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Cuba travel or climbing restrictions? (April 11-25 trip?)

Original Post
Chris E. · · Bend, OR · Joined Mar 2014 · Points: 5

Our government website was still indicating some travel restrictions for Cuba, but a friend of mine had no such issues when he went recently. says, "Tourist travel to Cuba remains prohibited. You must obtain a license from the Department of Treasury or your travel must fall into one of 12 categories of authorized travel. See ENTRY, EXIT & VISA REQUIREMENTS below."

Same question regarding climbing. The website says it can be pretty dicey, but folks going there seem to indicate it's not a big deal.

Anyone gone recently? What's the deal?

Sketty · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Sep 2016 · Points: 0

In my experience (January 2017), not even close to dicey. The customs agent didn't even give us a second glance coming back, nor did he have any reason to. Officially, we went to "support civil society in Cuba" and "maintained a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities intended to enhance contact with the Cuban people".

Those definitions are intentionally vague. The benefit of them being vague is that it encompasses many activities. The downside is that if you run into some total asshole bureaucrat who wants to make your life miserable, then yes, they could probably make your life harder than it needs to be.

Obviously this is par with any interaction with law enforcement in the US - if a traffic cop were sufficiently motivated, I'm sure that they could find a reason to pull over & ticket literally any given car on the road.

Having said that, any rational person paying attention to the news must also recognize that the border police in the USA have virtually unchecked power at the moment and have sexually assaulted US citizens and threatened them with a $6,000 medical bill for the privilege. Unfortunately this is not hyperbole. I made a conscious decision to go to Cuba before the current administration came in. Will you be fine? Almost surely. Could some really scary stuff happen to you? Absolutely, it could also happen to you on US soil within 100 miles of the border.

Political rants aside, here's some directly relevant info:…

Specifically read section 13:

13. What constitutes “people-to-people travel” for generally authorized travel?

"Travelers utilizing this general license must ensure they maintain a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities intended to enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba, or promote the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities, and that will result in meaningful interaction between the traveler and individuals in Cuba."

Chris E. · · Bend, OR · Joined Mar 2014 · Points: 5

Thanks for the detailed response! Did you purchase or acquire any visas in advance or was it all at the airport?

Is it good to have a story/purpose thought through before getting there? I emailed to see if I could bring a couple extra pieces of climbing equipment down and travel under that umbrella.

Thanks again. And, I agree, our country and border issues are in a frightening place. I'm not sure what to do other than call/email congressional reps and say I'm not ok with the mistreatment of folks wanting to enter the US.

Sketty · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Sep 2016 · Points: 0

Almost every airline will sell you a "tourist card" beforehand or at the airport, however you'll want to call your airline to verify. The prices vary per airline and to my knowledge the cards are not interchangeable - we thought that we got a deal on our flight and read that tourist cards normally ran about $25/ea but it turns out that our mandatory tourist cards were an extra $100/ea and that we could not have used any other agency's tourist card. This is what they told us - I haven't done any research after the fact.

Our story was basically that, "There is a super passionate climbing community in Cuba but due to government restrictions they are unable to organize or even establish a website. We're both certified climbing instructors with experience organizing local communities around conservation efforts. Since climbing involves so many important civil issues (land access, conservation, public/private liability, etc...) we're eager to exchange experiences with the local community and help support it in any way that we can".

A side note, apparently the word "Donations" has been a trigger word in the past since it was commonly used as a cover for drug smuggling. "Gifts" is a preferable and more benign term to use. Again, we never got the chance to say any of this to anyone because nobody cared about why we were there, but this is what we had prepared beforehand.

We also tried to bring gear, but they were much more interested in funds to buy bulk bolts @ wholesale, so I chose to donate money and just left a few basics down there. Cuba is changing rapidly - I went down prepared to leave my backpack and everything in it, but the Cuba of today is dramatically different than the Cuba of even 9 months ago, and almost unrecognizable from the Cuba of 5 years ago. The locals all had newer/better gear than we did thanks to the substantial donation efforts over the past few years. Obviously they still won't be able to buy any gear independently until the embargo is lifted (2018 at the very earliest if everything goes according to plan), but the situation is not as dire as earlier writings might lead you to believe.

Sketty · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Sep 2016 · Points: 0

Also sorry about the proselytizing, obviously anyone with enough curiosity to want to explore Cuba doesn't need/want my ranting. Please go and stay there for at least 10 days - we felt like any less than 10 would have been far too brief. I went down with some pretty quixotic expectations but the country totally blew me away. It is a phenomenal place that is going to utterly explode when Americans discover how incredible it is. The people are as genuine as you will find in a tourist economy, the prices are still extremely cheap, the country is absolutely gorgeous, and it's basically the last vestige of Marxist-socialism being practiced in the world today, which in and of itself is interesting enough to want to see in person.

Hope your trip is incredible, feel free to contact me with any other questions.

Chris E. · · Bend, OR · Joined Mar 2014 · Points: 5

Any email contacts for casas particulares in Vinales? (Or Havana) Or names you'd recommend? Trying to figure out if it's busy enough to book in advance - I read of a mt project user who went in February had to keep house hopping since they hadn't reserved anything...

Sketty · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Sep 2016 · Points: 0

We had most of our casas booked in advanced and it made life a lot easier. Literally every house in Vinales is a hostel so there's plenty of space, but it makes the trip much more stress-free and enjoyable if you know that you have a pre-booked casa in a good location.

In Vinales we stayed at a couple places but really liked Anara y Didier in Vinales -… Not particularly close to the climbing but they are genuinely really good people. Great drinks, great cooking, and Anara has a baby on the way so we just overall felt really good about supporting them.… also has a ton of recommendations, however we found that all of these were booked! You may have better luck.

In Havana we stayed at Hostal Maritza de la Osa… - again great food (we routinely had other backpackers skip dinner/breakfast at their casas to come eat at Maritza's) and it is located in the middle of Centro (inbetween new and old Havana), which is where most of the "actual Cubans" live. Used to be the industrial center of the city and has since deteriorated. If you want to see what real, everyday Havana looks like for most Cubans, this is a great place to stay. Not as conveniently located to the touristy stuff but you'll get far fewer hustlers and stuff will be much cheaper (and no lines).

For reference, Havana can basically be divided into three districts - La Habana Vieja is where all the nice touristy (and I don't mean that in a derogatory way) stuff is - it's the old downtown and is a great place to spend most of the day. Vedado is where the actual hotels are and where all the wealthy expats live... this is also where a lot of the trendy nightlife is. The two are connected by the Malecon, a roadway and seawall which stretches for 8 km (5 miles) along the coast in Havana, Cuba, from the mouth of Havana Harbor in Old Havana, along the north side of the Centro Habana neighborhood, ending in the Vedado neighborhood.

Our way back through Havana we stayed with Ana Maria -… who is located much closer to La Habana Vieja (easy $0.10 bus ride to the heart of old Havana). Her son, Victor, is a tour guide who speaks perfect English and is absurdly friendly and knowledgeable about everything Cuban. Ana Maria was actually full the night we were supposed to stay there but she had accommodations secured for us at one of her sisters' casas.

While it was fun "learning the ropes" of Cuba on our own in Centro, ten minutes with Victor @ Ana Maria's at the start of the trip would have set us up with a huge advantage. However we found it almost more enjoyable making our own mistakes first and then having Victor make sense of everything for us in retrospect.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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