Cuba with it's socialist
system and dual currency is not like ordinary market driven country, so
some practical advice can be helpful. But Cuba is changing a lot from
year to year so this may be outdated quickly. Let's hope Cuba will
still preserve some spirit of old Cuba and it will not become tourist
resort kitch in years to come when living conditions for Cubans
hopefully improve as market system will be at least partly introduced.
We had only 12 days, so stayed in western Cuba and up to Trinidad to
the east only. Car rental in Cuba is expensive and state run business.
It was about 80-90 usd per small car (not the smallest) like Kia Rio
sedan in high Christmas season. If rental company does not want to book
it over internet, no problem to find cars after arrival to Cuba in some
rental place. International driving licence is not necessary, EU is ok,
credit card is not necessary, only deposit of 200 usd/cuc was needed
without card. But it is possible to travel from among major tourist
place by commfortable tourist bus as well. Cuba is cash country, there
are almost no ATMs and even the number of places to exchange foreign
cash (best is Euro in this case) for peso convertible (cuc) is limited
to bigger towns.
Most things in Cuba can be bought by tourists only for peso
convertible (1 cuc = 1 usd, but don't bring usd cash, they charge
enemy surcharge on exchange of usd, better euros) - e.g. car rental,
petrol, accomodation, long distance bus, eating in restaurant, entrance
to sightseeings, diving. The number of things that tourist is able to
to buy in national peso (rate is 25 national pesos for 1 convertible
peso) is limited - e.g. fast food / fruits / vegetables from windows
and stalls in the street and by the road, sometimes alcohol drinks
(mostly rum) in bars for locals, sometimes food in local very simple
If one does not want to ask some Cuban to change peso convertible to
peso national (foreigners are oficially not supposed to deal with peso
national at all), then the easies is to pay in small peso convertible
(1 or 3) for things where this is possible and ask to get returned in
peso national. Uninformed tourist that does not know the exchange rate
or does not ask to get returned in national peso will probably not get
anything returned at all when paying by convertible peso for things
listed national peso. We were never rejected and got enough national
peso this way.
Most tourist facilities in Cuba (accomodation and restaurants) are
still state run. Private accomodation and restaurants should be
preferred, as they provide generally better value for money and price
can be a bit negotiated as well. Cubans can currently rent only 2 rooms
per house and pay maybe 150 usd/cuc per month to government for this
licence, so 20 usd/cuc for room is actually not bad price and usually
can not be negotiated for much less. Some rooms have 2 large beds, good
for 2 pairs for price of 1 room.
One unpleasant thing in bigger towns are many intermediaries, trying to
recommend restarants and accomodation to independent tourists. They
have huge commisions for this, e.g. 20-30% of your future bill.
Avoiding this means unfortunatelly not talking to any intermediary in
the street (which often means not asking about restaurant or
accomodation in the street at all !) and one can negotiate better price
for e.g restaurant as they don't have to pay for the intermediary.
Unfortunatelly, even people who rent private rooms are sometimes part
of this intermediary business so they will advice some restaurant and
immediately call there before you go there to claim commission later.
Bottled water is expensive, about 1.2 usd/cuc for 1.5l bottle, only
sometimes 5l canister for 2 usd/cuc can be bought. I personally put
chlorine and later some flavour into water tap water. There are almost
no supermakets in Cuba and it is difficult to find a place where e.g.
bread can be bought and they may not have the bread even if you find
that shop. Not mentioning some good cheese or sausage to eat with the
bread - better to bring this from home. Restaurants are not very cheap
in Cuba, e.g. 8-15 cuc/usd for complete menu with soup excl. drinks,
but otherwise expensive seafood like lobsters or fresh fish cost almost
the same as more ordinary beef or pork.
There is lack of e.g. women's clothes (and pretty much everything...)
among ordinary Cubans (who do not have access to tourist money and are
not able to pay huge prices). If one brings there ANY second hand
clothes, especially for women, it will be very appreciated as a gift
and can be exchanged for souvenirs with some women sellers as well.