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Cuba Bicycle tour FAQ’s

  1. Can US citizens legally travel to Cuba on a bicycle tour?
  2. Can WoWCuba accommodate various riding abilities or families on bicycle tours? Are your tours appropriate for children? Is there free time?
  3. Can WoWCuba assist with pre/post tour travel in Cuba? How long can I stay?
  4. What are the accommodations & meals like?
  5. Are flights included?
  6. What kind of bikes do you use and what’s included in the bicycle tour?
  7. Can I use my cell phone in Cuba and will I have internet access while traveling?
  8. Which tour is most suitable for me?
  9. How much money should I bring? What’s included?
  10. Can WoWCuba accommodate vegetarian or vegan diets?
  11. How early should I book?

 

Can US citizens legally travel to Cuba on a bicycle tour?

Answer: The following is a non-exhaustive explanation of the current status of regulations surrounding travel to Cuba by U.S. citizens. It is not legally binding, and we strongly encourage you to fully inform yourself by reading the complete OFAC sanctions/guidelines for licensed travel to Cuba prior to making a decision on which route is best for your Cuba travel plans. Americans can currently travel to Cuba either with a general (paperless) US Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) license, or unlicensed via a third country. You may be surprised to learn that a significant number of our clients who travel from the USA do not fly to Cuba directly with an OFAC Specific or General License. They instead travel to Cuba via a third country such as Canada, Mexico, or the Bahamas, avoiding the requirement to sign an affidavit with the airline/charter operator attesting to the fact that they intend to undertake licensed travel and with very few exceptions they elect not to declare the Cuba segment of their travel upon their return. They assume a small risk of a potential fine in doing so if they are ever investigated, but most have told us that they want to see Cuba now on their own terms, not as part of a set, expensive or limited group itinerary that may or may not meet their specific interests or travel goals. Bicycle tours in Cuba without a full-time schedule of educational activities are not currently a category of travel licensable by OFAC.

Now that OFAC’s people to people educational travel regulations have been relaxed to include individuals booking their own travel through operators not subject to US jurisdiction, many US travelers have expressed interest in how they might participate in our interactive bicycle tour programs while still being in compliance with the educational travel component required by their government. While maintaining a full-time schedule of educational activities is not necessarily a priority for non-US participants on our bicycle tour programs, and the number of daily hours of those activities required to constitute a “full-time schedule” does not appear to be set in stone, it’s a given that our cycling guests are not sitting around on a private beach drinking rum all day or shopping for souvenirs, isolated from the Cuban population. Following are some examples of some of the educational activities that WoWCuba often facilitates on our trips or as part of our clients’ pre/post cycle tour experiences in Cuba:

  • contact with members or former members of Cuba’s national cycling team
  • language instruction and linguistic enlightenment
  • exchanges with organic agriculturalists and beekeepers
  • keen insights into the local food supply and emerging private restaurant scene in Cuba
  • guided botanical garden tours
  • Cuban aged rum tastings hosted by our in-house tour leader/chef/Cuban law graduate
  • birdwatching, cave exploration, and insight into Cuba’s fascinating underwater world
  • interpreted visits to biosphere reserves and other protected areas
  • visits with local artesans and entrepreneurs
  • curator-guided art/architecture tours
  • baseball games where you will mingle with locals and gain insight into the national sport
  • occasionally conferences by local specialists in foreign relations, economy, the tourism industry in Cuba, marine biology, architectural restoration, or biodiversity in the largest island in the Antilles.

Our group cycling itineraries normally provide for an open schedule after lunch during which US travelers are welcome to arrange and engage in their own preferred independently-organized educational p2p activities to that end. It is the traveler’s responsibility to maintain records of the full-time schedule of authorized people to people educational activities he/she undertakes while traveling as an individual in Cuba.

Although Cuba will welcome you regardless, it’s still not currently legal under OFAC guidelines to travel to Cuba for tourist activities or as part of a bicycle tour that doesn’t have a full-time itinerary designed to comply with an OFAC license. US travelers who choose to come to Cuba from a third country are usually those who prefer not to sign an affidavit prior to boarding (falsely) indicating they will be traveling under one of the general license categories to Cuba when it’s not their intention. As a courtesy to unlicensed travelers if reminded on entry/exit through a third country, Cuban immigration has a long-standing policy of stamping your tourist card rather than your passport. Please read our U.S. Participants page for more details on licensed and unlicensed travel to Cuba. The following references and excerpts are those we feel that are most insightful and relevant from the current US regulations:

View the specific Treasury regulations, effective 16/01/15: 31 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), part 515

View the US Treasury Department’s FAQ’s on Cuba & Cuba Travel paying special attention to these sections:

“II. Travel
7. Is travel to Cuba for tourist activities permitted? No. Consistent with the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000 (TSRA), travel-related transactions involving Cuba are only permitted for the 12 categories of activities identified in the CACR. Travel-related transactions for other purposes remain prohibited.

13. What constitutes “people-to-people travel” for generally authorized travel? OFAC has issued a general license that incorporates prior specific licensing policy and authorizes, subject to conditions, travel-related transactions and other transactions that are directly incident to people-to-people educational activities in Cuba. Among other things, this general license authorizes, subject to conditions, persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction to engage in certain educational exchanges in Cuba either individually or under the auspices of an organization that is a person subject to U.S. jurisdiction and sponsors such exchanges to promote people-to people contact. 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. The predominant portion of the activities must not be with a prohibited official of the Government of Cuba, as defined in 31 CFR § 515.337, or a prohibited member of the Cuban Communist Party, as defined in 31 CFR § 515.338. For travel conducted under the auspices of an organization, an employee, paid consultant, or agent of the sponsoring organization must accompany each group traveling to Cuba to ensure that each traveler has a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities. In addition, persons relying upon this authorization must retain records related to the authorized travel transactions, including records demonstrating a full-time schedule of authorized activities. In the case of an individual traveling under the auspices of an organization that is a person subject to U.S. jurisdiction and that sponsors such exchanges to promote people-to-people contact, the individual may rely on the entity sponsoring the travel to satisfy his or her recordkeeping obligations with respect to the requirements described above. For a complete description of what this general license authorizes and the restrictions that apply, see 31 CFR § 515.565(b).”

Cuba Fact Sheet
“Travel and Related Transactions–
· People-to-people educational travel. Individuals will be authorized to travel to Cuba for individual people-to-people educational travel, provided that the traveler engages in 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 a meaningful interaction between the traveler and individuals in Cuba. Previously, the general license authorizing educational travel required such trips to take place under the auspices of an organization that was subject to U.S. jurisdiction and required all travelers to be accompanied by a representative of the sponsoring organization. This change is intended to make authorized educational travel to Cuba more accessible and less expensive for U.S. citizens, and will increase opportunities for direct engagement between Cubans and Americans. Persons relying upon this authorization must retain records related to the authorized travel transactions, including records demonstrating a full-time schedule of authorized activities. In the case of an individual traveling under the auspices of an organization that is a person subject to U.S. jurisdiction and that sponsors such exchanges to promote people-to-people contact, the individual may rely on the entity sponsoring the travel to satisfy those recordkeeping requirements. The statutory prohibition on travel for tourist activities remains in place.”

Categories & Regulations

The current categories for US-authorized general travel licenses include:

1. family visits
2. official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations
3. journalistic activity
4. professional research and professional meetings
5. educational activities (people to people trips fall under this category)
6. religious activities
7. public performances
8. clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions
9. support for the Cuban people
10. humanitarian projects
11. activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes
12. exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials; and certain authorized export transactions

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Can WoWCuba accommodate various riding abilities or families on bicycle tours? Are your tours appropriate for children? Is there free time?

Answer: Yes. Although our average participant age is 55, we have hosted cycling participants from age 6 to 86 and have a range of youth equipment on hand from child trailers to trail-a-bikes and youth models. If traveling with infants or very small children, do take into consideration that the cycling in Cuba tends to be more challenging than on our Prince Edward Island cycling programs. We have a stock of electric-assist bike upgrades available for anyone with knee issues or who just likes to throttle it up a hill. Some days may be longer or hillier than others, but our support van and trailer are following the group when you need them. We usually aim to ride ~4–5 morning (cooler) hours and can always suggest independent ride extensions for avid cyclists once we reach our destination. After lunch when temperatures are usually warmer in Cuba, we like to provide unstructured time for participants to enjoy their personal optional activities preferences which often include swimming, ride extensions, laid-back wandering around a colonial Cuban town’s historic center, taste-testing aged Cuban rums, savoring sweet Cuban coffee, reading, checking out galleries or museums, or simply kicking back to contemplate Cuban landscapes from a balcony, afternoon mojito in hand. You’re never locked into mileage. You’ll get to know Cuba and its friendly people far better on our cycle holidays than traveling by car or conventional tour bus!

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Can WoWCuba assist with pre/post tour travel in Cuba? How long can I stay?

Answer: If you’d like us to book any pre/post tour hotels, car rentals, or perhaps diving on your behalf, just let us know and we can prepare a quote for consideration. Especially in high season it’s best to plan as far ahead as possible for the key elements of your independent holiday (accommodations, vehicle rentals) to secure availability, one of our biggest challenges lately with the surge in Cuban tourism and little new infrastructure. Services such as independent meals, many private home reservations, and taxi transfers for individual travelers are often best negotiated locally in cash. Advance reservations for some private houses that don’t collect payment in full in advance can be sketchy sometimes. Check out www.alamesacuba.com for independent dining establishments/contacts/prices/menus/pictures. A tourist visa for Canadians is good for 90 days and can be easily extended locally for an additional 90 days. For most other nationalities the visa is good for 30 days with an option to purchase one additional month locally.

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What are the accommodations & meals like?

Answer: We contract with various Cuban tourism agencies offering a wide variety of hotels/inns in city, beachfront and natural settings. The properties we usually employ in our Cuba cycle tour programs are generally 3 to 4 star, clean, comfortable and occasionally upscale where available. Most hotel rooms are equipped with twin single beds, and while we can make note of requests, note that double (or larger) beds are not always guaranteed. Cuban tourism authorities occasionally overbook their properties and when that happens we negotiate our little hearts out to identify and secure the best alternatives available and work tirelessly to make your vacation top notch in all respects.
We’re very excited to report that we’ve had to update our old description of the gastronomical scene in Cuba where we would explain that you don’t come to Cuba for the food, which is simple, but good, albeit with limited variety. Not so true anymore. While staples in a regular Cuban diet continue to include black beans & rice, fish, chicken and pork, what’s changed is the burgeoning private sector, infusing our deprived taste buds with all kinds of savory delicacies and temptations we previously just dreamed of. We’ll take you to some of our favorite spots to eat & drink in Cuba, with our tour leader’s special condiment selection in tow (hot sauces, infused balsamics, olive oil, pepper, the list goes on…). One of our tour leaders is a chef and we hear he’s even been offering aged rum tastings on tour, pretty exciting! Begin to peruse Cuban restaurants/paladars in advance with this great app: www.alamesacuba.com No drooling allowed.

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Are flights included?

Answer: No, we host participants from around the world and these days most of our non-US clients are easily able to make their own flight reservations to/from Cuba. If required, WoWCuba can provide assistance booking flights on your behalf from Canada, or on Cubana Airlines flights from the Caribbean. We aren’t an agent for direct flights from the USA to Cuba, or for connector fares between the US and the Cuban gateway of your choice. If you require our assistance with booking flights on your behalf from Canada with a variety of airlines or the Caribbean with Cubana, just ask us for a quote for your preferred travel dates/route.
Of Cubana’s Caribbean flights to Cuba, the most popular gateways with our clients at present are Cancun or Mexico City. Mexico City flights depart early morning/arrive Havana mid-day and return early morning. Cubana’s Cancun flights usually depart mid-late afternoon and return mid-afternoon. If not traveling on a direct flight to Cuba, then only once your flights to Cuba have been secured should you proceed to book independent connector flight arrangements to/from that gateway.

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What kind of bikes do you use and what’s included in the bicycle tour?

Answer: High quality, professionally maintained 27-speed hybrid bicycles outfitted for touring. Our current touring fleet consists mainly of the Specialized Sirrus Comp, the Specialized Vita Comp and Specialized Vita Pro although we do have other options available to satisfy the individual needs of our clients. We also have a limited number of Evox electric-assist bikes available for a small upgrade fee; these are very appropriate for cyclists looking for a more upright riding position, those who’ve undergone knee/hip surgery, or simply participants looking to take some of the effort out of hills. Other companies may claim that their bikes are the best in Cuba, but we are certain those in the know will agree that no one offers a comparable rental fleet to ours. Our Specialized bikes have a MSRP of $1000+ and are maintained by one of the most experienced, knowledgeable bicycle mechanics we know. Your tour package includes a souvenir water bottle, rental of handlebar map bag or rear insulated trunk bag & helmet. Note that some clients prefer to bring their own helmets, saddles, and clipless pedal/shoe systems and we have no problem with installing those on our equipment.

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View detailed Inclusive/Non-Inclusive features of your cycle tour here: Western Cuba, Central Cuba, Vuelta Cuba

Can I use my cell phone in Cuba and will I have internet access while traveling?

Answer: Some cell companies (now including Verizon from the USA) offer roaming/data plans that include Cuba. Check with your provider for details. If not using a roaming plan in Cuba, you will want to remember to keep your phone in airplane mode to avoid excessive charges. Cuba operates on the GSM system, using the 900 MHz band. If your cell phone operates on the same system/band, it will have widespread coverage in Cuba. Even though they are equipped with GPS (which, according to Cuban customs, is not permissible), iPhones are accepted for entry. For cheaper calling within Cuba, visitors can activate a temporary line/SIM card from an ETECSA airport/city office on an unlocked 900-MHz GSM phone , the current rate is $3.00 CUC/day plus $6.00 CUC/day for optional equipment rental. A minimum $10.00 CUC recharge (prepaid call credit) and passport presentation are required.
While wi-fi internet access is rapidly expanding in Cuba, locations to connect and bandwidth are still often issues, especially when traveling in more rural areas. Read more on communication in Cuba.

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Which tour is most suitable for me?

Answer: This is maybe the hardest question to answer. Each tour has its own character and highlights. The main difference between our 7-night Central and Western Cuba tours is that the Central trip overnights in more urban centers, including some of the best-preserved colonial villas in Cuba. Both tours include time in Havana. The Western trip features four nights west of Havana in rural settings or overlooking very small communities. Almost 100% of our cycling routes are outside of urban centers. Terrain is moderate on both trips, and while some days may be a little more challenging than others, we strive to accommodate varying cycling abilities in our groups offering ride extensions where possible and a dedicated support vehicle for those who aren’t looking for the extra challenge. Don’t hesitate to e-mail with your personal holiday interests/goals so we can best meet your requirements.

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How much money should I bring? What’s included?

Answer: Basically, we include everything except airport transfers, alcohol, optional activities/entrance fees and gratuities for tour staff in our bicycle tour prices. There may be options available for local payment for services including massage ($10-$15), local attractions ($3-$5), theatre ($10-$30) and more all along the way. Transportation to some of these events or activities is additional.

Credit cards or travelers cheques issued by US banks are not widely valid (yet) in Cuba. Regardless of nationality, passengers should not hope to use debit cards or bank cards in the country where cash is still king. Even if your credit card is activated for Cuba, international banking connections are frequently offline so having cash on hand is usually the most convenient option for travelers. As a general guideline we recommend that you bring a minimum of the equivalent of $500 CUC per person, per week and more if you’d like to have emergency funds on hand. For a fee, we offer emergency cash advance service to our tour participants not able to use their credit cards for purchases/cash advances in Cuba. Safety deposit boxes are available for a small charge at the properties we visit- and should be used.

Please visit our CUC Currency page for the latest information.

 

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Can WoWCuba accommodate vegetarian or vegan diets?

Answer: While vegetarian diets aren’t overly challenging for us to accommodate on tour, vegan diets can be considerably more difficult to satisfy without infusing protein supplements. Some dishes normally suitable for vegans, such as rice and beans, are often cooked with pork fat in Cuba. While certain soy products are available for purchase by Cuban national consumers, these are often not readily available at tourist hotels and restaurants. For those who follow a vegan diets,  we highly recommend bringing your own protein supplements such as “instant breakfast” etc.

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How early should I book?

Answer: The simple answer is “as soon as possible”. Cuba is a popular winter destination and flights to Cuba are often near or at full capacity. The very first thing we do upon receiving your registration form for a confirmed tour and confirming your spot on the tour is book your Cuba flight if not already reserved. Only occasionally are last minute seats available, most fill up weeks and sometimes months in advance. At two to four weeks prior to tour start (depending on the season), all unassigned rooms are released. For paid participants, all tour dates are guaranteed to depart, but groups of 1-4 travelers may only be accompanied by our tour leader rather than also by a Cuban driver and guide. The more lead time you can provide us, the more likely a group is to form for your selected travel date.

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