Tips from a traveler to Cuba
By Amelia Rayno APRIL 7, 2017 — 1:45PM
During a solo people-to-people tour of Cuba, I learned some important
things through trial and error. Here are some important tips I wish I'd
known before I went:
• Bring more cash than you think you need; prices across the country
wildly vary and many taxi drivers, store clerks and restaurateurs will
simply name a price based on how rich you look. Modest haggling is
acceptable. Meanwhile, though the U.S. government now condones their
use, U.S. credit and debit cards are still not accepted at most
establishments and ATMs in the country, and U.S. citizens cannot receive
wired funds via Western Union. It is also worth noting that the Cuban
government charges a 10 percent fee to convert U.S. dollars to Cuban
currency; some places charge a fee in excess of that.
• Avoid people in uniforms, especially when you're dealing with money
issues. Regular citizens are mostly very helpful with directions and
other questions. Ask regular Cubans about where to exchange money in the
airport; avoid the tourist information desk. I was sent from that desk
to a small room, where an official exchanged my money and charged 3
percent, on top of the 10 percent fee for converting dollars.
• Consider getting some CUPs (Cuban pesos) along with your CUCs (Cuban
convertible pesos, a currency that is a 1:1 equivalent of the U.S.
dollar and the one tourists typically receive). Many traditional Cuban
restaurants list prices only in CUP. Other restaurants will note two
prices and hope tourists don't do the confusing calculation to realize
they're paying perhaps three to five times more in CUCs than they would
in CUPs. If you're unable to get CUPs at the currency transfer, it will
be possible to do so at a bank.
• Make friends with the locals. Besides benefiting from a population
that is highly cultured and educated, your new friends will help you get
around and negotiate prices. If you happen to run out of money, as I
did, you'll need them: Although U.S. citizens cannot receive wired
funds, Americans can send money to a Cuban. So you'll need to find a
Cuban friend who can pick up the funds for you. To be polite, give them
a generous tip for the trouble.
• Take gypsy cabs when possible. They are typically as safe as marked
taxis, and will ask for drastically lower fares. At the airports, you
can find a line of these unmarked cars out front.
• In general, hole-in-the-wall restaurants serve the best, cheapest and
most authentic Cuban food. Many of these do not have signs. Many do not
have alcohol. In Cuba, eating and drinking is often separated — you eat
first, then drink later. The restaurants that have English menus and
cater to tourists will be priced accordingly.
• Be wary of fresh produce. If it doesn't look good, don't eat it.
Vegetables are a common cause of food poisoning. Consider visiting your
doctor before departure and requesting some antibiotics to bring with you.
• Bring printed maps if possible. Google and Apple have not yet
digitally mapped the country.
• Exercise your Spanish as much as possible. Doing so will allow you to
communicate better, receive better prices and be harassed less.
• Skip Varadero. The oceanside city 40 minutes from Havana is reputed to
be one of Cuba's sparkling gems, but in my experience, the resort
destination lacked authentic charm. It had white beaches, but the
predominant languages were English and French and it seemed like a
Disney-esque version of Cuba.
• Bring back rum and cigars. Last year, the U.S. lifted the previous
$100 limit on the value of these items Americans could bring into the
country. The goods are now subject to the same duties as alcohol and
tobacco from other countries.
Source: Tips from a traveler to Cuba - StarTribune.com -
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