Perhaps you’ve always been able to visit Cuba. Or maybe you’re finally able to consider it for the first time (thanks America!). Either way, the time to get there is now, as it’s soon to be come the next sought-after destination. Opportunities for a gap year abound, with prospects to learn Spanish, volunteer or backpack and explore. So start packing and get ready for your gap year in Cuba.

Photo Credit: API Study Abroad

Your interests will dictate how you spend your Cuban gap year. Spending time in Cuba, whether it’s to learn the language, help the people or explore, will be both fulfilling and exciting.

Learn Spanish

It’s always a good idea to learn Spanish, as it’s the second most prominent language in the world. But learning Spanish in Cuba during your gap year isn’t just a good idea, it’s a great idea! The people are friendly, which means you’ll be practicing outside the classroom in no time. Havana, Trinidad and Santiago de Cuba are known to have schools.

Apple Language Courses has Spanish schools in all three of the above cities. Their courses vary from one week to two months and cover an array of topics. You can join an immersive Spanish class, learn one-on-one with a tutor, work with a mini-group and even learn to salsa or play the guitar. Students are encouraged to live with a host family to foster their Spanish speaking experience, although private apartments can also be arranged.

Volunteer

For those looking to give back and make their time in Cuba meaningful, there are a few volunteer options.

Volunteers interested in working with wildlife can help with bat conservation on the beautiful Varadero peninsula. Participants are given the opportunity to perform field research and learn important handling and recognition techniques. To top it all off you are able to work in beautiful caves that are off limits to the general public.

Those interested in effecting real change in local Cuban communities should look at volunteering with Globe Aware. Activities could include anything from repairing playgrounds to teaching English to organizing rehabilitation events for the elderly. Not only are volunteers helping Cuban citizens, they also learn about the Cuban culture, customs and daily life.

Travel

Whether you’ve been to Cuba before or it’s your first time, there’s plenty to discover during a with a travel focused gap year in Cuba.

Vibrant cities like Havana, Santiago de Cuba, and Trinidad provide the opportunity to immerse yourself into a vivacious culture. The nightlife in Havana is hard to beat with bars and clubs galore and salsa around every corner.

Trinidad is rich in history and colonial architect and, as such, is an established UNESCO World Heritage Site. Santiago de Cuba is the heart of the revolution and takes great pride in its historical significance. In whatever cities you visit, don’t miss out on the delectable Cuban food that is a mixture of Spanish, Caribbean, African and native Taino.

Nature lovers rejoice! Outside of the city centers, Cuba has a breadth of beaches and countryside for exploring. Las Terrazas is a spectacularly green ecosystem in the Sierra del Rosario Biosphere Reserve that has zip-lining, lakes, hiking trails and swimming holes. Parque Nacional Topes de Collantes resides in the Sierra del Escambray mountains and is brimming with waterfalls and excellent hiking trails. Varadero Beach is the most famous in Cuba due to its sparkling white sands, caves and offshore cays.

Do note, however, that because of legal constraints, it's unlikely that you'll be able to fill a full year just traveling in Cuba, but it's a great destination to add onto a longer trip.

Costs

Costs in Cuba are a bit higher than Central America, which is surprising for some tourists who may be expecting rock bottom prices. The country has a dual currency system, one for locals (CUP) and one for foreigners (CUC). Locals are able to get by earning less than $50 USD a month, while foreigners will be spending more for their time in Cuba.

United States based credit cards and debit cards do not work in Cuba, so be sure to bring plenty of cash for exchanging if that’s where your banks are located.

For a nice meal, you can expect to pay about $6 USD. A liter of water is $1.50, a beer $1 and a cappuccino $1.15. Rent in Cuba, like the rest of the world, changes depending on where you live. An apartment inside the city center is $470 a month while locations farther outside run at $270.

Health and Safety

Cuba has a strong police and military presence, making it a generally stable country. As in any foreign country, travelers should avoid local demonstrations should they arise. Pickpocketing and theft is known to occur in more crowded, touristy parts of cities. Be wary of friendly “jineteros” or hustlers, who are professional criminals looking to cheat tourists by offering themselves as tour guides or selling cheap goods.

Health care in Cuba is segregated and foreigners are taken to a separate “tourist hospital.” Procedures are often required to be paid for with cash in advance, either by you or your insurance company. In general, medical professionals are competent, but facilities are sometimes short on medical supplies or bed space. Be sure to bring enough of your personal prescriptions, as they may not be available for refill in Cuba.

Diseases to be extra vigilant of during your time in Cuba include dengue fever, chikungunya, cholera, traveler’s diarrhea and rabies. Be sure to protect yourself against mosquitos, thoroughly cook all food, only drink bottled liquids and stay away from animals you don’t know.

Contributed by Alecia Weaver

Visa requirements for Cuba differ based on your citizenship, so always check with your local embassy before traveling.

British, Australian and Canadian citizens are required to have a visa card before arrival in Cuba. Also mandatory is a passport valid upon entry (although it is encouraged to have it valid through the entirety of your stay), proof of a return flight home and approved travelers insurance. A Cuban visa card costs £15, is valid for 30 days, and can be extended another 30 days once you’re in the country.

US citizens must meet various requirements before the United States government will authorize them to visit Cuba. A few of the 12 categories include family visits, professional research, educational activities, religious activities, and volunteering. Have no fear though. Go Overseas has already spelled out for you how to volunteer in Cuba if you are a United States citizen.

Gap Year Programs in Cuba

Displaying 1 - 9 of 9 programs
Seamester
Seamester: Caribbean Basin Voyage - 90 Days
Multiple Countries
9.5 •6 reviews

This is the trip for the adventurer who's looking for more - a full...

Corazon Cuba
Learn Spanish, Dance & Adventure in Havana & Viñales - 4 weeks
Cuba
9.5 •6 reviews

Four week full cultural immersion based in Old Havana & Viñales...

Rustic Pathways
Mulit-Country Rustic Pathways Gap Year
Multiple Countries
9.45 •20 reviews

A gap year is not a one-kind-fits-all experience. That's why Rustic...

ARCC Programs
ARCC Gap: Centro-Caribbean - Cuba, Panama, Costa Rica & Belize
Multiple Countries
9.75 •4 reviews

ARCC’s Centro-Caribbean Spring Gap Program explores some of the most...

Corazon Cuba
Learn Spanish, Culture & Adventure in Cuba - 2 or 4 weeks
Cuba
10 •2 reviews

Based in the heart of Old Havana, Spanish language lessons take place...

CET Academic Programs
Pre-College at CET Cuba: Global Perspectives
Cuba
9.33 •3 reviews

Learn about health policy. Practice Spanish. Witness a changing Cuba...

Ocean Passages
Spend your Gap Year at Sea with Ocean Passages from Canada to Cuba!
Multiple Countries
9.57 •7 reviews

Navigate the waters of change from Canada to Cuba aboard our 131-foot...

Corazon Cuba
Learn Spanish & Volunteer in Havana - 2 weeks
Cuba
10 •1 review

A two week ‘cultural immersion’ program based in the heart of Old...

Corazon Cuba
Learn Spanish & Adventure in Viñales
Cuba

Go back in time and taste the flavor of the traditional Cuban...

Gap Year Volunteering in Cuba

Volunteering is a great way to experience Cuba on your gap year
  • Global Volunteers
    Genuine Volunteer Service Programs in Cuba with Global Volunteers
    Cuba
    9.5 •16 reviews

    Experience Cuba hand-in-hand in service and partnership with the Cuban...

  • Intercultural Outreach Initiative (IOI)
    Volunteer in Cuba with IOI: Marine & Coastal Habitat Restoration
    Cuba
    9.38 •8 reviews

    As the Marine and Coastal Habitat Conservation Volunteer, you will...

  • SEE Turtles
    Cuba Sea Turtle Expedition with SEE Turtles
    Cuba
    9.75 •8 reviews

    Spend 3 nights visiting a sea turtle conservation project at the...

  • Discover Corps
    Cuba: "Building Bridges" with Discover Corps
    Cuba
    9.75 •4 reviews

    Over the course of the trip, you will engage with the children of...

  • Globe Aware
    Volunteer in Cuba with Globe Aware
    Cuba
    10 •1 review

    Join Globe Aware in Cuba, experience the unique Cuban culture, and...

  • Cuba Solidarity Campaign
    Solidarity Brigade Volunteer Program in Cuba
    Cuba
    9 •1 review

    Solidarity Brigades are holidays with a difference. Aside from...

  • Global Leadership Adventures (GLA)
    Summer Volunteer Programs in Cuba
    Cuba

    In complex Cuba, music pours out of open windows, natural beauty...

  • Animal Experience International
    Bat Conservation and Research in Cuba
    Cuba

    The few caves here are home to the 5 species of bats of Varadero. Our...

  • Working Abroad Projects
    Coral Reef Conservation Volunteer Project, Cuba
    Cuba

    Volunteer in a Nature Reserve on the Isle of Youth near the small...

What People Are Saying

Choosing to sail the Caribbean on SY Ocean Star for my study abroad is by far the most important decision I have made thus far in my academic career. While the classes on board fun and educational the...

Scuba

In the summer of 2019, I went to the Dominican Republic on the “Life in the Bateyes” trip. Learning about Dominican and Haitian relations and how the sugar we buy is actually processed was truly eye...

Exploring the streets of Havana.

I feel very lucky to have found a program which provides an authentic experience where get to know the real Cuba but is at the same time safe and allows you to meet great people. Famously Cuba is...

Museum of Revolution

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