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Cuba Girls Smiling

Planning What to expect in Cuba!

Cuba is a wonderful island: The Pearl of the Caribbean.


Cuba truly is a remarkable island, often referred to as the Pearl of the Caribbean. However, it's important to acknowledge that many aspects of Cuban life may differ significantly from what Americans are accustomed to, including language, climate, customs, and demeanor.


Cubans are renowned for their ultra-courteous, gracious nature, and their candidness, along with a great sense of humor, adds to the charm of interactions with them. It's worth noting that while Cubans strive for punctuality, delays are not uncommon due to transportation and communication challenges. However, such issues are not typical for our programs.


The island's extreme shortages in various aspects of daily life have necessitated great innovation among the Cuban people. While navigating these differences, we advise adopting a mindset of going with the flow while keeping your eyes wide open to the unique experiences Cuba has to offer. Patience, flexibility, and understanding are key virtues to embrace during your time in Cuba.


The words of wise travelers ring true: If you approach Cuba with a mindset focused on finding problems, you may indeed find them abundantly—whether it be transportation, food, accommodations, and more. However, if you approach your journey with an open mind and a spirit of curiosity to learn about the wonderful people and their unique society and culture, your experience will be unparalleled. Cubans are genuinely delighted to welcome you as their guest, and the opportunity to get to know them is equally exciting for you.

Need help arranging a trip to Cuba?

Join a group or organize your own Private Custom Tour, all to Support the Cuban People

Call: Mariah Travel at 1-406-222-5660       Email:

Can Americans can legally travel to Cuba?

The simple answer is YES! It’s is perfectly legal for Americans to travel to Cuba with a current U.S. passport. 

For the past two decades, Mariah Travel, formally EAC Tours, has been operating trips under many of the legal categories including humanitarian, religious, academic, professional meetings and Support for the Cuban People, which is now easiest ways for the average American to legally visit Cuba. A simple process is to travel with an authorized tour provider such as Mariah Travel ensures the trip follows the rules required set forth by the Office of Assets Control or OFAC.

Independent travel is permitted but arranging activities, communication with Cuban providers and island logistics are difficult and very time consuming. Mariah Travel assures your trip follows all the legal requirements and everything is in order before you leave the US.

Categories of legal Cuba travel

You can go to Cuba legally as long as your purpose of travel fits into one of these eleven US government approved categories:

  • Professional research and professional meetings in Cuba

  • Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions in Cuba

  • Religious activities in Cuba

  • Humanitarian projects in Cuba

  • Journalistic activities in Cuba

  • Family visits to close relatives in Cuba

  • Activities in Cuba by private foundations, or research or educational institutes

  • Support for the Cuban people

  • Exportation, importation, or transmission of information technologies or materials

  • Certain authorized export transactions including agricultural and medical products, and tools, equipment and construction supplies for private use

  • Official business of the US government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations


US visitors are required to engage in a full time itinerary of activities related to the above categories of travel. If your travel falls within one of these categories, you are automatically authorized to visit Cuba legally.

Purely touristic travel such as spring break partying and relaxation at an all-inclusive beach resort is prohibited. Likewise, lounging around all day in an rented casa and drinking mojitos all night in Havana, is forbidden. Rule: Full time engagement within the context of the travel category you choose.

American residents and citizens require a valid passport from any country, a Cuban Tourist Visa and mandatory Cuban emergency medical insurance to enter Cuba. Cuban emergency medical insurance is generally included in the cost of commercial airline flights. Confirm with your airline.

Money Matters in Cuba

Carefully plan trip spending before you go to Cuba.


The Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) is no longer official and is worthless. Do not accept any CUCs as change or any other reason from Cubans. 

The US Dollar is now the unofficial currency of Cuba. The Cuban Peso is the local currency. The government rate of exchange is approximately 125 CUPs to 1 USD. At this point there is no real advantage to have euros or Canadian dollars. Mariah Travel's guides can always find a better rate of exchange. You can expect 350-375 CUPs to 1 USD. Expect the rate to change daily. 

Plan Cuba spending money carefully. US credit and debit cards don’t work in Cuba! Don’t get stuck without funds. American Express traveler’s checks can be redeemed but is difficult and not dependable. Western Union can dispatch funds to Cuba in an emergency but they are not consistent and currently are not making any transfers. If there is an emergency, and cash is necessary, please contact our office and we'll make arrangements for supplemental funds.  

Suggestion. Carefully evaluate daily spending needs prior to departure. A minimum of $100 USD per day is recommended. It is better to plan to take more money than to get caught short of funds. Mariah Travel can assist with daily budgeting.


When budgeting, don’t forget about gratuities. Cubans need and expect tips.


Tipping in Cuba

  • Cuban tour guides and tour bus drivers depend upon tips and share them with their coworkers and family. They also contribute a hefty percentage of tips to the national health and education systems

  • Hint:  treat tipping in Cuba as you do at home. Be generous with those who assist.

Here are a few guidelines for tipping, but always at your discretion. You can always leave more or less.

  • Tour Guide 10.00 to 15.00 USD per day per person.
  • Waiters and waitresses 10% - 15%+ of total bill.
  • Fishing Guide $50-$100 USD per day depending on their service.
  • Tour bus driver 5.00 to 8.00 USD per day per person
  • Hotel porters 1.00 USD per person or more if you have lots of luggage.
  • Chambermaids 1.00 USD per day per person.
  • Museum guides and special guides 1.00 USD per person.
  • Musicians at restaurants 1.00 USD per person.

Money: Safety and Security

  • You can change your money into CUPs at the airport on arrival, at a Cuban bank or CADECA (exchange bureau). We suggest you wait and discuss with your guide where to find the best exchange. Your passport is necessary to exchange money. It costs more to exchange money at your hotel. Never exchange money on the street or with an individual Cuban. However, at this time the best rate is on the street. Please refer to your guide to assist with the exchange. 

  • All visitors should keep extra cash, important documents, identification and other valuables in safe locations.

  • When leaving your hotel only take the amount of money you plan on spending on that outing plus a photocopy of your passport. Leave your passport in your hotel lock box unless you plan to exchange money.

  • Ostentatious displays of jewelry, cameras and spending will attract pickpockets and panhandlers.

  • Keep valuables firmly secured to your person.

Gifts and Donations

Cubans warmly welcome gifts however small. Everything you contribute is an offer of friendship – and a great way to bring a smile to everyone. Cubans lack many basic items we take for granted.

We strongly advise against handing out gifts or money to individuals you meet on the street. In areas frequented by tourists, attempts may be made to persuade foreign guests to give them cash or items they can sell on the black market. 

We suggest giving your donations to Cuban NGOs, schools, clinics and community organizations. This way many Cuban families and communities benefit from your generosity. We can assist with reputable organizations to give donations.

Suggested gifts for your new Cuban friends

  • Any and all art supplies

  • Musical instruments, guitar strings, reeds for wind instruments

  • Metronomes, pitch pipes, tuning forks, sheet music

  • Theatre make-up, ballet slippers

  • Baseball bats, balls and gloves, footballs, sport helmets and padding

  • Aspirin and substitutes, Band-Aids, Multiple vitamins and vitamins A, B, C, D, E

  • Medical gloves and masks, medical thermometers

  • Condoms, sanitary napkins, tampons, adult diapers and baby diapers

  • School supplies, all kinds, toys for children

  • Laptop computers no more than four years’ old

  • Spanish/English dictionaries and phrase books

  • High quality summer oriented used clothing and shoes

  • Sheets and towels

  • Kitchen gloves and sponges

  • USB memory sticks (favorite)

  • Nice chocolates, attractive jewelry

  • Cool new T-shirts, caps with neat logos, new sunglasses, hip key chains

  • AA batteries! Boring, yes. But they are scarce, costly and appreciated

  • Anything you’d give your friends at home

  • Reading glasses for elders

  • Oh, Chocolates! You'll make friends for life with chocolates!

Do not bring these items to Cuba

  • Fresh food items, live plants or seeds

  • Outdated school text books

  • Expired medicine or vitamins

  • Old or non-functioning computers

  • Items considered to be weapons

  • Narcotics, pornography

What to take to Cuba? Packing for your Cuba tour.

Cuba is a wonderfully warm tropical island so cotton and other light natural fabrics are ideal. Cubans dress sharp and contemporary – a consideration when selecting your travel clothing.

Casual clothing (shorts, tee shirts, etc.) is the general rule while daytime touring, however, men should not wear shorts to evening events or important venues. Suits and ties are not worn or necessary.

Consider a light jacket or sweater as resorts, restaurants, tour buses and other public areas can be overly air-conditioned.

An umbrella or parka comes in handy as brief rains are common from May through October.

Laundry services are provided at hotels and resorts for a fee (there are no public laundromats in Cuba).

The best rule is to pack once, then cut it by half. Airline weight limits change constantly. Check with your airline prior to packing to avoid over limit luggage fees. Consider leaving some space for gifts and humanitarian donations.

Here’s a checklist of personal items customized for Cuba travel. Just bring what you think you’ll need - leave the rest at home!

Essentials – documents and money

  • Passport (must be valid for six months beyond your stay)

  • Airline tickets purchased separately

  • Cuban tourist visa supplied by airline or other distributors

  • Cuban medical insurance supplied by airline or other distributors

  • Cash (US credit cards don’t yet work), at least $100 per day

  • Travel pack or money belt

  • Copy of all documents packed in a separate location


Clothes and accessories

  • Pants and shorts

  • Shirts and T-shirts

  • Men: shirt and slacks for evening events such as the Tropicana Cabaret, etc.

  • Women: skirt or slacks for evening events such as the Tropicana Cabaret, etc.

  • Sweater or light jacket

  • Swim suit and towel

  • Underwear and socks

  • Comfortable shoes (don’t break in new shoes on this trip)

  • Waterproof sandals

  • Belt, watch, prescription glasses (extra pair if available)

  • Sunglasses, sunscreen, umbrella/rain parka

  • Cap or sun hat (purchase in Cuba)

Medicine, hygiene products and health concerns

  • While many foreign guests and Cubans have no problems with the water, we recommend you drink bottled water at all times.

  • A doctor or nurse is available to participants throughout the tour either at your hotel, at a nearby clinic.

  • Band-Aids or a miniature first aid kit, earplugs (if trouble sleeping)

  • Deodorant, fragrance, moisturizer

  • Face cloth, shampoo, conditioner, hairspray, comb, hairbrush

  • Fingernail clippers, lip balm

  • If you are sensitive to foreign food and water bring Kaopectate or Imodium

  • If you use prescription drugs bring a two-week supply

  • Insect repellent such as citronella essence

  • One roll of toilet paper, sanitary napkins or tampons, condoms

  • Toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss, mouthwash, shaver and supplies

  • Vitamins, aspirin or equivalent

Useful travel items

  • Camera, lots of memory, extra batteries

  • Electricity is 110 and 220 AC – a 220 adapter may be useful

  • Reading material, guide book, Spanish dictionary, note book and pens

  • Rubber bands, plastic bags, super glue, safety pins, sewing kit

  • Snacks, dried fruits and nuts

Vaccinations and Cuba health concerns?

  • There are no requirements for vaccinations to visit Cuba.

  • Zika Virus in Cuba, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that travelers protect themselves from mosquito bites.

  • Cuba is not considered a risk country for hepatitis B, malaria, typhoid or other tropical diseases.

  • If you have concerns about travel vaccinations or immunizations, please discuss with your doctor or a travel clinic.

Bringing home souvenirs, cigars, rum, etc?

Americans may bring back $800 worth of souvenirs to the US from Cuba duty-free. Unfortunately, travelers are prohibited from returning to the US with Cuban alcohol or tobacco products. Enjoy them on the island, but they can't make the trip back.

Download your free map app for Cuba!

Never get lost in Havana or anywhere in Cuba. is an incredibly comprehensive off-line map app for Android and Apple phones and tablets.

YOU MUST DOWNLOAD before you come to Cuba (because the internet in Cuba is really slow when available)! functions entirely offline with many great features. Most important, you don’t get costly roaming charges or need to subscribe to American or Cuban cellular services. It’s free, fast, detailed and entirely off-line maps with turn-by-turn navigation visual and voice.

Finding a paper map of Cuba is difficult and they are pricey when available. Most lack detail or are out of date. They are cumbersome, rip, tear and get wet. is a great addition for traveling to Cuba. Find your way and have fun doing it!

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