CUBA – Things to Know B4 You Go

Vaccinations:-  There are no compulsory vaccinations required for Cuba travel; however, the following Vac’s are advisable as a sensible precautionary measure – and may be required to satisfy your Travel Insurance Policy.  You will need these Vac’s at least 2 weeks prior to travel but preferably at least 2 months prior.  These vac’s are available from your GP Surgery/Travel Clinic and are generally offered free of charge.  In our opinion it would be both sensible and advisable to have these ‘basic’ vaccinations no matter where your holidays may take you:-

Typhoid:-   The disease is transmitted from human to human via food or drinking water, and it is therefore mainly hygiene and sanitary conditions that determine its spread.

Hepatitis A:- This virus is present in stools passed by infected persons. It can be transmitted via contaminated food, eg shellfish and ice-cream, as well as contaminated water and beverages.
The virus can also be spread through contact with an infected person's stools through poor hygiene.

Diphtheria:- This disease is mainly transmitted by droplets from the nose or throat being passed from person to person, eg by coughing or sneezing.  Protection from the disease comes from having antibodies in the blood - which is the purpose of vaccination. The bacteria can easily be passed on by a person who shows no sign of illness, a so-called 'healthy disease carrier'. Diphtheria can also be transmitted by skin-to-skin contact .   Also Tetanus and Polio  should be up to date.   Assuming your travel vac’s are not up-to-date, it will be important to have your boosters (within 6 months) of your initial jabs ~ having the boosters will give you 10 years cover with the exception of Typhoid which you will need to have every 3 years.

Currency and Credit  Cards:- Cuban currency is not traded internationally, so you can’t buy it in advance.   There are 2 currencies in use in Cuba – The CUC (Cuban Convertible Peso) which is the Tourist Currency and the CUP (Cuban Peso) which is the locals currency.  The CUC is the only currency you will likely be using during your trip.  You can only exchange your money into CUC’s once you are in Cuba.  You can exchange your Sterling £’s at the exchange booth at the airport (but remember you could be holding your bus up if there is a queue)(one of you wait for the luggage whilst the other goes to the exchange) or most Hotels and Resorts have an exchange booth which offer an exchange rate much the same as the airport.  You must make sure your GBP £notes are in good condition with no rips or writing or defaced as these can be declined, I would exchange a little cash at a time so as not have too many surplus CUC's when you leave or otherwise you will have to pay to re-convert them into £££'s.  Remember to keep back a few cuc’s for drinks/food at the airport and your final tips!!   REMEMBER you will need to exchange and put by 25 cuc’s per person ( in notes – no coinage accepted) for your exit tax.  To get an idea of currency conversion take a look at this website, your destination currency will be CUC (not cup), you can print yourself a cheat sheet to keep in your purse/wallet to help with converting prices into £’s (you can also reverse the cheat sheet) print a copy just before you leave so that you will be comparing at more recent exchange rates – It’s good as a rough guide !!  http://www.oanda.com/convert/cheatsheet

Travellers Cheques are a pain in the butt to cash and if you lose them you will not get them replaced in Cuba so IMO they are a waste of time. TC’s must not have any American affiliation or they will be declined; to find such TC's is very difficult here in England - not sure about Wales or Scotland . So I would stick with cash.  Your resort will have a room safe so be sure to store all your valuables in there.  If you do decide to take TC’s be sure to take the original receipt and your passport with you to the bank or else they will not cash your TC’s.

American Dollars are no longer advisable in Cuba , contrary to popular belief the dollar is still accepted in Cuba and is not ‘illegal’ – If you exchange dollars you will be charged a 10% commission over and above the usual rate of exchange so it’s not worth the bother plus you will end up losing around 20%.

Credit Cards are accepted provided they are not backed by an American Bank (mbna for example).  It would be advisable to contact your service provider to check your CC has no affiliation with an American Bank or it will be unusable in Cuba.  CC’s are acceptable to pay for excursions but remember the cost of your trip will be converted into dollars and then into sterling + the average CC will have a 2.75% handling fee added to it.  If you draw cash on your CC from a bank in Cuba the same conversion will apply + the handling fee + interest is charged from the day of advance.  I prefer to deal in cash as I believe it is cheaper than using a CC, a CC is useful to have in case of emergency.

Debit Cards:- VISA Debit cards are a bit of a grey area, Cashpoint machines are not widely available in Cuba and don’t always work, so I would personally forget about using your VISA Debit Card in Cuba .  If you withdraw cash you will be charged between 11 and 13% by the bank.

TRAVEL INSURANCE:-  You would be mad to travel to Cuba without adequate Insurance including medical insurance.  Make sure your Insurance Provider WILL honour your policy should you need medical treatment in Cuba, there was a recent case where a lady needed medical treatment in Cuba but because her policy was from an American affiliated provider they would not help her whilst she was on Cuban soil, fortunately her injuries were not too serious or require hospitalisation – ask your Insurance Provider to confirm in writing that you are covered for everything whilst INSIDE of Cuba. (this is where a Credit Card will always come in handy – any medical treatment MUST be paid for before being allowed to leave Cuba ).  Also it is advisable to choose an Insurer that has a ‘manned’ 24hr helpline – If you phone the helpline be sure to have the number of your hotel so you can request they phone you back immediately, telephone calls are very expensive in Cuba and you will end up with a huge bill, especially if you are using a hotel phone.  I know a family that had a medical emergency and were unable to get hold of their Insurers all weekend – they had to pay for all the hospital treatment and xrays, ambulance service etc themselves, they also ran up a huge phonebill trying to get hold of their insurers….. that also had to be paid by themselves.  Always ensure you have a copy of your policy and all emergency phone numbers with you. extra info click here. and here: https://www.cubavisa.uk/cuba-health-i...

Tourist Card/Visa:-  You will need a green Tourist Card/Visa to gain entry into Cuba .  Some Travel Agents include the Visa in with your holiday cost and some don’t, you will need to check with your Agent. The cost of the Visa is usually £15 and can be obtained from the Cuban Consulate in London – you can download an application form from their website – http://forms.visaservice.co.uk/cuba%2...

If you need your Visas in a hurry you can apply on-line @ www.cubavisa.uk or www.visacuba.co.uk  – this will cost you more than £15.   When you fill in your Visa you will need to make sure you do not make any mistakes, so read the card thoroughly and carefully before filling in.  Beware of the date of birth section as this is done in a different format to what we are used to using – I think it is done in month, date, year order.  You will be able to find a sample Visa on the internet.  Both parts of the Visa have to be completed and handed in to Immigration on arrival, they will retain one half and give you back the other half; which you must keep safe and hand in to immigration on departure.  Some Travel Agencies will allow you to purchase a Visa at their travel desk at the airport, they usually charge £20 – check with your Agent, do not depend on it!!!!!   You may learn that you can buy a Tourist Visa on entering Cuba ; however, some British Operators will not allow you to board your flight without your Visa so do not rely on this option or you may not be Cuba bound!

Immigration:-  Immigration in Cuba can be a bit nerve racking, you will queue to enter an immigration booth, you can only go one person at a time, you will be required to hand over your passport and Visa, the passport will be scrutinised and so will you….lol… you will most likely feel uncomfortable and they may ask you a simple question, a simple answer is the best reply!!!  If you have children, you can take them to the booth with you, but it is better to ‘share’ them between mum and dad than go to a booth ‘on mass’ ~ do not go to the booth as a whole family – you will be turned back.  If you have older children (teenagers+), let one adult go first, then the older child and then another adult, this way; if by chance the ‘child’ is sent for interview there is an adult on the same side of immigration as the child and you can demand to go with your ‘child’ ~ I have only ever heard of this happening once before, where both adults were on the other side of immigration and they would not let the parents go back to be with the ‘child’ ~ could be True or False?Keep a copy of the photo page of your passport in case your documents are stolen.

Cameras & Batteries:- Films for cameras are expensive so make sure you take plenty of film with you.  Batteries are expensive and hard to get, so make sure you have plenty of spares for the likes of your cameras, MP3, Ipod etc.  An underwater disposable camera is one of my ‘musts’,  you can get some fabulous pictures of the coral and fish.  If you have a digital or video camera – remember to pack your chargers --- Hope you have a big memory card too !!!!!

Telephone Calls and Mobile Phones:-  If you wish to make a phonecall the best option is to purchase a pre-paid phonecard (usually available on resort) and use the public cardphone.  Calls from the Hotel phones are much more expensive than the public cardphones.  All telecommunications are very expensive in Cuba.  Using a mobile phone is probably the cheapest option, but still approx charged at £1+ a minute.  The cheapest form of contact is text (approx 45p).  If you are taking your mobile to Cuba be sure to tell folk NOT to phone you and certainly not to leave you a voice mail unless in an emergency – you have to pay to receive the call and if a voice mail is left you have to pay to receive the voicemail, then pay again to listen to it and you also have to pay to store the message on the Cuban net work – that one call can cost you a fortune; especially if you don’t retrieve your message for a few days. Remember Text is best and cheapest.  Most Mobiles work in Cuba, it does not depend on the ‘band’ of your phone but on your network provider, it is best to phone your service provider and check whether your particular phone will work in Cuba.  You can access your providers website to get the current charges for calls and texts for Cuba . Remember, anything incoming, other than texts, you are paying dearly for.  The Code for England from Cuba is 044- then drop the first 0 from the area code followed by the telephone number – you may have to apply this practice when phoning a mobile from Cuba.

Medications etc:- Any medication is not widely available in Cuba so be sure to take enough prescription medications for the whole of your trip.  You will also need to ensure you take general first-aid with you – pain killers, plasters, Immodium, hydration salts etc, as these are both costly and difficult to get hold of in Cuba. If you have an allergy to any medication ensure you bring an alternative with you. Please, whatever you have left over pass on to any Cuban folk as they will be most appreciative of it, medications are unaffordable to them.  Condoms are a must, for obvious reasons, and expensive to purchase!!

Ladies; please take tampons and sanitary wear with you, if the unexpected should happen you will be up pooh alley!  You can not get tampons in Cuba and their ST’s are rather antiquated and nasty!!!  Be sure to leave any unwanted tampons with a Cuban – she will remember you for ever.  Take little packets of tissues with you; toilet paper is scarce or chargeable (off of resort, of course…lol), they are handy to have at the airport. Baby wipes might be an asset on resort as the loo paper can be quite thin and cheap in some resorts….lol…lol.

Sun Lotions:-  Take plenty of sunscreen, various factors and after-sun – expensive in Cuba but a cheap product, also anything for sunburn, the sun is very hot so be careful.  A hat, especially if you are bald or have thin hair.

Mosquito’s & Bugs:-  Take repellent, products that contain 50% Deet are very good ~  these include – Jungle, Tropical strength or Boots chemists do their own Tropical strength repellent.  Maybe a mosquito plug-in for your room.  Take after-bite lotion and tablets to relieve itching, Benydryl is a good brand, also zapper pens or the bite pens that contain ammonia.  I also take a spray can of Raid (red tin) in case I get any uninvited visitors, such as roaches, ants etc. (once the spray is applied to troublesome areas, such as balcony doors; it will deter them from coming back)  TIP: I always leave the bathroom light on and keep the plug in the bath to help avoid getting roaches. Again, leave the can with a Cuban.  Sand fleas can be an issue sometimes too – the evidence of sand flea bites are bites on the feet, ankles and lower legs … but not anywhere else …. I do not know of a repellent but some good sound advice is to exchange your dirty beach towels at the end of a day for clean ones … do not take dirty beach towels to your room, or you could be taking the sand fleas in with you.

FOOD:- Food is very basic in Cuba so don’t go there expecting fine cuisine. If you like to have nibbles in your room then I suggest you take your own, choice is very limited in Cuba and does not taste like ours, things I would suggest you take are:-  Crisps and pringle type eats – Cuban ones are naf, chocolate and sweets. Peanuts, biscuits, nutrigrain bars etc & chewing gum.  Salad Cream or Mayo – if you cant live without it (none in Cuba ).

Travel Adaptor:-  Most resorts have dual power supply 110v and 220v so you can use either the Southern Europe round pin adaptor or the Australian/American square pin adaptor – all our appliances in the UK are 220v so you will not need a converter.  If you use the round pin adaptor (110v) your electricals will run slower

Clothing:-  You should only ever need usual summer attire, but in the months of Nov/Dec through to March/April you may find that a thin/lightweight  long-sleeved top, cardigan or sweat top may be useful for a chillier evening – you will most certainly want a sweater on the flight home, the planes can be quite chilly after the hot Cuban climate. 

Towels:-  Most, if not all resorts provide in-room towels and beach/pool towels that can be changed daily, so no need to pack any towels.

 

Car Hire:-  If you are not a confident driver give this one a miss.  You will also need a good map!!

A valid UK driving licence is required to drive and/or rent a car in Cuba.  If you decide to rent a car in Cuba, you should ensure that the insurance which is provided with the car includes local third party insurance cover.  All drivers and passengers of motorcycles and scooters are required by law to wear a crash helmet.

In view of serious accidents that have involved tourists, you should not use mopeds or three wheel Coco-Taxis for travel around Cuba. Driving standards are variable.  Many vehicles, including public transport, suffer from lack of maintenance and roads are poorly lit and sign-posted.  Beware of cyclists, potholes and cars that stop without warning to pick up hitchhikers. You should avoid driving by night; animals, unlit vehicles and other hazards are a real danger.  The Cuban police are cracking down on drink driving.  If you have a traffic accident where someone is killed or injured, the police investigation may take several months during which time the driver will normally not be allowed to leave Cuba.  There is no guarantee that criminal compensation payments will be made.  If convicted of killing someone in a road traffic accident, the standard punishment is at least 2 years in jail.  If the worst happens and you do have a serious accident, you should contact the British Embassy as soon as possible.

Drugs:- Cuba has a zero tolerance on drugs, sniffer dogs are present in the airport and freely sniff your luggage.  Cuba is increasingly being used as a transit country for drugs destined for Europe.  Cuban law allows for the death penalty and courts are handing out very severe penalties (in excess of twenty years) for all drugs related offences. Do not take drugs in with you and do not accept from anyone offering you drugs (you could be accepting from under-cover cops).

Weather:-  Cuba is generally hot all-year round.  The months June to Oct/Nov can be very hot and very humid day and night.  From Nov/Dec onwards the humidity drops, offering a much pleasanter climate if you don’t like high humidity – May/June time the humidity starts to rise again.  May brings the start of the rainy season and the hurricane season which goes through to November now.  Although it is the rainy season, it does not mean rain as we know it !! Any rainfall is usually just a 10-20 minute tropical downpour and then back to sunshine.  Most rain usually occurs throughout the night. Dec to April is much cooler in the fact that you don’t have the humidity and can have a ‘cool breeze’ making the overall climate more bearable if you don’t like the extreme heat and like a bit of air !!!        Cuba is great for a tan all year round.

Babies:-  Baby food and disposable nappies are patchily available in Havana and normally unavailable in the rest of Cuba ; if you are bringing a baby it is always best to come self-sufficient and bring every thing you are likely to need for baby, including swim nappies, cereals, jarred and packet foods and juices (incase baby has a hard time adjusting to Cuban cuisine) snacks and nibbles.  Bring spare dummies, bottle teats, sterilising wipes and tablets etc and of course babies favourite cuddly toy or blanket!!...... anything that would cause devastation if baby didn’t have it…lol..lol.. 

Please also remember to bring any medications you could possibly need if baby was to fall ill.  If baby has an allergy to any medications ensure you bring an alternative with you just incase baby should need it.  Most doctors are sympathetic and will give you a prescription if you explain that you are going to Cuba and stress that medications are difficult to come by.