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Cuba Travel Tips – Responses to Your Questions Posted in December 26, 2015

Havana VIP Tours Malecon Day

Thanks to all who have read our posts on 12 Helpful Cuba travel tips for US Travelers (Part One and Part Two). Your individual responses have been great and very positive. There have been a few questions that we’ve been getting asked frequently so we thought we should write  a follow-up.

Just to remind you about Havana VIP, we are a leader in customized arts, music, sports and cultural travel to Cuba. Our other project, ARTempoCuba, publishes Cutting Edge Art in Havana, the definitive guide to Cuban contemporary art. We’ve been involved with Cuba for 18 years, employ a full-time staff in Cuba of event and travel planners, and art curators, not to mention our team of drivers and guides, and those in the US split time between Havana and the U.S. So I hope you’ll find that in our Cuba travel tips, we know what we’re talking about.

1) Can we go to the beach?
  This is by far the most frequently asked question. The answer if you are an U.S. citizen or  permanent resident is no, not unless you’re a marine biologist or a geologist or some other related professional and are going to study the beaches in Cuba for a professional reason. Remember that all general tourism to Cuba by U.S. persons remains prohibited by the U.S. economic embargo under the Helms-Burton Act. U.S. persons may legally travel to Cuba under any one of 12 General License categories granted by the U.S. Department of the Treasury Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC). You can check out the OFAC Cuba rules here where you’ll note that lying around on the beach drinking mojitos and smoking Cohibas is not one of the allowed categories. Sorry.

2) What happens if we go to the beach anyway?  
Look, we get it, you want to enjoy the tropical beaches of Cuba. Unfortunately, it’s actually against U.S. law for Americans to do so. Your Canadian, French, English, German, and Australian allies (just name a few) are all lying around drinking daiquiris on the white sands, but if OFAC determines that you as an American engaged in such non-permitted activities while in Cuba you could be subject to a fine or even jail time.

3) Can I get travel insurance to cover my trip to Cuba?  
Yes. Allianz Global Assistance offers trip interruption, trip cancellation, and baggage loss protection for travel to Cuba.  You must still purchase required Cuban Government travelers’ health insurance which is usually bundled into your trip if you travel through Havana VIP Tours or another agency. If you’re unsure about whether the Cuban health insurance is included in your trip, either ask your travel service provider or just wait until you arrive in Cuba. If you don’t have it, they’ll let you know at Cuban passport control, and send you to a desk where you can buy it right in the arrival area.

4) How much money should I bring? Should I bring it in U.S. Dollars or in Euros?
  Bring plenty of cash (not credit cards or travelers’ checks). ATM’s and credit cards linked to U.S. financial institutions are still not yet working in Cuba. So bring more cash than you think you could possibly need. It’s better to return home with your unspent cash than to run low on money during your trip and have to curtail your activities. As far as dollars versus euros, there are many “experts” here on the interwebs that correctly point out that Cuba exchanges euros at a better rate than dollars. However, in our experience this is rarely worth the extra effort because you will lose value on the double exchange fees, first from U.S. dollars to euros, and then from euros to Cuban convertible pesos (CUC). On $1,000 U.S. dollars you might net an extra $10-$20 CUC by exchanging into euros before traveling to Cuba.

5) Should I go on a group tour?  
Some people love organized group tours because they enjoy meeting and traveling with all the other people on the tour. Our typical client doesn’t. A group tour with a bus-load of 30 strangers ain’t for them. Our clients like to travel with a few friends who want to do a customized itinerary that suits they’re interests and travel style. As we said in our previous blog post, the group “People-to-People” bus tours that most U.S. travelers take to Cuba are the most cookie-cutter, generic, shrink-wrapped tours there are. That’s why we at Havana VIP Tours concentrate on arts and cultural tours for couples or groups of friends of two to eight persons. You can see more, do more, and spend less if you stay off the bus tours. We do organize specialized tours for larger VIP groups like an art museum group traveling together, but we don’t organize bus tours where anyone can sign up.

Havana VIP Tours Trinidad de Cuba

6) Can I DIY my travel plans?  
Yes, at the risk of costing ourselves business, you can definitely “do-it-yourself” plan your travel to Cuba. You can buy your air tickets from our buddies at CheapAir.com and reserve places to stay on Airbnb. But when it comes to booking your lodgings please be wary of bait-and-switch scams, as we talked about in our post about how to find good lodgings in Cuba.  Where an agency like Havana VIP Tours adds value is that we take all the guess-work out of traveling to Cuba.  Instead of spending hours pouring through guidebooks and sifting through the mis-information on sites like TripAdvisor, you can rely on our exclusive network and on-the-ground knowledge.  We are insiders and design the very best itineraries based on the latest up-to-the-minute information. We put you into the best accommodations, provide you with the best guides, and,  as we said in our post about Havana nightlife, because we what’s hot or not, we hook you up for the very best food, drinks, and nightlife. We’ll show you the best of Cuba and take the hassle and uncertainty out of your travel planning.

7) Can I invest in Cuba? Its surprising how often we’re getting this question. Really, this is a very complicated topic because “invest” can mean a lot of different things. Mostly, people mean “Can I buy a house or a bar or restaurant?” as opposed to “Can I invest in agriculture or construction via a Cuban state-owned enterprise?”. The answer is “no” to the former and “maybe” to the latter, and we don’t recommend either.

It’s true there’s a housing boom (or bubble) going on in Havana right now, with some properties selling for over $1 million purchased by foreigners. However, this is very risky. Under Cuban law, only Cuban citizens or foreign permanent residents can legally own homes in Cuba, and likewise only they can apply for the necessary permits to open one of the 180-plus categorized small businesses currently allowed under Cuban law (including restaurants). Under U.S. law, it’s likewise prohibited for Americans to engage in financial transaction in Cuba. Remember, there’s an economic embargo the U.S. has in place against Cuba. Most of the foreigners doing these transactions in Cuba are Europeans or Latin Americans with years or experience in Cuba, many of whom are married to Cuban citizens. But there is no such thing as a Cuban mortgage, no such thing as title insurance, not even such a thing as homeowners insurance in Cuba. As to whether you can invest via a Cuban state-owned enterprise the rules for this are looser on the Cuban side, but still require permission from OFAC on the U.S. side.

Overall, our advice to would-be investors in Cuba is: Hold your horses. Come down here. Several times. Learn for yourself. Then if you still absolutely must do it – be prepared to lose every penny. Not that you absolutely will lose, just have the right risk threshold which is 100%.

Want more Cuba travel tips? Check our FAQ. Or feel free to contact us.

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Lisa Cashion Schreiber

They were very organized and we experienced some truly authentic Cuban experiences- highly recommend

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Claudine Rosetti

5 stars for sure! Since I found Havana VIP via an internet search, Tony was very patient in our 45 minute introductory phone call to reassure me that his company was not only legitimate but that they had been in business for over 13 years and knew the ins and outs of Cuban travel for American citizens. Our group ranged in age from 13 to 75 (Grandma~ my mother, came along and she rode a horse in Vinales. Edwardo, our...

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Jane Hammond

We have just returned from a trip to Cuba, arranged by Tony and HavanaVIP. Three couples traveled to Trinidad and Havana, with a particular focus on upcoming Cuban artists. Every plan and arrangement happened flawlessly - guides and drivers were always on time, helpful and endlessly cheerful. Ernesto was our first guide in Trinidad, and he could not have given us a nicer introduction to this amazing country - both the history, and the social state of things today. Attending...

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Nick Nicastro

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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Alain Rossmann

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

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Glo Harris

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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Santiago Hermes Martínez Zerquera

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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Martha Whetstone

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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Martel Angelo Postell
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Jacqueline Postell

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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Adrián Lamela Aragonés
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Lisa Mastronardi

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.

The Havana VIP team both in the US and in Havana knocked it out of the park.

Great housing, fantastic excursions, customized itinerary, amazing experiences,...

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Brocky OA

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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Josh Poling

My wife and I traveled to Cuba with my parents in November 2016. Tony and Havana did a great job coordinating a custom trip to meet our interests. All of the guides and drivers they set up were very professional. I honestly can't imagine travelling to Cuba any other way! We made sure all of our guides knew we wanted to experience the real Cuba and get off the beaten path, and they were always more than happy to oblige....

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Nancy Pettersen

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

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

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.

We are a family of 4 ranging in age from 15 years to 83 years. Our interests are...

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James West III

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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Mercedes Sera
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Paul Audia

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

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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Stephanie Marsh
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Linda Meier

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

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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Pat Topitzer

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

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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