WHAT TO EXPECT in Cuba
You can't fully prepare yourself for Cuba,
but let's try.
It is inspiring and heartbreaking and intense and slow. ALL at the same time.
You are going to have a lot of fun. There is so much energy and inspiration and immediate joy to take part in.
You are going to see people living with very little and doing so much to get by. Cubans are immensely resourceful out of necessity.
You will meet people who are genuine and kind and creative and present.
You will feel safe. As always, it is important to put money in a secure place and be aware of your surroundings, but Cuba is a very safe country.
Your accommodations in Havana will be in lovely local B&Bs called casa particulars in our creative neighborhood. Our neighbors who host you have well appointed homes with simple but nice amenities. Each host is kind and experienced. You will also have access to our home, if you care to hang out, draw in Kay’s studio, listen to records, or just relax in a rocking chair.
If you travel with us outside of Havana, your accommodations will be more simple. The rooms are clean and comfortable, but it is the countryside and there is less focus on aesthetics there.
You will be blown away by the music.
Because of that, there will be a couple of late nights.
There will be surprises and the itinerary will shift at times.
You will be changed.
Legal details for U.S. Travelers
Our travelers come from all over the world. These details are reserved for the Americans among you and anyone flying from a U.S. airport.
Otros Ojos travels under the “Support of the Cuban People” category (§ 515.560(c)) which is one of the approved categories that allow Americans to legally travel to Cuba despite the trade embargo. On June 4, 2019 the US government eliminated a different travel category called “People to People” which was frequently used by large group tours and cruise ships. Our trips were not impacted by this change, and it is still easy and legal to travel with us.
The “Support of the Cuban People” license requires that travelers frequent and support privately run businesses in Cuba and that U.S. citizens have proof of those types of activities in the form of reservations and itineraries.
Our company was built to create community by connecting travelers to Cuban culture and supporting small businesses and arts organizations here. We believe in incredible cultural access, connection with communities and understanding the context of where you are and why things are the way they are. Because of this, our trips easily meet the requirements outlined by the U.S. government, and do so with flair and ease.
Commercial flights operate from a host of U.S. airports on many airlines. You can purchase a flight without any documentation. When checking in for your flight you will need to indicate that you are traveling under “Support of the Cuban People". You will also need to state this when purchasing your visa which can be purchased ahead of time through your airline or at your gate of departure. If you are traveling from anywhere outside of the U.S., please check with your airline to confirm if they provide visas, some do not.
We provide all documentation of all of your activities for when you reenter the U.S., which is the only time documentation may be asked for. You are also required to keep that itinerary in your files for five years after you travel.
Still have questions?
Shoot us an email and we’d be happy to talk more about it.
THe U.S. Embassy in Havana
The U.S. Embassy in Havana was reopened on August 14, 2015 (we watched the flag get raised). The flagpoles full of Cuban flags in front of the embassy are not an American homage to Cuba but instead were erected by the Cuban government in the 90s in a diplomatic tit for tat.
At the moment, due to a controversial accusation by the U.S. that its consular officers were exposed to debilitating sonic sounds while in Cuba, the embassy is functioning with a skeletal staff. U.S. Citizens traveling to Cuba can get help there if needed, but visas are not processed and other standard diplomatic features are not currently performed.
Adding on travel before or after our trips
Some of our guests decide to come early or stay late. We find that most who do this, enjoy getting the lay of the land with us and then breaking out on their own for a number of days. While we do not book travel for the rest of your travel, we are happy to point you in the right direction. If you are an American citizen, we suggest you follow the same guidelines as the itinerary we give you for our trip. 'Support of the Cuban People is one of the most flexible licenses to follow. If you are keen to add on some independent travel, we encourage it, but cannot provide you an itinerary for the time that you are not with us.
WHAT TO BRING & HOW TO PREPARE
We'll get into more detail as you prepare for your trip, but here are some basics that you want to keep in mind when coming to Cuba.
Booking Flights & ARRIVING IN CUBA
There are direct commercial flights from a number of U.S. and international cities. All you have to do it buy a ticket. When you book your ticket from any U.S. city (if you are American or not), you will have to indicate that you are traveling under one of the approved 12 categories. If you are traveling with us, yes, you are! Non-Cuban citizens require a tourist visa to travel to Cuba. That visa can be purchased ahead of time from the airline or at the gate before departing for Havana. You do not need any documentation to buy a visa, but you do need to indicate that you are traveling under the “Support of the Cuban People” category. Documentation is only needed upon return. Mandatory health insurance is included in all U.S. based flights.
When you arrive in Cuba you will present your Passport and your tourist visa. It is important that you keep the visa with your Passport at all times. When checking into each home you stay in, you will have to show both your passport and visa. You will also have to show your visa when you check into your departing flight.
With all travel, it is important to bring good shoes, a swimsuit, sunscreen, and bug spray. Cubans also know how to turn out, so if you dress too casually at night, you will feel underdressed. Bring your dancing shoes and some dresses or shirts that make you feel good and ready to let loose.
Please pack shampoo/conditioner and it is always a good idea to bring a few packets of tissue for bathrooms that are low on supplies. If you will need a hairdryer, plan to bring one along. Cuba has both 110V and 220V in homes. Please ask your hosts which is which, as we have learned the hard way.. Sockets accommodate both US and European plugs. It is also appreciated, and in line with our values, to put some things in your suitcase that are hard for Cubans to find.
** Please note that what you forget, you will not be able to find in Cuba. Even basic items are hard to find, and it is never clear where items will be in stock or available. Please triple check your bags.
Cuba is a 100% cash economy. Credit cards are not accepted. U.S. based travelers will not be able to use their debit cards to get cash and need to bring with them all money they intend to use. Most of your expenses will be covered, but we recommend you do bring some cash for drinks, extra taxis for personal exploration, items you may want to buy and any tips you want to offer. Anywhere from $300-400 should be more than enough, unless you plan to purchase art. In an emergency, you can get a friend or family member to send you money via Western Union, but this will take a considerable amount of time. You do not want to resort to this.
We recommend that you bring either Euros or Canadian Dollars as the U.S. Dollar incurs a 10% tax at the Cuban exchange houses. You will not be able to get Cuban money from banks outside of Cuba before arriving, but it is easy to do so once you are here.
To make matters a bit more confusing, Cuba operates on TWO currencies. The CUC is on par with the U.S. Dollar and CUP is approximately 25:1. In most instances, you will be operating with the CUC, and we'll help you navigate the differences.
FOOD & WATER
Cuban food it fantastic and we will explore a lot of its different expressions from traditional to cosmopolitan. Pork, beans and rice feature heavily, but there are also amazing fish and chicken and meat dishes and great fried appetizers. Cumin and lime are essential to most every dish and the cocktails are to die for. If you were never a rum person, you will become one. Straight Cuban 7 year rum, that you drink with us as soon as you arrive, is smooth and rich and incredible. Daqueries, Mojitos and Piña Coladas are all Cuban concoctions. Get ready.
Vegetables and salad come with many dishes, and it is your discretion whether to eat them. All restaurants we take you to will use filtered water to wash their vegetables, but raw food is always a bit riskier than cooked.
That brings us to water. It is essential that you do not drink the tap water in Cuba. We encourage all of our guests to bring reusable water bottles so that they can fill them up at our house which has a double filtration system. This reduces the use of plastic bottles, which at times on the trip will be necessary. If you purchase bottled water on the street, it is important that you check that the screw top has not been tampered with. It is a common scam in Habana Vieja to refill water bottles with tap water. Don’t fall for it.
PHONE & INTERNET
Some international phones will work in Cuba, but the fees will be high and they are not always reliable. For example, you may send a text using your U.S. phone to a Cuban phone, but you can’t be sure if it will go through (40/60 chance, is our experience). Only Cubans are allowed to buy Cuban SIM cards, so there is not an option of buying a Cuban SIM card for your time on the island. We have found that most travelers enjoy the break from telecommunications and the shift in perspective of not relying on phones to coordinate plans or stay in touch. That said, you will always have the Cuban numbers of your hosts and guides should you need to use your phone (or someone else’s) to reach us in an emergency.
Just three years ago it was hard to find access to the internet in Cuba. A lot has changed and there are Wi-fi hotspots throughout the cities and towns now. You will recognize these hotspots by the groups of Cubans huddled over their phones. To get online you need to purchase a “tarjeta.” A two hour card usually costs 3 CUC on the street. There are two parks that have internet access near us in Havana. Both are about a 10 minute walk away. We are also working to get our house wired as a hotspot, which is a development that is relatively new in Cuba.
Two things you need to think about when leaving Cuba: having your passport, visa and itinerary (that we give you) AND whether you want to bring anything back with you.
Americans are allowed to bring $800 worth of goods back into the U.S. from Cuba duty free. In regards to rum and cigars, the law is a bit different, and only the first 1 liter of rum and the first 100 cigars are duty free.
In our opinion, the things to bring back are rum (3 year and 7 year), cigars, coffee and art. Hand fans (a must in every Cuban woman’s bag) and dominos (the Cuban pastime) are also great purchases.
Booking Terms & Conditions
By booking a trip with Otros Ojos and securing your reservation, you acknowledge that you have read and accept the following Terms and Conditions for yourself and all other persons listed on your reservation.
Otros Ojos requires that all travellers have comprehensive travel insurance that covers medical emergencies, personal injury, personal property losses and trip cancellation expenses. You are also required (not just by us but by the Cuban government) to have adequate health insurance that will cover you should you become sick or injured during your time in Cuba. By purchasing a trip with us you are acknowledging that you have traveler insurance coverage and that Otros Ojos has no liability for any potential shortfalls in your coverage. There are a lot of good companies out there, but we have had good experience with World Nomads, Allianz Travel Insurance and Travelinsurance.com.
PAYMENTS, REFUNDS AND CANCELLATIONS
We require a non-refundable deposit to secure your booking.
The balance is required 60 days prior to departure.
// CANCELLATIONS BY YOU OR YOUR PARTY
If you need to cancel your trip with us, we need your cancelation request in writing via email. We recommend travel insurance should unforeseeable events keep you from participating on our trips.
If you cancel your trip the following refund policy applies:
61+ days prior to departure: full refund (minus the nonrefundable deposit)
31 to 60 days prior to departure: 50% refund (minus the nonrefundable deposit)
0 to 30 days prior to departure: no refund
ITINERARY CHANGES BY OTROS OJOS
Because our trips cater to the cultural calendar of Havana, itineraries shift from trip to trip. There may also be changes in our itinerary due to circumstances beyond our control. By coming on a trip with us you acknowledge that these situations are a normal part of a travel experience, especially in a location like Cuba.
Compliance with local laws and customs
Otros Ojos expects that all participants on its trips are respectful of the laws, customs and culture of Cuba. It is particularly important that all travellers with us understand that there is absolutely zero tolerance for any type of recreational drug use in Cuba—and the penalties are severe. Enjoy yourself, have fun, but respect your fellow travelers and the many Cubans you will meet.
Passports and Visas
You are solely responsible for ensuring that your passport is current. For US citizens this means that its expiration date cannot be within 6 months of your date of return to the United States. If your passport is from another country, please make sure you are compliant your specific regulations. If you cannot join the trip because of passport issues you will not be refunded any payments made to Otros Ojos.
You are responsible for purchasing your travel visa. This can be obtained at the gate before you board your flight to Cuba. Depending on the airline, your visa will cost between $50 and $100.
Please book flights that land no later than 5pm into Jose Marti Airport in Havana. Trips and retreats start at 7pm sharp on the first day at our Turquoise House in Vedado. It is an important time to review logistics and is also a gathering to ground the group and get to know one another before heading out to a special evening. You are welcome to land in the morning, drop your bags at your casa and explore on your own until we meet.