They both traveled to Cuba within days of one another in March of 2016. President Obama and his family stayed in a grand embassy mansion in Havana while the Rolling Stones performed a free concert in front of hundreds of thousands of people at the Ciudad Deportiva just miles apart. The same Ciudad Deportiva that hosted the U19 Boys NORCECA Continential Championship on June 22-30, 2016.
It’s not like BIP to miss out on an opportunity that combines world class competitive volleyball, breathtaking Caribbean beaches and a peak into the fascinating history of a socialist state…. so we scouted out the scene.
Here’s 5 things you’ll want to know about taking a foreign volleyball tour to Cuba.
1. Can anyone travel to Cuba?
No, individual travel to Cuba for tourism activities is still not permitted by the US government (as of July, 2016). However, in January 2015 the OFAC (U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control) lifted the ban on travel to Cuba for groups that fall within the 12 categories of authorized travel which include “athletic and other competitions”. In short, you can’t go to Cuba as a tourist alone, but you can travel with your team to play volleyball. All teams considering travel to Cuba should read through the Frequently Asked Questions on Changes to the Cuba Sanctions Program.
2. What can we expect in terms of volleyball?
The Cuban women’s national volleyball team has a rich history of volleyball Olympic gold medals. The “Morenas del Caribe” squad captured three consecutive Olympic gold medals in Barcelona in 1992, Atlanta in 1996 and Sydney in 2000. They also won a bronze Olympic medal in Athens in 2004. Unfortunately, the Cuban women’s team has fallen in international rankings over the past decade and we won’t be seeing them compete in Rio 2016.
However on our recent scouting trip to Havana, the president of the Cuban volleyball federation enthusiastically welcomed the idea of future international competition on the island to promote the sport of volleyball. Therefore all visiting teams will compete against youth, junior and national teams in Havana. One thing is for certain, you can count on competitive and passionate volleyball!
3. Can our team volunteer?
Yes. When considering the lifestyle in Cuba, it’s difficult to see beyond the fact that the average monthly salary for a government worker is between $30-$40 USD. Everyday items such as sports equipment and school supplies are in high demand due to lack of availability.
However it’s important to note that poverty does not equate to a lack of well being. Salaries are subsidized by a range of free services offered by the government. Its’ socialist system provides quality nationalized healthcare for all citizens, free food allowances, highly subsidized utility bills and gasoline. There’s also no government taxes due on property, goods or services. The nutrition, health and life expectancy of Cubans is among the world’s best. Education is completely free for Cuban citizens which attributes Cuba’s famously high nation wide literacy rate of 99.7% according to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics.
Cuba might be short on every-day material possessions common in first world countries, but the country is not short on educational professionals. And more importantly, its’ citizen’s don’t view themselves as a third world country.
Despite the extreme poverty level, Cuba is uniquely transitioning into one of the world’s most popular vacation destinations. In an effort to bridge the gap, BIP’s Cuban volleyball tours include community service and we strongly encourage players to pack lightly saving space in their luggage for donation materials to give to the local schools that we visit.
4. How far in advance do I need to book a tour?
We recommend contacting us as soon as you’re considering a trip to Cuba. Tours to Cuba require more advanced planning than our volleyball tours to Europe or Nicaragua. The Cuba government requires that every team tour itinerary is approved prior to travel which can take up to 5 months. Hotels in Havana are also limited and fill up months in advance. Notifying BIP ahead of your preferred departure date provides us sufficient time to get government permission, arrange the matches, organize ground transportation and reserve hotels.
5. What can we expect to do on tour?
Cuba offers an extremely unique cultural and volleyball experience for all those craving high level competition, community service and a taste of the country’s revolutionary spirit. Travel back in time with soulful salsa music, vibrant colonial buildings and timeless cars. Cuba’s colorful capital of Havana invites travelers to open their mind to another way of life. The aged Cuban Baroque style buildings and cobblestone city streets promise to transport to you.
Wander down the Malecón, the walkway along the ocean; explore the open-air bazaars of Habana Vieja (Old Havana) and pay tribute to the Catedral de San Cristóbal. The Caribbean culture here is infectious. Get a taste of Cuba’s cherished local cuisine, comida criolla, or make your way over to the Plaza de la Revolucion to lay your eyes on the ‘Che’ Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos monuments. When it comes to Cuba, there’s no shortage of iconic revolutionary elements to take in.
Contact us today to get a complete travel guide with more information on team travel to Cuba.