Number #5 Questions about travelling in Cuba
Private Houses ("Casa Particular"), General information and how you can make your reservations.
the begining I want to say something about the "official" priavte
houses in Cuba, and the others.... For beeing an official house the owner of
it has to pays tasks to the state. In general these tasks are very high for
the cuban people, since january 2011 at least 200 CUC per room and month. Aditional they have to pay an income tax (40%) once a year. This is also the reason why renting a room can't be so cheap.
Living in these houses you'll not have problems with the state, nither with you own security, but the situation in the houses without licence (no officials) is really different. I have an example, a friend of mine lose all his luggages in one of these houses, and the funny thing ist that the police said he was guity because there are a lot of hotels and official houses to stay in... Sometimes the cheaper things are, at the end, the more expensive ones!
If you're in doubt if a house is official or not, there's a easy way to find it out. At every house which rents with licence you will find at the main port the following signe . A blue one for people renting in CUC, a red one for people which are alowed to rent in Cuban Pesos.
So my suggestion: You shoud only stay in official houses!
The prices for renting a house (a room) in Cuba are between 10 CUC and 30 CUC daily for each room (and not per person. The prices at this page are always per room, too). If you compare it with other countries you'll see it's rather expensive in Cuba, the reazons can be finded in the tasks the owners have to pay to the state which I already described. But these prices also depends on you. For example, many times someonte comes to you and asks if you have reserved a house, because she/he has the best adress for you. It's true that they have an adress and it can be the best one but, may be just for them, because the owners of the houses pay some money to those people just for taking you there (that is called in Cuba commission) and if in their eyes it's a good one it's often because they will receive a lot of money. The problem is that the owner is not who hast to pay the money, but you! I can give you an example. A house or a room in Trinidad normally costs 10 CUC per day, but when the owner has to pay commissions it costs 15 CUC, 5 CUC for the person that show you the house. He/she will receive it each day that you stay in the room. The same for the meal prices. They will cost also more, for each meal the hustler receive a commission!
I have mixed feelings about this. I remember a tourist who camie with one of those "people" to a house. He stood there a whole month paying 15 CUC per day, so 150 CUC were not for the owner of the house, but for the owner of the "commission". There exist another problem, sometimes those people want toearn "commission" for food also, and there are additional pays for the tourists. So, at the end of the story this "bussnies man" of my exemple received 240 CUC from commissions. When you realize that the salaries in Cuba are between 10 CUC (simple workers) and 30 CUC (proffessionals) per month you don't have to ask why this sector known as Jineterismo (incluiding prostitution) is increasing more and more every year. 240 CUC just for showing a house to a tourist is better than work a whole month for less than it's 10%. Well, I'm not saying that if you are in a city you don't know and you don't have an adress to go to, you can not use these services, but is better if you have an adress so you can make a reservation before going to it. Be careful because sometimes taxi drivers want some money also for taking you to the house but if you have previosly a reservation this doesn´t happen.
Some words about the houses. The private houses in Cuba are as diferent as the Cuban people. There are houses where you feel as a "Member of the familiy" these are very nice families, and there are others where you are totaly independent of the family, having your own key sometimes also your own entry, a room with air condition, television, refrigerator, etc. There are families interested in you, there are others only interested in your money. There are houses where the owners give you a big breakfast with fruits and a lot of other things, but in others in the same town, the owners say that is impossible to find fruits... All (more or less...) of the owner of the houses I publish on my page are friends of mine. I lived there for some weeks and I know these families very well, so I suggest them without doubt. It doesn't mean in every house things are going to be the same, this diferences I explained you will also find in this houses. Things always are changing, so I'm glad if you send me your commentaries about the houses, thanks.
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Information about the money in Cuba (Cuban Peso, Convertible Peso, CUC)
New information: From the 8. November you can't use any more the CUC in Cuba. Where you could pay with the CUC you have to pay now in Pesos Convertibles. You will pay an aditional charge for changing CUC in Pesos Convertibles. So I recomend to travel now to Cuba with Euro, Swiss Francs, Canadian Dollars and British Pounds. This currencies you can change in Cuba in Pesos Convertible without aditional charge. Later I will inform detailed.
There exists three types of money in Cuba. The Cuban Peso which is the national money. The Convertible Peso which is used as Dollar and de CUC itself as the third used type. The convertible Peso and Dollar are called divisa or "Fula", too. You can change the Convertible Peso into CUC at the airport before leaving the country, because it doesn't have value out of it.
In Cuba you need more Dollars or Convertible Pesos which are the same. All hotels, private houses Taxis (Panataxi, Touristaxi, Havanataxi, Taxi OK etc.), shops (called in Cuba "shopping") only accept CUC.
So it's easier to give you a list of places where the Cuban Peso can be used!
These is a small list of places where you can use the Cuban money as a foreigner. In general you can use it more in the country side, in small cities. At this places sometimes you even need it. For example on the "Isla de la Juventud" you receive quite a lot of things for Cuban money, more than in other places. In Varadero the Cuban Peso almos doesn't exist, in Havana there are no much possibilities to use it. There are some places where you have to pay as a tourist the same price like Cubans, but in CUC and not in Pesos. For example Cubana or FC (train). The good thing is that you don't have to wait two or more weeks for having you traveller ticket. There is also a Bar "Havana Club" on 23 street, Vedado, Havana where you can pay with the Cuban peso, but if you don't know it they want you to pay in CUC. This is by the way a often used hint for them to get some CUC. Sometimes it's very difficult in Cuba to know where you can pay with the Cuban Peso and where you can not, this part of the experience...
You can change your CUC into Cuban Pesos in the money change Houses, called "CADECA". You receive 21 Pesos (January 2000) per each CUC. There are CADECAS on big cities only, that's why you need to change a lot of Dollars if you want to travel for a long time into the country side. There exists another possibility to change money on the streets, but this is prohibited and I suggest it only for the whorst case when no CADECA is next. Sometimes there are a lot of people waiting in front of the CADECA. Always ask for the correct queue, normally there are two, one for to buy and another for to sell CUC. You normally need to sell it - most of the people need to buy it. So, in 90% of the cases you can enter directly, because you're the only person in this queue. Ask for to be sure the waiting people or direct the security staff.
A hint for knowing if it's a Cuban Peso or a convertible one: If over the bill is represented something touristic, it's a Convertible Peso, but if it's represented something that has to do with the Cuban Revolution, then you've got a Cuban Peso in your hands!
If you go to Cuba for one or two weeks, and if you want to stay only in touristic places like Varadero, Havana, Trinidad, Santiago de Cuba and so on you don't need Cuban Pesos. But if you want to go the the country side travelling like Cubans and like I suggest it at my page you need the national money!
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VISA? Information about the entry in Cuba
The people from those countries (Spain, Italy, Mexico, Germany, Switzerland etc.) that go frequently to Cuba don't need a Visa for entrying in the country. They just need the Passport (which is valid for 6 months) and a tourist card.
Normally you receive the tourist card in the travel agency where you buy the ticket. Sometimes you have to ask for the card apart from the ticket to Cuba, and in some cases you have to give your passport to the agency, then they will send it to the Cuban embassy for receiving the tourist card, but it depends on the country you come from. For the tourism card you have to pay more or less 25 CUC. But you can find differences in this price and in the way of getting the tourism card, because, as I said before, it depends a lot on the country you come from. If you're not sure if you need a Visa, it's certainly better to ask direct to the Cuban embassy in your country. (If you're an American, ask the one in Mexico (the next) or the one in England (if you only understand English!))
With the tourist card you can stay in Cuba for 30 days. For touristic reazons you can get 30 days more, but you have to ask for this in Cuba. There you have to go to the inmigration office that belongs to the city you are living in. Normally you receive the prolongation without problems, but you have to pay 25 CUC more, in stamps. Those special stamps can be finded in the banks that works with CUC. I suggest you no to ask for the prolongation the last day of you time. It's better too, to go early in the morning to the imigration office to ask for the prolongation (prorroga) because you have to go first to the inmigration office, then you have to go to the bank (buy the stamps) and later you have to go once more to the inmigration office. Normally you need some hours for this, so if you want to do it in one day, have an early start. The inmigration offices (and the banks) are closed at 3 o´clock in the afternoon, except Wednesdays, they close at 12:00 (not the banks).
If you want to stay more than two months in Cuba, there exists the posibility to ask for a Visa. I think it needs a lot of time, and it's not so easy to receive it (if you want to go to the Cuban University normally you receive it without problems). In Cuba it's a commun pratice to go out of the country for a few days, for instance to Jamaica, Mexico, etc. Then you can enter again with the tourism card, so you can stay in Cuba two months more. There are even travel agencies in Cuba that offer you this "help sistem", you just have to pay a price in which are included the fly, the hotel and the tourist card for what you're doing it...
Attention: The tourist card permits you to stay only in legalized places like hotels and private houses with licence for having tourists, so if you want to live in Cuba with friends you must change the tourism card into a visit Visa. You can receive this kind of Visa only in Cuba, in the inmigration offices, and it costs 40 CUC in stamps, also. The owner of the house where you're going to stay has to go to the inmigration office with his identity papers. The people that have licence for tourists can invite one friend per year. I advice you, in this case, to do everything a soon as posible, because if you stay ilegal in a house, you, and much more the owner of it have a big problem with the government laws. Sometimes the Cuban people don´t know the consequences of doing that, that's why you must take the initiative.
For staying more than four months in Cuba, I suggest you to contact the Cuban embassy in your country. The people that go for studying to Cuba need to ask for an occasional residence in the country, so they will receive a similar personal card like Cubans have and with this card they have the right to pay special prices for travelling in the country and for some other things. So they will be "almost" Cubans, using the popular services like the Cubans do. This is only if you want to stay more than two months in Cuba, studying. If you only go for two months you can enter with a tourist card, if you want to stay longer it's a better bet to ask for a Visa, which you get normally without problems.
An answer to a frequently asked question. For entering Cuba you need a reservation in a oficial place. This can be a hotel or an oficial Casa Particular. Always make in advance a reservation, for exemple by phone. In the tourist card you put the adress of your hotel or casa particular. It was reported that people were obligated to make at the custom a hotel reservation for the first three days. Maybe this was because this people don't have writen a direccion of an oficial place in their touristcard or because they couldn't defend them well in Spanish. I think, you don't need exactly a "hotel" but any reservation in an oficial place!
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Phone Calls in Cuba (national / international)
Also by using the phones in Cuba you will be confronted with the diferent currency used in Cuba. For this reason I'd like to explain you about the diferent posibilities to do phone calls.
A local phone call will cost
about 5 Centavos per minute, a national call will cost between 35 Centavos (for
example between Habana and Nueva Gerona - Isla de la Juventud) and 1 Peso (for
example for a call from Habana to Santiago de Cuba).
Monday to Saturday from 18:00 to 08:00 and the whole Sunday you will pay the half of this prices. You need to know, that the currency of this prices is a matter of the phone you choose, so you pay this fares in Pesos or in CUC. So if you choose a CUC phone you will pay about 25 times more than if you choose a Pesos phone. Be aware, that the quality is the same, there are no special lines for CUC paying people!
In Hotels, International post offices and other tourist installations the only accepted currency is the CUC.
Phone calls to other countries
you only can realize paying in CUC*. The prices are very high, so you will pay
for a phone call to Europe about 4 CUC per minute.
* There are exceptions.Einzige Ausnahme. Phone calls realized from a particular Phone. In this case the recipient of the call will be asked if he accept the costs. But note that this service isn't available for all countries. You can call from Cuba for example to Italy or Spain.
Now I'd like to present you
some posibilites to realize phone calls:
Pesos / Coins
This phones normally
aren't dificult to find. You can pay with 5, 20 Centavos and 1 Peso coins.
For national calls you
need to dial 0 and afterwards the destinations code. For example a call
Sometimes you can't call to each destination in Cuba. A plate will inform you about the available areas. Always can realize local calls and calls to the city of Habana.
Pesos / Coins
Work the same way like the phone above. This phones aren't so frequently.
The phone you most will see in Cuba, specially in tourist areas. Only with this typ you can realize calls to abroad. The phone cards you need you can buy in souvenir-shops, international post offices, hotels and so on. There are cards for 5, 10 and 20 CUC available. In very few cases this phones also accepts coins.
For national calls you
need to dial 0 and afterwards the destinations code. For example a call
For calls to other countries
you need to dial first 119 afterwards the code for the country and finally
the area code without the 0 (exception: Italy). For example Cuba - Switzerland:
This phones you normally only find in the offices of ETECSA - ETECSA is the Cuban Phone Company. This installations are called: "centros de llamadas". There you also buy this type of cards. There are avaiable cards for 3, 5 or 7 Pesos
FFor national calls
you dial first the code 01. For example a call from Habana to Nueva Gerona:
Public phones - with assistance
Local and national phone calls possible. You will pay the normal rate.
Funny: You've got the guarantee that there are at least the assistance listening to cour call. I remember a phone call to a Casa Particular in Nueva Gerona. After the call the assistance began to talk to me about the nice places one can visit at the Isla de la Juventud...
Correo international /
"International Post office"
In the office of the international post you also can realize phone calls. Also there's frequently the posibility to send and receive (1 CUC a page) a fax. You can realize national and also international calls. The phone calls and the fax service you pay in CUC. The rates are higher than the ones of the CUC card-phones. A fax to Europe will cost about 6 CUC a minute, the same rate are the phone calls.
Centro de llamadas /
"Call Center "
Pesos / CUC
At the "centro de llamadas" you can realize national phone calls in Pesos. There exists also the posibility to send and receive a fax (rates in CUC). International calls are also possible, the prices are in CUC. Normally there are also card-phones, so you don't need to make the queue for the operators' assistance. The cards you can buy by the operator.
In almost every town you will find such a call center.
Also from private phones
you can make local and national calls. If you don't know the people very
well from whose you're using the phone I suggest to call with the operators'
assistance. In this case dial first the code 00 - you need to know some
Spanish for this. Afterwards you can dial once more 00 and ask the operator
for the costs of the call. The prices are only a little bit higher than
the calls without assistance.
International calls can be made with the operators assistance. The person who receivs the phone call will have to pay. Cuba doesn't have contracts with every country, so you need to ask if there's one with the country you like to call to. For example you can call to Italy or Spain but not to Germany, Switzerland, Austria.
The easiest but most expensive way to communicate in Cuba is by using your own cell phone.
If you carry a European cell it is possible to use it along the island, wherever there is a link (->right map, GSM-900). But if your cell phone is American, then you better check whether it works with GSM-900 system. CUBACEL offers a GSM-850 network in tourist destinations such as Havana, Varadero and Cayo Coco.
Nowadays almost all cell companies have a roaming contract with CUBACEL (ETECSA), the Cuban company for cell phone services. So, depending on your type of contract you could only be able to receive calls and send messages. Before travelling to Cuba, I recommend you get informed on this topic: current call and short message tariffs in Cuba. In most cases your cell phone will work perfectly in Cuba but when used extensively, the cost will astonish you at the end…
For further information on cell phone services in Cuba, I recommend visiting the website of the national cell company in Cuba (CUBACEL). Besides, you better check your Cell Phone Company for tariffs and possible roaming contracts with CUBACEL.
Advice: If during trip through Cuba you had to make many longer national or international phone calls, then you better buy your own phone card (= tarjeta propia). This card can be bought in all ETECSA shops. Each card has a code number. From any point of Cuba one may call to an information free number. To get instructions: Dial 166, then the code in your personal card, followed by # symbol. Now dial the desired phone number, followed by # symbol. This way you automatically are connected to the wanted number. The cost of calls is discounted from the card fund. Tariffs are similar to those of ETECSA. When the fund from the card is over one may recharge it in any ETECSA office.
If, before calling, you want to check the credit of your phone card, dial 166 followed by # symbol, then the own card code followed by # and automatically you will get information about the current fund and how long you may use the card without recharging it. These cards can only be recharged with credit up to 100 CUP. They sell cards in CUC and CUP. Cards in CUC let you make international calls, while national calls with these cards are charged in CUC instead of CUP; then, a national call would become 25 times more expensive than by using own cards in CUP.
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What are the prices in Cuba like? - a small list of prices
That Cuba isn't a cheap travel destination I think you know! A reason for this is Cubas' lack of hard currency. The tourism is now the most important income of Cuba. There are a lot of methods to make tourists leaving the country with less money. So you have to pay for example for visiting a natural vantage point (like the Grand Piedra) or you have to pay for a 45 minute walk to a natural waterfall (Topes de Collantes). Or the entry at museums: for example if you visit the monument of José Martí at the Plaza de la Revolucíon in Habana you pay 5 CUC for entering the museum, 5 CUC more if you like to visit the vantage point and once more 5 CUC if you like to climb with a camera... At this moments one's feeling exploited! The only possibility is to avoid very touristy places!
I'd like to give you in the following some ideas for actual prices in Cuba:
- Casa particular (per night and room): 10-15 CUC at the countryside and small towns, 20-25 CUC in the bigger cities and up to 30 CUC for a luxury accommodation in Habana. For a breakfast you will pay dependent on your wishes and on the offer between 2 and 5 CUC a person. Normally the casa particulares also offer lunch and dinner, the prices are likee the ones in the paladars, sometimes cheaper (around 6-8 CUC per person). Usually the food in the casas particulares is of good quality and it's recomended to eat at his hosts.
- Hotel: Cheap rooms are available for about 20 CUC, but normally you will pay about 40 CUC for a room. The breakfast will cost between 2 CUC (very cheap - and only a coffee and some bread) up to 10 CUC. The lunch and dinner prices depends on the hotel - a buffets meal will cost at a cheaper hotel about 15 CUC a person.
- on the street (privat): Pizza between 3 and 10 Pesos, softdrinks between 1 and 3 Pesos.
- in a Paladar (privat): Food and drinks about 6 CUC - 15 CUC per person; the average is about 10 CUC a person.
- in a Rapido ("Fastfood"): Pizza: 1 - 1.5 CUC, drinks between 50 Cents and 1 CUC.
- in a state-owned restaurant: Prices are very variable and depends a lot on the standard. At a luxury restaurant like "La Torre" en Habana you will pay for the maincourse prices between 20 and 30 CUC! But you can also find, specially in rural areas some restaurants where you pay in Pesos - a dinner at this restaurants cost maybe less than 40 Pesos or about 2 CUC. At touristy places you don't will find such an offert, and at places very abroad this restaurants maybe don't have enough food for ofering and the cheap dinner will be also a dream...
- at the farmers' market: If you have the possibility to cook on your own you can buy at the farmers' market some vegetables and fruits, maybe also meat. Some products are only available at CUC-shops. Fruits and vegetables are normally for tourists not expensive but the prices and the offers depends a lot of the the place and the season. In Habana you maybe pay more than the double of what you pay in other regions. For about 50-100 Pesos you will be able to buy food for some days. The food from the CUC-shops are rather expensive - the prices are like in Europe or the US. There you normally don't find fresh food, they sell things like oil, preserved or tinned food. I like to know since a lot why a liter of orangejuice costs in Cuba more than in Switzerland, up to know I didn't received an convincing answer.
- Cities: Buses (between 20 Centavos and one Peso), state-owned CUC taxis (rather expensive for example, from Habana Vieja to Vedado about 3 CUC), collectiv taxis (10 Pesos a person), bicycle taxis (normally about 10 Pesos per person, in Habana you pay much higher prices).
- Trough the country: Privat trucks ("camion", pl. "camiones) - (for Cubans cheaper than for tourists. The last-mentioned sometimes have to pay for the same the equalent in CUC what Cubans pay in Pesos. But in some way it's logic, the truck drivers are imitating the system of the state owned transport system. So foreigners pay normally for the transportation at least 20x more than Cubans do.)
Some price examples: La Habana - Santiago de Cuba: by Cubana airplane (120 CUC), by train (30 - 50 CUC - depends if you catch the regular, especial or the "french train"), by Astro (30 - 40 CUC - depends on the kind of bus you catch), Via Azul (51 CUC). Trucks normally costs between two cities about 10 Pesos. So you pay from Guantánamo to Baracoa 10 Pesos. If the truck driver accept this - and he does accept this when he isn't aware that you're foreigner, if he know this you will pay about 8-10 CUC. For more price ideas check the Prices of Via Azul. More information about travelling.
- Museums: The rates will start at 1 CUC and you maybe pay up to 10 CUC (as mentioned in the head text of this section!).
- Hotel areas: If you'd like once to use the swimmingpool of a hotel for cool in someway down or if you like to enjoy the nice view out of a hotel area then you have to pay entry. This can cost 1 CUC, but normally you will pay about 3-5 CUC or up to 10 CUC a person. Sometimes this entry includes one or two drinks in form of a voucher...
- Concert: Tourist also pay at a lot of installation more than Cubans. For example at the cultural meeting point "Casa de Amistad" en Habana you maybe can join a concert for 5 CUC. Normally you will pay at least 10 CUC for a concert, the average will be 15 CUC.
- Discos: The entry prices are very diferent. At a local disco in rural area or away from the town centre or the tourist the price will be about 40 Pesos per couple. A disco of a hotel, and they normally are more famous, will cost around 3-5 CUC and if it's a famous hotel you will pay up to 10 CUC. At this expensive places you will also pay about 3-4 CUC a Mojito or Daiquirí.
EA possible calculation per day and person could be like the following:
- accommodation (normal casa
particular): 15 CUC
- food (breakfast by the hosts, lunch at the street, dinner by the hosts): 15 CUC
- travel fares (incl. Taxis in the cities): 20 CUC
- Entrys: 5 CUC
- Several (like beverages, gifts and so on): 5 CUC
= Total: 60 CUC.
This amount is realistic for people who will travel a lot and which also use in the cities sometimes a taxi and not only buses. If you not want to travel a lot, if you will stay more time at the same place, if you maybe also cook by yourself you certainly will pay not so much - but it's rather hard for a tourist to spend less than 30 CUC a day - at least when you're living in a legal casa particular and as you know, I don't recomend an other accommodation than an oficial one!
What's really cheap when
you compare: RUM.
In the Dollar-Shops you can buy rum between 2.40 CUC (Mulatta), 3 CUC (Habana Club Silver Dry) up to 7 CUC (Habana Club 7 años). The cigars in the oficial stores aren't so much cheaper than in Europe - it's good to know the prices in his home country to really chose a good offert. Really cheap are Cuban cigars at the black market but hardly any of this cigars are really out of fabric, the quality will never be the same as the one of real Habano - the only common feature: It's Cuban tobacco! (But this only if you did't buy Banana-leaves!) I don't recomend to by cigars out of a official store, if you buy at the black market you need to know about cigars. And by the way, the Cuban custom doesn't allow to export more than two cigar boxes without having a receipt from an official store.
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Information about the way you can take money to Cuba (Cash, Traveller Cheques, Credit Cards)
The answer depends on the time you will stay in Cuba. Personally, I always take a lot of Cash money. I think it's not dangerous there, of course you always have to take care of your money, but in my own opinion it is not a problem.
Specially, if you don't go to Cuba for a long time, I mean two or three weeks, it's more confortable if you are independent of the banks. Remember cash money in Cuba means Dollars, but it's better to have small bills, for example 1 CUC, 5 CUC and 10 CUC. Sometimes it's very difficult to change big bills, and for paying with a 50 CUC or 100 CUC bill you have to show your identity card or your passport. Often they don't have change, so it's better if you can pay exactly the amount!
If you will stay more time in Cuba, I suggest you to take traveller checks with you. You can change them easily in every bank that work with CUC. Note, the "Popular Banks" - "Banco popular de ahorro" todavía no estan trabajando con CUC. For changing the traveller checks you have to show your identity papers. The commission is between 2% and 4%, it depends on the bank. At the moment de Cuban National Bank (BNC) "Banco Nacional de Cuba" has the cheapest commission. I advice you to take only 100 CUC checks because it's better for changing them on the banks. Note, only Checks which aren't issued by an American bank are accepted. I suggest you Thomas Cook Checks.
In Cuba there is a accepted also (every year more) credit cards. But, it's the same thing, they don't accept cards from the American banks like: "American Express". You do a better bet using Eurocard/ Mastercard or Visa. Normally you can receive money from the credit cards in every bank that works with CUC, and it's also posible in some change houses (CADECA). Sometimes, the problem is the line to the central computer. Manytimes you have to wait a lot and is possible that you can't receive your money because of a problem with the line.
In Havana and Varadero don't exist this problem, but in the rest of the country it's very commun. The same can happen in restaurants and shops. Many of them don't use this system, in others is broken. That's why, I advice you not to depend only on credit cards, but have also some cash with you. Is good to know that sometimes you have to wait a lot of time if you want to change your traveller checks or if you want money from your credit card. The banks in Cuba are most of the time crowded. It's normal to wait an hour or more. I have those experiences mainly from Havana. The "Habana Libre" hotel bank is always full of people. A good advice is the bank in the hotel "National", although there you can only receive money by your credit card. I specially suggest it because they work until 18:00 in the afternoon and you can go also Saturdays and Sundays. Normally the banks in Cuba will be open Monday to Friday between 08:00 and 15:00. So, if you have to go to a Bank in Cuba, I advice you to go early in the morning. Once more, it's very important to have always enough cash money, because you never know what will happen! Once, in Trinidad, I cound't receive money in the bank because there was no electric power and the bank was closed the whole day...
Summary: Enough cash money (not big bills), traveller checks (Thomas Cook) as supply and credit cards (Eurocard/ Mastercard, Visa) for an emergency case!
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Whatīs a "Paladar"?
Paladar means a private restaurant. Cubans are allowed to operate some small restaurants. The law says that this restaurants canīt have more than three tables and twelve chairs. They have to pay a high tax, the tax depends much from the place.
In some paladares, mainly in Habana and other touristy places itīs normal to pay in CUC. In the others paladares you pay in Pesos, but CUC are normally also welcome. If doesnīt exist a menu itīs better to ask for the price before you order.
The prices depends much on the place. In Habana Vieja for exemple you will pay for a meal (rice, beans, tostones, salad, bread and butter, chicken) about 10 - 15 CUC. At less touristy places you pay for more or less the same 120 Pesos, that means about 6 CUC.
If you go by a jinetero (hustler) to a Paladar he will earn some committee, normally about 1 CUC, they will put this also at your bill. But still this is a good way to know where there are paladares. Often they arenīt easy to find.
Normally the food in this private operated places is not only cheaper but also better than in the state owned restaurants.
My suggestion for a good paladar in Habana:
"Doña Blanquita" - Prado #158 altos, e/ Colón y Refugio. Telf. 67 49 58, open from 12:00 pm till 3:00 am. Make a reservation is not a bad idea. The food is really good but also rather expensive (about 10 - 15 CUC for a dinner without drinks). Ask for a table at the balcon there you will have a nice view over the Prado (street between Parque Central (Hotel Inglaterra) and the Malecon).
"Los tres mosqueteros" - calle 23 e/ D y E (or) E y F Vedado. Price for a meal about 10 CUC. The food is really good.
More suggestions from travellers!
John - November 2001
Not a paladar but a good restaurant is on 23 y 12 in Vedado (Habana). Don't remember the name but it is part of the Dona Yulla chain. It is diagonally across from "La Pelota" another Dona Yulla restaurant.It is the restaurant part in the back with linen tablecloths. Most dishes run 30-35 cuban pesos, other items such as rice, salad etc is a-la carte but 2-10 pesos.
If you have also some suggestions, I will publish them (they donīt have to be in Habana).
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Internet in Cuba?
Today Internet, E-Mail, WhatsApp, Skype, etc are the everyday life worldwide but NOT in Cuba. Though Internet has gained importance during the very last years, the fact is that it is still expensive and difficult for Cubans (mainly) to access internet via Wi-Fi and ETECSA (Cuban telecommunication enterprise) facilities.
Hotspots are very important for those who need to talk to families and friends abroad or simply want to search for information on internet. It is better to carry your own device; it may be a Smartphone, Tablet or Laptop. Cards for internet are normally bought in hotels and ETECSA offices. In Hotspots, always crowded, you may find someone selling these cards at higher prices. With this card you really have a limited time to access internet as many times as the credit of the card lets you do it. With this access you surf on internet, upload and download e-mails and generally you may use installed applications like WhatsApp. However the possibility of calling somebody is blocked as Skype. One of few (maybe the only) applications that allows you to speak with someone is IMO. Of course, you may talk to persons that also have IMO installed (by video and audio chat).
If you are going to talk by IMO or want to transfer a lot of data, it´s better to visit a Hotspot where you will have access (with your device) to internet at a slow/medium speed, depending on the number of users connected at that moment. Hotspots are located in hotels and big parks or plazas. If you only need few data transferring, like chatting with WhatsApp, an option might be buying a packet of data at your phone company and then use it on roaming with CUBACEL. This way you may have access to internet by your cell phone wherever a service area is available. It is important to have all apps auto-updating of your phone activated; otherwise all your data (very expensive) will run out in short time…
Many Cubans have an e-mail domain called nauta by which they may send and receive e-mails with the Smartphone but have no access to internet. There have been some changes in the telecommunication system in Cuba and maybe that day when all Cubans have free and fast access to the web is near.
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About "Jineteros" (= tourist hunters), commissions and other Cuban stuffs (first part)
After two weeks in Cuba you're enthusiastic. Obliging, sociable, always wanting to help - like this are the Cubans. But I'm thinking about a special type of Cubans. The Cuban word for them is "jinetero". I'd like to explain you in the following lines where they are and what are their motives.
In older guidebooks you will maybe only find the feminim word - jinetera. This word you can traduce by rider - horsewoman. Is this a nice word for prostitute? In some way sure. But there are also mens answering this question negative - explaining that they aren't professional. This is maybe true. There are a lot of jineteras bearing a foreigner patiently for some weeks a year for living afterwards a better life with the money he will send or he left. But there exists certainly also some "professional" jineteras. I don't want to write more about this - the web's offering a lot of pages about this subject - I only hope to not have a link to one of them. The subject of this article should be the masculin form - jinetero. You think know that's the equivalent of the feminim form - yes, this type of men also exists in Cuba - but if you're talking about a jinetero if the everyday life you will talk about a kind of negotiator of a transaction.
These negotiators you will find everywhere in Cuba, maybe there are moments you think every Cuban is one of them. They're able to arrange and to get almost everything. Who doens't know their hackneyed phrases. "De dondé eres?" (From where are you?), "cómo te llamas?" (What's your name?), "quieres tabaccos/ puros; casa particular; paladar; ron; chica...?" (you want cigars; a private house; a privat restaurant; Rum; wife. Marvellous, isn't it. You will express your wishes, go with them to an hidden place - and will normally not be roped like in other latinamerican countries - but receive what you're asking for.
But... The cigars are maybe
in one of thousand cases out of the cigar-factory as they wer're promising.
They're from a private factory and there exists other kinds of quality standards.
The label, boxes were also made at a privat place or they will steal them at
the fabric. I don't will negate that some of the cigars you buy at the streets
you also can smoke - if they aren't out of palmleaves. The boxes normally also
look like original ones, sometimes they don't close well. Maybe this is for
some clients more important than the quality. Cuban cigars - the tobacco is
from Cuba - in a nice box with the original label - for this a lot of tourists
pay 20, 25, 30, 40 or 50 CUC. It's still cheaper than in a official store. It's
also a good label for both, the one who buys and the one who sells. It doesn't
cost a lot to make some cigars with tobacco of a quality which you can't use
for premium cigars. Cigars like this you also can buy for 1 Pesos at restaurant
where the goods are available in national money. This cigars don't have a label.
You buy then 25 - this will cost at maximum 2 CUC. Afterwards you need a nice
box and the labels of the cigars you want to get alive... A good business.
--> How prevent: As a cigar expert (aficionado) you hardly will find good cigars at the street - you will have to visit the expensive state owned stores. If you want to buy the cigars only a souvenir you maybe will find cigars which you can smoke. In this case I recomend not to pay more than 20 or 25 CUC a box. But be aware, that the Cuban custom doesn't allow to export more than two boxes a person without having a receipt for them of a official cigar store.
The rum you can buy at the
street is more expensive than the one out of the CUC-stores or the rum is out
of Pesos store, like a bodega. There you pay for one liter 20 Pesos. Bottled
in a nice original bottle with a little bit of caramel for an authentic color
you will know after your first gulp or after opening the bottle that's not in
the bottle what the label indicates. If you open the bottle and you don't hear
a "click" you don't have a genuin edition. This is one of the biggest
things to falsificate. This is also a good business although not as lucrative
as the one with the cigars but in this case only for the own who sells you the
--> How prevent: The prices of rum aren't high in Cuba, so buy your rum only in a CUC-shop!
Maybe you're asking oneself
what's the show a tourist a private accommodation - a casa particular - or private
restaurant - paladar. The keyword is: "Comision" a kind of tip. This
is a very frequent phenomenon in Cuba. I will repeat my own words but I'd like
to mentioned once more this phenomenon. If one shows you a casa particular you
will pay more than if you would have entered the house by your own - for example
with a direction I public at this page. You will pay for a room at least 5 CUC
more a day, the breakfast will cost 1 CUC more, the lunch and dinner cost 2
CUC more. This "comision" you don't will pay at the moment, the owner
of the casa particular will have to pay it after your stay to the person who
showed you the house. You, at least when you're not a little bit Cubanised,
don't will be aware of anything of this. When you appear with a Cuban the owner
of the house will mention you automaticaly a higher price because he thinks
that the Cuban will ask later for a "comision". It's the same when
somebody likes to show you a private restaurant, a paladar. In this case your
meal will up to 5 CUC more. It's sure that this is one of the best opportunities
for Cubans to earn money. If one shows to a couple of tourist a private house
and they will eat there he will earn up to 10 CUC a day - the monthly wage of
a Cuban worker...
--> How prevent: Travel always with adresses - for example the ones of Cuba-Individual - or other adresses suggested by travellers.
I'd like to place a beg for the Cuba-Tourist. Be always kind to this kind of want to the negotiators they are normally also kind. Repeat, maybe 20 times a day or more that you don't need nothing, that you've got everything you need and so on - like: "No gracias, no necesito nada. Gracias!" (No thanks, I don't need nothing. Thanks!)
Cigars you maybe buy at the street, but for an accommodation you shouldn't look for by this way. It's just no fair that one can earn with this kind of help in some minutes the same a worker earns a month while this is working at least 8 hours a day. This fact is also changing the Cuban mentality. So there are Cubans which doesn't want to work anymore, they are speculating to earn more money by this way. Young Cubans don't want to go to school because they watch that people who're not working earns more money than graduated people. This can't be the future of Cuba! So don't support this kind of thinking.
In the second part I'd like to show who's operating like a jintereo - who and how will receive a commission... so, don't stop reading!
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About "Jineteros" (= tourist hunters), commissions and other Cuban stuffs (second part)
In this second part I want to explain how any tourist might unwillingly be giving tips. All these ways and tricks are hard to describe but I will try to do it, so that visitors can be more sensitive and alert. However, I do not suggest being too responsive, otherwise you will be all the time looking for an act of mercy and not enjoying your vacations. At least, you are going to be a more cubanized tourist and, for Cubans, a less naive foreigner walking by the streets of Cuba…
The taxi driver
He is a key person when talking about commissions. Let´s have a look at these examples:
1- You get into a taxi and ask the taxi driver to take you to some rent house you have in mind. While driving, the conductor begins talking about ¨a nice rent house¨ that he knows. He will keep talking endlessly on all the advantages of that private house…that some tourists became so amazed with ¨such a marvelous house¨ that they even took the keys with them when leaving, since their return would be so soon that it was better to keep the keys…But ¨the house you have chosen is not that good indeed…it has many disadvantages: the family is quite unpleasant, some tourists have been robbed, the owner´s license expired, it´s not quiet…¨ Convinced? If you go to the house suggested by this taxi driver, surely he will get his commission. Advantages and disadvantages he talked about are of no importance. He was probably not sincere because his only interest will always be a commission he receives from the owner of the new house that he managed to drive you to.
2- You board a taxi and give the taxi driver the address of a rent house that you want to visit; when you arrive at the place, the driver gets out immediately and tells the tired tourist (you) that he will go to check up a free room for you. After a conversation with anybody in front of the house you wanted to see, this taxi driver will come back to tell you: ¨there is no room in this house but… I know another nice house like this one…¨ I advice not to believe this story. Get off the taxi and talk personally with the owner of the house. It is even better that you avoid this uncomfortable situation by making your booking beforehand, even by phone.
3- You get on a taxi and ask for an address you need to head to: when arriving at the place, and before you attempt to get off the car, the taxi driver will hurry up to introduce you to the presumed owner of this house...his name is like the one you have written in the card you showed him before. Is it all right? Maybe not! You have to carefully check the address to see if the house has the same number as that in the card. What does usually happen? Well, the taxi driver will take you to any address of a renting house; he will immediately introduce you, supposedly, to the person you are looking for and, this way, he gets a commission while the owner of the other renting house gets a host. Good deal! It might not look too real for us; however, it is something usually carried out by taxi drivers and renting-house owners. Then, check always the number of the house.
4- If you board a taxi (CUC) in Havana and the taxi driver does not turn on the taximeter, most probably you will be paying over the right price.
The bus driver
Bus drivers as well are interested on commissions. In fact everybody has an interest on these profits. Several times situations are similar to those described above regarding taxi drivers; and mainly the VÍA AZUL bus drivers are interested on getting commissions. For instance, drivers of VÍA AZUL minibuses will offer to take you straight to a rent house you like, playing just the same tricks as taxi drivers…
People asking for a ride
Since the transport system in Cuba is not that efficient, whenever you drive a rented car you will always have the opportunity to take people who are waiting for a ride beside the roads. Of course, there is nothing bad in this action. I think it is not fair when one keeps moving in a car with empty seats while many Cubans wait for hours along the roads for a transport to travel. There are some persons waiting for a ride with an elaborated plan, however! For example, an interesting event often takes place just before arriving at the tourist site of Viñales, on the road Pinar del Río-Viñales. There is an old American car with open hood waiting beside the road, where a Cuban couple (a man and a woman) waves you for a ride. They are well dressed as to make a good impression at first sight. One of them (the girl) has to get urgently to Viñales, so the tourists are asked to take her to the town. On the way she has some ¨normal¨ conversation while asks the tourists about the house they want to stay in. As in the case of the taxi driver, tourists will hear some advice of another ¨very good house¨ she knows, that is…somewhere…Due to the fact that you helped this person with a ride she thinks of ¨paying back the favor¨ by taking the tourists ¨to a very nice house, without any especial interest¨, of course. Are you convinced? Well, this person is going to have a commission. Oh, the American car is working ¨happily¨ when closed the hood and turned on. Most probably the guy left with the car is also on the way to Viñales…
A renting house´s owner
They, the hosts, have their interests too, though not all of them. It is very probable they will get a commission from the owner of next house the tourist will visit, whenever they offer that service of calling to the new house. It is much safer that you call when doing arrangements for new lodging. Otherwise, you may also give other people a direction for your new renting, for example one from Cuba-Individual, which are reliable houses. Later, when arriving at this house you should mention that you got the address from internet.
In the restaurant
1- Wherever you do not see a list of offers or menu, it is advisable asking about prices and quantities before ordering; otherwise you will probably pay according to your face.
2- Before paying you should do your math to know certainly how much the amount to pay is. Now I recall a singular case: some time ago I went with a friend to a restaurant in La Rampa, Havana city, where we ate a cheese sandwich, a Napolitan pizza, a soda and a fruit juice. Right price: 4 to 5 CUC. The count: 11 CUC plus 25 cents. I tried to explain that it was not correct. The woman that served us went to check with the cashier and later on she returned with a splendid smile saying: Sorry for the mistake; it is 8 CUC. I answered (with a grateful smile) that it was not right yet. She got upset and told me she would talk to the cashier once again (I don´t think she really did). She was surprised when I went to talk to the cashier, who asked me: ¿Oh, was not it a ham-and-cheese sandwich, a sausage pizza, a 1500 ml bottle of soda and a bottle of fruit juice?. Eventually we paid less than 4 CUC.
Well, some of you might think these are accidental events, but unfortunately it happens more than expected. In a restaurant in Holguín we are always charged with a surplus dollar; it has also happened twice to other people. Are these casual events? Of course, one can assume it is a way to improve their wage. In a small restaurant, in front of El Palacio de Artesanía, in Havana, the waiter insisted that we sit down immediately. Why? He did not want us seeing prices registered at the entrance of the restaurant. And eventually we paid for the chicken more than its right price…Why? –I asked. Because you received a special portion with French fries. But I didn´t ask for it, of course…
Buying tickets for travelling
1- You are in a town named Güayos, in a very small railway station on the way Havana-Santiago de Cuba and you need to buy two tickets to Santiago. But you are not lucky, since there are no more tickets for sale according to the clerk. However, he can guarantee the tickets for tomorrow. But fortunately there is a renting house in this village and you receive the card for this house from the same person who should have sold you the tickets, miraculously. One may believe anything, but usually there are tickets in CUC till an hour before the train´s departure. And then you think: Well, I´ve been for three hours in a small town where it is hard to find a single tourist, how can be true what the clerk said. It is quite sure that this guy wants to get a commission! And it was the case here, because after an excited discussion he produced two tickets for us…
2- In Batabanó, where people take ships to Isla de la Juventud (Nueva Gerona), there are also some tricky ways so that innocent tourists have to stay one or two nights in that place. If one does not book tickets beforehand in Havana, most probably they will say there are no more tickets and one should wait one or two days. This false information has the goal of ¨increasing their wage¨. The real fact is that normally half an hour before the ship/catamaran´s departure there are tickets for tourists that pay in CUC. So, to avoid these inconveniences I do suggest booking tickets in Havana (at the office of ships enterprise, outside the ASTRO station).
3- In local CUBANA office of Baracoa sometimes they only offer plane tickets in CUC, for tourists travelling to Havana in the coming days. This might surprise you; because nobody imagines CUBANA cannot be interested on tourists travelling, since a ticket is 120 CUC for them, compared to a Cuban who has to pay only 270 CUP (around 11 CUC). Then one might expect that for 109 CUC over, the tourists should have some priority; but it is not the case. The fact is this: tickets booked for persons paying in CUC, when not sold to tourists, are sold to Cubans. But Cubans usually have to pay a tip to safely get a ticket; otherwise it becomes difficult to get a ticket for a desired date. For clerks of CUBANA office in Baracoa it is more lucrative receiving a tip from a Cuban, paying 270 CUP for the ticket plus 10 CUC for the clerk´s pocket than selling this ticket to a foreigner, who only pays 120 CUC for the enterprise but nothing for that clerk. Maybe one should think of it when looking urgently for a ticket…
-> Finally, I would advise not to be so naive when on vacations in Cuba and not to spend your holidays with the paranoia of these phenomena. Whenever your economy allows, you should not be so rigid and think that these are ways of some Cubans for getting a tip. However, you must avoid these tricks for commissions when looking for a renting house.
-> For your comments and experiences on the subject you may write an e-mail to me.
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Camping in Cuba
Several times I have been asked whether it is possible to go camping in Cuba. I do not know of any law forbidding foreigners to go camping; though I should say this activity is not common in Cuba for foreign tourists; besides, there is always a risk of robbery in a carelessness moment. For security reasons, I do not advice this recreation. Cubans do practice camping, especially during summer time; maybe forced by very high prices for them in a standard hotel.
In Cuba, like many other countries, camping is practiced in specific areas; but Cubans hardly use campaign tents. The offers for visitors are small huts with basic services. Normally these huts have some beds or bunks with simple mattress. You have to carry sheets from home. Many of these houses have their own bath with cold water bathrooms. Usually these huts have a corner with a sink and a small place to cook your foods.
NOTICE: Everything is basic; for instance, from home you have to take a stove with you. Generally there is no refrigerator, air conditioning or fan; nor you will find sheets or towels and those expecting to find soap or hygienic paper, do not know what a camping in Cuba looks like.
In fact, Cubans carry all stuffs from home, that´s why they seem to be moving when actually going to a popular camping site for a week…Most of the time people cook their food; however, there is often also a dining room where they offer simple meals…Actually, there are not many options: fried chicken, congri rice, and some salad is the usual daily meal…
Generally, foreigners cannot lodge in popular camping sites since these are reserved for national tourism. In the last years, some huts with better facilities have been prepared to house foreign tourists. These are better arranged and many of them have, at least, fans, refrigerators and beds with sheets. All other facilities in the camping sites are shared equally with other visitors (dining-rooms, recreational locations, etc).
Camping is a very singular way for spending some days in Cuba, because one is on vacations among Cuban families. If you want to establish relationships with people, then you better carry a bottle of rum with you, since drinking with friends and families is the common way to spend time in camping sites of Cuba. Very important: Cubans go to camping sites in July and August, generally. The rest of the year most of these sites are closed and, if opened, there are very few customers; then, most probably you will be the only visitor, what is not pleasant at all...
A night camping stay in a hut for tourists costs around 15-30 CUC, the same price of a private renting house. According to my information, only in Pinar de Río, Havana and Baracoa there are just five camping sites that allow the stay of foreign tourists. One normally may do a booking in a local office of camping located at each capital of provinces. Sometimes you can get there without previous booking and find empty huts; for this is not a common way of foreign tourists enjoying vacations in Cuba.
And we go back again: So far I have not seen a single tend in any camping site of Cuba. Then I do not suggest using tends, for two important reasons: first, for your own security and, second, because tends do not match with Cuban culture. Cubans are proud of having their own houses in the best possible conditions. That´s why it is hard for a Cuban to understand how a foreigner living at a high standard of life in his native country is capable of coming to Cuba to sleep in a tent…he must be completely mad…So, if you want to enjoy in a Cuban camping site, the huts wait for you, but no need of a tent…
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Best season to visit Cuba
Concerning climate in Cuba, one usually thinks of pleasant weather and temperatures; it is what we think of the Caribbean. But things are not always this way! One can suffer from cold; and tropical hurricanes may ruin your vacation plans…
Cuba has two high tourism seasons every year. One of them is during winter, from mid December to the end of February. The other high season is during July and August. In winter months, northern Europeans and Canadians visit Cuba looking for some warm environment in the Caribbean or simply they take advantage of Christmas time and New Year´s Eve for a longer trip. On the other hand, during summer months (August vacations) there are many Italians, Spaniards and Latin Americans travelling throughout Cuba.
Concerning weather, from December to mid of March is a good time to travel; though temperatures may be very low. There is in Cuba a meteorological phenomenon that is known as a cold front, which lasts about five days, moving a continental mass of cold air to the island. Days are usually cloudy but there may be sunny days as well. Cold wind is blowing all day and temperatures remain from 18 to 20 degrees Celsius during daytime, while night temperatures may go as low as 12 degrees or lower. Due to high humidity levels one may feel very cold with these temperatures. Besides, in Cuba windows usually do not close correctly and sheets are very thin. Swimming in the beach is unthinkable…
From mid March, approximately, cold fronts stop; what means the coming of higher temperatures. Between May and June temperatures begin to rise and rains may last several days. In July and August temperatures are very high; what is uncomfortable for carrying a backpack but pleasant to stay at the beach. I suggest following Cuban ways and staying some hours in warm waters of the beach while using sun protective creams. Sometimes it rains one or two hours; what is usually welcomed due to high temperatures.
Warmth extends till September and even October and rains may last several days without stop, especially when there is a coming hurricane. Usually it rains for many days, before, during and after the passing of the hurricane; even when the hurricane is far away. November is a month of changes. One may be lucky and enjoy a very pleasant weather: not too hot or too cold and the sea still warm. But at this time the winter begins once again with its cold fronts, lower temperatures while sea becomes colder and colder.
Of course, this is a description of what I have seen of climate during my last 13 years visiting Cuba. I should add that weather does not follow anymore traditional meteorological models in this Caribbean island. For instance, years ago hurricanes would pass in September and October; and nowadays they may appear in July or August. And even in January it might be cold for several days…
It is worth knowing that to the east of the island, from Holguín to Santiago, temperatures are usually higher than in the rest of the country. During summer, sun is quite hot; so persons should protect against heatstroke.
Suggestion: From March to May and later November is the best time for travelling throughout Cuba. Temperatures are pleasant and it is not a high tourism season, so it becomes quite easy finding lodging (besides cheaper rents) and buying travel tickets. If swimming and spending long time at the beach is the main reason for your trip, then July and August is the perfect time. There is little tourism in June; so lodgings are cheap and it is easier finding travel tickets.
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