|MEETING PLACE:||Jose Marti International Airport, Havana, Cuba|
|MEETING TIME:||11:00 AM on itinerary day 1|
|DEPARTURE:||After 11:00 AM from Havana, Cuba|
|AGE LIMIT:||Minimum age is 12|
|TRIP LENGTH:||8 days / 7 nights (allow additional days for travel)|
|ACTIVITIES:||Sea kayaking, sight-seeing, hiking, snorkeling|
Discover western Cuba by kayak on our eight-day tour through its coastlines and cities, mountains and wetlands. The tour takes off from 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 isolated lagoons on a trip that both makes you want to paddle faster to see the views to come, 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 Finca Vigia, Colonial Havana, the Bay of Pigs, Playa Larga, and Cienfuegos, 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 one-of-a-kind sea kayaking and 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 government partner company. We have selected an ambitious itinerary to see many of Cuba’s natural places and maximize the variety of ecosystems we explore by kayak.
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 maintains control of daily tourism activity and may influence the final destinations and pace of the trip without notice. 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 and Visit Finca Vigia – Hemingway’s Home
¡Bienvenidos a Cuba!
We meet at 11:00 AM* at Jose Marti International Airport in Havana 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 at 11:00 AM, please arrive into Havana no later than 10:00 AM.
We stop for lunch and our first taste of local fare at a paladar (private restaurant) before a thirty minute drive to the suburbs and Finca Vigia, Hemingway’s former Moorish-style home that has been turned into the Museo de Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway wrote several of his most beloved novels and won his Nobel Prize while living here. We’ll tour the grounds to see his favorite writing spot, where his typewriter still stands in memorial, and the pool where he entertained Hollywood stars.
We complete the day’s travel with a drive to our hotel, where there will be time to refresh before we enjoy a delicious dinner at a local restaurant. Hotel Telegrafo, Hotel Presidente, or similar
Day 2: Old Havana and Playa Larga – Zapata Nat’l Park
We wake early and 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. We will have lunch in Havana Vieja and then leave Havana for our next destination, Playa Larga. Our drive will take about two-and-a-half hours.
On our way to Playa Larga we will enter the small village of Palpite where we will have a People-to-People encounter with Bernabé and Juana. They will open the doors of their home to us where they have planted flowering shrubs to attract one of Cuba’s most special birds, the Bee Hummingbird, which has the distinction of being the smallest bird in the world and is endemic to Cuba.
Following a short drive to Playa Larga, we’ll check-in to our hotel or casa particular before heading out to explore this seaside town sitting on the Bahía de Cochinos. 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
Day 3: Kayak Las Salinas and Playa Giron
We wake early to make our way to the Las Salinas salt flats, home to droves of exotic birds such as flamingos, spoonbills, hawks, and herons. Our one-hour drive is well rewarded, as we launch into the mangrove-rich waters for our day’s kayak outing. We have plenty of opportunities to look for flocks of birds congregating above the water, or the massive bone fish that can clearly be seen swimming just below the surface. We are accompanied by our kayak guide as well as a park ranger, both of whom share their knowledge of the area’s flora and fauna.
We’ll enjoy a picnic lunch on the beach, then head to more open waters as we loop back on our kayak journey. After a full day of paddling, we’ll drive one-and-a-half hours to the seaside town of Playa Giron. We stay at a locally owned casa particular and enjoy dinner with our hosts. Casa Particular
Day 4: Snorkel Caribbean Reefs and Kayak the Southern Coast – Guajimico
We enjoy a hearty breakfast before visiting one of the area’s best snorkeling locations, offering crystal-clear water and filled with colorful fish. (Our first choice is Punta Perdiz, but we may choose Caleta Buena depending on the weather.)
Following our snorkeling excursion, we travel the rolling countryside for about two hours to reach Villa Guajimico, a seaside resort with private cabins nestled among the hills east of Cienfuegos. We’ll stop for a picnic lunch on our way. This afternoon’s kayaking excursion along the beautiful cliffs of the Guajimico Villa is with a local guide, exploring the mushrooming coral reefs just off the shoreline. Weather permitting, there may be another opportunity to snorkel in the clear waters, giving you a better view of the diverse marine life that call the coral reefs home. If time allows, we may have the option to explore a nearby cave via a short hike.
We return to the Villa to dine in the open warm breeze if weather permits. Villa Guajimico
Day 5: Kayak Guanaroca and Explore Cienfuegos
Today’s excursion to the glistening waters of Laguna Guanaroca takes about an hour, where we launch the kayaks for another outing on the water. Lying south of Cienfuegos, Laguna Guanaroca’s mangrove-trimmed saline waters make a stunning kayaking location. It’s second only to Las Salinas as a bird mecca, so prepare yourself for sightings of flamingo, cormorants, pelicans and more. There’s nothing like kayaking in peaceful solitude, disturbed only by the calls of birds and the shuffling of their wings in flight.
From Guanaroca, still in our kayaks, we enter the bay of Cienfuegos and paddle about two hours toward a remote seaside restaurant near la Milpa, where we enjoy a fresh lunch and sunshine. Our vehicle meets us here and we continue on about thirty minutes to Cienfuegos, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
This winsome, seafront city has such an ethereal allure that it’s known as the “Pearl of the South.” Settle into your room before 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. We enjoy the views and dinner before making our way back to our casas for the evening. Hotel Union, Hotel Jagua or Casa Particular
Day 6: Kayak Hanabanilla and Explore Rio Negro
We continue our trend of nautical mornings as our two-hour inland journey delivers us to Lago Hanabanilla, a lake lying north of the Escambray Mountains. It’s the only intra-mountainous lake in central Cuba, and we spend our morning kayak surrounded by lush tropical rainforest.
Our kayaks take us to the Río Negro area, where once three river outlets from the mountains fed the lake. Rio Negro is now the name of an isolated mountain restaurant with panoramic views of the lake where we enjoy today’s lunch. If water levels permit, we visit El Salto de los Helechos, a waterfall known for its crisp, cool waters. Most people can’t resist taking a dip. Enjoy the crashing water and the dense verdure surrounding you before we head back for evening cocktails and a delicious dinner. Hotel Hanabanilla
Day 7: Lago Hanabanilla and Return to Havana
After breakfast in our mountain setting, we set out for a morning kayak excursion, circumnavigating some of the lake’s islets before our three-and-a-half-hour drive back to Havana. On the way, we’ll enjoy a lunch stop at restaurant Finca Campesino in the province of Matanzas.
Our goal is to arrive back in Havana around 2:00-3:00 PM. This afternoon there’s some flexibility in our Havana activities. We’ll plan to visit the Mercado San Jose, an old warehouse in the harbor that is now a large souvenir and art market. If the Mercado does’t suit your fancy and you want to take a seat and watch Cuban life go by, make your way to a local paladar, grab a mojito of famous Cuban rum, and relax!
Our tour of the city concludes at a fine paladar for our farewell dinner. Afterward you may choose to see what Havana’s nightlife has to offer before turning in for the evening. Hotel Presidente or similar
Day 8: Adios Havana!
We wake early and sit down for a hearty breakfast before heading to the airport for flights scheduled to depart at or after 11:00 AM (this transfer is included in the trip). Folks needing to arrive to the airport earlier, or are departing later, can make their own way by taxi at any time. Exchange any extra currency you have leftover at the airport before catching your return flight home!
Included in Your Trip Cost
- Skilled, professional, local guide service provided by our affiliate operator and the Cuban government
- 7 nights lodging in Cuba
- Meals from lunch on day 1 through breakfast on day 8, including 1 beverage at each meal
- Bottled water at meals and on the bus
- Expedition equipment, including single and double touring kayaks with rudder system and hatches, spray skirts, PFD’s, fiberglass and plastic paddles and small day dry bag
- Airport arrival meet & greet on day 1 and return transfer on day 8 (one each, within specified times)
- Sightseeing and activities as noted in the itinerary
- Ground transportation with certified, professional drivers
- Gratuities for presenters, luggage handlers, restaurant staff and designated activity guides throughout your tour
Not Included in Your Trip Cost
- Airfare to and from Havana, Cuba
- Cuban 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 stay in Cuba before and/or after your official guided tour begins)
- Single supplement ($250)
- Excess baggage charges
- Airport departure taxes (normally included in your airline ticket, approximately US$25)
- Insurance of any kind, including mandatory medical, evacuation & repatriation coverage
- Items of a personal nature and equipment outlined in personal equipment list
- Snorkeling gear (mask & snorkel and fins) and wetsuit. NOTE you may find the snorkeling does not require fins and therefore may prefer to travel without them
- Sodas and alcoholic drinks not included with meals
- 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 and Cuban guide (optional)
TRIP PREPARATION CHECKLIST
☐ Consider Purchasing Travel Protection: 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 very basic coverage in the price of their round-trip ticket, enough to meet the requirement. However we recommend you consider a more comprehensive policy, such as offered by InterMedical.
We highly recommend you protect yourself, your belongings and your vacation with the purchase of a more comprehensive Travel Protection Plan. A Travel Protection Plan can help cover your non-refundable payments should you have to cancel your trip due to 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. The cost for the optional Travel Protection is listed on your trip invoice. All Plan Benefits are administered by Trip Mate, Inc. (in CA & UT, dba Trip Mate Insurance Agency). For a complete description of Trip Mate’s Plan online go to: http://www.tripmate.com/wpf431X or call Trip Mate at 800-888-7292 (reference Plan #F431X).
☐ 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 before 11:00 AM. On the way to the hotel, we stop for lunch and enjoy some sightseeing around Havana.
For folks arriving later and missing the 11:00 AM meet time, you can arrange a taxi to catch up with 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 in time for our 11:00 AM meet time. We recommend you arrange a direct flight arriving in Havana (HAV), no later than 10:00 AM, from Florida: Miami (MIA), Tampa (TPA), Orlando (MCO) or Fort Lauderdale (FLL) since flights from these airports arrive in time to meet the group. These flights are offered by American, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue and Southwest.
Direct flights to Havana are also available from other select U.S. cities, but they may not arrive in time for our 11:00 AM meet time (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 please arrange a departing flight from Havana. OARS includes one group transfer to 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. Please arrange a flight that works within this time frame (alternatively, you may arrange a taxi at your own expense).
Essential Travel Documents
Upon entry into Cuba, visitors must have a return air ticket, evidence of sufficient funds for their minimum financial needs, a valid visa (tourist card), copy of your Traveler Certification Form and proof of travel medical, evacuation and repatriation insurance. Proof of insurance is a policy, insurance certificate, or travelling assistance card valid for the time you will stay in Cuba. This may incorporated into your airfare—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 for at least 6 months from your planned entry into Cuba. Also, if you do not have at least two blank pages in your passport, we recommend that you apply to have extra pages added.
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 the same day you travel, through your airline at the airport—check with your airline to see if this is an option. However, we highly 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 Educational – People to People. A visa can also be arranged through the consular services of the Cuban Embassy in the US: http://www.cubadiplomatica.cu/eeuu/EN/ConsularServices.aspx
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.
Certification of Travel to Cuba (required by the U.S.)
We will provide you with the required form of certification of travel to Cuba (commonly referred to as a travel affidavit or travel certificate). Please complete the form, retain copies for your records and return it to us as soon as possible. You should travel with several copies as you may need to surrender a copy when you fly, when you arrive in Cuba and when you depart.
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, enough to meet the minimum requirement set forth by the Cuban government. For more extensive coverage, call or visit Travel Insurance Services at 800-937-1387 for inexpensive options that go beyond this requirement.
We strongly recommend that you protect yourself, your belongings, and your vacation through the purchase of a travel protection plan. For those unforeseen circumstances that may arise before or during your trip, we offer an optional Travel Protection Plan from Trip Mate, Inc. (in CA & UT, dba Trip Mate Insurance Agency) that can help protect you, your travel investment and your belongings. Should you have to cancel your trip due to illness or injury—your own or that of an immediate family member—non-refundable payments may be covered by a travel protection plan (see Cancellations and Refunds). For a complete description of Trip Mate’s plan online go to: http://www.tripmate.com/wpf431X or call Trip Mate at 800-888-7292 (reference Plan #F431X). Please Note: Purchase this Plan within 14 days of the date we receive your initial deposit and the exclusion for Pre-Existing Medical Conditions will be waived, provided you are not disabled from travel at the time the plan is purchased.
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.
Sea Kayak – The ultimate flat water explorer—at home in open seas or inches from shore. Stealthy, quiet and quick, sea kayaks offer the premier platform for wildlife viewing. From alpine lakes in Wyoming to island hopping in Baja, sea kayaks are a low-impact way to get out on the water. Our fleet consists of a mix of RTM (a French brand) plastic kayaks with a few Necky brand kayaks for larger paddlers. We have a mix of plastic and fiberglass Nimbus and Werner paddles, all of which can be feathered. We encourage people to paddle doubles and we will bring a couple singles to share so that everyone gets the chance to paddle a single at some time. Our average paddling distance will be two to three miles. At times we may be able to extend our paddling session if the group has paddlers keen to do so.
Our accommodations throughout Cuba will vary between hotels and casas particulars. A casa particular is a privately owned bed & breakfast run by a Cuban family. Guests will have separate rooms with private bathrooms. 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 hotels. While the outside of some buildings in Cuba may appear outdated or worn, the lodgings inside will be clean and comfortable. All accommodations are air conditioned.
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.
We will travel in clean, comfortable coaches with air conditioning. Most often they will be 16-passenger, but may vary depending upon group size.
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.
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.
Due to the limited availability of ingredients in certain locations, we are often unable to cater to dietary preferences (likes or dislikes).
One drink is included at each meal. Additional sodas and alcohol will be available for purchase during your trip, although the selection may be limited. While coffee is popular and widely available, tea is not. If you’re a tea drinker and have a tea you’re fond of, we recommend that you bring some with you. Bottled water will be provided during our tour.
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 bottled water at meals and on the bus. Please bring a refillable water bottle or similar device that can be refilled while traveling, kayaking or nights in hotels and casas. Bottled water that is available during overnight stays will have an additional cost to you.
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, 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 zip-lock plastic bags, a waterproof camera case or a small dry bag with padding. We will supply a small day dry bag for paddling, but if you intend to paddle with expensive camera equipment or other electronic device that needs to be protected from water, we recommend you bring a Pelican case or similar for better waterproof protection. 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 in all hotels and airports. Cuban cigars, rum, liqueurs, arts & crafts, T-shirts and other souvenirs are “goods” purchases. All goods taken out of the country must be accompanied by official government receipts, as well as a stamp of approval for certain arts & crafts. Goods made from black coral, tortoise shell and sea shells will be confiscated by Customs.
We request that you do not smoke in vehicles, at meals or in group situations. We have asked our guides, drivers and staff who smoke to follow the same consideration. If a smoker and a non-smoker are sharing a hotel room, we ask that the smoker not smoke in the room.
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 specific cellular 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 as well.
Likewise, internet service is very limited and spotty at best in most locations. You may now get access to WiFi at parks and squares in most cities, including Havana, Santa Clara, and Viñales. It will typically cost you CUC$1 for an hour of WiFi. There may be WiFi in some of our hotels, however you will likely need to buy an internet card to access WiFi. Hotels sometime limit how many cards they sell (or run out), speeds are slow, and access is generally unreliable. In the end, it’s best to plan to be without internet during your visit.
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.
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. For international exchange purposes, CUC$1 equals US$1.
Cash is king in Cuba! While most expenses are included in the cost of your trip, plan to bring and exchange cash to cover any additional expenses (additional drinks, souvenirs, gratuities, etc). 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, Cadecas (exchange bureau) or hotels (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 to 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.
There is a 10% surcharge for exchanging U.S. dollars, plus a 4% exchange fee. Other currencies such as Euros, Canadian Dollars or British Pounds do not have the additional exchange fee, but will incur the base surcharge.
Travelers Cheques are discouraged and more trouble than not. They’re sometimes difficult to exchange and you may pay a commission to cash them. If they do get lost or stolen they can’t be replaced until you return home.
Credit & Debit Cards
While 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 services, they may be available at our hotel. Ask at the front desk and make sure it will be ready by the time we depart. Generally the price is between CUC$6-8 for a plastic shopping bag of clothes, but confirm the cost first.
Cuba’s climate is moderately subtropical and predominantly warm. December through April is the dry season, with daily temperatures between 77-82 F (25-27 C) with an average of 79% humidity year round. This time of year sees the least rain, out of an average of 330 days of sunshine annually.
The sea in Cuba is warm all year round: in winter months the water temperature is about 25 °C (77 °F) at Havana, and 26/27 °C (79/81 °F) on the southern coast where you’ll be snorkeling.
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. In addition to routine vaccines, they may suggest you get inoculated against Typhoid, Hepatitis A and/or B, and Tetanus. More information is provided at the CDC website: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/cuba
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 primary goal is for you to have an enjoyable experience. The nature of the trip is such that it involves some physical exertion and potential exposure to the elements, including cold water, heat, sun, wind and rain. We have experience accommodating people with a wide range of physical disabilities and/or health conditions. However, individuals who are overweight or lack conditioning 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. In general, trip participants must be able to:
- Wear a Type III Coast Guard approved personal floatation device (maximum chest size of 56 inches)
- Climb in and out of the kayaks multiple times each day
- Navigate uneven terrain on hikes
- Self-rescue by swimming to a boat or to shore in the event of an involuntary swim
- Self-rescue by climbing into a boat with the help of another person in the event of an involuntary swim
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 work-out and is training that may come in handy in the event of an involuntary swim. 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. Getting in shape will certainly add to your enjoyment of the trip.
Packing for Your Trip
Equipment & Clothing
We recommend synthetic or merino wool fabrics for kayaking and comfortable, loose-fitting clothes when off the water. Cotton and other light natural fabrics are ideal at these times. Consider a light-weight sweater or jacket for public places that may be overly air-conditioned. Casual style, contemporary clothing is fine for the vast majority of our trip.
For daily wear in the kayaks, and on shore, we recommend an amphibious sport shoe or sport sandals with an ankle strap. These shoes will most likely be wet much of the time. Make sure you get good-grip, no-slip soles. Some people prefer to wear sport sandals in the kayak and on wet hikes, and cushioned-soled athletic shoes or lightweight trail shoes for the longer hikes and in the cities. 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 get it far enough in advance to break it in and wear your footwear until it’s comfy—if your feet hurt you won’t enjoy the trip.
Generally a swimsuit and synthetic or merino wool top, quick-dry bottoms and water sandals will be all you need.
After a long 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. Lightweight gloves can also protect your hands. 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:
☐ 1-liter water bottle: durable and reusable
☐ Day pack
☐ Snorkel equipment, including snorkel & mask and fins (you may prefer to not travel with fins)
☐ Sunglasses (preferably polarized) with securing strap and a spare
☐ Small, quick-drying towel
☐ 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
☐ River shoes or sandals with a heel strap (such as those made by Chaco®)
☐ Athletic shoes or light hikers
☐ Extra pair of dry shoes, sandals or flip flops for in town
☐ Hiking/walking socks (3-5 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
☐ Swimsuit / Trunks: 2-piece suits recommended for women. Tankinis are a great option
☐ Shorts: 1-2 pair
☐ Light sweater or jacket
☐ Light rain jacket
☐ 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 disadvantaged 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, bring a good quality duffel or other soft-sided luggage. Bring a day-pack for daily excursions. To further increase the likelihood that you won’t have to check a bag, consider leaving your snorkel fins behind – although helpful when snorkeling, you may not find them necessary.
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.
We recommend that you leave valuables at home. For personal items like passport, wallet, purses and cell phones, you can leave them securely in your luggage in the vehicle during the day. In the evening, if we are staying at a hotel, keep extra cash, important documents, identification and other valuables in your hotel room safe. In the casas you can leave them in the bottom of your luggage in your room.
When leaving your accommodation take only the amount of money you plan on spending on that outing plus a photocopy of your passport. Leave your passport in your safe unless you plan to exchange money.
If you feel your Trip Leader and Cuban guide have provided a special trip for you, you may leave a gratuity with the them to be shared. Tipping is entirely at your discretion, though we recommend a general guideline of anything between 8% and 12% of the trip cost. If you plan to tip, remember to plan ahead and have Cuban Pesos for easy distribution. Gratuities for luggage handlers, restaurant staff and activity guides throughout your tour are included in the trip price.
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 OARS 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 www.oarsfoundation.org to learn more about how a tax-deductible donation can change young lives for the better.
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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 require that you purchase emergency medical evacuation insurance to participate in this expedition. Call or visit Travel Insurance Services at 800-937-1387 for inexpensive options that cover this requirement. We strongly recommend that you protect yourself, your belongings, and your vacation through the purchase of a travel protection plan. For those unforeseen circumstances that may arise before or during your trip, we offer an optional Travel Protection Plan from Trip Mate, Inc. (in CA & UT, dba Trip Mate Insurance Agency) that can help protect you, your travel investment and your belongings. Should you have to cancel your trip due to illness or injury – your own or that of an immediate family member – non-refundable payments may be covered by a travel protection plan (see Cancellations and Refunds). For a complete description of Trip Mate’s plan online go to: http://www.tripmate.com/wpf431X or call Trip Mate at 800-888-7292 (reference Plan #F431X). Please Note: Purchase this Plan within 14 days of the date we receive your initial deposit and the exclusion for Pre-Existing Medical Conditions will be waived, provided you are not disabled from travel at the time the plan is purchased.
Everyone is required to sign a standard liability release form before the trip, acknowledging awareness that there are inherent risks associated with the 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 Sunlight Tours S.A., 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.
Sunlight Tours, 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.