Cuban Travel Practicalities


March 2016:

— Money matters. Cuba has double currency system. Confusing, and because to the past financial difficulties country has been in. Cuban hard currency is called CUC is about same as one US Dollar. And one CUC is worth 25 CUP, aka. moneda nacional. Tourists are expected to know only CUC. But having low value CUP in wallet is handy for small purchases. It’s also good to offer them first, if unsure is price quoted in which currency. Locals can call prices from both as “Peso” for tourists. What makes this system expensive for foreigners is that all, even the trivial expenses such as ferry or bus ticket, small espresso from thermos, local pizza-bread etc. are usually quoted nice round sum of CUC’s. That is, four, maybe ten times the actual value that locals pay. Government have indicated plans for single currency system, but at time of writing two currencies are very much effective.

— Credit cards and ATMs: Despite the first hand information (e.g taxi driver telling me when coming from airport) and travel reading, MasterCard can be used in Cuba. Government owned Cadeca money exchange in every major city approves them. MasterCards from European, Canadian, Australian etc. banks probably work just fine. Visa cards are easier, any ATM with Visa logo will approve them on street. Americans should check their bank first, before trying to use card in Cuba. Exchange rate for credit card withdrawal is not as good as if changing cash on street. But its good to know that both major credit cards can be used in Cuba, just in case.

Camel bus. These things are nowadays getting a rare sight. Modern Chinese busses have been replacing them for almost a decade now. But they are not entirely extinct, yet.

— Casas particulates, Cuban home stays. You pay a room and owners usually sleep in another in same apartment. Kitchen, bathroom are often shared. One peculiarity is that you don’t always get all the keys needed to enter from street to the room. Instead you need knocking doors and pressing buzzers to be let in by someone in apartment. Mosquito repellent a must accessory when staying in casas. March is still high season, I paid about 15-20 CUC a night. Havana prices are bar above rest of country. Paying 20 give or take 5, means Cuba is not popular backpacker destination like South East Asia or India for example.

— Internet is another thing that deserves special mention. When it started to dawn on me, it felt like arrangement from -90’s. Prepaid wifi cards from government monopoly Etecsa are sold by their shops (and sold for higher through second hands on street). Most common card is probably one hour but there are several lengths. I usually paid 3 CUC for hour card. Card can then be used in public parks, sitting on a bench or side walk. Needing a computer instead of smartphone? Perhaps with some USB device attached? There you are sitting under the sun, people walking by, kids, dogs running around and perhaps random ball from game nearby flying by you. And for this luxury you pay couple CUC/Dollars per hour!

— Photo and video. If documenting the trip is on high priority and planning to bring equipment into Cuba, be aware that air is often full of diesel fumes and dust. You never know when old Soviet truck or tractor in full steam like locomotive rolls in from behind the corner. Yank Tanks that Cuba is famous for, and East European two-stroke motorbikes are second worse encounters. Dust sealed camera bag is a must, and streets are worst place to switch lenses.

Yank tanks. These vehicles can be seen on vintage car shows around the world. But in Cuba they are still very real part of peoples lives.



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