The majority of the hotels in Cuba offer a « all inclusive » formula, meaning meals, snacks, drinks, activities, entertainment, non-motorized water sports are included in your travel package. Most hotels offer one buffet style restaurant(s), snack bars, « A la carte » restaurants (reservation required). Please consult the brochure or the website to see if restrictions apply (dress code).
Note most hotels offer an « European style », so it is possible you will not find these items in the bathroom like wash cloths and paper tissues (Kleenex). So, if you absolutely need these items, you might be considering to bring them in your luggage. The trend is the newly built hotels are now offering these items.
Cocktails, beer and wine are included in your travel package. The two brands of domestic beers Cristal and Bucanero. The wines (red and white) served are mainly from Spain but do not expect much from the wines! A hint ... at the airport duty-free shops, buy one or two bottles to bring to Cuba to enjoy for a special dinner. It is not forbidden to bring your own wine in the restaurants (except for those not included in your travel package), there is no fee cap.
The local brands of spirits are included in your package, but for some international brands you may have to pay an extra.
Safety deposit box
There are safety deposit boxes in most rooms. They are usually free and wide enough to store your travel documents, money, camera, CD/MP3 player, and jewelry. Safety deposit boxes work with magnetic card, key or code.
There are so many safe models that would be impossible to list them all in this site. There are models with magnetic card, traditional standard key or with a presonnalized secret 4-digit code. The last ones are the most appreciated, because those magnetic cards tend to be demagnetized and what about those metal keys, not too friendly to carry. There are more and more hotels now that charge for the safety deposit box. The fee is 2 CUC per day. You have to go to the front desk and pay in advance for your stay.
For Jeep rentals, scooter or any other rental, it is mandatory to bring a photocopy of your passport and your driver's license. Always keep the original in your room's safe.
IMPORTANT!!!! These four items should be stored, at any time, in the safety deposit box in your room ...
VISA (CUBA TOURIST CARD)
25 CUC (PER PERSON)
Beaches and Swimming pools
Cuba's pools are freshwater and sometimes partially desalinated water (like in Cayo Largo). It is sometimes possible to use the pools 24 h/24 h. There is always a sign posting the opening hours. Outside these hours, they are unattended. Some hotels have Jacuzzis. The vast majority of hotels has a pool bar or aqua bar (stools in the pool).
All beaches in Cuba are public. You may access them freely, but it is not inadvisable to use the chairs, umbrellas and services of the other hotels. Swimming in the sea at night is risky and is strongly discouraged.
Several hotel beach chairs are made in plastic (not really comfortable). Bring a small air mattress that you can leave to other tourists or Cubans before leaving. This mattress can also be useful for swimming in the sea, pool or use on your beach chair (too hard on the back!) or in your balcony hammock.
For safety, there is a flag on the beach to indicate the level of risk for swimmers. Green = OK, yellow = Warning and Red = no swimming (or at own risk). Some beaches in Cuba are known to be very calm throughout the year, ex.: Cayo Guillermo, Cayo Coco, Cayo Ensenachos and others.
Usually you receive a coupon upon arrival, you must show this ticket to the clubhouse (usually located by the pool) to get a beach towel. One towel per person that you can change as you wish during your stay. Before you leave the hotel, you return your beach towel to get your ticket back to show at the lobby during your check-out.
Hotels that do not work with the coupon system generally require a cash deposit (15 to 20 CUC) which will be refunded to you at the end of the stay, only if you bring the beach towel back. The towels are free and different colors depending on the hotels.
If you lose your towel, the hotel will charge you 15 to 25 CUC. Unfortunately, it happens sometimes that tourists who have lost their towels, steal from another for failing to pay the fee. Of course this behavior is not encouraged and always keep in mind not to forget your towels everywhere!
Health and Medical Services
Cuba is known for its medical system, one of the best in Latin America!
Please note that since 2010, you must show proof of medical insurance to enter Cuba.
In case of an emergency, ask at the front desk of your hotel and the doctor will come to your room. The cost varies depending on the care received, about 50 CUC per consultation plus costs of medication (payable in cash only). Ask for a receipt, these costs might be reimbursed by your insurance company (only if it is an emergency medical care). There is often a mini-clinic at the hotel, but for more serious cases an ambulance service to clinics or hospitals can be arranged (even by plane or helicopter).
It is strongly advised to buy a travel insurance before your departure. Many group insurances or credit cards provide travel insurance (only if the trip is paid with the card used to buy the travel package), but these insurances are not always complete nor adequate, please consult your travel agent who can issue a travel insurance policy to suit your needs like Blue Cross (medical, cancellation, interruption, baggage, etc.).
Before traveling, it is also important to contact a travel clinic to learn about vaccines, medicines or precautions recommended for the destination. Note that there is no mandatory vaccine for Cuba, but hepatitis A is at least strongly recommended. For those who are often bothered by stomach problems while traveling, there is a product called Dukoral (~ $ 80 CAD). It is an oral vaccine.
Massage, Spa and beauty salon
There are beauty salons in almost every hotel in Cuba, often located in the same building as the gym and / or spa. The hotels offer massages by a professional experienced therapist. Messages are performed either in a private room or outside (often by the pool or beach).
Whether for beauty care or messages, the prices are always adjusted according to the number of stars from the hotel. Thus, the price of a one hour message can range from 15 to 60 CUC. The same principle applies to products sold in stores except for certain items whose price seems to be fixed by the government such as the rum.
It is possible to access the Internet at the hotels of Cuba (24/24). Computers are usually located in a conditioned room near the lobby. The rate is usually 10 cents a minute (or 10 CUC for one hour). The connection speed is rather slow and the keyboard is in Spanish. Specialized software provides access to the computer after dialing the prepaid card code. The basic functions of the computer are not accessible (such as Windows Explorer or other programs). Usually only webmail is possible.
Wireless (WI-FI) is not common in Cuba, but more and more hotels now offer this paid service. Usually it is only available near the lobby. An underwater cable has recently connected Cuba to Venezuela to supply high-speed Internet to Cuba.
To call from Canada to Cuba, please dial:
011 (to exit the country) then ...
53 (Cuba area code) then the phone number with local area code.
To call from Cuba to Canada, you must first dial 119 then the area code and phone number. You cannot make a collect call from Cuba nor 1-800 numbers. The best option is to purchase calling cards. The rate is about 2.50 CUC per minute. It is quite expensive so be brief!
Here are the rates for calls from Cuba ...
Local: 0.10 @ 0.60 CUC/minute
National long distance: 0.70 @ 2.40 CUC/minute
International Long Distance ...
» Canada, USA & Mexico: 2.00 @ 3.50 CUC/minute
» Central and South America: 4.50 @ 5.90 CUC/minute
» Other countries: 7.80 @ 8.00 CUC/minute
Roads & Rentals
Most roads are paved in Cuba, but poorly lit at night. You can travel on a scooter or car without a problem. The helmet is mandatory for scooters and motorcycles. There are very few road signs in Cuba, you must frequently ask for directions. Anyway, there are always Cubans along the roads to hitch hike (the national sport in Cuba!). It is forbidden to bring a GPS in Cuba.
The price of a rental car in Cuba is very high (60 to 100 CUC per day, depending on the model). The price of gasoline is about 1 CUC / liter. Driving while intoxicated is a serious offense. Beware!
During the day: light and beach clothing. Evening: provide some long sleeved shirts and pants for the months from December to February, when the evenings can be cooler.
In general, casual wear is adopted at all times by most tourists, with a touch more classy for dinner and evening, especially in the « a la carte » restaurants.
The water is potable in Cuba, but it is recommended to drink bottled water. Several hotels provide bottled water in your room every day. Otherwise you can always buy in the shops of the hotels. You can then fill your empty bottles at the bars and restaurants that serve purified water and ice for cocktails. There are two sizes of water bottles, 1 liter and 500 ml.
It is not suggested to drink large amounts of tap water, but you can use it to brush your teeth, because it is potable.
It might takes six to eight weeks for a postcard sent from Cuba to arrive at their destination (Canada). Be patient! If you have letters, parcels or other items to send to Cubans, it is preferable not to use regular mail, because there is good chance they will not arrive at destination. It is best to use the assistance of tourists (safest) or specialized courier (safe, but very expensive).
Passport & Required documents
It is recommended to print a photocopy of your passport while traveling abroad. You can use it for renting a scooter or Jeep, exchange money. Keep your passport in the safety deposit box in your hotel room at any time. The passport is only required to travel by plane or withdraw money from credit card. It is always better to have on yourself a document which identifies you, for example ... a photocopy of your passport, driving license, etc... In case of emergency, you can be identified.
For those who have a dedicated webserver is a good idea to scan your passport and put a copy on your server (page protected by password). If your passport is lost or stolen then you can access your server and print a copy at destination. With a copy, it is easier to obtain a temporary passport from the Canadian Embassy in Havana.
Cuba is not really a paradise for shoppers. The classics: Rum, cigars and coffee. Local artcrafts are varied and affordable. Why not a little encouragement to the local industry! There is a small shop in almost every hotel. They all have all pretty much the same goods (rum, souvenirs, CDs of Cuban music, some clothes, toiletries, coffee, beverages, snacks, bottled water, etc.)
About Cuban music, we always buy a CD of the band at the hotel on every trip. We like to encourage their contribution to making our holiday enjoyable. The price varies from 10 to 15 CUC for about a dozen songs. Ask for the « musica traditional » for us is the best!
Do not forget to keep the 25 CUC for the departure tax payable in cash only.
Wedding in Cuba
Who would not be tempted by a romantic wedding on a beautiful beach in Cuba? There are various wedding packages and honeymoon offer at the hotels. Please consult your travel agent and / or consular representative in your country.
4542-4546 boul. Decarie, Montreal, Québec. H3X 2H5
Phone: (514) 843-8897 / 843-7559 / 843-1063
5353 Dundas St. West, Suite 401
Etobicoke (Ontario) M9B 6H8
Tél. : (416) 234 8181
Gratuities and Gifts
In an all-inclusive hotel, a typical tip for just about any service is 1 CUC and 2 CUC for the « a la carte » restaurants per person. For bartenders, however, it would not be fair to give 1 CUC for each drink served, but rather 1 CUC from time to time. For the excursions, the tip is generally 5 CUC for the guide and 2 CUC for the driver (per couple). For the maids, about 2-4 CUC per day.
Leave your tips in CUC only, not in Canadian dollars nor Euros!
Coffee and rum
The most famous Cuban rum is the Havana Club for about 15 CUC a bottle of 750 ml of seven años (aged 7 years). There are so many other brands available in price ranges (from 3CUC over 150 CUC). Prices seem to be fixed by the government.
There is also a local drink made in the province of Pinar del Rio called Guayabita del Pinar. The dry version (seca) is similar to rum, but there is also a sweet version (dulce) which is good as a digestive, to be taken at home to remember happy moments of your trip to Cuba. The dry version is available almost everywhere in the country which is not the case for the sweet version.
Cubita coffee is great for lovers of strong coffee. It is available in beans or ground. Lately other brands of Cuban coffee emerged whose Cohiba, Monte Rouge or another popular brand Serrano.
Customs, drugs and black market
Shellfish (conch) or corals that are found by Customs in your luggage are subject to a fine of 250 to 500 CUC.
Cigars (called in Cuba Habano or puro): For every purchase of 25 cigars or more, you must show your purchase invoice to customs upon departure. No invoice is required for 23 cigars or less. In Canada, an adult can bring a maximum of 50 Cuban cigars without to pay a custom fee.
Alcool : In Canada, an adult can bring 1.14 liters of liquor (two bottles of 750 ml are tolerated, even if the volume exceeds slightly). Upon entry in Cuba, the law stipulates a maximum of two bottles of 750 ml (source: Office of Tourism of Cuba).
Prices for cigars vary from one shop to another in Cuba. The best-known brands are Cohiba, Romeo y Julieta, Montecristo, Partagas, Guantanamera, etc.. Make no illusions, cigars that are sold in black are not the originals, although say those who sell them, but they can sometimes still be pretty good.
Cuban laws on illegal drugs are VERY strict. At the airport, custom officers searched the luggage with the dubious help of snuffer dogs. If you get caught with drugs, your vacation dream will become a nightmare. Remember the smell of a « small joint » smoked the day before can soak into your clothes. At the airport, the dogs will detect this smell, and you immediately go on to search. Do not risk missing out your vacation! Kept in mind that the regulations in a foreign country can be very different from ours and sometimes much less permissive.
Items to avoid
Some items are still prohibited (or restricted) from entering in Cuba, such as irons, literature against the Cuban regime, pornography, etc.. Walkie-talkies and laptops are allowed. In terms of the electronic game consoles, they are allowed to entry to Cuba, but if it is a gift, it is possible that you'll have to pay a tax.
Cell phones are allowed in Cuba, but check first with your phone provider, because some models or service plans do not work in Cuba. For more information on customs regulations in Cuba, visit the official website of the Cuban Customs: http://www.aduana.co.cu/index.php?lang=en
Flight and Luggage
Since August 2006, the quantity of liquids, creams, gels and aerosols permitted in carry-on baggage is 100 ml maximum per container. These items must be placed in a plastic bag like Ziplock. One bag per person is allowed for a maximum of 1 liter.
Some tips about luggage:
When traveling as a couple, it is best to separate your clothes in your two suitcases, as if unfortunately one of the suitcases did not make it to, you will not be caught unprepared.
It is important to bring your medications or other essential items in your hand luggage. Prescription drugs should be accompanied by the ID paper (drug name and your name).
You will not be subject to the liquid regulation for prescription medication. To limit the weight of your bags, use travel size containers for your liquids / creams. It is also advisable to bring some clothing such as: bathing suit, t-shirt, shorts, underwear, etc... in your hand luggage. If you checked luggage does not arrive at the destination, you will still have some clothes and personal items.
A little advice: for those who paid extra for have pre-booked seats on the plane. Write your seat numbers on your electronic ticket (as a reminder) and always check with the attendant during the check-in, in case they do not assign the seats for which you paid. If the seats are not available, keep your boarding pass as evidence and then call your airline or your travel agent for reimbursement of your pre-selection.
It is also important to check carefully your luggage tickets (with bar code sticker) while registering. They serve to identify and locate your bags in case of loss. If you travel in groups, try to avoid confusion of coupons, do not register all at the same time, it is harder to monitor your bags are clearly identified with the flight coupon.
Keep in your cabin baggage items that are dear to you, because if ever your checked bag gets lost or stolen, well, at least you have saved your important items.
For your return flight, it is recommended to attach Tie-Wrap to your bag. There is unfortunately quite regularly items stolen in the airports in Cuba. The small locks are easily opened and closed without a trace, but having to cut a tie-wrap may discourage unscrupulous employees.
Sun & Sunscreen
For people who like to stay in the shade on the beach, please note that there are palapas (umbrellas made of palm leaves) only in front of all hotels. During busy periods, they go fast! (Best to arrive before noon) It is suggested not to leave your beach towel in the morning if you only use the chair in the afternoon. The beach chairs are included in your package, and you should not have to pay to reserve a beach chair.
Suntan with a minimum of SPF 15 is recommended (30 factor offer better protection, especially on days at sea). For those wishing to go on remote pristine beaches, remember to bring a hat and umbrella. You must be careful with the sun-alcohol mixture, because it can cause, we call « turista » or traveler's diarrhea. During the day, it is often wiser to drink beer than mixing sweet cocktails. Moderation is better!
Naturism and Topless
Nudism is officially banned in Cuba, but it is tolerated on some beaches. Here are some places where you can enjoy an « Au Natural » suntan.
Cayo Largo (many beaches)
Cayo Santa Maria (west end of the Sol Cayo Santa Maria, after the last left footbridge)
Cayo Ensenachos (East end of Playa Ensenachos)
There are other deserted beaches where you can enjoy naturism on the beach. However, it is important to be discreet in a context where the practice is only « tolerated » by the authorities, but not officially permitted. Note that there is no naturist resort in Cuba where you can be naked on the hotel ground. The hotels having naturist beach sector are not lifestyle resort. Be respectful!
The monokini or topless is widespread and accepted in Cuba on all beaches, but less common at the pools.
At certain places and times of the year, especially in the wet season summer, it is possible that there are many mosquitoes. They usually appear at sunset. There may be little or a lot depending on climatic conditions. In critical periods, they conduct the fumigation of the land surrounding hotels, and at every evening at dusk. However, it is still highly recommended to pack a good insect repellent containing a high level DEET.
The mosquitoes repellent in cream (Watkins or Bizzz Bizzz) are more effective and more persistent, and without restriction to aircraft. A great value!
Dolphins, Sharks and Barracudas
Around Cuba, as elsewhere in the Caribbean, there are wild dolphins, you must be lucky to see dolphins in the sea mostly during the catamaran excursion. We were fortunate to see dolphins at Cayo Santa Maria. To swim with dolphins in captivity is possible in Varadero, Cayo Largo, Cienfuegos, Cayo Guillermo, Cayo Santa Maria and Holguin.
About sharks, we do not usually find dangerous species, but rather small reef and nurse shark. During an excursion in a catamaran, we had the chance to see a nurse shark in snorkeling.
Barracudas are found fairly regularly around Cuba. It is a carnivorous fish of large size (up to two meters). The body of the barracuda is long and narrow, gray with darker stripes on the back, and with a large lower jaw. They rarely attack humans, unless they are provoked. We saw barracudas on a snorkeling tour. You see them often in the presence of shoal of sardines. A hint!
For safety, do not wear any jewelry when swimming or snorkeling. Shiny objects that reflect the sun can be mistaken for a small fish and attract the attention of barracuda.
Sea lice (Caribe)
During the months of May and sometimes June, there is a natural phenomenon of hatching eggs of Linuche Unguiculata, commonly called sea lice, seabather's eruption, thimble Jellyfish or Caribe by Cubans. This phenomenon can occur randomly anywhere in the Caribbean and also affects the southern coast of the United States, especially Florida. The presence of Sea Lice is often linked to high waves and strong winds and can be detected under the guise of a very thin oil slick on the surface of the water, but when the sea is rough it's hard to see.
The Linuche adult (5 to 20 mm) is a microscopic larvae invisible to the naked eye that affects swimmers. Prolonged contact with skin may cause redness, pimples or dermatitis. People are not all affected. It depends upon how much you are allergic. The Caribs seeping into the fabric of clothing and swim wear. Tissue, hair easily retains these small larvae. When these larvae are deprived of their natural element, salt water, they die, so by releasing a toxin nematocyst that can cause skin irritation.
The skin areas that are most often affected are: under wet clothing (bathing suit, t-shirt), hairy areas, neck and shoulders (because of long hair and also because this larvae float on the surface).
Precautions to reduce exposure:
Shower after a swim in the sea, and thoroughly rinse bathing suit and hair.
If possible, change your bathing suit after swimming. If you wear a t-shirt to go swimming, remove it when leaving the water. The general idea is to reduce the area of tissue that covers the skin and / or does not dry the skin or clothing jerseys not rinsed with fresh water after swimming in the sea, or swim naked if is possible.
Apply an oil based sunscreen. It prevents the Caribs from sticking to the skin.
If significant inflammation, it is best to consult a doctor. Some products help heal irritated skin, such as hydrocortisone cream, antihistamines pills or creams such as Benadryl, etc...
You can find information about this phenomenon on Cancun Travel Guide website: http://www.cancun.bz/information/sealice.php
Travel wholesalers (also known as tour operators) have their representatives at destination. Usually this person meets you at the airport and invites you to a briefing the same day or next day. He / She will give you information about the hotel, destination, and optional tours available. It is suggested to purchase your excursions at your tour operator representative. He / She toured the hotels each day (or almost) on a schedule that is usually displayed in his office at the reception.
Small plastic glasses
Have you ever wondered how many of these little plastic cups end up in landfills each year in Cuba?
A little help for the environment: Bring in your luggage insulated cup glasses (available in several formats) which are found in most department stores. These reusable glasses keep the coffee hot, but beer, cocktails, wine and soft drinks to be cold!