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02/08/2006

Facts About Cuba (Part I)

Latin America » Cuba
Author: Koen

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Tourist card/Crossing the border 

You don't need a visa, but you do need a "tourist card". You have to apply for the tourist card at the Cuban Embassy in your country. This will set you back between 25 and 30 US$.  
You also need a passport which is at least 6 months valid on the day of arrival in Cuba.  
Embassies in Benelux:  
- Belgium: Robert Joneslaan, 77, 1180 Brussels, tel. 02/343.00.20 (they speak only Spanish), mail to : ambelhav@ceniai.inf.cu  
- Holland: Prins Mauritslaan, 6, 2582 Den Haag,  tel. 070/354.14.17  

If you're travelling on your own and you don't have a hotel reservation, you CAN be obliged to book a hotel for 3 nights at customs. The government obviously wants to discourage travellers staying outside the official circuit. They will impose a hotel which might cost you 70 US$ a night !! It's best to have some idea of how much a hotel costs because they will try to sell you the most expensive hotels saying the others are fully booked. If you have a reservation you are OK, make sure you have the vouchers (hotel) or adress/e-mail print-out (casa particular).  

International airports are Habana, Varadero, Camaguey and Holguin.  

Leaving the country you'll pay a departure tax of 20 US$.  

A taxi from Habana airport into town will cost 8 to 10 US$. 

Note for US citizens

Permission is only granted to the following groups:  
- Journalists   
- Charity Workers   
- Cuban-Americans   
- Religious Groups   
- Educational tours   

Those individuals who are approved by the Treasury Dept. are limited to $158 - 195 US dollars per day in spending. Only one trip per year is permitted.   

There are direct flights from the U.S. to Cuba : At Miami International Airport, at New york’s John F. Kennedy and at Los Angeles (a charter that leaves every Saturday around 1400 hours and is a non-stop flight to Havana. It has been in operation since last August 2000. Contact CTS Charters at 310-772-2822) 

And the other US citizens ?  
You can fly into Cuba from Mexico, the Bahamas or Canada. In these countries you have to arrange your Cuban tourist card. Travelagencies can help you with arranging a flight to Cuba and this card. At Cancun (Mexico), you can get a tourist card for $15 at the airport.   

The Cuban officials at the airport don't stamp U.S. passports. They put a stamp on a separate paper which you can throw away after your trip. When you return to the U.S. from Mexico or Canada, U.S. customs have no idea you have been in Cuba.  

Although the following report proves it CAN happen. (may 2000) : My friend went and his passport was stamped upon leaving, even though he politely requested in good Spanish that the customs official specifically not do so. Luckily, he had his birth certificate with him also, and since he went via Mexico and US citizens can go to Mexico without a passport, he was able to use the birth certificate to get back into the states with noone the wiser. But do be aware that your passport can be stamped  I have heard from other friends who went that their passports were stamped, as well.  


Americans cannot use credit cards or travelers cheques in Cuba. All transactions must be done in cash. An idea to not carry large amounts of cash is the following : You can open an account with Transcard Canada which is like a debit card. Send money via international money orders to deposit to your new account, and with the account number they gave you, you can go to many branches in Cuba and withdraw money in US dollars. Contact Teresita or Barbara at Transcard Canada, 800-724-5685. For Cuban-Americans it’s also a way to send money to their relatives in Cuba !!!    Bringing Cuban rum or cigars back home is not advisable.   

In fact, any trace that can lead to your stay in Cuba has to be erased.  

For the official word of the US government concerning the US-Cuba relation I recommend following site : The Consular information sheet (http://travel.state.gov/cuba.html)  

A site with schedules and prices on flights from Canada is Netssa travel. You can also book with them.     

Money matters

 Cash
As a foreigner, you will almost always pay with US$.  

Convertible Pesos have the same value as US$, but they are worthless outside Cuba. So minimize the possession of this money. The reason these convertible pesos exist is that Cuba has a lack of real dollars, so they've made their own. To give you an idea, 2 travellers will probably spend only 5 US$ in CUP per week on street-pizzas and horse carriages (5/99).  

You probably won't use the real Pesos

Credit cards 
 
In all big cities (Habana, Camaguey, Santiago de Cuba) there are banks which can give you cash advances on credit cards, except if the card has been issued by a US bank !! There's no commission charged. 

Traveller cheques 
 You can cash TC's. there are reports saying you can also cash TC's if they've been issued in the US, but why not be on the safe side and stick to Thomas Cook. However, there will be a charge of around 4% for every transaction, so you better stick with cash.  

CITYCORP travelcheques & AMERICAN EXPRESS travelcheques are accepted although issued by US. 

ATM machines in Havana  
At the airport José Marti.   

In the hotel Havana Libre.   

At the corner of J and 23   

Kiosks CADECA (casa de cambio)  
Here you can change money and cash credit cards at a street kiosk.  

Some background 
 
The monthly income of a Cuban lies between 100 to 400 pesos a month (black market rate: 1 US$ = 21 pesos). With his pesos, he can buy stuff at the pesos shops. But those shops are sometimes empty or contain products of a bad quality. If he wants to buy soap, radio, soft drinks, shoes etc..., he can buy them in the state-run dollarshops like Panamericanas and Caracol, but of course he needs to get US$. Unfortunately, the prices in those shops are the same like in Europe and America.  

That's why everyone tries to do business with you. You will be offered things like a taxi, a casa particular, cigars, hookers, rum etc...This can become very annoying after a while, but be prepared for it and don't let it spoil your holiday.     

Flights within Cuba 

Cubana has some domestic flights. Have a look at their website for timetable and prices. Prices here are valid 1/99.

- Habana-Santiago: about 3 flights a day, 90 US$ one way.  
- Habana-Holguin: 1 or 2 flights a day, 82 US$  
 -Habana-Camaguey: 1 or 2 flights a day, 72 US$  
 -Habana-Bayamo: 4 flights a week, 82 US$  
 -Habana-Manzanillo: 4 flights a week, 82 US$  
- Habana-Guantanamo: 1 flight a day, 100 US$  
- Habana-Las Tunas: 3 flights a week, 80 US$  

Sometimes the Cubana site is not online, in that case the "domestic flights page" of Nash travel has good info here.  

The Netssa site also has prices on tickets for flights from Canada to Cuba. Check them out.     

Train

For train Schedules from Central Station (Estación Central) in Havana to other cities, click here (info updated in 12/99) 

You can also find this train-info (prices/schedules) on this site (Spanish written):

http://www.mihabana.islagrande.cu/mihabanaframe.asp?PARAM=tren.html  

Nighttrain especial Habana-Santiago de Cuba and reverse  

Make reservations the day before you leave and ask for the timetable. Make sure you have a sweater since the train has AC, and this can get cold at midnight. Also take your own food. They have sandwiches, but they didn't look very appealing. This train has a top priority and
goes everyday. Price : 43 $ US ('98), duration about 14 hours       

  Away (train 11) Back (train 12)
Habana 7.30 pm 11.10 am
Matanzas 8.56 pm (10 US$) 09.36 am
Santa Clara 11.19 pm (15 US$) 06.57 am
Guayos 00.41 am (18 US$) 05.53 am
Ciego de Avila 01.56 am (22 US$)> 04.37 am
Camaguey 03.31 am (27 US$) 02.30 am
Las Tunas 05.37 am (33 US$) 00.42 am
Cacocum 06.46 am (37 US$) 11.32 pm
Santiago 09.10 am (43 US$) 9.35 pm

Other trains  
There are a few other trains making shorter trips, but you can never be sure whether they go or not. These trains are second class and go to places like Bayamo, Manzanillo, Guantanamo, Baracoa, Holguin, Antilla, Cienfuegos, and Pinar del Rio.     

Bus 

Introduction  
Public transport is not very good in Cuba. Due to the US embargo, there's a shortage in spare parts and fuel. 

Short distance buses 
 
These are meant for Cubans, and it's not always easy to find out when and where they are leaving, and it's always a fuss to get a seat. Payable in pesos.

Inter province company Astro
 
This is the public transport for Cubans. As tourist, you will pay in USD. These buses are moderate equipped and are not always reliable.  

Inter province company Viazul  
A busservice specially setup for tourist.  

They are 100 % reliable and payment is in US$. It's still important to check the timings because they change slightly and some buses leave only with a minimum number of passengers.   

Cities covered are Pinar del Rio, Vinales, Matanzas, Varadero, Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Sancti Spiritus, Ciego de Avila, Camaguey, Las Tunas, Holguin, Bayamo and Santiago de Cuba.  

Reservations : You can book your seat by phone, fax or at the office.It's recommended to be there one hour before departure.  

List of offices :  
- Havana : Avenida 26 y Zoologico, Nuevo Vedado, Ciudad de la Habana              
Phone: (537) 81-1413, (537) 81-5652, (537) 81-1108              
Fax: (537) 66-6092  

- Varadero : Calle 36 y Autopista, Varadero, Phone: 61-4886  

- Trinidad : Viro Guinart entre Antonio Maceo y Gustavo Izquierdo #224, Phone: 2597   

For schedules and prices click here  to acess their website !!!!    

Taxi

Introduction  
If you are with more than 2 persons, taking a taxi can be a cheap way to travel around in Cuba, but don't forget to bargain. It's usually not to difficult to find other travellers willing to share costs on a ride. Don't be surprised if the taxi takes another Cuban for free.  

Here are some examples of prices: 
- Habana-Vinales: 50 US$ 
- Habana-Cienfuegos: 60 US$  
- Trinidad-Camaguey: 70 US$ 

"Taxi particular"  
These are illegal taxis driven by locals to earn some extra money. Price is usually the same or a bit higher then the official taxis (to make up for the fine when they get caught). However, it's a good way to drive in an old timer. 

Official taxi  
Contrary to the illegal taxis, these have blue number plates.  

Bargaining the price : They may bring the price down a bit, but they don't seem to care if you don't go with them.   

Here are some phone numbers of official taxi companies: 
- Cubanacan : 33 6312 / 21 6753  
- Panataxi : 81 0153 / 81 4142 / 81 5753 
- Turistaxi : 79 1940 / 79 8828 
- Gaviota : 33 1730  
- Cubalse : 33 6568 / 33 6452 
- Transgaviota : 23 7000 / 23 4873 
- Transtur : 33 5539  
- Aeroport José Marti : 45 3586 / 45 1608     

Renting a car 

This is definitely the most comfortable way, but it's much more expensive then in other countries. Count on on average 70 US$ a day and add fuel at 1 US$ for 1 liter. The lowest price is around 40US$ / day insurance included (’00).  

For up to date prices, check out cubaweb or the Nash travel site or the Transtur site.  

There's always a drop off fee if you don't return the car on the place you hired it.   This information is from the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs 2001 : Renting vehicles can create significant problems. Although insurance is offered, coverage differs from that in f.e. Canada. If you are in any way at fault in an accident, rental agencies will nullify coverage and seek damages. Rental agencies are governmentally-controlled, and will threaten to prevent your departure to obtain payment. Charges associated with accidents can range in the thousands of U.S. dollars. Traffic accidents resulting in 3rd-party injuries are considered to be a crime until responsibility has been established by the police. This may take up to several months and often the driver will not be allowed to leave the country until the investigation is complete. Trial and imprisonment are real possibilities. 

Some advice  
Cars are best parked in a private parking because spare parts can disappear during the night.   

Don't forget to buy a decent road map at home, most of the time the roads have no signs !!!!!  

Drive carefully because some roads are in bad condition (pits and holes). 

 If possible pickup hitch-hiking locals for free, for them it's hard to find transport.     

Go to general info 2  

For questions on Cuba  send an e-mail to Steven Buvens.

 
Article Comments:
04/21/2006
Sylvia (5)
You are so right! If tourists really knew the real story. My mother is from Camaguey and she still has relatives in Cuba. Since they do not work for the Government, they don't have anything. I know about the monthly rations, the government always watching you, the proverty, etc. It's a sad sad situation.
03/13/2006
Greg (4)
i went to cuba and had no problem what so ever. there was never a place i was told i couldnt go. the country is incredibly messed up politically, but i would still reccomend going. youll have a blast. dont go to the tourist resorts. i stayed with a family in an extra room they had. i noticed you lived in so cal. you should drive to TJ and go to cuba from the airport there, then when you return you can walk over the border by only showing your drivers license. they dont even ask about where you went, so you wont be in trouble leagally for lying if they dont ask. pack light. they will think youre some crazy college girl going to party in rosarito. they wont even look twice at you
03/13/2006
Kaz (5)
go anywhere in the caribbean man, but i also recommend the west indies. trinidad right now is not a good place to go. it used to be nice about 5 years ago, but with the growing city, it can be a dangerous place to walk around even in the country side. i highly recomment tobago though. its a real nice place, but with some tourists. i think grenada is the best man, i lived there for 7 years growing up as a kid and its still a nice place with good people and not many tourists. the town is built european style and hasnt changed much. safe place also. ive been to pretty much every caribbean island, but i highly recommend martinique also. they speak french there but everything is unique and beautiful. barbados is nice but too many tourists. antigua is real beautiful but also similar to bados. if you can get a boat then the grenadines is the best spot man. i used to go as a kid and work a bit on the fishing boats from grenada and i dont think ive ever been to more pure waters than the grenadines or carriacou. like something out of a dream ya know? damn i miss my old home....
03/13/2006
Mestre (5)
you won't learn much going to Cuba... did you know the people in Cuba are not allowed to go to the tourist side ...they are prohibited unless you work there.... theres obviously a lot of things you don't know... you won't learn much unless you go live with someone there...and for you that would be hard.... trust me you cant just go in the city and parade around and do as you please...it doesn't work that way....sure you are going to teh tourist spots...don't get me wrong its gorgeous... but you won't ever learn from them if you don't go in the "real" city....not what castro wants you to think of his "utopia"... in the real city water shuts off certain times of the day...families have to keep log books of their food b/c they aren't just allowed to go buy 5 lbs of meat...no....its only a certain amount a month....and trust me its not even 3lbs a month....all i am saying is that going there on vacation gives money to Castro not its people.... its hard to explain b/c you won't ever be able to learn and experience the real Cuban way... unfortunatly i have family there so i know what its like.... you want to know why we never hear abou anything that goes on in Cuba other than his trip and fall...hahh....its b/c he keeps everything on a down low and doens't tell the world about his castroism.... ohh and by the way...if you ever wanted to swim on the north beaches of Cuba....you can't....you want to know why.... because Castro had to close the north beach because there were body parts floating ashore from those people not making it trying to escape being eaten alive.... i know what its like.... you want to really learn about the real Cuba....ask me...i know.... even though i could only go there once every three years (now that the US has that law prohibiting americans going more than once every 3 years) i know what its like....just letting you know...if you go ...don't be fooled
03/13/2006
Nikki (4)
see, as far as the politics go, the way i see it i'm not supporting the government, i'm supporting the people. i spent two weeks in China over my winter break and it was amazing. i learned more from the experience of being there and meeting the people than i could from any book. as for communism, i'm not entirely against the idea, so there's no way i would not go to Cuba just because people label it as a communist country. plus, Cuba's not actually communist, so sorry, there goes the whole "Castro/communism = bad" thing. the way i see it, i travel to learn. i want to see first hand what the condition of the country is, what the attitude of the country is, and see the beauty that is Cuba. i mean, one of the greatest authors of the past century spent a good part of his life there. thousands of people choose to spend their time and money there. millions more choose to spend their lives there, despite what the media tells us. and everyone in the UN is telling the US that we should stop sanctioning Cuba. i want to see it for myself and come to my own conclusions. thank you to those who gave their advice. i've read about Santiago de Cuba and it sounds wonderfull. i'll definitely be spending some time there.
03/13/2006
mrtitties (5)
Cuba's great, but can be ridiculously expensive and hard to get around if you don't have your own transport, I'd recommend spending some time in the south and east, Trinidad and Santiago de Cuba especially... I can't say about the other islands as i've never been, but if the choice is between 4 weeks and 6 weeks away, i'd always go with the 6!!
03/13/2006
Nikki (5)
Okay, here's the thing. I'm going to Cuba this summer, but I'm trying to decide if I want to just spend 4 weeks on the one island or do I want to make it into a 6 week trip and hit up all of the big islands of the Caribbean (Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti (maybe), Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico)? So, basically, I'm asking for advice - which would you do? And I'm looking for any tips for any and all of the above listed islands. I've already got my Lonely Planet and haven't been able to put it down, but it's always better to get recommendations from people. Oh, one more thing. If at all possible (which, this could weigh greatly on my decision), I'd like to do some volunteer work while I'm there, but I don't want to arrange it through an organization here. Has anyone ever worked with anyone down there before who might still need help with anything?

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