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12 Tips for Travelers to Cuba (Part One) Posted in December 20, 2015

Tips for Travelers to Cuba - Havana VIP

12 Tips for Travelers to Cuba (Part One)

There is a well-worn Cuban trail of travelers traps and pitfalls, but these can easily be avoided with some advance preparation. With this in mind, here are our expert tips for travelers to Cuba to Avoid Havana Bad Time.

1) If you’re a U.S. Person, travel to Cuba with a purpose (its U.S. law!)
:

U.S. Government regulations require U.S. travelers to Cuba to have one of 12 specified reasons for authorized travel. You can check them out on the U.S. Treasury Department Cuba Sanctions webpage FAQ. All services Havana VIP provides comply with all U.S. and Cuban regulations.

But beyond the legal reasons (especially if you’re not a U.S. Person), having a purpose to generally focus your trip is one of the best tips for travelers to Cuba.

One of the best ways to travel to Cuba is to attend some kind of cultural seminar or special cultural event or happening. This will give a structure to your itinerary and put you into a network of “regular Cubans” as opposed to only interacting with Cuban Government tour guides, or worse, the Cuban tourist hustlers called Jineteros (pronounced hee-neh-tare-o).

Even if there’s not an event happening, you can still plan your trip to Cuba around a theme like art, food, or photography.

For example, through ARTempoCuba we offer customized art tours in Cuba where a team of art historians and curators will teach you about Cuba’s great contemporary art and artists. we have also also offered week-long seminars in Havana to study printmaking, painting, and photography courses as well. We can also arrange week-long courses for things like Spanish language, Salsa dance, conga playing, or music appreciation. Just be certain that you are honestly qualifying under the U.S. Treasury Department guidelines on the FAQ mentioned above.

2) Travel to Cuba as independently as you can.


Of all the tips for travelers to Cuba, the one we wish we could shout from the rooftops is Stay Off The Bus!  Don’t be fooled by the big Cuba tour operators offering supposedly “unique” or authentic bus tours.  If your traveling by motorcoach in Cuba, almost all are packaged group bus tours for foreigners to visit Cuba, and all those tours are exactly alike. They will show you a Cuba that is laminated and vacuum-sealed. Though they’re called “people-to people” tours most of the only “people” you’re going to interact with are Government tour guides, drivers, screened guest lecturers, and carefully invited “guests”.

When choosing a tour operator, our advice is this this: go with a smaller independent travel provider who specializes in your area of interest.

3) Allow Yourself Plenty of  Travel Time in Cuba.
 

One of the hardest tips for travelers to Cuba to absorb is to shift pace.  We’ve seen too people who try to pack too much travel into too few days. Cuba moves at it’s own inexorable pace. In Cuba, a travel day, where you travel between cities, for example, inevitably takes up the whole day. We recommend that you plan for at least 4 nights in Havana and never less than 2 nights anywhere else. The colonial town of Trinidad, a UNESCO world heritage site on Cuba’s southern coast deserves 3 nights. Be sure to add full travel days between destinations farther apart than 100 miles.

4) In Cuba be prepared, have patience, and expect to un-plug from the grid.


Settle down Hot Rod. Life moves at a slower pace in Cuba. It’s partly do to societal limits and inefficiencies, partly do to cultural customs, and often due to the heat and humidity.

Expect that plans may go wrong: the rental car agency won’t have your reservation; the bus from Havana to Trinidad could be delayed; the line to change money could stretch a half-block long; and especially, you might not find anyone that speaks English. Any of these and more can happen. And all of it will work out fine. Be patient and flexible.

Welcome to what Cubans call La Lucha, the daily struggle against the inconveniences and annoyances of Cuban life. Even going through Customs and Immigration upon arrival at Havana’s José Martí International Airport can sometimes be a multi-hour experience. So just take a breath, and be patient. Bienvenidos á Cuba!

If you have any receipts, itineraries, or other paperwork that you might need for your trip, bring them with you – already printed-out. It is not a simple task to print something out in Cuba, especially if you need to connect to your Dropbox via your smartphone to do it.

One of the most practical tips for travelers to Cuba is to pack your bags to be as self-sufficient as possible. In Cuba there are no giant pharmacies, mega-camera stores, computer stores, much less any Apple Stores. Bring any medicines, hygiene products, camera and personal electronics equipment, and any supplies you might need for any seminars or events with you.

Instead of creating frustrations and hassles for yourself, expect to be disconnected from the web for your entire stay in Cuba, except for a few hours now and then when you might be able to connect via a slow WiFi hotspot. Enjoy your forced digital detox.

You’ll be OK. We promise.

5) Avoid Staying in Hotels When Possible –Stay in a Casa Particular (a Cuban B & B).

Probably of all our tips for travelers to Cuba, this is the most common: whenever possible avoid the hotels in Cuba. Generally, the hotels in Cuba are over-priced for the quality of the accommodations, and seldom reach the standards to which international travelers are accustomed. Instead, stay in a licensed Casa Particular which is a B & B privately owned and operated by Cubans.  Comparing category-to-category and price-to-price, the conditions in a Casa are usually superior to those in a hotel. A 5-star Casa Particular will provide much better accommodations than a 5 star hotel for a better price.

All Casas offer home-cooked food service, and it’s often quite good. One meal you should definitely take every day at your place of lodging is breakfast. There just aren’t many breakfast places in Cuba, so eat it at your Casa.

Casa Particulars are also very safe. The licensing requirement that the Cuban Government places on owners of a Casa Particular, makes the Casa owner legally responsible for your physical safety and that of your belongings. And the penalties are severe. Many middle to high-end Casas have in-room mini-refrigerators, hotel-style digital strongboxes, and of-course en-suite private bathrooms. Even without the strongbox, you can safely leave your valuables and documents locked in your suitcase in your locked room in your licensed Casa Particular. If you’re still uncertain, you can always give them to the Casa Owner for safe keeping (get a receipt, even if hand written), and I promise you that she will defend your valuables with her life. To know whether a Casa Particular is licensed look for the symbol of the government issued seal which looks like this.

HavanaVIPtours Casa Particular Service
There are Casas Particulares for all tastes and budget levels from luxury penthouses with their own private swimming pools, to moderately priced private apartments, to economical private rooms in someone’s home. You can check out some examples of Casa Particulares here on our site, and there are many online services for Casa bookings.

Hint: when booking through an online service avoid bait & switch scams by either demanding a satisfaction guarantee, or by pre-paying for only the first two nights of your intended stay so that you can find another place and move if you’re dissatisfied.

The best Casas enjoy high demand, so reserve well in advance for at least the first few nights of your arrival. If you’re going to travel from one city to another in Cuba and haven’t pre-reserved a Casa at your next destination, the Casa owner where you are initially staying always usually has a network of trustworthy Casas around Cuba, so ask his or her help.

6) In Cuba Dine in Paladares (privately owned and operated restaurants).

With the exception of breakfasts (which you should eat in your Casa Particular) the food and service you’ll enjoy in a Paladar is much better than in Cuba’s government owned and operated restaurants. Havana VIP makes it easy to do your research and find quality places. One of the best tips for travelers to Cuba is to check out Havana VIP’s curated list of Cuba’s Best Places for Food & Drinks. While there are many more Paladares to choose from, you cannot go wrong with our recommendations – they are where we eat ourselves.

That’s it for the first part of this two part post.  Go here to read the second part.

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5 months ago

I can’t recommend HavanaVIP highly enough if you plan to visit Cuba (as you should, and soon!) The island of course is fascinating and friendly and full of interest. But I particularly wanted to mention what great friends our guides Eduardo, Adrian, Mario, Natasha and Olivia became to us. They were beyond compassionate to the needs of my mobility-impaired wife. Tony was always forthcoming and helpful, even as our plans changed due to health circumstances. And HavanaVIPs local connections got...

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9 months ago

A memorable experience, great planning and local execution by Havana VIP.

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9 months ago

My daughter and I travelled together. She was celebrating her 50th BIRTHDAY. From beginning to end this 5 day trip was magical: planning with Tony was seamless, he took care of each detail just as we discussed, his knowledge of Havana was thorough and his attitude patient and sensitive...and I can be annoying with myriad questions. The guides were the best we have had anywhere, the accommodations on the Malecon comfortable. We particularly enjoyed going to individual artists' galleries, most...

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Havana VIP sorted our honeymoon for us. Tony was a pleasure to deal with, and the activities he sorted out for us were perfect. Our guides - Kenia, Ginetet, Eduardo - and drivers - Damaso, Darvel, Eduardo - worked overtime to make us happy. Would highly recommend this company if you ever head to Cuba; they know what they're doing, and they make things simple. Unbelievable trip.

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La Galería Santiago Hermes considera que la agencia Havana VIP realiza un buen trabajo en la promoción de la autenticidad cubana

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We just got back from Cuba and we highly recommend Havana VIP. The quality of the trip was first rate. The guides and drivers were just great and all went out of their way to make our trip run smoothly. The accommodations were all comfortable and we enjoyed our conversations with our hosts. We felt like we really got to see a variety of cities, towns, and countryside. We traveled with two doctors and the guide arranged for us to...

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Havana VIP made every aspect of travelling to Cuba a breeze. Working with Tony was effortless. Tony and I spoke about the things we were interested in experiencing and then was able to create a seamless itinerary that was startlingly impressive. We met the kindest people; our tour guide, Jorge Gonzalez Estrada and driver, Eduardo, were so knowledgeable, accommodating and welcoming, we felt like family by the end of the trip. The flow of the activities were well timed and...

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Imagine hosting 25 friends and family in Havana in August for a 50th birthday celebration. Imagine most of these guys are well traveled, international, seasoned jet setters and you are going to try and wow them with a great adventure. What is a girl to do? Hire the best.

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Cara Hogan
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Havana VIP Tours did a fantastic job with our trip. My husband and I loved how everything was handled smoothly from the moment we arrived in Cuba until we left. The housing, the tour guides, the drivers, the dinners, and more were all fantastic and well planned out. We learned so much about Cuban culture and history and met some amazing people along the way. If you're looking for an immersive, informative and fun experience of Cuba, this is the...

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Brocky OA
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Tony & Havana VIP Tours did an outstanding job from inquiry to finish. We couldn't have asked for more. We were 8 people traveling (4 cousins) whose grandmother & aunts & uncles lived in Havana for 4 years prior to being allowed to enter the US from 1922 - 1926. So we decided to visit where they lived. My wife found the address & we said let's go. We contacted Tony and explained about our journey that we wanted. Tony...

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Nancy Pettersen
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From our first conversation with Tony we felt we were in the right hands. He listened to what we wanted down to small details like food and music, customizing our trip for 4 adults. The wonderful Cuban people who guided us through Trinidad, Cienfuegos, and Havana were interesting and a great highlight, even down to our Havana driver Pedro who was so much fun. We found our days informative, educational and great fun filled with history, culture and the arts...

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Elizabeth Furst Frank
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Tony organized a fantastic family visit to Havana for us. Magalys was a wonderful guide - full of information, always on time, and very friendly. Lidice gave a family cooking lesson in traditional Cuban food. And we loved our family salsa dancing lesson as well. We highly recommend Tony and his team.

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Lj Pruitt
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I struggled with finding a tour operator that understood the new laws for Americans to legally travel to Cuba. I called Havana VIP Tours and was pleasantly surprised to speak with someone that knew more than me – Tony. In addition, it was clear that Tony had a deep knowledge of places and things to do in Cuba.

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James West III
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Having traveled extensively, allow me to say that in all aspects the service provided by Havana VIP Tours was the probably the best in all aspects; Communication, Logistics,Transportation, Lodging, On the ground support services, and, well, everything. Tony laid out what was to be offered in the Tour package, and unlike many in the business, he delivered to the most minute of details. His coordination of Flights was well taken care of, as well as necessary Visas. He communicated what...

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Judith Chevalier
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We visited three cities and Tony arranged the housing and the transportation and a number of experiences for us. We are a family of 5 and the kids range from 19 to 7, but everybody was very happy with the places we stayed and the activities we had. We really did get to meet a number of interesting people and got a closer look at life in Cuba than we would have if we had set it up on our...

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Paul Audia
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An amazing experience from start to finish.

From the planning of the trip to the people we met and guided us through the country, this was an educational and informative trip filled with Cuban culture, history, and Art.

I'm not big on planned trips but I am so glad we found you and your team for this experience! Thank you!

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Deisy Suarez
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Tony is the best ! He arranged a 5 day havana tour for me and my friends. We stayed at a private house and ate at the best local places. Our driver was amazing and couldn't recommend any other concierge company in havana. Our experience was truly magical and unique.

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Linda Meier
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Tony arranged a 2 1/2 week custom visit to Cuba in March for four couples. We stayed only in "casas", frequently ate in private restaurants, visited with families and were very pleased with our itinerary. I would agree that of all the wonderful experiences we had, the people themselves and their stories and friendliness were the highlight. I would highly recommend using Havana VIP to organize a customized trip free of hassle and complete with backup support should it be...

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Jennifer Brandenburg
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Our visit to Cuba was a fabulous experience. We learned so much about its interesting history, rich arts and culture through a very full and diverse set of daily activities. Our interactions with Cuban people were insightful. The trip took a lot of advance planning and precise scheduling by Tony and his Havana VIP Tours team. Our guides and drivers, as well as our hosts at the casa particulares, all took good care of us – special recognition for Hector,...

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Tony arranged our 8 day visit and he completely hit itout of the park. We presented something of a challenge... 2 no-longer-young grandparents with their 23 year old granddaughter. and one of us had some significant physical challenges as well. Between the guides and the drivers, the lodgings, restaurant recommendations, the itinerary, I cannot imagine we could have been any more thrilled with our first visit to Cuba, The people, of course, are the major draw in our view, but...

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C Cybele Raver
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Tony and his team were terrific- we felt lucky to be so fully immersed in art, culture, and history while visiting Havana and Trinidad. Tony listened closely to our preferences and interests, providing us with excellent itinerary, superb guest-house stays, talented and engaging tour guides, and warm and helpful drivers for ground transport.

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