volts / 60 Hz. In most cases, round, two-pronged wall outlets are used. Using a simple adapter, most U.S. electrical devices can be used. The Meliá Habana provides a converter so that you’ll be equipped to use standard U.S.-style two- or three-prong, 110-volt outlets, or European-style, round two-prong 220-volt outlets. Additionally, a 110-volt outlet for electric razors can be found in guest bathrooms.
While it will be necessary for you to use a special adapter plug to fit the wall outlets featured locally, most consumer electronics no longer require the use of a voltage converter / transformer along with the adapter plug. (Most electronics now self-convert, and can actually be damaged by using an additional converter.)
What time zone is Cuba in?
Like New York City, Cuba is in the Eastern time zone. Cuba also observes Daylight Saving Time, although the dates for changing from Standard Time to Daylight Saving Time and back may not coincide exactly with the change in the United States. (To confirm local time, please visit www.timeanddate.com.)
What kind of climate and weather should I expect in Cuba?
Cuba enjoys a pleasant, semi-subtropical climate, with generally warm temperatures year-round, and two main seasons: a wet season (which runs from around May to October, when nearly two-thirds of the year’s rainfall occurs) and a dry season (from about November to April) – although fluctuations due to regional variations and trade winds can often occur. The country’s tropical temperature remains fairly constant throughout the year with little seasonal variation, with an average mean temperature of approximately 77-78 °F.
Cuba’s peak travel season is generally between December and April, when daytime conditions are pleasantly warm, drier and sunnier, with less humidity than most other times of the year. July and August are usually quite hot and humid, and the hurricane season typically runs from June through November.
Will I need to know Spanish to communicate with the people I’ll meet in Cuba?
No; both your professional Tauck Director and Tauck’s experienced local Cuban guides are bilingual, fluent in both English and Spanish, and will serve as translators during your Tauck People-to-People trip to Cuba. Although many Cubans speak only Spanish (Castilian Spanish is Cuba’s official language), English is often frequently spoken in Havana and other areas popular with foreign visitors. However, learning simple words and basic phrases in Spanish will help you communicate more effectively and enhance your experience and interaction with the Cuban people, and we encourage you to do so.
Is it okay to talk about politics, society and everyday life with the people I’ll meet in Cuba?
Our experience has shown that Cubans are well-informed, love a good conversation and enjoy talking about a wide variety of topics with foreign travelers. They are therefore often open to discussing such matters with travelers – as long it is done in an open, civil and respectful exchange of ideas, avoiding inflammatory statements and allowing plenty of room for polite difference of opinion on all sides.
What kinds of music will I encounter in Cuba?
You will hear music virtually everywhere in Cuba; it is an essential part of the fabric of Cuban life. Many of the Latin-influenced musical styles that have spread around the world can trace their origins to Cuba. While no means complete, here is a list of some of Cuba’s most important musical genres:
Son: Developed in the 19th century as a combination of Spanish guitar and lyrical traditions with African vocals and percussion, son is the progenitor of most other Cuban musical genres, and the most important; son is to Cuba what the tango is to Argentina.
Salsa: Descended from Cuban son and now practiced throughout the world, this popular dance style has also been greatly influenced by American jazz and many forms of Afro-Cuban music, including rumba.
Trova: The traveling singer/songwriters of Eastern Cuba developed this genre as they went from house to house, singing ballads about love, women and their beloved country.
Bolero: The ballads of this romantic, heartfelt, slow-tempo genre originated in Santiago de Cuba during the late 19th century, and are often performed by soloists or a duo.
Jazz: Originally imported from America in the 1920s and 30s, jazz took on its own Cuban identity to become highly popular throughout the island, and many Cuban-born jazz musicians have become famous throughout the world.
Rumba: Cuban in origin but largely African in style, this genre employs only vocals and percussion, and refers to many various forms of Afro-Cuban song and dance.
Timba: A dominant genre in today’s Cuba, this contemporary version of son-derived salsa draws heavily on African folk dances, rumba, rap and reggae.