What to Bring
The Art & Practice of Street Photography

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A Cuba Travel Workshop
By Photographers – For Photographers!

11 - 18 February 2017

In photography negative space often has as much to say as the central focus of your image.


Packing for your photo tour to Havana and its environs is not difficult but does require a serious plan! Although our flight from the U.S. is on American Airlines it is a charter (and hence, not to be missed. You will have to pay for another flight!) Also, expense-free carry-on and checked-baggage weight limits are extremely low – and they do weigh the carry-on as well as your checked bags. You cannot get away with mustering all your strength to hold aloft your 30 pound carry-on with one arm saying, "It only weighs 10 pounds!" The airline counter personnel will weigh it and assess a hefty per pound fee for anything over 17 pounds. Because I take all my photo gear as carry-on and had a fair amount of checked baggage, too, I paid $97 over-weight fees in February 2015. Returning, it appears you can load all you want as carry-on, within reason, as Cuba wants you to buy stuff to bolster the country's income!



bb      Travel Paperwork

All travelers must have a valid passport at the time of their entry into Cuba. It must be valid for an additional 6 months (some websites now say, only 8 weeks additional. I'll check on this.) beyond the last day of your stay and have at least TWO blank pages (for country entrance & exit stamps.)

Bring two visa/passport-style size photos.

Tourist Visa. We used to provide this to you. Now it can be provided on-line through CTS if you are flying into Cuba via Southwest Airlines. Here's what it looks like. It must be filled out in black ink with NO mistakes. If you make an error filling it out you cannot erase the mistake; you must get another one mailed to you and fill it out again! This will take time as to get the visa your name is submitted to the U.S. Cuban embassy for a background check. All countries do this to issue their non-border crossing visas, by the by. Even at borders, they use computers nowadays and some countries will not issue a border visa.



     Good shoes are more important than a good camera.



Comfortable clothes that you can get a bit dirty and that are easy to wash in a sink or shower. Havana is humid so quick-drying (a relative term) fabrics are best. There are no laundromats in Havana!

February (65F to 79F on average) can have chilly evenings (meaning after a day in the low to mid 80s, 65 degrees will feel cold.) A lightweight jacket and long pants will be a plus. If you are thinking about going out on the town in the evenings you might want a nice outfit(s) to wear. Cubans, like all Latin Americans, do dress up!

With the walking and humidity I find that I am a two-shirts-a-day guy. One in the morning and then, after all that exertion, a fresh and clean one for dinner.

Shoes. We will be walking a lot. Every day. If you ordinarily wear sandals in the summer that is fine but remember you will need ones that offer great support to not only carry your luggage but give adequate support on Havana's often poor sidewalks and streets. I wear clogs as I need the additional support they provide to my large frame. Tennis shoes are good if they are a breathable fabric. Dress shoes or something a bit more formal are good for evenings out. High heels? Wear at your own risk! (Cuban women of all body types are fond of them.)

Clothes that bring attention to your person are not a good idea for street photography. You are trying to be unobtrusive and blend in with your environment and those around you! For women, the shortest of shorts may be your thing, but will bring (perhaps) unwanted attention from Cuban guys. Dress appropriately.

The apartment we stay in does not have air conditioning. It is on the ocean so there is a breeze in the evening (and often throughout the night) that will blow through the jalousie windows. Bring a few wire hangers to put up your wet laundry so it will get a chance to dry overnight! My Hawaiian shirts take about a full winter day to dry fully.  NEW! There are now a couple laundries in Havana!

Ah.... writing of jalousie windows: Havana is a city where much of its life takes place on the streets. This means noise! The apartment is in a fairly quiet neighborhood on its backside and the front has good windows that can be closed against the noise of traffic on the Malecón. But! people seem to stay up outside until at least 10:00 pm and there is an early morning seller of eggs, an elderly gentleman who cries out his product with a great set of lungs. BRING EARPLUGS and EYE SHADES if you are a light sleeper or do not want to be awakened at sunrise.

If you know that you are prone to sunburn please bring a hat that you can use with a camera!



     “Because Cuba has been off limits to Americans, there is a prevalent impression that is has been closed to everyone all these years. This is a source of great amusement to the Cubans.” – Fred Ward, Inside Cuba Today, 1978




Cuba restricts TOTAL incoming luggage weight to about 60 pounds). If you bring more you could be subject to a 10 CUC (Cuban Convertible Peso that is about US$1.12 per CUC) surcharge per extra kilogram (2.2 pounds). An additional 10 kilograms (22 pounds) allowance may be made for medicines and medical items you are bring to distribute. Your carry-on bag cannot exceed 17 pounds without incurring an extra cost per pound. The airline WILL weigh your bag! My last trip I had an assessment of US$97 in Tampa. Returning, the airline is a bit more relaxed – Cuba wants you to buy as much as possible and those pesky excess baggage charges only deter! Still, be prepared to pay over-weight fees.


     Camera Gear

Bring a circa 50mm or wider lens. You will want to get close, perhaps uncomfortably so. But this is a technique we will tackle on the tour.

Accessories (Plenty of SD/CF cards, cable release, extra camera batteries, filters, 110 volt 3-way adapter plug, multi-outlet strip, power cords, etc.) More specifics will be in your Tour CD.

DO NOT plan on buying any camera stuff in Cuba (unless your shooter of choice is a vintage Russian Zorki, Fed or other western knock-off, many of which are quite good.) Pack what you need, including batteries!

Dessicant like silica-gel, in a dry zip-lock for drying out the camera if it gets wet. Perhaps a plastic bag of some sort with a cut-out for the lens and rubber bands to hold all in place (in case it rains and you want to take photos in that rain.)

I carry two camera bodies in case one breaks while traveling. This is not necessary but....

NOTE: DO NOT take more than TWO cameras with you to Cuba! Any additional ones will be confiscated! This does not apply to cell phone cameras.


     Computer Stuff

Laptop computer with Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Lightroom and Nik Silver Efex Pro 2 installed. If you have other programs that you use and prefer for your workflow let us know. A laptop is not required but will be most helpful. If you do not have all these programs, don't worry.

I carry a travel hard drive. Your photos should ALWAYS be stored in at least two places while you travel. It is a good idea to put your fully used SD/CF cards away and use empty ones for your next shots. If you plan on downloading your SD/CF cards after use with the intention of erasing them to use over, you are engaging in a perfect recipe for disaster. More on this in your Tour CD.


     Personal Items

Obviously, any medications you use on a regular basis. Keep them in the original container with the prescription on the label. Some products and over-the-counter remedies can be hard to find in Cuba. Bring products you may need for headaches, allergies, colds, menstrual symptoms, etc.

Even during the winter the Cuban sun can scorch. Bring sunscreen and a decent hat or buy one in Cuba (that you can wear while taking pictures) if you are prone to burning. While we will not be at the beaches, if you want to work on that tan on your own time (which is only in the late afternoon and evening!) or are staying over at a hotel with a pool, a swimsuit may come in handy.

If you are particular about your sleeping pillow pack one. Plan on leaving it so you then have room to pack your Cuba purchases!

Healthy, tasty snacks are hard to find so think about bringing some granola bars, nuts, trail mix and small boxes of soy milk, especially if you have special dietary needs or are a vegetarian.

No vaccinations are required to enter Cuba. However, immigration will probably ask if you have been to Africa recently. IF YOU HAVE BEEN TO AFRICA IN THE FEW MONTHS BEFORE WE GO TO CUBA CALL ME!!!

You may bring:
photo and video cameras, personal DVD, PDA, CD and game devices, cell phones, laptops, MP3 players, hair dryers, electric shavers, binoculars, radio receivers, musical instruments, and sound recording devices for personal use. If you bring more than one of the above items, Cuban customs may ask if you intend to leave them behind on your departure; customs duty may then be assessed.



If you bring more than the equivalent of $5,000 USD in cash, you must declare it.

It is easy to spend about $100 CASH per day (and more) in Cuba. Remember, it is a Caribbean country that had 3 million tourists in 2014. As such, the people have perfected their sales techniques. While there are not the standard items many people are used to seeing in Caribbean shops (cameras, digital devices, etc.) there is much fine art. No, not the cheesy stuff one finds everywhere in the world (tho that exists, too) but great paintings, photographs, wood sculpture and more, being sold by the artists that created the work. Do bargain – but in a friendly and nice manner! And, if you do bargain, be sure the item is really something you plan on buying if you can reach a genuine price agreement. Nothing infuriates a seller more than coming to a good price agreement only to have the potential buyer then say, "OK, I'll think about it."

When you change money at a cadeca (legal money exchange) you need your passport, not a copy. Get a receipt of the transaction. It is better to make several exchanges rather than change a whopping amount all at once as there are large transaction fees on either end!

While on the topic of money one should note that there are two forms of currency in Cuba: Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC or "Kooks") and the Cuban National Peso (CUP). CUCs are for tourists and CUPs, as the Moneda Nacional, for locals. These are VERY different currencies and not to be confused. It takes about 25 CUPs to make 1 CUC. If, for example, you were to exchange 100 dollars on the street with an unscrupulous vendor, instead of the official 88 CUCs you might get the equivalent of 88 CUPs or US$3.52! Fortunately, rip-offs are rare in Cuba.

CUC paper notes are available in 1, 3, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 denominations and depict buildings and monuments. See samples Here
CUC coins are available in 5, 10, 25 and 50 Cents and 1 peso (about US$.88 cents at the current exchange.)

CUPs come in banknotes of 1, 3, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 pesos (and depict national heroes), coins come in 1 centavo, 2 centavos, 5 centavos, 20 centavos, 1 peso and 3 pesos.

When it is time to leave Cuba there is a CUC25.00 airport departure fee that can only be paid in CUCs after your flight check-in. Afterward, if you have CUCs left over you can either spend them at the duty-free shops or change CUC bills back to U.S. dollars. CUC coins may not be changed into foreign currency. A cadeca will demand to see a money-change receipt for changing CUCs back to U.S. dollars. Have one of your receipts handy. Oh, it is technically illegal to take CUCs out of Cuba.

American credit cards are reportedly now accepted in Cuba. Well, some. Check with your credit card provider to see if this is the case with THEIR card. Now, the important point: just because a card is legally accepted in Cuba does not mean you will actually find a place that accepts credit cards wherever you shop. In fact, at the moment, it is just the opposite. Vendors who accept cards are not the norm.

ATM machines. They do exist and Cubans use them (often quite a line) but I have no experience with them. Do not plan on getting a cash infusion via the ATM. Take plenty of cash.

Tipping for Service. You will be tipping in Cuba... possibly a lot. Plan for it, get used to it. It's a fact of life there. Here's a guide: Tipping



      “You can almost taste the tropicolored island where the Dodgers used to hold spring training…”
– Pico Iyer, Falling off the Map, 1993




Gifts are optional but any Cuban will appreciate the thought – and the gift! Doling out money to folks in the street and pan-handlers is not recommended; many of these individuals are professional scam 'artists'.

Gift ideas for gals: perfume, jewelry, make-up, nail polish and hair accessories.

Gift ideas for guys: cologne, disposable razors, baseball caps and balls, and T-shirts (especially with American sports logos).

Other helpful items: toothbrushes, sunglasses, deodorant, tampons, AA batteries, aspirin, ibuprofen, cold and flu medicine, medical thermometers, Band-Aids, reading glasses, sponges. Art supplies, school supplies, Spanish-English dictionaries, USB drives

Musicians: guitar strings, reeds for woodwind instruments and drumsticks are great presents, as well as jazz, R&B and hip-hop music on CD.

Dancers: tank tops, dance pants, sports bras and ballet, jazz, split sole dance shoes make excellent gifts.



     Other Items You May Want to Bring

Moleskine or similar notepad
Extra pair of glasses
Alarm clock
Contact lens supplies
Bathing suit
Sunhat or baseball cap (or plan on buying one there)
Mosquito repellant
Ear plugs
Sleeping Eye Shades
Tissue Kerchief/bandana
Light Jacket



     “I told myself that the reason why I had come to Cuba was to make a pilgrimage to Our Lady of Cobre. And I did, in fact, make a kind of pilgrimage. But it was one of those medieval pilgrimages that was nine-tenths vacation and one-tenth pilgrimage.” – Thomas Merton, The Seven Story Mountain, 1948




Cuba restricts some imports, even by tourists who are not leaving these forbidden items behind! There is no room for leeway or negotiation on these items. Do not bring:

You can take ONLY two cameras into the country. No more than that!

GPS units

Two-way radios, satellite radios

Expired medicines

Fresh food, live plants or seeds

Drugs, other than legal pharmaceuticals. Cuba takes its anti-drug stance seriously. Do not put your tour companions and yourself in jeopardy. Long-term prison sentences are common for making a silly (and serious) mistake!

So.... leave all narcotics, explosives, pornography, anti-Cuba literature, aerial drones, stand-alone GPS devices, walkie-talkies, and items that are considered weapons at home!




     Here's the Actual Wording From Cuba's Gazette on What One Can Bring

Personal Belongings

Personal belongings are those which, for their nature and quantity, can be reasonably used by the passenger during the trip, taking into account the duration, circumstances and purpose of the trip, as well as the passenger’s profession, activity and characteristics; excluding goods which, for their features, quantity and value, may have a business character or purpose.

Generally speaking, personal belongings may be:

     Jewelery and items for personal use.

     Garments, shoes, items for personal hygiene and toiletries, provided they come in quantities that imply personal use.

     A mobile phone, eg. a cell phone.

     A camera or a portable video camera and accesories.

     If your profession is photographer can bring two camera bodies.

     A Portable TV set

     A Personal computer

     Article for transportation, entertainment, food and childcare, acording to age

     A portable device for recording or reproducing sounds, images, data, or mixed, commonly known as MP3, MP4 or the like, together with their respective set of portable headphones and accessories.

     Up to an amount not exceeding 400 cigarettes, 500 grams of pipe tobacco, 50 cigars and 2,500 cubic centimeters of alcoholic beverages per adult.

     Medicines in necessary quantities for passengers’ personal use only and according to the relevant medical prescription, as well as a device to measure blood pressure or blood glucose, and other similar portable devices for medical tests and reagents.

     Books and leaflets as well as newspapers, printed matter, magazines and music compositions.


In the case of foreign tourists, the following are also considered personal belongings:

     A portable compact disc player (CD) and / or DVD player or the like, together with their respective set of portable headphones and accessories.

     Binoculars for personal use.

     A portable television receiver, a laptop for personal use.

     A portable typewriter, a tent and camping gear.

     Sports items (a set of fishing tackle; a non-motor assisted bicycle; a canoe or kayak with less than 5.50 meters long; a pair of skis; two rackets, and other similar items).

     A pair of walkie-talkies [previously not allowed! – Wilbur]


In any case, if more quantities of items than those listed above are imported, the extra items will not be considered personal belongings and shall be subjected to the provisions for items imported on permanent basis.

When using the weight/value method to calculate the customs value of imported goods by a traveler, 25 kgs of them are considered as personal effects and they are free of customs duties. Check weight / value method page and the examples



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