Cuba 2016


Cuba is hot and humid. The island is small, so the climate does not vary much from east to west. For current weather conditions, please check out these websites:

What to pack

Most of you have heard this before--we encourage you to pack lightly. We will have to haul our own bags through airports and customs and we cannot count on help in Cuban hotels or on and off buses. You can get laundry done in all the hotels. Dress everywhere is casual except for our visit to the U.S. embassy, which is business casual.

Here is a suggested list of what to take:

  1. 1 pair casual, very comfortable, shoes for sightseeing--closed toes are best
  2. 1 pair sandals
  3. 2 pairs hiking pants or similar
  4. 2 pairs shorts (or skirts)
  5. 3-4 casual short-sleeved shirts or T-shirts
  6. 1 dressier shirt for embassy visit
  7. 1 pair dressier pants or skirt for embassy visit
  8. 1 light sweater or jacket
  9. 1 light wind proof rain jacket
  10. 2 long-sleeved shirts (hiking shirts are great) for cooler nights
  11. sleepwear
  12. small flashlight
  13. bathing suit
  14. sunglasses
  15. plastic poncho--nice, but not essential, the backpack variety that folds up into a small package
  16. umbrella
  17. underwear and socks
  18. travel alarm clock
  19. all your standard medications
  20. Imodium or similar in case you get a stomach bug
  21. standard toiletries (hotels will have hair dryers)
  22. hand wipes and hand sanitizer
  23. sunscreen
  24. mosquito repellant
  25. several zip lock plastic bags
  26. sun hat for sightseeing
  27. camera with extra disk and batteries and battery charger
  28. adaptor kit (Cuba uses all kinds of electrical plugs)
  29. whatever you like to read
  30. small travel pillow (optional)
  31. copy of information page of passport
  32. 2 passport photos (just in case)
  33. Phone and charger (as of now, you can't get a mobile service package for Cuba, but you can make calls on your mobile phone)
  34. iPad or tablet if you use them for internet access (very limited and spotty)
  35. spare pair of prescription glasses if you use them (optional)
  37. Day pack

Books about Cuba:

Lightning Guides, Cuba: Castro, Revolution, and the End of the Embargo, 2015
Discusses Cuba's complicated history and emergence from an era of economic isolation from the U.S. Explores America's relationship with Cuba, the many political forces that have shaped the country's identity including communism, Batista, and The United Fruit Company; the conflicted legacy of Che Guevara; and the current relationship between Fidel and Raul Castro and President Obama. This book contextualizes what the future holds for the Pearl of the Antilles.

Aviva Chomsky, The Cuba Reader: History, Culture, Politics (The Latin America Readers), 2004
The Cuba Reader multiplies perspectives on the nation many times over, presenting more than one hundred selections about Cuba's history, culture, and politics. Beginning with the first written account of the island, penned by Christopher Columbus in 1492, the selections assembled here track Cuban history from the colonial period through the ascendancy of Fidel Castro to the present. The writings and speeches of José Martí, Fernando Ortiz, Fidel Castro, Alejo Carpentier, Che Guevera, and Reinaldo Arenas appear alongside the testimonies of slaves, prostitutes, doctors, travelers, and activists. Some selections examine health, education, Catholicism, and SanterĂ­a; others celebrate Cuba's vibrant dance, music, film, and literary cultures.

Marc Frank, Cuban Revelations: Behind the Scenes in Havana (Contemporary Cuba), 2015
Most outside observers sense that Cuba is on the cusp of substantial economic and political changes. The question is how far, how fast, and how violent these changes will be. Frank, a Financial Times correspondent based in Havana has covered Cuba and Latin America for more than two decades. While he remains sympathetic to the broad social goals of the Cuban Revolution, Frank makes clear that the current economic and political system is unsustainable. It is top-heavy with bureaucrats, hostile to innovation, and repressive to those brave enough to challenge it. The so-called special period of the 1990s, after the collapse of Soviet economic support, has led to the emergence of haves and have-nots, mocking the facade of egalitarianism. The general population is locked in a "gray zone," indifferent to politics yet waiting for something to happen. Meanwhile, post-Fidel leaders hope to tinker with the system while avoiding the dramatic changes seen in Communist regimes in Eastern Europe. An incisive, revealing portrait of a nation on the brink of transformation

Coco Fusco, Dangerous Moves: Politics and Performance in Cuba, 2015
Analyzes the ways the Cuban state has wielded influence over artists in recent times, arguing that in a context in which overt political speech is subject to censorship, the language of performance emerges as the favored means of social commentary. Focusing on a range of performative practices in visual art, music, poetry, and political activism, Fusco examines the relationship between the abject body in performance and the greater body politic of a state officially defined as revolutionary yet seeking to limit and constrain dissent.

Tom Gjelten, Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba: The Biography of a Cause, 2009
NPR correspondent, Tom Gjelten, fuses the story of the Bacardi family and their famous rum business with Cuba's tumultuous experience over the last 150 years to produce a deeply entertaining historical narrative. The company Facundo Bacardi launched in Cuba in 1862 brought worldwide fame to the island, and in the decades that followed his Bacardi descendants participated in every aspect of Cuban life. With his intimate account of their struggles and adventures across five generations, Gjelten brings to life the larger story of Cuba's fight for freedom, its tortured relationship with America, the rise of Fidel Castro, and the violent division of the Cuban nation

Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea, For Whom the Bell Tolls, A Moveable Feast
Hemingway wrote his novels while moving from place to place, but these three are generally credited with having been written largely, though not completely, in Cuba, at his home, Finca Vigia.

Tom Miller, Trading with the Enemy: A Yankee Travels Through Castro's Cuba, 2008
"Havana knew me by my shoes," begins Tom Miller's lively and entertaining account of his sojourn for more than eight months traveling through Cuba, mixing with its literati and black marketers, its cane cutters and cigar rollers. Granted unprecedented access to travel throughout the country, the author presents us with a rare insight into one of the world's only Communist countries. Its best-known personalities and ordinary citizens talk to him about the U.S. embargo and tell their favorite Fidel jokes as they stand in line for bread at the Socialism or Death Bakery. Miller provides a running commentary on Cuba's food shortages, exotic sensuality, and baseball addiction as he follows the scents of Graham Greene, José Marti, Ernest Hemingway, and the Mambo Kings. The result of this informed and adventurous journey is a vibrant, rhythmic portrait of a land and people too long shielded from American eyes.

Carlos Eire, Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy, 2004
Waiting for Snow in Havana is both an exorcism and an ode to a paradise lost. For the Cuba of Carlos's youth-with its lizards and turquoise seas and sun-drenched siestas-becomes an island of condemnation once a cigar-smoking guerrilla named Fidel Castro ousts President Batista on January 1, 1959. Suddenly the music in the streets sounds like gunfire. Christmas is made illegal, political dissent leads to imprisonment, and too many of Carlos's friends are leaving Cuba for a place as far away and unthinkable as the United States. Carlos will end up there, too, and fulfill his mother's dreams by becoming a modern American man-even if his soul remains in the country he left behind.

Julia E. Sweig, Cuba: What Everyone Needs to Know, Second Edition, 2013
Julia Sweig updates her concise and remarkably accessible portrait of the small island nation--and now includes material from her 2010 interview with Fidel Castro. The new edition covers the key events of the last few years: Raul Castro's assumption of power from his brother Fidel, economic and political reforms since Raul came to power, and the changes in US-Cuba relations following the election of Barack Obama. Expansive in coverage and authoritative in scope, the book looks back over Cuba's history since the Spanish American War before shifting to recent times. Focusing equally on Cuba's role in world affairs and its own social and political transformations, Sweig divides the book chronologically into the pre-Fidel era, the period between the 1959 revolution and the fall of the Soviet Union, the post-Cold War era, and -- finally -- the post-Fidel era. It is a compact reference on Cuba's internal politics, its often fraught relationship with the United States, and its shifting relationship with the global community.

T.J. English, Havana Nocturne, 2009
To underworld kingpins Meyer Lansky and Charles "Lucky" Luciano, Cuba was the greatest hope for the future of American organized crime in the post-Prohibition years. In the 1950s, the Mob-with the corrupt, repressive government of brutal Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista in its pocket-owned Havana's biggest luxury hotels and casinos, launching an unprecedented tourism boom complete with the most lavish entertainment, top-drawer celebrities, gorgeous women, and gambling galore. But Mob dreams collided with those of Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, and others who would lead an uprising of the country's disenfranchised against Batista's hated government and its foreign partners-an epic cultural battle that bestselling author T. J. English captures here in all its sexy, decadent, ugly glory.

William M. LeoGrande andPeter Kornbluh, Back Channel to Cuba, 2014
History of back channel communications between Cuba and the United States in every administration from Eisenhower to Havana. Using recently declassified documents, the authors provide a fascinating story of hidden U.S. and Cuban communications and negotiations beginning immediately after the Cuban revolution.


Despite what you may read on some websites, Cuba does not have clean water, so it's very easy to get sick. DO NOT drink the water or even brush your teeth in the water at the hotels or anywhere else. Use only bottled water. Eat only cooked vegetables and fruits or fruits you can peel. You need to be exceptionally careful about food. DO take prescription strength Imodium or Lomotil or similar in case you get a stomach bug.

Please read the Centers for Disease Control website carefully as it provides thorough and up-to-date information from vaccines to current health risks to how to protect yourself:

Cuba does have good doctors, but many of them have been sent to other countries where they become a source of revenue for the Cuban government. We will all have Cuban health insurance as part of our travel package.

Culture and Customs

Here are some websites that give you an overview of Cuban culture and do's and don't's in Cuba: what this article says, I was able to use my cell phone in Cuba. Internet was difficult to access.)

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