Tips are expected in most poor countries and Cuba is no exception. It actually starts at the airport arrivals, if you have to use the washroom. A small tip is expected by the people who look after the washrooms. You are given some toilet paper as you enter.
On the bus to our Resort, the guide told us to be sure to tip the bus driver.
At the resort, the baggage handler who brought us and our luggage to our room, actually pulled out his wallet, took out $15.00 Canadian money and said he could give us change - really!!!
The staff at the beach who dragged a lounger for you at your favoured spot on the beach, expected a tip.
The bar staff appreciated tips.
The person who cleans your room every day expects to be tipped.
The "a la Carte" waitress appreciates a tip.
It just goes on and on - so be prepared!
Money, Money, Money
I was given seriously misleading money advice before I travelled.
First of all, I was told that there are two currencies - pesos and dollars.
Then I read in a guide book that American dollars are craved and that many items can only be purchased with American dollars.
Both these pieces of advice caused me to rush out and purchase lots and lots of dollars.
The reality is that Cuba does indeed have two currencies - pesos (for the locals) and convertible pesos (for the travellers/tourists). You can purchase whatever you like at hotel shops, tourist shops, bars, restaurants and roadside kiosks with convertible pesos.
Dollars are not in demand at all. Taxi drivers and waiters told us that they prefer to get tips in convertible pesos or in Euros, as the exchange rate is better.
Do NOT change money in the streets - you may well be passed counterfeit notes.
Also, the exchange rate in the hotels is excellent and better than at the airport.Related to:
- Family Travel
- Business Travel
- Women's Travel
When travelling in or around Varadero by taxi or horse drawn carriage, be sure to pre-arrange the cost of your trip. Taxi meters move pretty fast and a short trip by meter price can be add up (US$). When riding in horse drawn carriages, tell the driver your destination and barter for your fare before leaving. Taxis will get you there faster (sometime too fast!!) while the horse and carriage takes longer. (take your time, it's a vacation) There are many craft and souvenir markets in town. A lot of local artisans sell their wares at these market. The prices are up for barter also.
Cayo Largo, Cuba.
Package tours offer opt-outs to less-commercialised 'off-the-beaten-track' resorts. Cayo Largo is such a place (at least it was in 1993).
You travel from Varadero airport on the north coast of Cuba to the island of Cayo Largo off Cuba's south coast.
Mosquitos (& their bites) are aplenty at dusk, but the Cubans fumigate the place nightly.
The hotel complex on Cayo Largo was not as clean, not as posh, not airconditioned & not everything worked that was suppose to.
Cubans were helpful at Varadero, but out in the wilds of Cayo Largo they did the Spanish thing & pretended not to understand English if you had a problem.
I befriended a couple of female Austrian tourists & they suggested we all went off to a nightclub they knew (they were staying 2 or 3 weeks here, not just a mid-holiday opt out like me).
Unfortuately I got drunk to the extent there were a few hours I couldn't account for. This club was frequented by Cubans, some of whom were 'friendly' with these women. Whether my missing hours were due to me getting drunk & falling into drink-induced sleep, or whether these characters did something to my drink to ensure I fell asleep isn't clear.
Anyway, I woke up the next morning minus the cash (USD) that was in my wallet. Fortunately nothing else (e.g. camera & camcorder) had been stolen. It was at this point, when I reported the crime, the resort staff didn't want to know, charged me a fortune to use a dodgy telephone & pretended not to speak English.
Unique Suggestions: The flight to Cayo Largo was on a WW2-style Dakota DC3.
Fun Alternatives: Just keep your wits about you & don't go getting drunk with strangers when you're 'miles from anywhere'.
Money Exchange, credit cards
The official money of Cuba is now the Cuban Convertible Peso, or CUC. The US dollar is no longer in use. They're also called "chavitos." You'll need to change your money at the airport, a bank or at your hotel from your national currency. Anyone bringing US dollars is going to take an extra 8-10% hit in addition to the fees for converting the foreign currency at the bank or cadeca. It's best to use the official money exchange venues as counterfeiting and theft is not unknown.
They're another type of money in circulation called "moneda nacional." If you do not have Cuban friends it's unlikely a tourist would have occasion to use the non-convertible peso, which is valued at about 20-1 to the CUC. A common scam is paying in chavitos and getting nacional in return.
Another common scam is to take a one CUC bank note and add a zero behind the one to make it look like a 10 CUC bank note. The scammer then looks for a tourist to help him (or her) to make change and the tourist gets stuck with the doctored note. ALWAYS make sure that any 10 CUC notes also say Diez on them and not UNO!!!
The local craft market was very expensive ( £15 for a vest top ), which was a shame as there weren't any other options to buy souvenirs until you get to the airport to fly home.
However, the wood carvings were very colourful.
Be prepared to pay 1 peso for 2 squares of toilet tissue. I was unaware of this and caught off guard. If you are unwilling, make sure you bring your own from the resort if you travel to any public places including the airport when you land.
Unique Suggestions: Have the money or bring your own.Related to:
- Road Trip
- Budget Travel
Don't buy cigars from people off the street or beach. Go to the cigar store. My friend got suckered into buying some and they where crappy. They sometimes use banana leaves instead of tabacco.
Unique Suggestions: The cigar shop is toward the end of the strip near the Cuatro Palms hotel. I think 63 street(calle). Great selection and cheaper than buying at the hotel shop.
Price tags aren't always what they seem
Unfortunately I had my period the first few days of my trip and was completely out of tampons. Therefore, I decided to go in the nearest mall to by whatever I could find. I got to this grocery store and saw a box behind the counter which indicated it was 3$US. I told the cashier I wanted to buy it and she took the price tag off the shelf and said it was 16$US. Therefore, when they see a white person coming, they boost the prices up. Be careful. Another situation is when we got off the plane, we entered the bus that would take us to our hotel and the bus driver offered us a cervesa (beer) once you had it opened, he would say 2$.
Varadero is supposed to offer good snorkelling and diving. However, if you just ask the guy on the beach who is in charge of the water sports, he wil indeed arrange snorkelling for something around 8 US$ but not to the nice reef you would expect. Instead, you are likely to be taken to some place where you can see a few fish and possibly some more or less dead coral, not quite on a reef.
Unique Suggestions: Enjoy the catamaran ride and take the opportunity the teach snorkelling to the people in your party who have never done it.
Fun Alternatives: Try to find out how to go to the really good places. Unfortunately, I didn't spend enough time in Varadero to find how to do just this.
If you go on the northern...
If you go on the northern coast of Cuba in January or February you can find 'el fronte del frio'. This cold front can go on for four or five days. In these days is often cloudy and there is an annoying wind. Unfortunately I've found it.
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