Cuban Resort
February 4, 2005 9:03 PM   Subscribe

In 2 weeks I am taking my first "real" vacation ever to A resort in Cuba, specifically, the Playa Costa Verde. I'm looking for tips/opinions. [more inside].

I'm not really looking for opinions on the specific resort (I've googled) but more about travelling to Cuba in general. I've never left Canada and I'm nervous. What can I expect to deal with passing through Cuban Customs? Travel advisories say they "don't accept American dollars" but is really true? I mean, the government might not want US $, but the average business owner/cabbie/etc mighth want them, no?

Seeing as this is my first trip outside my country any advice is appreciated.
posted by aclevername to Travel & Transportation around Cuba (9 answers total)
I'm sure you'll get more authoritative answers shortly, but my sister spent last summer there (one of the last groups of American students to get through before tightened access, I gather), and she said there were essentially two economies there, the local one and the one for tourists, and the second one definitely worked entirely on US dollars. To your advantage.
posted by rustcellar at 9:16 PM on February 4, 2005

I went there a few years ago.

All your currency exchanges take place in US dollars. Keep lots of these handy. It's how you tip, it's how you buy, it's what they want. I suppose you could try using the Cuban currency, but I saw so little of that I can't even recall what it is. Whatever it is, it is completely valueless outside Cuba, so *DO NOT* take large bills with you, since the change is junk (may as well give it away at the end of the trip unless you want a souvenier). Lots of $1 bills are a great idea.

Customs was very simple, although for some reason I looked suspicious so they asked me to put my hands on the glass booths at immigration (perhaps they were looking for a tattoo or something?). Apart from that, heck, I don't even think they asked what I would be importing or anything at all like that.

You'll probably feel a bit intimidated by the guards at the airport. That's probably the intention. :-)

You should consider getting your passport stamped on a spare piece of paper inside it. This way if you ever plan to go to the USA you won't be hassled by border guards wondering why you visited an enemy country the USA is at war with.

Prices on everything were almost universally VERY cheap, however, you knew that they were cooked up for us touristas, since there's no way their $5 a month salary could afford them a $3 bottle of rum.

One rule: Don't bother asking the locals about what they think of Castro. They will always tell you he's the best guy on earth, even when you can tell they're lying through their teeth.

I know this is forward, but it needs to be said: If you're bringing a close relation with you, consider watching them closely if your relationship is monogamous. :-D When I went there with mom and dad as a family one of the hotel staff misinterpreted my dad's request to "see the real town" as for him to find some hookers on the side...

One or two other notes: Even in the best of hotels things outside the hotel manager's control won't be perfect, such as electricity or water. Pesticide usage is REALLY high (and necessary for a comfortable environment) so if you're concerned about that you should probably ask the hotel manager when they have them applied.
posted by shepd at 9:48 PM on February 4, 2005

I spent the summer there in 2003 (wonder if it was the same university as the sister above!), and can confirm the
-dual economy: Cuban pesos are worthless to foreigners. USD was what you could spend when I went, but I also remember reading that Castro was trying to stop sales in USD. What that probably means is converting to the peso convertible, which is a second currency which trades 1:1 with the dollar. When I went, these were rarely used except as coinage, and USD was for everything else. Now, maybe, getting the convertible in use is the goal.
-Customs was easy, though yeah, even less friendly looking than other places I've been.
-I didn't have the experience of everyone telling me Castro was a great guy. More commonly I heard the system's great but has a few problems, the jefe needs to change.

I do want to add - I'm guessing the resort is in Varadero - make sure to get out of the resort and see the city of Havana and if possible some of the smaller cities. Despite how run-down everything is, it's a really safe place to walk around and be without a group in. Ignore, of course, the people who offer to show you around to hotels, restaurants, and tourist stuff. There are plenty of people who speak some or lots of English who can help you out.
posted by whatzit at 6:30 AM on February 5, 2005

I second everything above as of 3 years ago, but there were news reports last autumn about Castro prohibiting the us of U.S. dollars on the island and forcing the use of convertible pesos. Do a search of the news or talk to people that have just been there in order to find out what the local practice is these days.
posted by keijo at 8:26 AM on February 5, 2005

Further research shows a definite move towards using peso convertible over the dollar. The page I linked to above also says that the rate has been changed to be 0.9CUC=1USD, and recommends that Canadians bring Canadian currency. An interesting article from the Orlando Sentinel also turned up in google groups, as to the possible reasons Cuba made the switch.

At the very least, it doesn't sound like having dollars is an actual crime - which it used to be - there's just no where to spend them.
posted by whatzit at 9:50 AM on February 5, 2005

This is a general travel suggestion, but it is a good idea to scan copies of your travel docs, passport, birth certificate and anything else which might help you in a jam and put them online (obviously somewhere password protected). This can be more useful than keeping multiple copies of the papers since you can't lose them.

I don't know how service is in Cuba, it sounds like the gov is clamping down on net access. I think that in a jam, though, you could convince some gov employee to take a peek online to prove you are who you say you are.
posted by jonah at 10:36 AM on February 5, 2005

As a fellow Canadian I would recommend you know about the Canadian Embassy in Cuba . Whatever nationality, whenever you travel in a foreign country it is good to know where you government reps are in that country. Even dropping in to the embassy and asking if there is anything you should do is not a bad idea once you get there.

Oh, I don't think you need a passport to go to the US so I wouldn't worry about the Cuban stamp.

have fun
posted by edgeways at 2:18 PM on February 5, 2005

For details on money, etc. go to the Cuba Discussion board at Lonely Planet. You will be talking with people who came back from Cuba last week.

I went twice two years ago, and my only real advice is to leave the resort as much as possible and explore the island. Sand and rum drinks you can find elsewhere, but the Cuba that exists right now is a unique place in all the world. Forty years of socialist dictatorship and American embargo have kept Cuba out of the mainstream of globalization. And the Cuba that exists right now may be swept away in the blink of an eye when El Jefe kicks the bucket. Not to romanticize--Cuba ia better place to visit than to live in. But it is deeply enchanting. Go and explore!
posted by LarryC at 6:45 PM on February 5, 2005

When we went (a year and a half ago) USD were the only money to use. Since then I have heard multiple rumours that Castro has ditched use of dollars in favour of the Euro. I have no idea if this is accurate.

Don't use American Express. It will get refused. Maybe the same for Visa. Mastercard is accepted most tourist places.

You'll get charged an exit tax when you leave the country. For us this was $15. It may have changed.

Cuba doesn't stamp passports - your visa is on a little bit of cardboard.

In resorts, expect to tip the staff. The bar staff et al know that Europeans tip at the end of the stay, and treat us like kings. they known US and Canadians tip during the stay, so tip to get great treatment.

If you go outside the resorts, expect to pay to visit the loo.

begging is illegal (IIRC) but expect to get plagued by people offering to draw cartoons/ pose for pictures / show you around / etc for a small fee.

I loved the place. Enjoy it.
posted by twine42 at 7:01 AM on February 6, 2005

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