CUBA - Frequently Asked Questions

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***This is a constantly updated resource for the participants going on CODEPINK Cuba trips.***

TRIP TESTIMONIES 

What have people said about the CODEPINK Cuba trip? 

"Everything was over the top great. The itinerary was unbelievably full, fascinating and generous and I loved it!" --Lynn Delaney from Oakland CA

"I honestly cannot think of a thing that could be better. The leadership was amazing and creative... We were always engaged and involved through the whole trip." --Natalie Shiras of Lee MA

"I loved the CODEPINK trip to Cuba that you planned and organized which exceeded any and all of my expectations... The trip was an eye-opener and so stimulating in every way. I so much enjoyed the guides, who were all so patient, knowledgeable, well spoken, and generous, the Cuban people we met, and all of your support team involved." --Anthony Rago of Climax NY

"When I look back I'm amazed by how much we did in a short time.  The presentations and meetings were excellent." --Molly Murdey of Porland OR

BEFORE THE TRIP

Contact: cuba@codepink.org

What do I NEED to do before leaving for the Cuba trip?

  1. Fill out the delegate application.
  2. Make a non-refundable deposit.
  3. Send a copy of your passport. Email a scanned photo of the first page of your passport (the one with your picture on it) to rebecca@codepink.org. If you do not have a scanner, you can take a photo with a smartphone and send that. This is due by date TBD. 

What does CODEPINK RECOMMEND I do before leaving for the Cuba trip?

We recommend that you spend some time researching the economic and political situation of Cuba, as well as Cuba-US relations. We will be meeting with politicians, local activists, doctors, journalists, professors, and other experts on our trip. It is important to have a base level understanding of the history and current political context of Cuba to fully understand, and benefit from our meetings. 

Web resources/articles:

Books:

  • Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana by Peter Kornbluh
  • The Lonely Planet Guide to Cuba (2013)
  • The Cuba Reader edited by Aviva Chomsky, Barry Carr and Pamela Maria Smorkaloff

Do I need a travel license to go to Cuba?

You will be traveling under a general education license. CODEPINK and the Cuban agency we work with will take care of the licenses for delegates, so delegates SHOULD NOT attempt to acquire a travel license on their own. Simply look out for instructions from the CODEPINK team approaching the trip. 

How can I get in touch with other delegates before the trip?

We will create a Facebook page a month before the trip for delegates to connect with one another! We will also create an email listserv for delegates who are not active on Facebook.

What are some good reading materials on travel to Cuba?

A few web resources are:

Travel Books on Cuba:

  • The Lonely Planet Guide to Cuba
  • Eyewitness Guide to Cuba
  • Wonderful Havana by Julie Napier
  • Cuban Revelations: Behind the Scenes in Havana by Marc Frank (2013)
  • Cuba: Between Reform & Revolution by Lou Perez

Do we need any special vaccinations or immunizations? What if we get sick?

No inoculations are required for travel to Cuba, but health insurance is required for all for tourists to Cuba. The fee for this is included with your tour fee and this will cover you for any medical emergency. The health system is good, so you will be well taken care of in case of an emergency.

What should we wear/pack?

The weather varies from about 80-95 degrees Fahrenheit in May. There are not real equivalents to "drug stores" as we know them in the U.S., so make sure to bring all toiletries and medications you may need -- they will be challenging to find in Cuba. There is no dress code for the trip, so bring whatever you are the most comfortable in.

Must haves:

  • Your passport
  • Enough U.S. cash to last you the week (we will convert to Cuban CUCs once in the country)
  • Any medication you use
  • Toiletries (shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, toothbrush/toothpaste)
  • Sun-hat, visor, sunglasses and sunscreen
  • One set of nice clothes for high-level meetings (no need to be very professional, but bring something presentable!)
  • One pair of comfortable shoes for city walking tours

Some things to consider packing:

  • Aspirin, pepto bismol, or immodium just in case (it will be challenging to purchase these in Cuba)
  • Mosquito repellent
  • Day pack
  • A notebook and pen
  • Light sweater for the evenings
  • Dancing outfits if you choose to go dancing
  • Ear plugs (in case you are a light sleeper and your roommate snores)
  • Pink! :)

What is the money situation? How much should we bring?

You will only be able to use cash in Cuba, which means you must withdraw enough for the whole trip before we leave for Havana. You should get your bills from the bank in the U.S. so that they are unmarked and clean. Try to bring 50s, 20s, and 10s. Money will be changed once we land in Havana. Money can be changed at the airport in Havana, as well as at most hotels in the city.

Below is a list of items/activities that you must need money for, and might need money for. We recommend that you bring a minimum of $200 to cover the basic (meals and water), but depending on your spending habits and possible extra purchases, you can gauge how much to bring.

Must have money for:

  • 25 CUC for the Cuban airport tax on our way to Havana
  • 20 CUC for a cumulative tip for bus drivers and tour guides
  • One meal each day (2 meals will be covered every day, usually breakfast and lunch, so you will need money for the remaining meal)
  • Bottled water (it is not advisable to drink tap water, so we strongly encourage everyone to purchase bottled water throughout the trip)

Might need money for: 

  • Other beverages
  • Private excursions / optional cultural activities separate from the group (evening shows, the ballet, museums not included in the program, etc.)
  • Transportation if you go off on your own (the public transportation is very unreliable, but taxis are easy to find and affordable)
  • Shopping! There will be lots of artwork, gifts, cigars, and rums to purchase for yourself or friends back home, so make sure to budget accordingly!

$100 of US currency will exchange to 87 CUC, which is the Cuban convertible currency used for tourists. Locals will use the peso, but you will not need to do so. CUCs are generally accepted everywhere. The American dollar is not widely used.

Should we bring gifts or presents for Cubans?

It's always nice to have something to give to people you meet or even for the folks in the hotels. Some suggestions are school supplies and art supplies, a thumb drive for computers, first aid over-the-counter pills (aspirin, ibuprofen), baseballs, small garden tools, strings for musical instruments, and toothpaste. If you would like us to give them to the Cubans, please give them to a trip leader once we arrive. If you would like to give them to the Cubans yourselves, remember to bring them along to your activities each day. Don't forget about your baggage limit because you will have to pay $2 extra for every pound over the 44 pound limit!

 

FLIGHT LOGISTICS TO HAVANA

Emergency contact numbers (more to come):

*From outside the US, add 327 at the beginning

Leima (Cuban Institute for Friendship with the Peoples): 05-400-5148

Where should I stay in Miami before we leave for Cuba?

For those of you looking for accommodations before the flight out of Miami, we would suggest staying near the airport. There are shuttles that take you to and from the airport for free in many of the hotels close by. Hotel shuttles pick up and drop-off areas are located on the upper (departure) level of the airport. Below are a few options that are usually not too pricey. Feel free to browse for more options online or find alternative accommodation as well. 

Can I arrive early or stay after the tour?

Please email rebecca@codepink.org for more specific questions. If you want to arrive early or stay after the tour in Cuba, you must contact Rebecca and sort out the logistics PRIOR to departure, so don't leave this to the last minute!

Where do we meet at the airport?

Terminal G. We will gather in front of the Dunkin Donuts to the right of the door. 

Will there be an orientation?

The official orientation will take place once we arrive in Havana. CODEPINK will also lead a brief, informal orientation in the airport.

Where do I get my ticket and my visa?

You will receive three documents when we meet in the airport.

  1. Your ticket from Miami to Havana
  2. Your return ticket from Havana to Miami
  3. Your visa

All three of these documents are INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT!!! DO NOT LOSE YOUR VISA OR YOUR RETURN TICKET! You will have to pay for a new visa or return ticket, and spend hours of your time in the Havana airport to have them reissued.

What documents do I need to bring with me?

The only document you need to bring with you is your valid passport! You MUST have this to get on the flight. 

As detailed in the section above, once you arrive at the airport, we will give you an affidavit to sign showing that you are traveling on a general educational license, and we will have a Cuban visa for you to sign. Once you check in, you will receive your ticket to Havana as well as your return ticket.

What happens if I miss the flight to Havana?

They will try to get you on a flight the next day, but be prepared to pay around $150-$200.

What about luggage on the flight from Miami to Havana?

Havana Air has very strict rules about baggage, and if you don't pay attention, you will end up paying large fees! Here are the rules to follow to make sure you don't pay more than you need to:

  1. All of your baggage weighed together (that means your suitcase AND whatever carry on you may have) must be under 44 pounds. People are always surprised by this, so just to reiterate: they will place every item you have with you on the scale at the same time (suitcases, purses, backpacks, fanny packs), and it must be under 44 pounds. For every pound over 44 pounds, you must pay $2.
  2. Any checked bag will cost $25. The checked bag alone cannot exceed 70 pounds -- this doesn't just mean that they will charge you $2 for every pound over, it means that they will not accept your bag if it is over this limit. 
  3. Any carry on bag that is over 20 pounds will cost $25.

Given these rules, if you want to travel baggage fee free, you must bring a small suitcase/bag for carry on that is UNDER 20 pounds, and a small personal item (small bag or purse).

The rules have recently changed for luggage fees on your return from Havana to Miami. While there used to be no fees, in April 2016 individuals were held to the 44 pound rule on the way back to Miami, and had to pay $2 per pound over 44 pounds for the cumulative weight of all of their luggage. As this has changed recently, it may change again, so be prepared to pay a fee on the way home (and therefore budget accordingly) if you are bringing a lot on the trip.

Are we allowed to bring seeds for sustainable farming? What about nuts and dried fruits as snacks?

Yes, you are allowed to bring seeds in your luggage, as well as any snacks including nuts or granola bars.

What is the name of the charter company we are using?

The airline is US Viaje Hoy and the travel agency is Estevez Travel.

 

ACCOMMODATIONS AND LOGISTICS

When will we exchange currency?

When we arrive, 10-20 people will be allowed to exchange money in the airport. Because the desk is small, we will ask the rest of our delegates to wait to exchange money later. Most hotel lobbies will exchange money, and money other places in the city.

>>Hotels

What is the name of the hotel in Havana?

Hotel Vedado

If I don't have a roommate but want a double, will you pair me up?

Yes, we will pair roommates according to the information provided on your applications.

When will I find out who my roommate is?

You will be contacted by Rebecca as soon as the logistics are worked out with the Cuban travel company. We appreciate your patience.

What are the internet options?

Most hotels have computer, internet, and email access through a dial up or DSL line in the Business Center. It is slow and there is a fee for its use. You can buy wifi cards for 2 CUCs at the Hotel Vedado, but plan ahead when you arrive because they may run out on certain days! You can stop at the fancier 5-star hotels to use Wifi and Skype (for a fee, it's expensive: 5-8 CUC/hour). But as much as possible, think of this as a time to detox from our electronic gadgets!!!

>>Food

How do meals work?

Two meals a day are included in the cost of the trip-- most of the time it's breakfast and lunch. We will also give you a list of private restaurants and recommendations for dinner. 

Won't providing meals for such a large group be difficult?

Yes, it might be, although the majority of our meals will be in smaller groups. Breakfast every day is a large buffet with many options. In any case, bring power bars and snacks in case a meal is late or skipped because of activities. Great to bring extras to give out to people! 

What about folks with special dietary needs?

If you have strong dietary restrictions, we recommend that you bring along packaged trail mix, power bars, or whatever packaged foods meet your particular dietary needs. 

While meals will vary every day, here is an overview of what to expect:

  • Breakfast: the breakfast buffet will include eggs, rice, beans, fruit, yogurt, meat options, pastries, and more -- it is possible to find vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free options during breakfast
  • Lunch: lunch will normally be included in the daily programs, and will almost always consist of rice, beans, and a choice of meat (fish, chicken, beef, or other seafood) -- it is possible to find vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free options during lunch (although in this case you will need to ask, and if your gluten and dairy allergies are severe you should communicate that to your trip leaders to make sure you are safe)
  • Dinner: dinner will normally be on your own, and you will have the choice to find a restaurant that meets your needs. For the most part, however, dinner options will be similar to lunch, rice, beans, and a choice of meat -- it is possible to find vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free options

  

GENERAL CUBA QUESTIONS

What is the exchange rate?

$100 of US currency will exchange to 87 CUC, which is the Cuban convertible currency used for tourists. Locals will use the peso, but you will not need to do so. CUCs are generally accepted everywhere. The American dollar is not widely used.

What is the electrical voltage and what plugs do they use?

The plugs are the same as American plugs! The voltage is usually 110, like in the US. Hotel Vedado is 220 volts. All iPhones, iPads, and laptops use now up to 240 volts. The only problem you will have is with hairdryers. Some of the plugs are the old-fashioned 2-prong outlets so you might want to bring an adapter plug (3-prong to 2-prong).

What is recommended for tipping?

Individuals who manage to find jobs in the tourism industry in Cuba are usually supporting a large extended family, and tips are extremely helpful. We recommend 10% tip in restaurants. A 1CUC donation to musicians, bellboys, and others who provide service is helpful. We will be collecting 20CUC per person at the beginning of the trip to give to the Cuba tour guides, drivers, and hotel staff.

Will all the meetings be translated?

Yes, everything will be translated to English.

I've heard that toilet paper can be an issue. What should I know?

The hotel bathrooms are fully stocked with toilet paper, but you may not find any when we go out to various locations around the city. Often you will find a bathroom attendant who hands out pieces of toilet paper for a small tip. You are welcome to bring your own toilet paper from home, or you may take some from the hotel to bring with you when we leave for meetings or excursions.

Can we use our cell phones?

If you have an unlocked phone with a sim card, you can rent sim cards to put into your phone for 20 CUC plus you'll have to buy the minutes. However, we recommend that you plan not to use your phones while you are there. Local phones will be available in case of emergency.

Can we use credit cards?

The US announced that folks can soon start using US credit cards in Cuba, but that still has not materialized. So bring dollars. There are places all over to change in special currency, Cuban Convertible Currency (CUC’s), used for most transactions.

What can you bring back?

$400 worth of souvenirs. $100 worth of rum and cigars. A lot of people usually buy art and other crafts.

Is there much theft?

With the austerity and hard times in Cuba, there has been an increase in petty crime. It is nowhere near the level it is in the U.S., and in other low-income countries, and violent crime is extremely rare.  Please take extra precautions, as you would during international travel anywhere. A money belt, worn under clothing, is the recommended option for carrying your valuables during travel.

On our last trip, delegates started to get so comfortable that they lost their vigilance - one person accidentally left their backpack in the lobby, while someone else was robbed while in a crowded area. This is no different than in any other tourist area, but remember to keep track of your possessions.

We did not have any issues with items getting stolen from people's hotel rooms.

Can we go off on our own?

Yes, you don't have to attend every meeting. Given the size of the group (even the small groups), you might want to take off a morning or afternoon to explore with a buddy. Just let one of the trip leaders know.

How will we break up into small groups to go to various meetings?

You sign up beforehand to choose the activity you want. If there is a popular activity, we will try to have it available more than once.

Will we get to go to the beach?

The itinerary is not set at this time, but it is a possibility! Last time a group went on the last day, but it was cold so a lot of people didn’t want to go to the beach. We also encourage people to take off and do something else that they want to do on their own. You are not obligated to do everything with us every day.

If you would like to go to the beach on your own, you can take a taxi for 15 CUC (depending on your bargaining skills!) or a bus, which takes 20-30 minutes. The closest beach is Playa Santa Maria.

Can we drink the water?

You should drink bottled water during your stay in Cuba. It is available in stores throughout the island and in the hotels. For those of you with environmental concerns regarding the use of bottled water, an alternative is to bring with you a water purifier or tablets– the kind used for backpacking in regions where the water is impure. We encourage you to buy large bottles of water and fill up your individual bottle as needed.

Can we eat fresh fruit and vegetables?

Yes, it is very rare that there is ever a problem. However on our last trip, a few people did have stomach issues. This could be a cause of water, produce, or just a different cuisine. If you have a sensitive stomach or just want to be safe, it's good to carry Pepto Bismol and imodium. If you are sensitive, it's good to stay away from salad and unpeeled fruits as well.

 

PAYMENT

PLEASE PAY TOTAL FEE ASAP- but read this first. If you pay online, we must charge an extra 4% bank fee. If you are paying online, please pay here. If you are paying via snail mail check, there is no fee added, but we need all checks to arrive at our office (2010 Linden Ave, Venice, CA, 90291) as soon as possible.

  • Early-bird price: $2,000 for a double room, $2,175 for a single room (if you submit your deposit before January 31)
  • Regular price: $2100 for a double and $2300 for a single (for deposits submitted after January 31)
  • Application closes & all deposits due: TBD
  • Final payments, passports due: TBD

What type of payment is accepted?

We are only able to accept checks mailed to the address above or online payments of credit/debit cards.

Program Cost Includes:

  • Round-trip airfare Miami — Havana
  • Cuban Visa
  • Health Insurance in Cuba
  • In/out airport transfers
  • Double hotel accommodations in Havana (Additional cost for single room supplement)
  • Breakfast everyday at the hotel and 7 meals (either lunch or dinner) as indicated in the program (see attached itinerary for specific meals included. Dietary needs will be addressed with prior notice)
  • Ground transportation for all scheduled activities in Havana and excursions outside of the city. A bus will be provided to pick up daily from the hotel according to the itinerary, except for optional activities
  • Entrance/Program fee associated with scheduled activities (unless otherwise indicated)
  • Guided visits and cultural activities included in the program
  • Fees for professors, lecturers, and institutions including a donation to two community projects
  • A day excursion outside of Havana, location TBD
  • Program Coordination as is indicated in the tentative attached itinerary, translations and expert guides
  • Expenses for Cuban participants (coordinator, guides, drivers and others)
  • Farewell dinner with some Cuban guests
  • Farewell party with Cuban guests
  • Administrative overhead fees

Program Cost does not include:

  • Travel to Miami
  • Expenses in Miami
  • Airport taxes (Cuban departure tax $28)
  • Meals not included in the program, drinks and tips
  • Personal items/expenses
  • Optional/evening activities and/or unscheduled activities

 

GENERAL CONSIDERATIONS

Be patient and flexible:

Traveling in any group presents challenges, and this is especially true in such a large group. Number one requirement to make this a great experience is PATIENCE (something difficult for many of us!). Number two requirement is FLEXIBILITY. Plans change at the last minute. Speakers don’t show up. Buses break down. Make the best of these snafus by making new friends in the group, leading us in song, telling jokes. Have fun and bring up the spirits of the others, especially the grumpy ones!

Be courteous:

Please be courteous to your fellow participants, our country hosts, guides, translators, waiters and hotel staff and those Cubans who choose to make presentations to our group. If a difficult situation should arise, try to think in terms of how you, as a member of the group, can contribute to a solution.

Respect and help the trip leaders:

All of the trip leaders, both in the US and Cuba, have been working very hard to put this trip together, and will be working REALLY hard during the trip. Many of the US trip leaders are not only volunteers, but have actually paid their own way!!! Please give all the trip leaders thanks, encouragement and assistance.

For reasons of safety or for the interest of the group, there may also be times when the group leaders will advise against a particular action. Please respect their request. 

Punctuality:

Please try to be at our meeting places on time. Being mindful about punctuality will ensure that the group isn’t late and/or you won’t be inadvertently left behind. If you miss an event you signed up for because you were late, take it as an opportunity to do something else, like join another group or take a stroll along the malecon (the famous boulevard along the ocean)

Politics:

Please remember that we are guests in Cuba, a different culture from that of the US, with a different (although intertwined) history. It is best to approach each new situation with an open mind. You are not there to convince either the other participants or the Cubans that Cuba (or the US) are really great or really terrible. You’re there to learn.

There are different political realities in Cuba. During this trip, you'll be hearing from the pro-government side for many of our official visits. Some of your best information about everyday life in Cuba can come from interactions with your guides, the informal evening sessions, and conversations you might strike up with people on the street.

Press work:

We would appreciate you contacting your local press both before and after your trip. We’ll be sending you a sample press release you can use.

Once in Cuba, take photos that capture your experience and try to keep a diary so that you can speak and/or write articles when you return. We encourage all of you to share your experiences through social media, writing articles/op-eds, seeking to be interviewed in your local press, setting up talks at your community center/place of workshop/workplace.

Will there be documentation of the trip?

Parts of the trip will be videotaped, such as important guest speakers, but the entire trip will not be video documented due to the costs. We encourage participants to share their best photos and videos. You can add your photos to our flickr account, and also check out pictures from the last trip. You can also use the Facebook page to share videos.

Reactions

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  • commented 2016-02-28 14:25:05 -0500
    Good Start..
    Thanks.

    When will the facebook page be set up for the April 27th trip?

    Also, is there an ETA yet for when the trip from Miami to Havana leaves, as well as the return time? It will help us to know when to get to Miami.
    I’ll be coming in to Ft Lauderdale via JetBlue and taking a shuttle to Miami,

    Thanks,
  • commented 2016-01-01 21:24:54 -0500
    I am very interested but need to figure the Ca connection before I send you the deposit, any idea when does the flight leave to Havana ?
    Nabila Mango
  • commented 2015-12-14 12:47:00 -0500
    Terrific article.

    One request: We wish to go as a heterosexual couple, so we would like a double room.

    Is the immediately required money down payment a partially refundable deposit?
  • followed this page 2015-11-25 18:12:52 -0500
  • commented 2015-08-28 20:22:20 -0400
    I just sent a message inquiring about scholarships, but forgot to add my contact info:
    rosezacchi@gmail.com
  • commented 2015-08-28 20:20:06 -0400
    I don’t know where to writer this, but Michaela said to send a note, I’m just not sure where to send it.
    I put in an application for the Cuba trip in November, and I sent in my $500 today. I have been thinking about it for months, trying to make a decision because I am short part of the money for the trip. With borrowing a few hundred, I’m still short $1000 after adding everything up last night, the hotels and flights to and from Miami. I am requesting help in the form of a scholarship, so that I don’t have to borrow $1000 in order to make this trip happen for myself. I am very passionate about closing Guantanamo, I have marched in many rallies in DC and NYC against torture and the continued force feeding of detainees. This is why I must go on this trip in particular. I am willing to go into dept a bit for it, but if there is some help, it would be greatly appreciated. I don’t know how much detail you want about my financial situation, but I can go into more detail if you want. Right now, I’m not even sure if I’m sending this to the correct place.
    Thank you,
    Rosemarie Zacchi (Rose)
  • posted about this on Facebook 2015-07-21 13:07:47 -0400
    CUBA - Frequently Asked Questions
  • @MaureenCallaha2 tweeted link to this page. 2015-07-21 13:07:42 -0400