Communication with home:
Calling home is easy and expensive. You will be given the numbers of the hotels for your families to be able to reach you in case of emergency. Check with your cellphone provider how you can use your smart phone without incurring roaming charges. The major hotels have WIFI and main plazas do also. It is about $1/hour. Beware of roaming charges.
How much cash to take?
At the moment there is still a 10% surcharge for changing U.S. dollars into “convertible pesos (CUCS)” the only currency tourists are supposed to use. YOU CANNOT USE A U.S. CREDIT CARD or TRAVELLORS CHECKS yet. This may change at any moment. Most hotel rooms have safes. Drinks (water, beer or colas) run from the equivalent of $1-5 each. You are allowed to bring $400 of goods back to the U.S. including alcohol and cigars. We suggest bringing $500-$1000 in large bills depending on your interest in art and mixed drinks.
Cuba uses 110 volts like the U.S. They have begun using 220 for some outlets but they are marked. Some of the electrical outlets are round instead of flat but most always the hotel staff can figure out how to make your hair dryer or razor work.
Freedom to photograph:
You can photograph anything except military installations and communication facilities. It is polite to ASK before taking a person’s photo, even children. It is NOT polite to photograph falling down buildings or deplorable toilets when our hosts are present. They are very sensitive to their economic situation.
You are obliged to have Cuban health insurance (included in the delegation price). There are NO shots needed or recommended. If you have any special meds or dietary needs, BRING THEM WITH YOU. There are no Walgreens in Cuba. Other things you might want to bring: Pepto-Bismol, maybe even Imodium, antibiotic cream, anti-fungal cream, anti-itch meds like cortisone, insect repellent, sun screen. If you should become ill or have an accident, the Cubans will take excellent care of you.
You are not allowed to bring fresh food into Cuba. You can bring sealed trail-mix type items. Bottled water is available almost anywhere. So are beer, rum and cola drinks. If you go off on your own, you can find plenty of good food in the hotel restaurants or in “private” restaurants, called “paladares”. Choose a place that is well known and clean.
No more and much less than in most countries of the world. Just be prudent and don’t flaunt your wealth and don’t leave your camera and bag or wallet lying around. We suggest you leave your passport and other valuables in the hotel safe and carry a copy with your hotel card when you have one. That is enough for the police if anything should happen.
What to wear?
It is almost always hot. Either dry hot, or wet hot. January/February is a bit cooler. Wear light cottons, bring a rain poncho and windbreaker. Culturally you are safe if you dress cleanly and neatly but not ostentatiously. If you are meeting with people or going to their homes, dress nicely – no cut offs or stained tee shirts. Young Cuban women have begun to wear shorts. You can wear shorts around the hotel, but otherwise, Capri pants, skirts or long pants are more in tune with the locals. Men can get away with shorts. Cubans love to dress up and dance. Bring a sexy dress or a nice dress shirt and long pants for evening gatherings. Guayaberas are perfect. No ties or jackets necessary. Sandals and walking shoes. Think rain.
Washing your clothes:
Hotel service will wash your clothes for you. Be advised, it’s expensive, but quick if it doesn’t rain. No Laundromats. Or you can do your own laundry. Please do not let the hotel towels fall into your suitcase. This will hold up the entire delegation until they are accounted for.
If you are invited to someone’s home it is polite to bring a gift. A bottle of wine or rum is fine (There isn’t much else to buy). If you want to bring something from home a nice soap or similar will do. If you expect to meet and get to know artists they are always in need of tubes of acrylic paint and brushes.
PLEASE, DO NOT HAND OUT PENCILS OR ANYTHING ELSE TO CHILDREN ON THE STREETS. This may be gratifying to you in the short-term, but it will have devastating long-range consequences on the population if the relationship between visitors and the locals becomes one of begging. Our donations will be channeled in such a way that they get to those who need them. Tipping is acceptable and a real necessity to the existence of the workers. 10% is good.
The Cubans are very polite, warm and friendly. They are also trusting and believe that if you say something you mean it. We try not to make promises that we may not keep or to build up expectations. They are also very proud and will offer you their last bit of food. Try to be sensitive to their financial limitations. We encourage you to invite Cuban friends to eat or have a drink with you, but always pay for them. If they are with you in a cafe or restaurant, they would have to pay about the equivalent of a month’s salary.
There are locals who hustle visitors. They are usually easy to detect – they speak passable English, they are well dressed, very friendly, and they offer to help you do anything for free and say they want to practice their English. This is your choice. But they will expect something in return. This goes for men and women. Please do not embarrass us by trying to take a Cuban into your room for any reason. They WILL be stopped forcibly and possibly punished.