What To Know About Sailing To Cuba: Part 1

From the looks of it, if you keep track of the forums and Facebook pages, almost anyone who sails, is either on their way to Cuba or planning to sail to Cuba in the near future. We, on Vacilando, are no exception. I’ve been wanting to see Cuba for at least ten years. I’ve heard from friends who’ve been, and have been living vicariously through them ever since. This past January, we were so close to leaving until one of those infamous “plan changers” came along. And now, here we sit. Waiting out hurricane season.

If there is any consolation that comes from waiting, it’s that more and more cruisers are visiting and posting about their experiences. The information is pouring in almost daily. Marinas are adapting and changing as well, trying to make the most of this mad rush. For instance, Tarara Marina, which is east of Havana (Hemingway Marina is west), is reportedly dredging the entire harbor and adding 250 new slips. Currently this harbor is too shallow for deeper draft boats. If this happens, it’s a game changer and adds another alternative to Hemingway. Right now, prices are still reported to be around .40 CUC per foot. That’s probably going to change when (if) the restoration is finished. Prices all along the north coast have increased since the restrictions were eased.

As we make our plan for next January, I’ve been brushing up on my Spanish and learning all I can about exchange rates and policies regarding traveling with animals. I’m no expert, but here’s how I understand the money situation. The CUC, or tourist peso, is exchanged for US dollars. The official rate is 1:1, but there is still a 3% exchange fee. Until recently, there was an additional 10% tax on the US dollar but it’s been eliminated as of March 2016. But, don’t get too excited because while they did away with the tax, they raised entrance visa fees from $25CUC to $75CUC!

The peso nacional, or local peso or CUP, exchanges at 24:1 to the CUC and is used by locals, and by tourists for purchases out in rural areas, or local farmers’ markets. There are rumors that the CUC will be folded into the CUP in the near future, which means, if in Cuba, I would hesitate to transfer large sums of money at one time. You wouldn’t want to get caught in the shift. I’m not sure if this is true or what the time frame is for this change.

When it comes to traveling with pets, specifically a dog, a certificate of health from your last port of call and a current rabies vaccination is all that is required to enter Cuba. As I understand it, the regulation states it must be within 14 days of arrival but I’ve read posts from a Canadian couple who’s dog’s certificate was over a month old and they had no difficulty. There used to be a pet fee but I’m told that’s been rolled into the entry fees. There may however, be a 25$CUC fee for a certificate of health when you leave the country. It seems like prices change every day. I’ll be researching that further.

i am dog

Be aware, if you’re entering from the Bahamas, because of a recent outbreak of dog distemper in the Bahamas, new rules have been put into place regarding the exit of pets from the Bahamas. It now takes 5 or more days for a health certificate for your dog to exit the Bahamas, as all paperwork must be sent to Nassau, and approved by the Bahamian Department of Agriculture. 

Of course when it comes to knowing the law {as an American} as it pertains to Cuba, the area is still grey. The US websites are vague at best. Some boaters report no trouble when they’ve sailed directly to Cuba from Florida, and returned back to Florida, as long as their trip fit within the 12 categories outlined in the regulations. Others, who’ve entered into Key West specifically, from Cuba have been hassled beyond belief. Of course, if you’re not returning to the US from Cuba, this is a moot point. We are not planning on returning to a US port directly from Cuba.

There is much to be found on this topic. For me it always comes down to preparation. File the Coast Guard form 3300 that allows you to enter Cuban waters. Some will tell you that you don’t need it. Just do it. It takes about 14 days. When you enter an approved check in location in Cuba, make sure you are courteous and know what to expect. I understand the authorities will board with a dog to sniff for drugs. If you’re traveling with a dog of your own, make sure to communicate this, especially if your dog (like our dog) doesn’t do well with other dogs on the boat.

I’ll be posting more about our preparations for Cuba and I’d love to hear from any of you who’ve sailed there. Did you go into Hemingway? Did you sail the south coast and enter at Cienfuegos? Did you go in at Varadero? Leave us a comment.