CUBA has opened to the West. The Rolling Stones just rocked this tiny island and made history. The flow of tourism is going to change this little island and I wanted to see this tiny country before it becomes something new. I rented a Harley Davidson and hit the open road with friends. Here is what you need to know if you want to hit the road in CUBA.
The major legal currency for Cuba is the Cuban Convertible Peso, CUC. It’s what you exchange your foreign currency for and make all your purchases with in Cuba. Most tourists will deal with CUC. For international exchange purposes 1.00 Cuban Convertible Peso = $1.00 USD. Note : there is a 10% penalty charged when exchanging USA dollars, you will only receive 87 centavos CUC for one USA dollar, allowing for the 10% penalty and a 3% currency exchange fee. This is discussed further below.
The second currency in Cuba is the Cuban Peso, CUP, which is rarely used by the vast majority of tourists, but is perfectly legal for tourists to use it. You can pay taxies in Cuba in CUP. They cost between 10 CUP and 20 CUP per person depending on the distance and destination. However, you can pay for the service in CUC. Just be aware that there is no way to pay 10 CUP in CUC, so it will cost you 50 centavos CUC which is 12 CUPs. You can also use CUP in local shops where Cubans buy their provisions.
Water & gas
When we stopped at the gas stations, very often they didn’t have bottles of water. I had to buy very sweet lemonade or local beer. So, if you are doing a roadtrip as I did, be sure you have water with you. Always drink water from a bottle. What was surprising is that often they didn’t want to sell gas either…the explanation was that they don’t earn money by selling gas.
Generally Cuban electricity is 110V with the square American plug socket.
Get a VISA card
MasterCard has never really worked in Cuba. With changes happening all the time, more and more American companies are working with Cuba now. Check before you go what cards are being accepted.
If you are a tea lover, forget about it in Cuba. I like to drink a big cup of tea every morning, afternoon, and in the evening. In Cuba, they don’t drink tea. I asked for a cup of tea and they gave me a very small cup.
Most countries require a “visa” called a Tourist Card to enter. You can either buy yours through your local Cuban embassy or before check-in at a Cubana Air desk.
Food in Cuba
Due to restrictions in trade, Cuban food isn’t the best – though it’s not the worst either. It’s usually just a bit bland.
Never ask for : Vegetable soup, creamy soup or « Cordon Bleu ».
Cash machine :
In Europe the cash machine gives you your card after the BIP and then your cash. In Cuba the cash machine gives you your cash and then asks you if you want any other transaction…and after that it gives you your card back. Make sure you have your card when you leave.
Please take tampons and sanitary wear with you. If the unexpected should happen, you cannot get tampons in Cuba and their ST’s are rather antiquated. Be sure to leave any unwanted tampons with a Cuban woman – she will remember you forever.
Any medication is not widely available in Cuba. Be sure to take enough prescription and medications for your trip. You will also need to ensure you take general first-aid with you – pain killers, plasters, Immodium, hydration salts, etc.
CUBA is still about 50 years behind but it is a gem of an island that is meant to be explored. The influx of companies will make this list change over the next year so please check with your tourism board for new update. Let the wind be your guide !!!