Washington College ALUMNI TRIP to the Cuba
Friday, October 9, 2020 – Saturday, October 17, 2020 (9 Days)
1. Do I need a passport? Yes, you must have a valid passport that does not expire until a full 6 months after we return from Cuba. We recommend that our clients take a photo of their passport and carry it with them, and leave a copy at home with their emergency contact, as well.
2. Do I need a visa? Yes. Most US citizens and many foreign nationals can travel to Cuba using a Tourist Card that can be purchased in the airport. Cost is $50-$100 depending on the airline. This is generally very easy and does not require any paperwork. However, some foreign nationals and all persons born in Cuba (regardless of citizenship) are required to obtain a Visa. This should be done well in advance and directly with Cuban embassy.
3. What about medical insurance? We provide Cuban health insurance for all participants (included in cost). Cuba’s socialized healthcare system is guaranteed to all travelers using a Cuba-based health insurance that we provide for you. In addition, we also purchase a US based Travel Medical Insurance policy that provides ample coverage ($1,000,000) for medical evacuation, political evacuation, natural disaster evacuation, and medical reunion.
4. What about travel insurance? We also encourage participants to purchase extra travel insurance to protect against trip cancellation/interruption due to sickness, injury, or death of you, a family member, or a traveling companion. Travel insurance can also cover against cancellations due to being laid off from work, changes in your work schedule, or even being called for jury duty. If you are interested in “cancel for any reason” insurance, be sure to purchase this immediately after making your initial deposit for the trip, as insurance companies generally require their purchase within 7-10 days of the initial deposit. Ashé Tours makes no endorsements with regards to travel insurance. We do not recommend any particular insurance company, and make no claims as to the quality of their different products. However, we do use IMG for Travel Medical Insurance and have noticed that many of our clients have selected to also use IMG’s Travel insurance. Their information is available at https://www.imglobal.com/. For travel insurance recommendations check out the easily accessible websites compiled here.
5. What are conditions like in Cuba? I know that Cuba is embargoed by the United States. Is it easy to find food, water, medicine, and other consumer goods? Cuba is experiencing a shortage of food, medicine, and consumer goods. People with restrictive diets may find it challenging to find the foods that they require or desire. Convenience stores have sparsely stocked shelves, making it difficult to obtain most consumer items. Clients with health concerns should realize that medicine is difficult to obtain, and should plan to bring any prescription and/or OTC medicines they require or desire.
6. Is this trip strenuous? What are the physical requirements. What is the experience like for seniors in their 70s or 80s? This tour requires average physical activity. You should be in good health, able to climb stairs and walk reasonable distances, possibly over uneven grounds, broken concrete, and cobblestone streets. Please note: This is NOT a resort experience. Cuba is not ADA compliant and can be difficult to navigate for people with mobility issues. However, most of our participants are in their 60s and 70s, and quite a few have been in their 80s. While we enjoy taking our clients on walks through the cityscape, we are also careful to gauge everyone’s comfort level and provide alternate activities and means of transportation when requested. This is not a resort experience.
7. What is the lodging like? Rather than using crowded and expensive tourist hotels, our group will stay in professional government-sanctioned guest rooms in the homes of working class Cubans. These are not exactly “home stays” because you do not interact with the hosts unless you want to. Each licensed guest room has air conditioning. Guests have access to guest-only restrooms and refrigerator. All of our rooms are located in houses within a 2 block radius of each other. We will be one block from the Malecón (the iconic seawall in Havana) and 6 blocks from the tourist district and old town Havana. We will likely not have access to television, phones, cell phones, or internet – such luxuries are only just now making their way to the average person in Havana. If you need to communicate with people outside of Cuba, you can access wifi internet in the central park or in one of the tourist hotels. Very recently, Verizon and AT&T have started offering service to the island. We are not sure yet of its reliability or cost. In Viñales, we will hopefully stay in a beautiful hotel that overlooks the dramatic valley of Viñales. Again, we emphasize…this is NOT a resort experience.
8. Is Havana/Cuba Safe? Havana is generally considered one of the safest cities in the world for tourists. Police are found on almost every block in the areas in which we travel. The average Cuban is incredibly friendly to American tourists. To ensure against petty pick pocketing, avoid wearing expensive jewelry and watches and be mindful of wallets and purses in crowded tourist venues. We will stay together in groups at night. “Machismo” is common in Cuba, and while women are not physically harassed by men in Cuba, unasked-for complimentary remarks about a woman’s appearance are common when walking around the city. All travelers are encouraged to view the Cuba Travel Advisory on the State Department’s Website.
9. What is Cuban cuisine like?
Breakfast: One of our host families will cook for all of us, and we’ll eat together as a group on a large balcony overlooking a neighborhood street. Breakfast, served every day, includes fresh pineapple, bananas, guava, oranges, papaya, mammee, mango and fresh squeezed juice. Farm fresh eggs in a variety of styles are served with chicken or pork sausages, and/or croquettes of meat, fish or vegetables. Coffee, tea, milk, yogurt, cereal and bread and butter accompany. Many lunches will be on your own. All meals and drinks in our host home are made with purified bottled water that we buy.
Dinner: Dinners in Havana are provided by our hosts. They are fantastic cooks and do their very best to provide us with a variety of traditional Cuban foods. “Ropa Vieja” is a traditional dish prepared with shredded beef, lamb, or rabbit meat in tomatoes and sauce and wine. Roast pork is served with “mojo criollo,” a gravy with lemon juice, garlic, salt and oil. Chicken is an important part of Cuban cuisine and is served deep fried, roasted, grilled or as a soup. “Congri,” white rice cooked with black or red beans, is served with most meals. Occasionally we have yellow rice with vegetables. They also serve a huge variety of boiled or fried roots including potatoes, sweet potatoes, plantain, yucca, and malanga. Finally, the often serve fresh vegetables including tomatoes, cucumber, lettuce, avocado, green beans, beets and cabbage. All meals and drinks in our host home are made with purified bottled water that we buy.
10. What if I am vegetarian? Our hosts are happy to make sure plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables are available for every meal. They also serve rice, beans, and/or pasta with every meal. People with strict dietary concerns should inform us early in the process so that we can best assist you. For the meals that we eat in restaurants, there are often (but not always) more vegetarian options available.
11. What is the weather like? What should I wear? The weather is extremely nice! It runs from 70 degrees at night to as high as 95 degrees in the day. If there is no rain, you can expect a balmy tropical 85-90 degrees on an average day. You should bring shorts, pants, a rain jacket and/or small umbrella, and either one warm sweater or a light jacket. We recommend a bathing suit if you want to go swimming at the beach (the water is warm and beautiful). Also, we suggest bringing a beach towel – one that you can leave behind as a gift to the hosts. Please see the detailed packing list for more information.
12. What about Zika virus? The Zika virus is present in Cuba. If you are pregnant or considering becoming pregnant in the next 12 months you will need to take serious precautions while traveling to Cuba. This includes covering all skin with long sleeves, treating clothing with permethrin, and use EPA registered insect repellant. In addition to infection by mosquito bite, Zika can be spread sexually. Both males and females must take preventative measures if pregnancy is a possibility in the 12 months after you visit Cuba. Detailed information about the Zika virus can be found at: http://www.cdc.gov/zika/fs-posters/
13. What about malaria and yellow fever? According the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is little to no risk of yellow fever or malaria transmission in Cuba. Refer to CDC website for more info.
14. Do I need any special vaccinations? You should be up-to-date with all doctor-recommended vaccinations and have a flu shot. However, there are no extra vaccinations necessary for travel to Cuba. Refer to CDC website for more info.
15. What about souvenirs? The U.S. currently allows you to bring back souvenirs from Cuba. Generally, travelers are permitted to import $800 worth of goods, duty-free. This includes 1 Liter of alcohol and 100 cigars. To learn more about importing souvenirs visit Borders and Customs Patrol (the official government website) and/or ViaHero (a private but highly informative website, that also has shopping suggestions in Cuba.