NOTE: This information has been provided to the travelers in our spring expeditions, but I think this is a reasonable review of health issues for travelers in general.
Staying healthy while traveling to and around Cuba is similar to traveling in other countries. You won’t need any additional inoculations/vaccinations other than what you already have received as a U.S. resident. Be prepared and stay consistent! If you have a routine that involves exercise, eating right, and taking medications and supplements, I suggest that you try to stay on schedule. For example, if you take a baby aspirin daily, be sure to take some with you. (This is especially important to help prevent deep vein thrombosis when you are flying for five hours to Miami. Do ankle exercises every hour and try to walk up and down the aisle once or twice.) I like to bring along some disposable face masks, just in case the passenger sitting next to me is coughing or sneezing. If you develop sniffles on the flight or afterwards, you could be kind and wear your own mask to reassure your neighbor.
If you are on serious medications, be sure to bring them along! (People really DO forget.) I suggest bringing enough to last you two weeks past your scheduled tour, just in case. BE SURE TO TAKE THEM (as well as supplements such as calcium, etc.). You will be staying in a hotel, and sometimes you will find yourself rushing off to get on the bus. The change in your environment and normal routine will make it easy to forget to take your meds. I suggest bringing a copy of your medications with you, or bring them in a container that has the actual medication and dosage written on the label. I also think it is a good idea to bring along a summary of your health profile, describing your medications, major surgeries, health conditions, etc. (You don’t need to have it translated into Spanish.) If you have ever had an abnormal EKG, I would strongly suggest bringing along a copy of that as well. You can keep this information with you, but it would really be helpful to me (and to you and to the clinic staff) if I can retrieve it from your luggage in the hotel in the unlikely event that you are hospitalized. By the way, Cuban health insurance for visitors is included with my tours.
You may also want to bring along a bottle of sunscreen and a small bottle of bug repellant, although you probably won’t need the latter. Just like in Hawaii, the weather may feel pleasant at 80 degrees, but you may be exposed to more sun than you think you are getting. A wide-brimmed hat might help as well. We will not be walking around too much in the middle of the day as a group, but you may want to extend a sunny walk by an hour or two on your own. And we will be spending several days at the beach.
One of the most common conditions while traveling is constipation. You may have a regular routine at home, but you may have to get up early for your flight to Miami. You may drink more coffee or alcohol on the way, while drinking less water and juice. This combination can lead to dehydration and constipation, and you may not even recognize it right away. When bathrooms aren’t as convenient to use as at home, we tend to not use them as frequently. Just keep this in mind when traveling. Try to drink water or juice (especially prune or tomato) as needed, and try to increase your intake of fiber. You may also wish to bring along a small bottle of Milk of Magnesia, just in case.
Another cause of constipation is altering your exercise routine. If you usually exercise every morning, you may not be able to conveniently do so while traveling. You can always have somebody watch your luggage while you walk around the airport. In Cuba, our hotels will have exercise rooms and swimming pools, as will most of the hotels near the airport in Miami. (By the way, I encourage bringing a bathing suit. You may feel you don’t look as good as you did 20 years ago, but we’re ALL 20 years older! The pools, and especially the ocean near the beach in Varadero, are really nice to swim in.
It’s very important to bring shoes that you have already broken in. You might also consider bringing a small, basic first-aid kit with band-aids, antiseptic ointment, Tylenol, Imodium for diarrhea, tape, etc. On my past trips, the only people who suffered minor injuries were those who didn’t bring personal first-aid kits, so perhaps this will help prevent injuries. (I guess in a pinch you could always raid our medical donation supplies, but be aware that this might cause you to be in violation of at least eleven different U.S. government travel regulations.)
You may have read that Cuba had a cholera outbreak several weeks ago. It was confined to specific areas, and seems to be under control now. In general, their public health sector is fairly efficient. Although hurricane season doesn’t start until June, the Cubans are very good at evacuating visitors to safety in case of some untoward emergency, such as a tidal wave, meteorite explosion, or full-scale invasion by military forces of the United States.
Please let me know if you think you are experiencing any type of health problem or emergency. There is a nurse or doctor available at our hotels on a 24-hour basis. On any particular day, if you don’t feel like traveling, please let me know. There is plenty to see and do at our hotels and in the immediate vicinity if you just want to take it easy. If we are on tour and you don’t feel well, we can arrange to have you returned to the hotel or taken to a clinic.
If I think of anything else, I’ll add it to this report. Since most of you are experienced travelers, you probably have other items and suggestions to contribute. I would really appreciate your comments. This applies to other aspects of our tour as well. Many of you have traveled extensively and have been reading about Cuba voraciously, so please contribute whenever you feel it is appropriate.