What to buy:
Havana Club is excellent rum. You can find different types of it in different price ranges. Its available in most tourist stores throughout Cuba and in your hotel's gift shop.
What to pay: Starts at $10 USD a bottle
Until recently farmers were not allowed to sell their goods in the open market. You will now start to see farmer's markets where you can walk around stalls and pick up a few items. I am sure that for a few dollars you can buy the whole stall.
The idea of general stores or department stores has only develped since the introduction of the dollar, and the tourist resorts. This is a growing concept, and the government's clever way of recovering all the dollar bills that tourists are giving to the locals. You will probably not find much that you want in those stores, except for emergency replacements.
Outside of Havana, it was always hard to find art and souvenir markets, designed for the tourists, but now you will find pretty good ones in Trinidad de Cuba, Guardalavaca and Santiago. Of course, most of the resorts will arrange for displays within the hotels too.
As of 2010, a change in regulation is allowing Cubans to be a little more entrepeneurial, so I expect we will be seeing a lot more individuals sellling their wares on the street.
What to buy: Extremely good Wood carvings, oil paintings, watercolours, t shirts, basket work, lace and macrame, and cheap but interesting jewellery. I particularly like the jewellery made of antique peso coins.
Keep your eyes open for post cards by Mimmo Fabrizi, an Italian photographer who has made a career out of photographing Cuba. Also watch for his books at the airport. They are wonderful souvenirs.
What to pay: Not much.
Whatever it is, you know it will be more expensive anywhere else.
What to buy:
Peso cigars are what the locals get to smoke. Instead of the finely crafted tubes of the best tobacco leaves the Cubans get to smoke these instead. I will not smoke one as I do not partake but just by inspection I see they have not been rolled to the same exacting standards and seem to contain a variety of tobacco products inside. Obviously inferior but for the price...
What to pay: They come in packs of 25 wrapped in a paper with the printing displayed below for $1 CUC. Which at the time of this is roughly $1.21 CAN.
Depending on what you like and how much you want to spend, Vivian at the Hotel Melia Cohiba (excellent selections) 2nd floor smoke shop and bar is very informative as well very beautiful. Get her to show you how check a cigar for quality and how to properly trim and light it.
Hotels Parque Central, Ingeleterra and Riveria have good selections with the Partagas Cigar factory near behind the Capitolo building.
If you like strong go for Cohibas or Cuabas, medium strength try Montecristos or Trinidads, mild go for Romeo y Julietts.
Pick you cigar length for how long you want your smoke to last.
Seven year old rum compliments a good cigar.
Pick cigars up at the Airport if you don't buy in the city, they are similar in prices.
Popular Buys include Cuban Cigars, rum, liqueors, arts and crafts. T-shirts and records and cassettes of Cuban music. Hotels and airports have duty-free shops. Art objects (including artifacts and paintings) purchased in Cuba must be accompanied by an export permit. Cigars not accompanied by an official receipt may be seized. Cuban authorities may search your luggage prior to departure at the airport. Purchases may be seized without compensation.
the ICAIC film shops. the two location (that i know of) are mentioned in the "off the beaten path" tips section.
What to buy: as mentioned in the "off the beaten path" tip section, you can buy beautiful, hand-silkscreened film posters of both cuban and foreign films. they're CUC 10 each, and worth every penny.
What to pay: CUC 10/poster.
If you like some souvenir offered with your first step in new city, don't buy. The chance you'll find it cheaper is big or negotiate at first if you don't have time or hate bargaining.
You can not bargaining in state shop, but market and street vendors do expect your involvement in process.
What to buy: Street/market souvenirs
What to pay: Don't pay first price.
Shop with cigars, cigarillos, cigarettes, rum.
Nice place, friendly stuff, credit cards accepted, place to taste cigar and some coctail (there is small bar).
What to buy: Anything you buy there it's good quality and legal !
Ask staff to help you buy gifts here.
What to pay: Cheapest cigars in the world couse it's home of excellent cigars.
What to buy:
For the real collectors of banknotes, cuban pesos are unique, specially 3 Peso banknote with Che Guevara. This is 3-CUC note aka convertible peso which is not common (usually you have banknotes 1,2,5,10...but 3?!?!) to see.
People on the street (around touristic sites) will offer you a "Che" peso with value of almost zero for 1 CUC (0.86 EUR).
1 CUC = 28 CUP
Also, sometimes in museums lady can approach you and take you aside and offer you small collection of CUP banknotes coins included. Don't pay that more then 4 CUC (3.2 EUR).
I found guayabera shirts of high quality at the same or lower prices at the airport store than I found at even the most inexpensive shops in Havana. To find a good deal at an airport store is so unusual that I am a little nervous about placing this tip, because times change and it may not be true when you visit. If you arrive and depart through the Havana airport you could check the prices at the airport upon arrival so you won't be trapped by a change in store philosophy or management.
What to buy: Guayabera shirts
I visited 3 street markets in Havana and they were much like traditional markets that have been converted to tourist craft markets as seen throughout the Carribean and Latin America. They did not include the large traditional local market activitity often seen still associated with these markets outside of Cuba, but there was still the expectation of extensive bargaining.
What to buy: The markets offer the typical Carribean arts and crafts with lots of oil paintings. Although I am not a stamp collector I bought some for friends because of the amazing collections of revolutionary stamps available. Looking through the old and used stuff for sale may result in discovery of other special purchases.
What to pay: The asking prices are not as wild as in the Dominica Republic, but the resisitance to bringing the price down to a competitive level seemed greater. The government does not set the prices but with the licenses and fees charged to the marketers it does probably cause the prices to be a bit higher than in some other countries with free capitalism. It can be very difficult to determine the maket price for a unique item found for sale.
Here's a link that gives you Cuba's latest exchange rate with most of the major world currencies. It changes quite frequently but not based on any sound economic data but rather at the whim of the Cuban government:
Since Fidel has tried to rein in the black market economy. Cuba has become much more expensive for the independant travellor. Always take some of the "moneda nacional" with you to soften the monetary blow of travelling in Cuba.
What to buy:
When you leave Cuba, you may carry with you up to 23 cigars without having an official purchase receipt. If you carry more than 23 cigars you need to show the purchase receipt, official certificate (big receipt with a few colourful copies attached for the store, the state and you), and the case with the holografic seal, otherwise the cigars will be taken by the customs office at the airport.
Make sure you buy your cigars only at authorized stores and not on the black market. They will tell you that somebody of the family works in the factory and although the cigars might look nice and are packed properly, often the quality is poor.
What to pay: When paying, be aware that there are many places that accept CUC and cuban pesos. As U will be the one with the hard currency as cubans use cuban pesos, the salesman will want to receive CUC. Just in some isolated cases they will ask for cuban pesos because they don't have the right to accept CUC. Always remember that the far U are from the cities and specialy Havana , the lower are the prices. If Uplan to but some presents for your friends back in your country, always haggle. Persons who sells, as everywhere in the world, will try to take as much money as the can so always haggle to obtain a better price. And if U plan to buy more than one item, be sure that U'll get a lower price.
You can buy some cheap food from the street venders in most Cuban cities. Common items are churros, pizzas, croquettes and sandwiches. However, if you have a sensitive stomach... let the buyer beware! However, it's all very cheap and probably the cheapest food you'll find in Cuba.
What to pay: Most accept moneda national which is the cheaper of the two currencies currently used in Cuba.
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