Why is there usually a tour director/representative of BACCA on group programs? To help ensure that the trip goes smoothly and to facilitate communication between our Cuban Guide, Cuban hosts, and travelers: Director will always have prior familiarity with Cuba. BACCA (Bay Area Cuba Community Alliance) consistently provides a representative for our trips. For group tours with over 10 participants, there is always a comp’d room included in the package for the tour director, which is standard practice.
Is it Legal now to travel to Cuba? Check out this NY times article about Travel to Cuba, published in July, 2105.
Will Internet be available? There are now “ Wi-Fi hot-spots” in various locations in Havana and throughout the country, ($2-3/hr.: Wi-Fi cards available at most hotels: In general, please be prepared for limited access. Data access is not available.
Do US cell phones work in Cuba? Unlocked multifunction iPhones/Android/smart phones with a dedicated 2nd Cuban SIM card will work (check with your provider). “Blu” International phones (A Miami-based company) available at Target and online (http://www.bluproducts.com/) can also be used in Cuba. Additionally, you can rent international phones for use in Cuba.
How are trip itineraries created? We take into consideration the specific interests and request of individuals, and groups wishing to travel to Cuba and customize trips to meet these interests. BACCA’s creates unique travel experiences that weave humanitarian activities which support Cuban communities, with exposure to Cuban Culture, Art, Music, and Cuisine, while emphasizing People to People connections.
What is AMISTUR/San Cristobal Agency? Amistur and San Cristobal are Cuban Tour Agencies that we use to organize some aspects of our trips. In the past, BACCA has worked with Scan-America International Inc. (US based Tour Agency/Licensed Travel Provider) to create custom travel experiences for groups and individuals. As of this year, 2016, we are no longer required by OFAC to go through a Licensed Travel Provider when arranging trips to Cuba, and so will now be organizing our itineraries independently as much as possible.
BACCA creates a customized itinerary based on the interests of the client, sends proposal to Scan-America, who then sends the proposal to Cuba. The Cuban agency creates a quote for the trip package, does the legwork to put the itinerary in order and sends a quote for the package back to Scan-America, who presents it to BACCA. We then offer this trip package as quoted by the Cuban agency, which includes a standard mark-up, %100 of which goes towards our projects in Cuba.
How are trip prices determined? Based on the group’s requirements and needs, BACCA in collaboration with Scan-America creates a unique itinerary for which we solicit a bid from AMISTUR (or another Cuban Based Travel Agency). To the Cuban price offer, BACCA adds the organization’s minimal direct and indirect costs for organizing and planning the tour, as well as a customary mark-up, which goes directly to the non-profit organization and our humanitarian work in Cuba. This is standard procedure for US based organizations/companies providing Cuban tour packages
How does BACCA allocate proceeds from trip? Proceeds are allocated for the direct costs of BACCA personnel performing humanitarian work in Cuba, as well as materials, supplies, and equipment needed for the various projects we are currently undertaking there. All personnel, except for BACCA’s Cuban Project Manager, Bernardo Pitaluga Alvarez (who receives a minimal monthly stipend of $150 CUC/month) are voluntary workers who do not receive financial compensation for work done for BACCA.
Is there a discount for youth/family? Single room occupancy is charged a premium, double is standard. All the pricing is based on double occupancy. BACCA normally gives a 10 % discount for children under-18.
Are all meals included in itinerary/trip costs? Each trip is unique, and the meals that are not included in the trip cost will be indicated in the itinerary. You will need to bring enough cash to cover these meals. We suggest bringing $1,000/person for meals, tips, taxis, souvenirs & duty free purchases.
Is tipping expected on tour and how much? Absolutely. Please be prepared for tipping. Cubans in the service/tourist industry depend on tips as their primary source of income. This is true for all meals and services provided by Cubans in your tour package, as well as for your guide and bus-driver. (From each tour participant, $2/day for the Cuban Tour Guide and Driver is Standard: This comes out to $32/per participant for the Guide/Driver. This tip is usually presented to them at the end of the trip in a collective envelope for each). For meals, 1 or 2 CUCs/per person is appropriate (this goes for servers at the all-inclusive hotels, as well). The same goes for taxis. 25/50 cents for bathrooms attendants (will usually provide toilet paper, but bring your own too, just in case)
What is the current exchange rate? 1 CUC = 1.13 US Dollars, and the there is also a penalty of 10% for exchanging dollars. is a but this varies. Cuba runs on two currencies. The guide will explain this in more detail but it’s good to know from the beginning because it’s easy to get confused (or even scammed if you aren’t prepared). There is the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC), and the Cuban National Peso (CUP). The CUP is worth approximately 24 pesos to 1 CUC. A good way to tell the difference when getting change back, for example: if the bill has a monument on it, it’s a CUC, and if it has a face one it, it’s a CUP. Usually the peso is used for buying things like street food at stalls or in open-air markets, and route taxis, etc. The CUC is used for almost everything else.
Is the trip cost tax deductible? BACCA is a public benefit, non-profit humanitarian organization performing humanitarian work in Cuba. Because the entire trip from Miami to Cuba and back again is necessary to perform the humanitarian projects in Cuba, the trip is tax deductible. We recommend that you confirm this with your financial advisor/CPA. We provide tax-deductible donation letters upon request.
Are There Service Work opportunities on the tour, & how do they relate to BACCA's work? On our April 2016 Trip, the group will be participating in the installation of the H20 SunSpring Water Purification System in a small rural community called Nuevo Mundo, in Southeastern Cuba. Travelers will also have the opportunity to spend time with the community's youth, and are encouraged to bring supplies with them that they can use with and then gift to the community. The group will also have the opportunity to donate much needed gifts to the local community including school supplies, medicines, baseball hats, tools, seeds, household items, clothes (especially children’s clothes), thumb drives/hard-drives, and personal hygiene products (please contact BACCA for more information about what kind of items are most needed. Ninarosebasker@gmail.com) BACCA’s tour directors will help facilitate the distribution of donations in Cuba. In the future as we continue to develop the Ecolonia Nuevo Mundo Center, growing opportunities for hand's on volunteer work, farming, ecology construction and building projects, will present themselves. We also will continue to encourage and facilitate opportunities for hands-on experiential learning, cultural exchange, interfacing and workshopping with members of these communities.
For our Rotarian groups: Does BACCA follow Rotary protocol? Yes, but BACCA is an independent organization that is supported by Rotary Club Marin Sunrise through its Global Projects Chair, Paul Basker. Who are the Cuban communities directly benefiting from tour proceeds and BACCA work? The colonies of Corcovado and Nuevo Mundo, (pop. approx. 2,000) are located in the Granma Province, outside of the small city of Pilon, in Southeastern Cuba, in the center of the Nacional Park, Parque Nacional Disembarque del Granma (a UNESCO world-heritage site).
An important note: In his early 20’s, co-director and co-founder of BACCA, Felix Torres Chaviano, travelled from Havana where he was born to Nuevo Mundo (a two day journey across the island) to meet his extended paternal family for the first time. Felix’s grandfather was a much-respected figure in this community prior to the 1959 Cuban Revolution. Following the revolution, he was given the opportunity to move his family to Havana in the 1960’s where they currently reside and where Felix was born and raised. When Felix arrived in Nuevo Mundo for the first time he was warmly received and eventually invited to build a small cabin on the land of his distant cousin Adelaida (Poto) in Nuevo Mundo. Adelaida Perez Pena, who is now in her late 80’s, was born and raised in Nuevo Mundo. Her land, which has been in her family for generations, is where BACCA’s main projects are now based as it is located in the center of an agrarian valley community that serves the larger population, and is also rare private (not-government owned) land. The residents of Nuevo Mundo are much in need of support and basic infrastructure such as potable water and irrigation. Over 200 years of interconnected generations have laid the foundation for this farming community and Felix’s long-time family ties there have allowed BACCA to continue the humanitarian work Felix began more than 20 years ago. This long-time family connection has been integral to BACCA’s ability to work in the area as relations between the US and Cuba have been fraught with mistrust and difficulty for over five decades.
What are the current projects, and long-term goals of BACCA? Currently BACCA is concentrating on installing sustainable solar powered infrastructure such as water pumps and filters for the local wells, in order to provide residents with clean drinking water for their homes and irrigation water for their fields. The community and local economy suffers due to water restriction and farmers are currently dependent on the rainy season for planting crops. During the dry season it is common for animals to perish due to dehydration and malnourishment. The human community suffers from lack of access to fresh vegetables, and general hardship due to extremely limited water access. Many possibilities for local economic growth will be possible once basic water infrastructure is established. BACCA hopes to support local micro-businesses relating to animal husbandry, (such as horse, goat, sheep, chicken, and pig), solar fruit drying (acres of mango, plantain, and coconut trees border the community), creation of secondary products such as shampoo and soaps, hive/honey production, and community supported agriculture, etc.
BACCA is also currently working to train local residents in sustainable building techniques, principally, Super-Adobe Earth Bag Construction, which uses earth, polypropylene sacks such as those used for rice, a small percentage of cement, and barbed wire to create a wide variety of dwellings and useful structures such as water storage cisterns, retaining walls, terracing, etc. It is a sustainable, versatile, durable, extremely inexpensive and accessible building technique being used internationally in similar rural communities where building resources are limited.
One of BACCA’s long-term goals is to help establish a local, small-scale Cooperative Eco-Retreat in Nuevo Mundo, called Ecolonia Nuevo Mundo, using the Super Adobe Earth Bag Construction technique to create multiple small dwellings (each under the care of different community members) where visitors will be able to reside, interact and interface directly with the community via volunteering and cultural immersion. The proceeds of these eco-tours would go back into local economic development and empowerment projects for the community, with a focus on women and children.
Cuba can be unpredictable, how? On our trips, and especially, if you travel with us in Eastern Cuba, you will have the opportunity to experience parts of Cuba that are not commonly visited. Cuba is still suffering under a US-imposed embargo, in spite of the positive changes that have been set into motion since December, 2015. The embargo still effects every aspect of Cuban life, from shortage of supplies at hotels, toilet paper and gasoline scarcity, issues regarding parts needed to fix any number of things, Cuba’s inability to import food, farming equipment, clothes, and so much more. The Cuban people are resilient, and creative, and have managed to survive and even flourish in spite of the countries circumstances, but you will see the impact of the embargo in many ways. It is helpful to remember when things do not go as planned, that unexpected or frustrating outcomes are often direct outcomes of these embargo related issues. As a tour guide once said to a group, in the case of any Cuban-Owned 4 Star Hotel, “Take a star off, and you won’t be disappointed.” It is also important to know that Cuba is not prepared to accommodate the number of US visitors that have been pouring into the island since 2015 when various travel restrictions were lifted, and this overload can also effect the general travel experience.
What kind oF People enjoy on our trips? A sense of adventure, humor and spontaneity are helpful qualities to possess while traveling in Cuba as travel there can often be unpredictable. While this reality can understandably bring up frustration for travelers, sometimes the sweetest experiences and connections will arise from unexpected changes in plans. As group travel brings its own set of unique challenges, differing personalities, expectations and desires, we feel it is especially important to foster a sense of patience, flexibility, and hilarity on tours in Cuba, especially when traveling in a group! This 'surrendering' will make the trip experience so much more pleasant and enjoyable for all. While Cuba can at times be a disorienting place for US citizens to visit, and perhaps needless to say, many comforts and luxuries are unavailable, it is a unique and fascinating country! The Cuban people are world-famous for their warmth and hospitality in spite of how difficult the reality of Cuban life under the embargo has been. We trust you will be inspired to act in kind!
Heart & Soul of Cuba Trip FAQs