FAQ

Here is a list of frequently asked questions. If you have a question about the festival or travel to Cuba, email us at info@backstagecuba.com

I'm a U.S. citizen. Can I travel legally?

Yes, you can!  You will be attending a traveling to attend a cultural and people-to-people program that is covered under the current OFAC regulations.

The United States has a comprehensive set of trade and travel restrictions in place with Cuba, commonly referred to as the Cuban Embargo. Only specific categories of travel to Cuba are authorized, one of which is referred to as the people-to-people program. Under this exception, entities are granted permission from the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) to organize short term educational and cultural exchange trips to the island. Your trip to the island will take place within this framework, meaning you will participate in a full-time schedule of educational and cultural activities with Cubans on the island. Backtage Cuba Travel (BCT) is a leader in providing authorized travel services, and uses its expertise to facilitate specialized, customized trips to the island. All BCT programs fully comply U.S. and Cuban government regulations.

How easy is it to get to Cuba?

You can fly via commercial flights direct from the United States to Cuba.

Check-in begins 3 hours prior to the scheduled departure time and the flight officially closes 1.5 hours prior to scheduled departure; no exceptions. Backtage Cuba Travel recommends leaving at least 4 hours between connections upon departing for and returning to Cuba. Pre and post trip overnight stays in Miami/Tampa are optimal when possible. There are not always daily departures and a missed flight can result in significant complications.
Travelers are permitted to bring 44 lbs. of total luggage, including checked and carry-on. Fees of $1-2 per pound over the allotted 44 lbs. will be applied. Each piece of checked luggage costs between $20 and $30. When possible, travelers should opt for carry-on only. These fees are paid directly to the charter company and do not involve BCT.

The flight from Miami is approximately 45 minutes in duration, and Tampa is just over 1 hour.

What are my lodging options?

Demand for accommodations in Cuba has skyrocketed and largely outnumbers the supply. Due to BCT’s numerous connections to hotels and other types of lodging on the island, we are able to offer our travelers a wide range that meets our standards of comfort, convenience and ambiance. That being said, we encourage travelers to be as open-minded as possible when comparing U.S. standards to Cuban ones. While hotels in Havana may provide access to typical amenities you’d find in the States such as television, toiletries and internet, the capabilities are much more limited and are even more so outside the capital.

Can I use my phone? And what about internet access?

Telecommunications in Cuba have vastly improved recently, but remain slow and unreliable. Internet is limited to hotels and a few public Wi-Fi hotspots scattered throughout the major cities. Most U.S. cell phones do not work in Cuba. Verizon and Sprint recently began roaming agreements and now function for calls and data on the island at a very high rate. Please check with your provider about availability and pricing. Prior to the trip BCT will provide travelers with contact information for hotels/residencies as well as emergency contacts in the U.S. and Cuba. If you’re interested in having a local cell phone we can arrange a rental for $10 per day. It allows for free incoming calls, calls to the U.S. at roughly $1.5 per minute and inexpensive local calling and texting. It does not offer a data plan. Note: the internet in Cuba is slow and unreliable. Please head into your stay with the understanding that communication will be difficult.

Do credit cards work? What is the money situation?

U.S. credit cards and ATM cards still do not work in Cuba. There are very few places that accept traveler’s checks. Credit and ATM cards from Europe, Canada and countries other than the U.S. will work, but ATM machines and establishments that accept credit cards are not always accessible. Plan on bringing enough cash for your whole stay. If you can bring newer $50 and $100 bills that is preferable, as sometimes it can be harder to change small bills, and worn and torn bank notes will not be accepted.

There are two currencies: CUC and CUP. The exchange rate is complicated and all you really need to worry about is the CUC. You can get the other Cuban pesos (CUP, commonly referred to as moneda nacional) as a collector’s item but most things you will want to spend money on require CUC. The official exchange rate for dollars is .873. For $100 USD you will receive 87.30 CUC. There is an extra 10 percent tax on USD that Euros, CAD and other currencies do not receive. However, by the time you pay an exchange fee and receive the poor rate that most banks and exchange houses offer, you won’t save any significant amount of money by converting your U.S. dollars into another currency prior to the trip. It’s usually not worth the hassle.

You are only able to change foreign money to CUC and vice versa in Cuba. We typically recommend exchanging money at one of the many hotels in Havana that house exchange booths. The likelihood of receiving a more favorable rate of exchange is much higher at these hotels than at the airport.

Many expenses incurred on the trip are covered as part of your Backtage Cuba Travel package. See your sales agreement for specifics. You will want to bring cash for the following things:
1. Nighttime entertainment
2. Purchasing art and souvenirs
3. Internet and phone calls
4. Taxis
5. Meals on your own – between $10-$30 per person, per meal 6. Extra beverages at meals
7. Tips for servers, maids, bellman, etc.
8. Tip for Cuban guide(s) and driver(s) – see recommendations

Tipping in the service/tourist industry is expected and appreciated. Government salaries are low and many people survive on the tips they earn. It is true that the average salary in the state sector is $20 per month. However, most people cannot and do not survive on $20 per month. Average income in Havana, which is the result of tips, work on the side, remittances, black market activity and other ways of “getting by,” as Cubans say, is closer to $100-150 per month.

You should tip well if you are treated well. Leaving a few dollars a day for maids, 10 percent on meals and a dollar or two for bellman goes a long way. BCT does include a standard tip for the wait staff at meals but asks that travelers also leave 1-2 pesos per meal. The tip should be based on the service and come directly from those receiving the service.

Tour guides are highly specialized in what they do. They work long, hard hours and have achieved academic and professional success in order to work in this coveted sector. In many cases they are the highest earning individuals in their family and support a network of friends and families through the money they earn.

Moreover, there is a chain of workers under them that don’t have access to tourists and tips and they share what they earn with support staff. BCT is not permitted to pay the guides and drivers. The salary they receive from the government ranges from 20-25 USD per month. Please take this into consideration and be generous if you receive good service. BCT recommends the following amounts for guides and drivers:

Group Size
5-10 travelers 11-20 travelers 21 + travelers

Guide

15 per person per day 12 per person per day 10 per person per day
Driver

8 per person per day 7 per person per day 5 per person per day
** Tips can be paid in dollars or pesos. A mix between the two is usually the preference.

What is the power outlet situation?

Cuba generally has electric outlets that are 110 V or 220 V. Many of the places you will stay will have access to both. Some bed and breakfasts and hotels do not have outlets for three-prong cords, common for computers. It’s recommended that you bring a converter to deal with 220 V electricity and Cuban plugs.

How is the weather?

Cuba is a tropical island with a climate typical to the Caribbean region. It can be extremely warm at times and the sun is strong. Rain showers are common throughout the year, although more common during the Spring, late Summer and early Fall. Please be sure to check the weather prior to your trip departure and also see the section with suggestions on clothes and accessories for your packing list. Temperatures below are listed in Fahrenheit and are estimates only.

Fall and Spring: October, November, March, April and May
The temperature varies greatly in the Spring and Fall, with showers and heat waves common. It’s likely to be in the high 80s or low 90s during the day and in the mid to high 70s in the evening. Please pack clothes and accessories that take into account the strong sun, heavy heat and the possibility of rain.

Winter: December, January and February: During the winter months it usually reaches the low-80s during the day and can drop as low as the mid-50s in the evening. Rain is not uncommon and most evenings are breezy. Please pack at least one sweatshirt or light jacket for cold evenings and bring an umbrella, as well as clothes and accessories for the sun and heat.

Summer: June, July, August, September: The summer months in Cuba tend to be extremely warm, with strong sun and occasional showers. Temperatures during the day often reach the mid to high 90s and the average temperature in the evenings is in the high 70s or low 80s. Please pack clothes and accessories that take into account the strong sun, heavy heat and the possibility of rain.

What should I wear?

Despite low salaries and difficult living conditions, Cubans take pride in dressing well when they can. Shorts, skirts, short-sleeved shirts, and open toed shoes and flip flops are appropriate almost anywhere during the day and at many places at night. Some restaurants and nightclubs prefer or require more formal attire, and depending on your final program, you may want to bring clothes for formal meetings and/or a night on the town. Formal meetings at embassies and/or with experts and academics require business casual clothing.

There may be time for nature walks and hiking, but no part of the official schedule will require intense physical activity. When in the countryside it is advisable to use bug spray and wear long pants during outdoor excursions. Taking into account the diverse weather in Cuba, we recommend packing:

• Comfortable clothing • Dress clothes for several fancy dinners and meetings • Sneakers or comfortable Shoes • Sunglasses • Cap for the sun • Sunscreen • Light raincoat, slicker or poncho • Umbrella • Light backpack • Bug Spray

Is there crime? Will I be safe?

Cuba is one of the safest countries in Latin America. Part of the beauty of visiting the island nation is being able to walk freely without worrying about violent crime. However, petty theft does occur and precaution should be taken – especially in Havana and at night. Try to avoid dark streets and never leave purses, bags and other valuables unattended.

Many Cubans, especially in Old Havana, will approach you to try and sell you black market cigars, ask you to buy milk for their children or try to bring you to a paladar (restaurant), for which they will earn a percentage of any money you spend there. Most of them are harmless, but keep in mind they’re often trying to make a few dollars off interacting with you and will have all kinds of creative tales and “special offers” for doing so.

The streets of Havana and sidewalks are very poorly lit and, in many cases, crumbling and littered with pot holes. Take extra precaution at night keeping a close eye on the ground below to avoid tripping in the frequent ditches and uncovered drains. Waste from stray dogs in also commonplace.

What kind of medicines should I travel with?

All travelers are covered with full medical insurance, which is included in your charter ticket from Miami to Cuba. You will receive this information at check-in in Miami and it will be part of your briefing with BCT and HavanaTur staff upon arrival in Cuba. The most common ailments for travelers in Cuba are indigestion, diarrhea and other stomach problems. Dengue Fever, spread through mosquito bites, is also a problem and precautions should be taken. No pre-trip shots are needed.

• Pack Imodium, Pepto-Bismol and other stomach medicine • Pack cold medicine and medication for other common health issues • Do not drink water from the tap • Do not drink unsealed juices/refreshments from street vendors • Use bug spray All major hotels have doctors on call and each city has a hospital designated for foreigners.

Please advise your BCT escort and/or local guide in the event that someone is not feeling well. Please make sure to notify BCT of any allergies, medical conditions and other health issues prior to the trip.

What is the food like?

Cuban cuisine heavily features rice, beans, chicken and pork. Ample sea food is available as well. The 1990s were plagued by shortages, which affected the accessibility and quality of food, both at home and in restaurants. However, an economic recovery and recent reforms have led to an increase in quantity and quality of foodstuffs. Private restaurants, referred to as “paladars,” have opened up across the country.

Meals will be at state restaurants and private paladars, often times with a fixed menu with various choices. Please notify BCT and the local guide of any allergies or food requirements prior and during the trip. On free evening and afternoons BCT and local guides are happy to assist in reservations at restaurants of your choice.

Is the water safe to drink?

Cuba has an outdated water system and tap water is not okay to drink. Even many locals boil and bottle water prior to consuming. Hotels and fine restaurants will use purified water to make ice. Please drink bottled water only and do not drink juices and other drinks if you’re not sure if purified water has been used.

Where can I purchase trip cancellation insurance?

Please be sure to read the terms and conditions in your sales agreement regarding cancellation and refund policies. BCT is required to finalize all reservations 30 days in advance, meaning that refunds are often not available. We recommend purchasing trip cancellation insurance if you think there’s a possibility your plans may change. Options and pricing vary; please contact the companies directly.

• Travel Guard – www.travelguard.com – (800) 826-4919 • TravelEx – www.travelexinsurance.com – (800) 228-9792 • Travel Insurance Services – www.travelinsure.com – (800) 937-1387

General info about trips to Cuba.

Backstage Cuba Travel has wide-ranging contacts with a cross section of Cuban society, including academics, artists, athletes, chefs, diplomats, economists, musicians, politicians, religious officials, students and ordinary Cubans from all walks of life. Your customized schedule will allow you to meet with many different Cubans and take part in a number of site visits, activities and discussions. It is our hop that you will make a number of Cuban friends along the way.

Our guests will often be the top experts in their field and we’ll be able to hear a diversity of opinions about 21st century Cuba, U.S. policy and world politics. No question or topic is off limits, but we ask travelers to be respectful and gracious in all interactions.

All groups will be accompanied by a bilingual Cuban guide, and Bacsktage Cuba Travel ground coordinators will be present off and on throughout the trip. Please keep in mind that Bacsktage Cuba Travel will always do its best to maintain the scheduled itinerary, but all activities and events are subject to change. When alterations are made we’ll do everything possible to find suitable alternatives. Please convey your interests and desires to BCT prior to and during your visit. BCT runs general trips, as well as those with a specific focus and we look forward to incorporating your desired content in the program.

Translation will be readily available to facilitate interaction and maximize your experience. For Spanish speakers, there will be plenty of opportunities to communicate in group settings and one-on-one conversations.

ARRIVING IN CUBA: The Cuban government and people open their arms to U.S. visitors. However, at times you may receive questioning about the motivation for and content of your trip upon arrival to Cuba. On some occasions an immigration official might ask you questions about your stay on the island (e.g. what electronic equipment you are bringing, how much cash you are carrying and who you will meet with). This is standard and you should not be concerned – it’s part of the experience. Please be transparent and feel free to show them a copy of your program. system, and you are not able to use frequent flier miles or any other benefits.

WHAT YOU CAN AND CAN’T BRING BACK:
U.S. regulations permit travelers to return to the U.S. with up to $400 in merchandise from Cuba. Travelers are now permitted to bring back up to $100 in rum and cigars. This can be $100 in rum, $100 in cigars, or a combination of the two up to $100 in value. There is no limit on the amount of money you spend on art and information materials and you can bring back as much art work, music, books, posters, postcards, photographs, crafts and other art and artisan goods as you’d like.

RETURNING TO THE U.S.
When you return to the United States you will fill out the immigration and customs paperwork as if you were returning from any other country in the world. Among your travel documents you will have a letter on BCT letterhead authorizing your travel to Cuba. If requested, please share a copy with immigration officials.
Please note that once you exit customs, you will need to check-in for your connection to your final destination.