|MEETING PLACE:||Jose Marti International Airport, Havana, Cuba|
|MEETING TIME:||3:30 PM on itinerary day 1 (for flights arriving by 2:00 PM)|
|DEPARTURE:||After 11:00 AM on itinerary day 8|
|AGE LIMIT:||Minimum age is 12|
|TRIP LENGTH:||8 days / 7 nights (allow additional days for travel)|
|ACTIVITIES:||Cultural exploration, biking, snorkeling, SUP, hiking|
Explore Havana, the southern coast and much more on our eight-day tour through its coastlines & cities, mountains & wetlands. The tour explores Havana, where so much of Cuba’s history and future converge with intoxicating flare—and not just because of the mojitos that flow freely. From there, we explore Cuba’s thriving coral reefs and beach-side towns on a trip that both makes you want see and experience more, yet slow each moment down to savor the experience.
We handcrafted this tour to blend stunning countryside excursions with authentic cultural encounters, resulting in an exceptional people-to-people travel itinerary that provides meaningful interaction between OARS travelers and the people of Cuba. With visits to Colonial Havana, Viñales Valley, Playa Larga, the Bay of Pigs & Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Topes de Collantes National Park, Finca Vigia & Cojimar, you can witness Cuba’s tempestuous history and multifaceted modernity. Colonial plazas and palaces, in a staggering array of disrepair and renovation, tell stories of a colonial past merging with the dynamic present. This is a trip promising both adventure and intrigue.
The following is a sample of what your trip might be like:
Travel in Cuba is relatively new for U.S. citizens and unlike that in most other countries. This is an exciting time to travel as legislation changes along with local amenities. Our people-to-people itinerary is fully legal for U.S. travelers and pre-approved by the Cuban government. As part of this compliance, one of the tour guides will be a representative from our Cuban partner company and one guide will be a U.S. citizen. We have selected an ambitious itinerary to see many of Cuba’s natural places.
With the great demand currently being put on the tourism infrastructure, we may have the need to make minor modifications to the itinerary on occasion. In addition, the Cuban government monitors tourism activity and may influence the final destinations and pace of the trip (however this is unlikely). Travelers should be open-minded—services we have come to expect as standard may be lacking or non-existent. In exchange, we’ll experience a place unlike any other—Cuba’s diversity, energy, innovation, warmth, music, culture and art will envelop us.
Day 1: Arrive to Havana, Cuba
¡Bienvenidos a Cuba!
We meet at the Jose Marti International Airport where our Trip Leader will gather the group for a brief orientation before a thirty-minute drive into Cuba’s largest city—Havana (spelled Habana in Spanish). As we drive into the city, our local guide will share history and insights about the area.
*In order to meet the group by 3:30 PM, please arrive into Havana no later than 2:00 PM.
Our first stop will be Revolution Square, the epicenter of political and governmental buildings of the Cuban government, and the site where millions listened to speeches given by Fidel Castro.
Next we’ll head to Old Havana where you’ll stroll along the famous Paseo del Prado, the main boulevard connecting the sea to the heart of Old Havana in Central Park. This tree-lined promenade is filled with historical relevance, as it is was designed in the 18th century and was the first paved road in Havana. The buildings and homes seen here are architectural marvels, and the wide boulevard has become an impromptu market with local artists displaying their works.
After we check-in to our privately owned bed and breakfast (known locally as a casa particular), we’ll gather for a welcome dinner at a paladar (privately owned restaurant).
Casa Particular (D)
Day 2: Havana Vieja (Old Havana)
After the common local breakfast of eggs, toast, fresh fruit, juice and coffee we begin the day with a visit to the Antonio Núñez Jiménez Foundation. Here you’ll have a chance to speak with a representative from this non-governmental organization regarding their research programs and conservation efforts taking place in Cuba.
Following this hour-long visit, we explore by foot Habana Vieja’s (Old Havana’s) neoclassic Spanish and baroque architecture. We wander the narrow streets with our guide and explore the colonial past so very alive in these bustling neighborhoods. Our exploration includes Old Havana’s four main squares: Plaza de la Catedral, Plaza de San Francisco, Plaza de Armas and Plaza Vieja. On our tour we will stop by one of the thriving private enterprises in Havana and have a chance to talk with some of the staff about their struggles and successes with operating a business in Cuba.
We enjoy lunch at a nearby paladar, one of the new wave of privately-owned restaurants in Havana that have drastically changed the dining experience in Cuba. Paladars are becoming known for their excellent service and increasingly upscale take on Cuban home cooking – a real treat! In the afternoon you’ll be able to further explore Old Havana or Vedado neighborhood on foot or visit one of the many museums on your own.
We’ll end the day with a sunset dinner in the enchantingly creative home of artist Jose Fuster in Jaimanitas, located on the outskirts of the city. Afterwards you’ll have a chance to check out some live music at one of the many nightlife hot spots.
Casa Particular (B, L, D)
Day 3: Havana and the Viñales Valley
This morning we drive two-and-a-half hours westward to reach the Viñales Valley, where we’ll visit with a local farmer and learn about tobacco cultivation. We’ll get to explore the farm on foot, and perhaps have a chance to taste his freshly brewed coffee.
For lunch, we’ll enjoy a farm-to-table meal prepared with local ingredients and beautiful views at an organic farm. Overlooking the valley, we’ll feast on such dishes as fried plantains, vegetable soup, Cuban black beans and roasted pork.
In the afternoon we will hike in the valley of Viñales National Park along dirt paths with our local expert guide. Here we get a chance to see the countryside of Cuba, and how their traditional ways of farming and living have been maintained throughout the years.
After the hike we return to Havana, arriving early in the evening and in time to enjoy dinner on your own at one of the many paladares in Havana. Your guide will be able to assist you with making a reservation or recommendation.
Casa Particular (B, L)
Day 4: Havana by Bike and Playa Larga
After breakfast, we’ll hop on electric cruiser bikes and embark on a leisurely tour of the city, stopping at various must-see spots and some lesser known hidden gems. During the tour, we’ll bike to a local farmers market and ration store to see how Cubans shop for their everyday fruits and vegetables. Our bike tour will take us to some of the more off-the-beaten path locations in Havana, including various embassies and former mansions that now are homes of ambassadors or ministries. We will have lunch on the water in Havana harbor and then leave for our next destination, Playa Larga. Our drive will take about two-and-a-half hours.
During the drive you’ll have the opportunity to talk more in-depth with your guide about issues relating to Cuban society, history and culture. Or you can simply enjoy the scenery. This drive takes us along the main highway, through a landscape of farms and sugarcane fields.
At Playa Larga we’ll check-in to our casa particular before heading out to explore this seaside town on the Bahía de Cochinos (Bay of Pigs). Playa Larga first went down in U.S. history as one of the invasion sites during the Bay of Pigs, but now it has a more pleasant reputation as a diver’s utopia. Coral reefs, flooded caves, and colorful marine life give the bay a peaceful Caribbean ambiance. If time allows, we’ll explore and play in the water before we gather for a delicious dinner featuring more Cuban cuisine.
Casa Particular (B, L, D)
Day 5: Cienfuegos and Trinidad
After a hearty breakfast and strong Cuban coffee at your B&B, we will head to Punta Perdiz or Caleta Buena for snorkeling and stand-up paddle boarding.* You’ll have a chance to swim in the crystal-clear water and see the mushrooming coral reef up-close while swimming among tropical fishes. *This day’s activities are subject to weather and sea conditions.
Following our morning activity, we’ll continue our journey east to the beautiful town of Cienfuegos. Upon arrival, we will lunch at a paladar overlooking the water. This winsome, seafront city has such an ethereal allure that it’s known as the “Pearl of the South.” After lunch we set out to explore the city with its charming waterfront and colonnaded streets. We eventually make our way to Teatro Tomás Terry, a 19th century theater well-known for its grand mosaics and whimsical frescoes.
This afternoon we continue on to Trinidad, a charming colonial city just an hour away. We check-in to our casas particulares for the evening and enjoy dinner at one of the many private restaurants.
Casa Particular (B, L, D)
Day 6: Trinidad and Topes de Collantes National Reserve
Today we continue our Cuban adventure to Topes de Collantes National Reserve, high in the Escambray Mountains. At over 1000 feet above sea level, this reserve is a hikers paradise, offering various trails to explore and gorgeous viewpoints. You may be lucky enough to see endemic birds and animals, such as the trogon, on the trail.
We will hike with an expert on local flora & fauna and, depending on our choice of trail, may encounter a refreshing waterfall – perfect for a swim. Once we’ve worked up an appetite, we’ll enjoy a traditional lunch of roasted pork, potatoes, beans and rice in the countryside.
In the afternoon enjoy some free time to explore on your own before a sunset walking tour of Trinidad, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Tonight, dine on your own at the paladar of your choice. As night settles in, if you have the energy, you can explore the music house which has live music along the steps of the main plaza.
Casa Particular (B, L)
Day 7: Finca Vigia, Cojimar and Return to Havana
After breakfast we say adios to Trinidad and begin our journey back to Havana, about a 4-hour drive. On the way we will visit Ernest Hemingway’s home, Finca Vigia, where the author lived for almost twenty years. He was an avid fisherman and here he was inspired to write Islands in the Sea and The Old Man and the Sea. His home has recently been renovated, and we enjoy a tour of the property including a stop to see his boat, Pilar.
From Finca Vigia we will stop at nearby Cojimar, a picturesque fishing village that was Hemingway’s inspiration for The Old Man and the Sea. Here we’ll enjoy lunch at a private paladar where their specialty is ajiaco, a rich stew with pork, corn, and other delicious ingredients.
In Havana we check-in to our casas particulares and share our favorite stories during a farewell dinner as a group. After dinner, you’ll have the opportunity to head to visit Havana’s Fabrica de Arte, an old peanut oil factory turned art and music collaborative space that is now one of Havana’s most popular spots for Cuban youth and tourists alike.
Casa Particular (B, L, D)
Day 8: Adios Havana!
We wake early for our last group breakfast before heading to the airport for departing flights (one group transfer is included in the trip). Folks needing to arrive to the airport earlier than the rest of the group, or are departing later, can make their own way by taxi at any time (to be paid to the driver). Exchange any extra currency you have leftover at the airport before catching your return flight home! (B)
Included in Your Trip Cost
- Skilled, professional local guide service provided by our affiliate operator
- 7 nights lodging in privately owned casas particulares
- Meals as indicated in the itinerary (B – breakfast, L – lunch, D – dinner)
- One to two beverages with each meal and two bottles of drinking water per day
- Airport meet & greet and transfer on day 1; one group airport transfer on day 8
- Sightseeing and activities as noted in the itinerary
- Ground transportation with certified, professional drivers
- 27-oz Klean Kanteen water bottle
Not Included in Your Trip Cost
- Airfare to and from Havana, Cuba
- Travel Visa/Tourist Card (required by Cuba)
- Pre- and/or post-trip accommodation and meals (while U.S. regulations are constantly changing and at times difficult to interpret, it may be illegal to travel in Cuba before and/or after your official guided tour)
- Airport transfer on day 8 for flights earlier or later than our one included group transfer
- Single supplement
- Excess baggage charges
- Airport departure taxes (normally included in your airline ticket, approximately US$25)
- Insurance of any kind, including a travel protection plan or mandatory emergency medical & evacuation coverage
- Items of a personal nature and equipment outlined in the personal equipment list
- Additional beverages beyond what is included (see the list above for beverages that are included)
- Snacks (Cuban’s don’t tend to snack between meals so you may want to bring some of your favorite snack bars)
- Internet access fees
- Gratuities for your OARS tour leader, your local expert guide and your driver (along with any incidental gratuities you wish to provide at restaurants, for luggage handlers or service providers you meet during the tour)
TRIP PREPARATION CHECKLIST
☐ Consider Purchasing Travel Protection: We recommend the purchase of the OARS Travel Protection Plan to help protect you before and during your trip. A travel protection plan can help with reimbursement of your non-refundable payments in the event you have to cancel your trip due to listed reasons such as a covered illness or injury. Because we begin working to prepare for your trip upon receipt of your deposit and may be turning other prospective guests away while holding space for you, there are cancellation fees that will apply regardless of why or when you might need to cancel. We list the cost for the optional OARS Travel Protection Plan on your trip invoice.
Beginning December 10, 2018, OARS will offer a travel protection plan that is administered by Arch Insurance Company. Insurance coverages are underwritten by Arch Insurance Company, NAIC #11150, under policy series LTP 2013 and endorsements thereto. Policies are administered by Arch Insurance Solutions Inc., 855-286-8351, CA license #0I18111, TX license #1787195. Your policy is the contract that specifically and fully describes your coverage. Certain restrictions and exclusions apply and coverages may vary in certain states. Please refer to your policy for detailed terms and conditions; online at: https://www.oars.com/tpp
Consumer disclosures can be found at: https://oars.archinsurancesolutions.com/disclosures
If you enrolled in a Trip Mate policy through OARS on or before December 9, 2018, the policy is still in place and will be administered by Trip Mate through the end date of your scheduled travel with OARS. All information provided in regards to the Trip Mate policy remains relevant. For a complete description of your Trip Mate policy, go online to: http://www.tripmate.com/wpF431X or call Trip Mate at 800-888-7292 (reference Plan #F431X).
Please note, we require all participants have a minimum of emergency medical evacuation coverage to participate. This coverage can be purchased as a stand-alone policy, or is typically included in a travel protection plan. If you don’t have proof of coverage at the start of the trip, you cannot take part in the expedition. For a basic policy that includes coverage for emergency medical and evacuation situations, visit www.oars.com/tmp
☐ Trip Forms (online): Each participant will need to complete the required trip forms within two weeks of making a booking. Refer to your confirmation e-mail for the link to the online forms. If you prefer to fill out paper forms, please let us know right away. If you are reserving within 90 days of departure, your forms must be completed immediately to ensure we can properly plan for your trip.
☐ Reserve flights, shuttles and lodging: Verify with your Adventure Consultant that your trip has met minimum numbers prior to booking flights and/or reserving overnight lodging for the night before and after your trip, if applicable.
☐ Physical Requirements: Your outdoor adventure will be an active participatory trip. Please inform us of any physical limitation you may have as soon as possible. Make sure you are exercising frequently in the months leading up to your trip.
☐ Payments: Final payment is due in our office 90 days prior to your trip (refer to your invoice for final payment date). Please let us know if you would like us to automatically charge your credit card on file when final payment is due.
Meeting Place & Time
An OARS representative will meet you outside the arrivals area at the Havana Airport. We include one group meet & greet for flights arriving no later than 2:00 PM.
For folks arriving later and missing the scheduled meet time, we can arrange a taxi to bring you to the group in town (at your own expense).
Getting to Havana, Cuba
If you intend to join us for the planned activities on day 1, you must arrive into Havana by 2:00 PM. We recommend you arrange a direct flight arriving in Havana (HAV) from one of several Florida airports: Miami (MIA), Tampa (TPA), Orlando (MCO) or Fort Lauderdale (FLL). Flights are offered by American, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue and Southwest.
Direct flights to Havana are available from other select U.S. cities, but they may not arrive by 2:00 PM. (Due to the constantly changing nature of commercial flights into Cuba, all services are subject to change.)
Please do not purchase airfare until your departure has been confirmed by OARS, ensuring the minimum number of required guests.
After Your Trip—Departing From Havana
On day 8, arrange a departing flight from Havana. OARS includes one group transfer to the Havana Int’l Airport. The included transfer will arrive to the airport at about 8:00 AM, in time for flights departing after 11:00 AM. Arrange a flight that works within this time frame, or you may arrange a taxi at your own expense to arrive ahead of or later than our included transfer.
Essential Travel Documents
Upon entry into Cuba, visitors must have a departing air ticket, a valid visa (tourist card), copy of your Traveler Certification Form and proof of traveler’s medical, evacuation and repatriation insurance (the required insurance is likely included with your flights—be sure to inquire with your airline).
If you don’t have a passport, apply for one immediately as the process can be lengthy. If you do have a passport, check the expiration date to ensure it is valid through your stay in Cuba. Also, ensure there are at least two blank pages in your passport. If there aren’t, apply to have extra pages added or renew your passport.
Do not pack your passport in your checked luggage. You may be asked for your papers at various times during the trip. If you are carrying a customs form, please keep it in a safe place at all times.
Travel Visa/Tourist Card (required by Cuba)
Once you’ve purchased your airline ticket, arrange your visa/tourist card—required for entering Cuba. You may be able to obtain the visa through your airline at the airport the same day you travel—check with your airline to see if this is an option. However, we recommend securing a visa in advance to avoid any problems the day you travel. A visa for Cuba can be arranged online with Cuba Visa Services: https://cubavisaservices.com/ or call 800-617-1902. If arranging a visa online, in the first drop-down menu titled “OFAC Category” be sure to indicate Support For the Cuban People. A visa can also be arranged through the consular services of the Cuban Embassy in the US: http://misiones.minrex.gob.cu/en/usa/consular-services#visa_turismo
The visa is a two-part card—Cuban immigration officials will take one half when you arrive in Cuba and you will relinquish the other half upon departure. Make sure to keep your Cuban visa in a safe place throughout your trip so you have it with you when you depart the country.
Non U.S. citizens should check with the consulates of each country for entry requirements.
If you were born in Cuba, a different visa process is required and you should alert your OARS Adventure Consultant right away.
Certification of Travel to Cuba (required by the U.S.)
We will provide you with the required certification of travel to Cuba document (commonly referred to as a travel affidavit or travel certificate). Please complete the form, retain a copy for your records and return a copy to us as soon as possible.
Please note that you must retain a copy of your trip itinerary & the certification of travel for 5 years.
Mandatory Medical, Evacuation and Repatriation Insurance
The Cuban government requires that you purchase a basic traveler’s policy that provides for medical, evacuation and repatriation. Airlines now include this in the price of a round trip ticket.
For a policy that includes coverage for emergency medical and evacuation situations, visit www.oars.com/tmp
We strongly recommend that you protect yourself, your belongings, and your vacation through the purchase of a travel protection plan. We offer the OARS Travel Protection Plan to help protect you, your travel investment and your belongings before and during your trip. Travel Protection can reimburse you for non-refundable payments if you should have to cancel your trip for a covered reason such as your illness or the illness of an immediate family member. For complete details go online to: www.oars.com/tpp
If you intend to travel with the insurance provided by an airline, you will need to retain a paper copy and/or an electronic copy of your boarding pass as proof of insurance. It is suggested that passengers also take a picture of their boarding pass with their cell phones in case the boarding pass is misplaced.
Make copies of the photo page of your passport, your Cuban Tourist Card (visa) and your Certificate of Travel to Cuba. Obtain two spare passport photos. Carry these items separately from your passport in case they are lost or stolen. It is also a good idea to leave a copy of your passport and Cuban Tourist Card with your emergency contact at home. If your documents are lost or stolen, a photocopy will help the local U.S. consulate speed up replacement authorization.
Travel in Cuba
Legal travel to Cuba falls under 12 categories, one of which is people-to-people travel. As defined by the U.S. Treasury Department, people-to-people travel is “intended to enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba, or promote the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities, and that will result in meaningful interaction between the traveler and individuals in Cuba.” As travelers under the people-to-people stipulations, we look forward to connecting our guests to the joys of Cuban culture.
Our accommodations throughout Cuba will be in casas particulares. A casa particular is a privately owned bed & breakfast run by a Cuban family. Guests will have separate rooms with private bathrooms (single or double occupancy). In some instances the group may be split between separate casas, in which case they will be a safe walk of only one to two blocks apart. These accommodations are often better maintained than the available government owned hotels. While the outside of some buildings in Cuba may appear outdated or worn, the facilities inside will be clean and comfortable. All accommodations are air conditioned and provide a safe for securing valuables.
Cuban cuisine is the result of a mixture of Spanish, Taino, African and Caribbean influences. The national dish is ajiaco, a stew of assorted root vegetables cooked with pork, poultry or beef. Other typical dishes include lechón asado (roast pork), fried green plantains (tachinos, chatinos or tostones), congrí (rice with red beans), moros y cristianos (rice with black beans), picadillo a la habanera (ground beef in tomato sauce), roast chicken and tamales. Most meals are served family-style and due to limited resources, may lack the spices and flavoring sauces travelers expect in other international destinations.
We need to know as soon as possible about any dietary restrictions we should consider when planning your trip. If you have food allergies or necessary dietary restrictions, we will do our best to accommodate your needs. Keep in mind that Cuba does not have the resources available that you may be accustomed to. Due to the limited availability of ingredients in certain locations, our hosts are often unable to cater to dietary preferences (likes or dislikes).
We will do our best to have options for vegetarian, vegan and many allergy-restricted diets. However, there are greater limits to what is offered and you may not find the same diversity or sophistication for restricted diets. If you have specific needs, you may want to bring your own snacks.
We will travel in a clean, comfortable passenger van or bus with air conditioning. The size and type of vehicle will vary with our group size.
One or two drinks are included at each meal, depending on your preference. Additional beverages will be available for purchase. While coffee is popular and widely available, decaffeinated coffee and tea are not. If you’re a tea drinker and have a tea you’re fond of, we recommend that you bring some with you.
While you’re there, you may want to try one of the many award-winning varieties of Cuban rum, perhaps in one of its signature cocktails such as the mojito, Cuba libre, daiquiri or saoco.
We recommend you drink only bottled or previously boiled water. We will provide two bottles of water per day for each guest. You can bring a refillable water bottle, but you may find it unnecessary to have along.
Bathrooms in Cuba can tend to be not as clean as we are used to in the United States. At certain stops along the trip it’s possible that the toilets will not have toilet seats. Oftentimes there is a bathroom attendant whose job it is to make sure there is paper and soap for you. While the use of the bathroom is always free, it is appropriate to leave a small tip of 10-25 cents for this person. It’s always also a good idea to travel with a small pack of tissues.
The electrical current in Cuba is 110v (the same as in the U.S. and Canada), so you shouldn’t need a converter. But while most outlets are of the two flat-prong type used here (without the round ground plug), there are a variety of other outlet types, so we recommend you bring a plug adapter. In Cuba the power sockets used are of type A / B / C / L. Visit http://www.power-plugs-sockets.com/cuba/ for more information.
In addition to your regular camera case, we recommend using extra protection such as a zip-lock bag, a waterproof camera case or a small dry bag. Water and dust can be a problem—so clean your camera every night with tissue, a brush and lens paper. We strongly recommend you take out a rider on your homeowner’s policy to cover your camera—especially if it’s fine equipment. If you are planning to bring a digital camera, don’t forget extra media cards, batteries, etc. Disposable waterproof and panorama cameras are also a fun option.
Electronics & Technology
The use of electronic devices, especially music players, on your trip may represent an intrusion into the experience of your fellow guests. We ask that you please be mindful of the impacts to others and respect the immersive nature of the trip. Please bring headphones if you intend to listen to music during the trip.
Shops can be found throughout the towns we visit and at the airport. Cuban cigars, rum, liqueurs, arts & crafts, T-shirts and other souvenirs are “goods” purchases. For goods taken out of the country, it’s best to retain receipts as proof of purchase when exiting the country, although some vendors don’t provide one. Goods made from black coral, tortoise shell and sea shells will be confiscated by Customs.
There is no specific dollar limit on authorized expenses. Authorized travelers may engage in transactions ordinarily incidental to travel within Cuba, including payment of living expenses and the acquisition in Cuba of goods for personal consumption there; other expenditures, other than those directly incidental to the traveler’s authorized activities in Cuba, are not authorized. There is no limit of cigars or rum that can be purchased in Cuba. Artwork and handicrafts are allowed to be brought back to the U.S. These items must be for personal consumption and cannot be resold.
We request that you do not smoke in vehicles, at meals, accommodation or in group situations. We have asked our guides, drivers and staff who smoke to follow the same consideration.
Many of our guests travel with their smartphone even though there are almost no U.S. cellular companies with service and infrastructure in Cuba. If there is an emergency, our guides are equipped to communicate using phones and internet as needed. Having said that, you may want to check with your cell service provider and ask if they have coverage in Cuba. And if you must have cellular access, an unlocked quad-band GSM cell phone will work in Cuba. You will need to buy a SIM card upon arrival.
Likewise, public internet service is very limited and spotty at best in most locations. If available, it will typically cost you CUC$1 for an hour of WiFi. The casas particulares where we stay generally do not have internet. In the end, it’s best to plan to be without internet during your visit to Cuba.
If you have someone that needs to contact you about an emergency at home, they should call our office at 800-346-6277 and we will relay the message to you. Keep in mind it could be several days or longer before the message actually reaches you. For your family at home, you should define what you consider an emergency and provide them with instructions to call our office in the event one occurs during your travels.
U.S. currency is not accepted in Cuba, nor are credit cards issued by U.S. banks. There are two forms of currency in Cuba: the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) and the Cuban Non-Convertible Peso (CUP), or Meneda Nacional (MN). While Cubans will refer to both forms of currency as pesos, travelers will most often use the Cuban Convertible Peso to pay for goods and services while in Cuba. These services include bars, restaurants, shops and gratuities. Many stores and restaurants price their goods in CUC. When receiving change, check that you receive it in CUC.
You will need to exchange money upon arrival in Cuba as you cannot buy Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) outside of Cuba. Once in Cuba, currency can be exchanged at the airport, banks and Cadecas (exchange bureau). Each will use the same government regulated rate. We recommend exchanging as much as you can while you are at the airport. It will be helpful later if you ask for small denominations. You will need your passport when exchanging money. Exchange, spend or donate any remaining currency before leaving Cuba as it cannot be used or exchanged outside of Cuba.
U.S. dollars are subject to a 13% tax on converting USD to CUC. Euros or Canadian dollars are subject to a lower exchange rate (4-5% less) which varies daily. We only recommend taking CAD or Euros if you can purchase them in the United States at a favorable rate and with a commission charge of less than 5%.
For planning ahead, US$1 currently equals $0.87 CUC after exchange fees. Check for the latest exchange rate at www.xe.com
While we provide many of the meals on the trip, there are a couple meals on your own, any extra drinks not included in your meals, taxi rides you may take on your own (during free time), gratuities and souvenir shopping. These costs add up, and you will not have a way of getting more cash after we leave Havana. Be sure you bring enough cash to exchange at the airport or while in Havana. To cover all possible expenses, we suggest arriving with US$600-$800.
Credit & Debit Cards
U.S. credit and debit cards don’t work so remember to bring enough cash with you to last the whole trip. If you have a credit card issued by a non-U.S. bank, it may be accepted, but many places won’t accept them and technical issues with credit and ATM/debit cards are common. Additionally, if they do work transactions are often slow to process. This may change in the future, but we recommend in the meantime you rely on cash only.
Cuba is in the Eastern Time Zone—the same as New York and Miami.
Spanish is the official language in Cuba, while Haitian Creole is the second most common language.
There are no public laundry facilities in Cuba. If you need laundry service it may be available at any given casa particular – some may offer the service, others will not. Ask your host and make sure it will be ready by the time we depart. Generally the price is between CUC$6-8 for a small bag of clothes, but confirm the cost first.
If you are taking any prescription drugs, be certain that you bring a sufficient supply to last through the trip. Travel with the original containers and carry important medications in your carry-on bag. You may not find your commonly used drugs in Cuba.
Talk with your doctor about Cipro or other over-the-counter options as a treatment for potential stomach ailments.
Although there are no required immunizations for entry into Cuba, we recommend you contact your doctor or local travel clinic for information about recommended vaccinations. As part of routine travel vaccines, they may suggest you get inoculated against Typhoid, Hepatitis A and/or B, and Tetanus. More information is provided at the CDC:
For Women Only
Even if you aren’t anticipating your menstrual period, come prepared for it, as you may not be able to easily purchase supplies when in Cuba. You can use sandwich sized Ziploc baggies during the day to store feminine products while you are on the water or hiking, and you can then discretely dispose of the baggies when you reach our lodging accommodations. When possible, we recommend o.b.® tampons, which are 1/3 the size of regular tampons, tuck discreetly into pockets and have less paper wrapping. If you use pads, be sure to bring extras. Many women suggest bringing a small supply of baby wipes.
Our trips take place during North American winter & spring, avoiding the uncomfortable heat and humidity of summer. During these months there are influences of cold air masses coming from the north, but they are typically of short duration. In winter, the average daily temperature is around 70°F, but may drop to the low 60’s°F during colder days. Annual rainfall averages about 52 inches; more than 60% of that rain falls during the wet season, which extends from May to October. That said, you’ll want to be prepared for rain anytime during your visit.
The north coast, home to Havana, tends to be a little cooler, while the southern coast is warmer. With little precipitation and many hours of sunshine, Cuba is a pleasant country to visit.
|Havana °F||Sea Temp (Cuba) °F|
You may want to check one week prior to your trip for an up-to-date weather forecast. We recommend you check the following web site: www.cubaweather.org
Essential Eligibility Criteria
The following are the physical and mental eligibility criteria for all participants.
1. Ability to remain balanced while seated inside the cockpit of a touring kayak.
2. Wear a Type III Coast Guard-approved personal floatation device (maximum chest size of 56 inches). Wearing leg straps may be required to ensure proper fit.
3. Ability to independently board and disembark a touring kayak four to ten times each day. This may require stepping into the boat, sitting down on the low seat, and then maneuvering your legs into a comfortable position.
4. Ability to independently navigate shoreline terrain, including safely maneuvering around and across boulders, rocks, and slippery and uneven surfaces, under low branches, and around vegetation. This includes the ability to maintain your balance near precipitous ledges or cliffs.
5. Ability to independently swim 100 yards in flat water while wearing a PFD. This includes being an active participant in your own rescue, including having the ability to (a) keep your airway passages sealed while underwater, and regain control of your breathing when being submitted to repeated submersion under waves or currents; (b) orient yourself to new “in-river” surroundings; (c) reposition yourself in the water to different swimming positions; (d) swim aggressively to a boat or to shore; (e) receive a rescue rope, paddle, or human assistance, and possibly let go of the same; (f) get out from under an overturned boat.
6. Ability to follow both verbal and non-verbal instructions given by guides in all situations, including during stressful or dangerous situations, and to effectively communicate with guides and other guests.
7. Ability to carry personal dry bags and other personal gear (as heavy as 20-30 pounds) uphill from the boats to your camping location and back the next morning, independently, or with the assistance of a friend or family member. (This only applies on multi-day trips).
8. Ability to manage all personal care independently, or with the assistance of a friend or family member.
9. If taking prescription medications, have the ability to maintain proper dosage by medicating independently, or with the assistance of a friend or family member.
10. Ability to remain adequately fed, hydrated, and properly dressed so as to avoid environmental injuries such as hypothermia, heat related illness, sunburn and frostbite.
The above criteria, if not met, will disqualify a person from participating in a river trip with OARS. The criteria exist for your own safety and that of all trip participants. None of the criteria are meant to discriminate on the basis of any physical or mental disability, and are applied uniformly to all potential trip participants, irrespective of the presence or absence of any disability. OARS is committed to making reasonable modifications to any trip for any persons with a disability, so long as they do not fundamentally alter the nature of the trip.
Further Information About Our Expectations of Trip Participants
The following paragraphs are meant to further inform all potential participants of the expectations for all participants in order to promote a safe, enjoyable experience for everyone on a trip. There may be requirements, whether physical or mental, that are not specifically applied “essential eligibility criteria”, but that help our guests understand the reality of being on a wilderness river trip.
Our primary goal is to minimize the risks associated with adventure trips in a wilderness environment. The trip involves physical exertion and exposure to the elements, including cold water and the potential for heat, sun, wind, rain and snow. We have experience accommodating people with a wide range of physical disabilities and/or health conditions. However, individuals who are overweight, lack conditioning, or have other physical limitations or ailments that interfere with the realistic encounters on the wilderness can endanger themselves, other guests, and the guides. Please consult your doctor if you have medical or health conditions that could impact your ability to participate in this outdoor adventure.
It is very important that each trip participant take an active role in their own safety. You will likely encounter wilderness conditions that you are unfamiliar with, and those conditions may change rapidly. It is critical to pay attention at all times, to be aware of your surroundings, and to avoid taking unnecessary risks. Even a non-life threatening injury in a wilderness setting can become a major emergency for you, and can endanger the entire group. Swimming alone or hiking alone is discouraged. Excessive alcohol consumption or illicit drug use is not tolerated. Using common sense and following both the explicit instruction and the lead of your guides can go a long way towards keeping yourself and the group safe. Some obvious things to avoid in camp and on shore (by way of example) are: walking around without shoes in camp, approaching wild animals, not paying attention to what is above or around your tent site that could harm you, not paying attention to hazards such as poison ivy and rattlesnakes, and walking near precipitous ledges.
Wilderness kayaking trips are inherently risky. While the risk of a trip is part of what makes it an exciting adventure, you must be entirely respectful of the risk that such a trip poses. It is important that you are confident in your swimming ability, and your ability to stay calm in the event you become a non-voluntary swimmer.
Due to the physical nature of this trip, we highly recommend that you engage in regular exercise for at least three months prior to departure to ensure preparedness. No gym membership required! Simple exercises like push-ups, sit-ups and squats go a long way to improving core fitness. Start with these exercises and do three sets of ten repetitions each, three to four times per week. Aerobic training is also easy to accomplish without expensive equipment. Take 30 – 40 minutes two to three times a week and go for a brisk walk, easy jog or bike ride around town. If you have access to a pool, lake or the ocean, swimming is obviously an ideal choice for aerobic exercise. It provides a full-body workout and is training that is useful in the event of an involuntary swim in a whitewater rapid. It is important to push yourself in the months leading up to your trip by increasing your strength training repetitions and the pace of your aerobic training. Check with your doctor prior to beginning any exercise program to be sure you are medically safe to participate. Starting an exercise program that is more strenuous than you are ready for may result in injury or risk exacerbating existing health conditions. Getting in shape will certainly add to your enjoyment of the trip.
Packing for Your Trip
Equipment & Clothing
We recommend comfortable, loose-fitting clothes for this trip. Cotton and other light, natural fabrics are ideal for the conditions in Cuba. Consider a light-weight sweater or jacket for public places that may be overly air-conditioned or for the occasional cool night or chilly morning. Keep in mind you’ll spend one afternoon on an electric bike!
A good, sturdy walking shoe is important for a trip like this, in which you’ll spend a lot of time on your feet. Consider a lightweight running shoe or similar. For evenings or time by the water, consider bringing a sport sandal that can get wet or flip flops. Find professional-grade options made by Chaco®, the official footwear sponsor of OARS guides.
If you plan to buy footwear for the trip, make sure you to break them in and wear your footwear until their comfy—if your feet hurt you won’t enjoy the trip.
After an active day, you may want to refresh and change into clean, comfortable clothing. Soft, loose-fitting shorts or pants, t-shirts, etc. will allow you to truly relax in the evening. While there is no need for anything fancy, ladies may enjoy a dress in the evening and in Cuba men do not wear shorts to evening events, they wear slacks.
Protecting yourself from the sun should be taken very seriously. A sun hat, sunscreen, lip balm and sunglasses are a must. It’s a good idea to have a long-sleeved shirt and lightweight long pants (preferably light colors) to cover up when you need a break from the sun. Women may prefer to bring a sarong or a piece of fabric to be used as a cover up. At the end of each day you will want to have some good moisturizing lotion or cream to replenish your skin from the drying effects of the sun and water.
Bugs & Mosquitoes
Bugs and mosquitoes vary depending on location. It’s a good idea to come prepared with insect repellent. Long sleeved shirts and pants may be desirable at times. Sensitive travelers should carry Benadryl and other over-the-counter or prescription medications.
Equipment and Personal Items:
☐ Day pack/bag
☐ Sunglasses (preferably polarized) with securing strap and a spare
☐ Toiletries (may be provided, but poor quality)
☐ Sunscreen and lip protection: waterproof & SPF 30 or higher (aerosol sprays not recommended)
☐ Moisturizing lotion
☐ Insect repellent and creams to relieve itching
☐ Personal first aid kit (Band-aids, Benadryl, antibiotic ointment, ibuprofen, moleskin, eye drops, etc.)
☐ Toilet paper (as public restrooms rarely have it)
☐ Spare pair of glasses and/or contacts
☐ Headlamp or small travel light (with batteries)
☐ Cash for gratuities
☐ Athletic shoes or light hikers
☐ Sandals or flip flops for evenings
☐ Hiking/walking socks (2-4 pair)
☐ Long pants: lightweight for hiking, touring or city wear, also sun or bug protection
☐ Long-sleeved shirt: lightweight and light color for sun or bug protection
☐ Shade hat or visor with securing strap and a spare
☐ Waterproof rain jacket & pants
☐ Shorts: 1-2 pair
☐ Light sweater or jacket
☐ 1-liter water bottle: durable and reusable
☐ Bathing wipes: pre-moistened disposable towels
☐ Plastic bags to separate dirty and/or wet clothes from clean
☐ Camera and accessories
☐ Sketchbook, notebook and pen, paperback book
☐ Mid-day snacks
Find all the gear you need for your trip online in the OARStore and receive FREE SHIPPING in the U.S. + 15% of your purchase helps provide under-resourced youth with outdoor adventure experiences.
Packing Your Gear
We recommend you avoid checking a bag and attempt to have carry-on items only, as checked bags are often subject to long delays before appearing. Attire is very casual with comfort, convenience and space taking precedence over style. Bring only what is necessary to save time packing and repacking. Extra baggage can be an unwanted burden for yourself and others.
For your main bag, a good quality duffel or other soft-sided luggage is preferred as it packs easily into our vehicle. Bring a small day-pack for daily excursions.
It’s convenient to bring extra stuff sacks or plastic bags to keep things organized within your bag. It’s also a good idea to bring a money belt or passport pouch to keep your valuables organized.
While Cuba is a safe country with little crime, we recommend only carrying the items you need for the day and a copy of your passport. We recommend leaving the majority of your cash and your passport in the room safe, if available. When staying at casa particulares, some do not have safety boxes in their rooms. If you don’t feel comfortable leaving your valuables in the house, you can always bring them and leave them in the vehicle, which will always be locked and guarded.
Tipping is optional, but appreciated by our staff. If you’re wondering how much to tip, you may consider that we operate in a service industry with a host of behind-the-scenes contributors in addition to the guides on your trip. In general, we suggest a gratuity based on general amounts for each person that helps make your trip possible:
Lead Guide: US$6-$10 per person, per day
Driver(s): US$3-$5 per person, per day
Restaurants (for meals on your own): 10% (if a service charge is not included on the bill)
Gratuities may be given to the Lead Guide, who will then distribute appropriately with any support staff.
Many folks ask if it is better to tip in US Dollars rather than CUC’s. US Dollars are welcome, however keep in mind that the recipient will have to exchange US Dollars into CUC and incur the exchange fees.
In reviewing your statement, you’ll note a $1 per person per day donation to Waterkeeper Alliance, a non-profit conservation organization dedicated to fishable, swimmable and drinkable waterways worldwide. One-hundred percent of these funds go directly to worldwide watershed protection, and your contribution is tax-deductible. Please notify our office if you would prefer to delete the donation from your balance.
If you enjoyed your trip, consider donating to The Pam & George Wendt Foundation. This organization is a not-for-profit 501 (c) 3 organization with the express goal of providing opportunities for young people to experience the magic of the outdoors. Visit https://www.oars.com/oars-foundation/ to learn more about how a tax-deductible donation can change young lives for the better.
Get free shipping on OARS gear + give back! 15% of all purchases help fund outdoor adventures for under-resourced youth
Shop for the latest in top-quality clothing, footwear & outdoor gear
Explore gear made and tested for water-lovers
OARS practices Leave No Trace outdoor ethics
Terms & Conditions
Reservations & Deposit
An $800/person deposit is required at the time of reservation. The balance is due 90 days prior to departure.
Cancellations and Refunds
If you find it necessary to cancel your trip, please notify us as soon as possible. The cancellation fee after you’ve made your deposit can range up to the entire trip cost, based upon the number of days prior to your trip that we receive your cancellation notice. We regret we cannot make exceptions for personal emergencies. For this reason, we strongly urge you to consider purchasing a travel protection plan (see Travel Protection).
|DATE OF CANCELLATION||CANCELLATION FEE|
|90 or more days prior to your trip||$250/person|
|89 to 60 days or less prior||$500/person|
|59 to 30 days prior to your trip||50% of the trip price/person|
|29 to 0 days prior to your trip||100% of the trip price/person|
Under most circumstances, if you are of an adventurous spirit and in reasonably good health, you should have no problem enjoying an OARS adventure. People with medical conditions, including pregnancy, should have a physician’s approval before taking an adventure travel trip.
We offer the OARS Travel Protection Plan to help protect you, your travel investment and your belongings before and during your trip. Travel Protection can reimburse you for non-refundable payments if you should have to cancel your trip for a covered reason such as your illness or the illness of an immediate family member. For complete details go online to: https://www.oars.com/tpp
If you enrolled in a Trip Mate policy through OARS on or before December 9, 2018, the policy is still in place and will be administered by Trip Mate through the end date of your scheduled travel with OARS. All information provided in regards to the Trip Mate policy remains relevant. For a complete description of your Trip Mate policy, go online to: http://www.tripmate.com/wpF431X or call Trip Mate at 800-888-7292 (reference Plan #F431X).
Cuba requires all visitors have basic traveler’s medical, evacuation and repatriation insurance coverage. You must have this to enter the country. Airlines now include basic coverage in the price of their round-trip ticket, enough to meet the requirement. For a separate policy that includes coverage for emergency medical, evacuation and repatriation situations, and more, visit www.oars.com/tmp
Everyone is required to sign a standard liability release form before the trip, acknowledging awareness that there are inherent risks associated with the trip. Due to the nature of the activities, a condition of your participation is that you will sign this form and return it to our office before the trip begins. Anyone who refuses to sign the form will not be allowed to participate, and consistent with O.A.R.S. International cancellation policy, there will be no refund of the trip fees at that time.
Responsibility – An Important Notice
O.A.R.S International, Inc. and Experience Cuba, act only in the capacity of agent for the participants in all matters relating to transportation and/or all other related travel services, and assume no responsibility however caused for injury, loss or damage to person or property in connection with any service, including but not limited to that resulting directly or indirectly from acts of God, detention, annoyance, delays and expenses arising from quarantine, strikes, theft, pilferage, force majeure, failure of any means of conveyance to arrive or depart as scheduled, civil disturbances, government restrictions or regulations, and discrepancies or change in transit over which it has no control. Reasonable changes in itinerary may be made where deemed advisable for the comfort and well-being of the participants, including cancellation due to water fluctuation, insufficient bookings (this trip requires a minimum of 6 guests), and other factors. There is risk in whitewater rafting, particularly during high-water conditions. Rafts, dories and kayaks do capsize. You could be swept overboard. Your guide will make every attempt to assist, but you must be strong and agile enough to “self-help” and “float-it-out” without further endangering yourself or others. We reserve the right not to accept passengers weighing more than 260 pounds or with a waist/chest size exceeding 56 inches. We may decide, at any time, to exclude any person or group for any reason we feel is related to the safety of our trips. We are experienced at accommodating people with various disabilities. Please give us an opportunity to make you feel welcome. We need to discuss any special requirements ahead of time. On advancement of deposit the depositor agrees to be bound by the above recited terms and conditions. Prices subject to change without notice.
OARS trips occur in areas where unpredictable environmental conditions are to be expected. To moderate dangerous situations for our guests and guides, it is important that all travelers obey the rules and regulations as determined by the managing agencies and the Trip Leader and demonstrate reasonable consideration for other guests and OARS employees. We reserve the right to remove any guest from a trip if, in our opinion, that guest’s actions or behaviors pose a threat to the safety of her/himself or others, or if those actions or behaviors compromise the enjoyment of the trip for others. Should a guest be asked to leave a trip, there will be no refund for the unused portion, nor will OARS be responsible for additional expenses incurred by the guest for accommodations, return transport, change fees, etc.
Experience Cuba, a travel partner of O.A.R.S. International, is the operator of this trip. A representative will meet you at the start of the trip and escort you throughout the program. These international staff members are the very best and will strive to ensure your complete satisfaction. The government of Cuba also provides a guide to accompany and oversee all tourist activity.