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Critique my Cuba plans..

Critique my Cuba plans..

Old Apr 17, 17, 11:47 pm
  #1  
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Critique my Cuba plans..

Seeking helpful criticism and guidance from people who have made recent trips to Cuba.

Next month I'm going with two friends for a long weekend in Havana. All three of us are pretty accomplished/capable travelers (Asia/Central America/Europe/Middle East) under our belts. We're going under the "12 reasons" and not as part of a tour group. My Spanish is adequate - I'll be translating should it be needed.

We've got air reserved (nonstops LAX<>HAV). Moderately priced hotel is booked. Visas are on the on way from Cuba Travel Services (seems to get good reviews).

We're going to bring USD for the hotel and other on the ground expenses, and exchange at the airport on arrival. I'll also have a bit of leftover CAN and EUR along.

We don't really need much communication while there, but it appears Verizon roams for 2.99 a minute, and the hotel has iffy wi-fi, should the need arise.

One thought was to bring some small gifts for taxi drivers and such - to help get local insight. Maybe some cigarettes, american candy, tylenol, decent pens. Is that worthwhile?

Aside from getting a rough itinerary planned, have I overlooked anything?
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Old Apr 18, 17, 12:32 am
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USD costs a lot more to exchange than Euros but if that's what you've got, that's what you've got.

Whilst Cuba isn't America, don't assume they all want what Americans have. Thats a bit of cultural imperialism.

If you're staying at a Casa Particular, the kids would appreciate pens etc in the same way kids from all around the world like stuff from foreign countries. I'm not sure what a taxi driver would make of you giving them Tylenol and American lollies, but I'm sure if you give them stuff they take it.

If you're a global traveler, just go and experience Cuba for the unique place it is, you don't need to change it.
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Old Apr 18, 17, 12:37 am
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Welcome to FT Presguy!

I have brought numerous candy items on my trips and without a doubt chocolate items are the most popular. Bring some bags of fun size (or snack size) chocolate bars (snickers,milky way etc.) and maybe hersey kisses. They will be popular and appreciated.

Other advice:
Slow down! All things move at a much more deliberate pace on the island.
Be careful walking around town on the streets. Cars, buses, cocotaxis, motorcycles (and the rare for central Havana coche caballos) always seem to have the right of way on the roads. Pedestrians yield pretty much everywhere. Just as a heads up, Cubans love to use their horns.
You may also want to bring one roll of paper towels, one roll of toilet paper, and one box of tissues. Paper products in general are rare and of poorer quality on the island (compared to the USA).
I can confirm Verizon and ATT wireless/data will now work in areas on the island, but the cost (as you mentioned) is expensive.

I hope you have a great trip to Cuba.
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Old Apr 18, 17, 12:50 am
  #4  
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CokeandTaco - Thanks much for the welcome. The idea of bring TP and tissues along is a good one. I've done it on trips elsewhere, didn't occur to me to bring on this trip. I've done both "Island Time" and "Urban Traffic Melee" in my life before, so I'm sure I can find the right balance.

BSBTraveller - Valid criticism.. I get what you're saying. I'm just thinking.. I've seen plenty of nasty travelers from all over on other trips. If I can leave, say, some unusual American candy along with a few bucks for the hotel maid, why not? Or if a taxi driver can set me up with a legit good restaurant, why not offer a pack or two of cigs. I don't know what's there's shortages of, and what's appreciated, though. We're travelling "middle of the road" - no Casa Particulars, but about $150 a night for the hotel, so not extravagant either. Just a simple weekend of exploring somewhere none of us has been.
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Old Apr 18, 17, 5:33 am
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Like anywhere, cash is appreciated as a tip for taxi drivers or anyone who may help you out. But, if you want to bring gifts, aim for things that are expensive or difficult for Cubans to purchase. Cubans need many things from abroad, tobacco isn't one of them. As for things like tylenol, we usually bring whatever over-the-counter items that we might need for the trip and leave any unused items for the hotel maid to keep, give away or sell as they see fit. However, I think you'd get strange looks if you just walked up to people and gave them a bottle of tylenol.

Clothing on the other hand is generally appreciated. So, if you have some gently used items that you'd like to donate, take them along. Hotel maids get most of the donations because it is easier to leave them in the room with a note, but people like hotel gardeners are also generally grateful to accept clothing, ball caps, etc.. As for chocolate, remember that Cuba is hot, so it may just melt into a gooey mess.

As mentioned, always carry small packs of tissue since TP can be in short supply.
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Old Apr 18, 17, 5:49 am
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It's gonna be 85-90 degrees F. Bring chocolate. Brilliant!

"If I can leave, say, some unusual American candy..."
Did you love the last sample of Chinese candy your coworker brought back from his/her trip home? Or just spit it out as fast as possible?
----
"I don't know what's there's shortages of, and what's appreciated, though."

BSB traveller has excellent advice.

The first thing to understand is that Cuban people, particularly Havana and in tourist areas like Varadero, are not lacking as they were in 1990 (the Special Period just after the Soviets stopped helping).
People who work in the tourist sector in any capacity, including maids, are pretty well off.
Tip in cash and let them buy what they want. Most "stuff" you bring will not be used, but sold for much less than full value.
In fact, many Cubans are out of the habit of running to the pharmacy for Tylenol and such and will not use it at all. They tend to use herbal remedies though. My casa hosts (friends after a couple of trips) knew what naprosyn is and still didn't want my Aleve, but said (like someone who lived through the great depression in the US) they'd keep it and try to find someone, maybe an old person, who'd use it.
Sweets are not lacking either. There is "helado" (ice cream) sold on the street everywhere, for example.
The fishermen were shoulder to shoulder on the malecon wall a week ago. Every one of them had a better surf casting rod than mine (and mine is pretty good). They just can't run out to K-Mart to buy some little plastic worms or shiny metal fishes for bait.

People tend to smoke more cigarsn, less cigarettes.Good cigars (Cohiba) go for 10 CUC each. Guy/woman on the street smokes cheap ones.

(Once you know people pretty well, your options to buy the high quality clothes, or specific plumbing supplies or car parts, stuff that is not so easily come by, expand.)
Again, tip generously in cash.
----
You are going for a long weekend, presumably in Havana. You do not need "a roll" of anything. Bring a couple of packets of Kleenex maybe. Or pay the woman at the restroom door who's making money selling toilet paper.
----
Take a look at www.lahabana.com for music and restaurants. Decent food may be harder to come by than in many places you may have traveled. You don't need/want to rely on a taxi driver making a commission to steer you to someplace that may or may not be good.
Lots of great music. Check the monthly schedule on the site.
----
Right now exchanging dollars to Euros at home may be a good idea. Then change to CUC in Cuba.
U$100=88 Euros=91 CUC
U$100=87 CUC direct, because of 10% penalty applied to dollars
The airport cadeca line is very long. Some people recommend going upstairs to that cadeca for a shorter line, but they were changing only 100 CUC last week, no more.
---
Have a nice trip.

Last edited by VidaNaPraia; Apr 18, 17 at 8:05 pm
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Old Apr 19, 17, 7:06 am
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What they really want is your cash, so if you are so generous dish out your cash!
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Old Apr 21, 17, 8:27 pm
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Giving "gifts" is often seen as patronizing (which it is). Cash is king.
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Old Apr 21, 17, 9:00 pm
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Thanks for all the input I've gotten here. Obviously, it looks like the best gratuities are given in the form of good old fashioned cash, so I'll make sure to have plenty of small denomination CUC.

For whatever reason, I had it in my head that the shortages there were far more intense than they appear to actually be - I didn't realize that most small goods were indeed available as long as you had the cash for them.
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Old Apr 22, 17, 8:20 am
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A pharmacy in Vinales (lots of stuff, but lots of the same stuff)
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Old Apr 22, 17, 8:22 am
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A small store in Havana (pay in CUC)
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Old Apr 22, 17, 8:28 am
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Some people can afford to keep a fish tank, so stores for this exist Name:  DSCN0314.jpg
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Old Apr 22, 17, 8:33 am
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Neighborhood daily outdoor market (Prices in local currency CUP/peso; typical salary is about 720 CUP/month or 30CUC) They use pounds/lb for weight, but meters for length.
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Last edited by VidaNaPraia; Apr 22, 17 at 8:39 am
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Old Apr 22, 17, 8:34 am
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Meat section of outdoor market
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Old Apr 25, 17, 1:47 pm
  #15  
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Confirming Customs info...

Okay.. one more question:

After reading the stickied thread, browsing the US CBP site, and a few others, it looks like bring goods back from Cuba is allowed as long as it's for personal use, and under $800 in value (simplified version).

I anticipate bringing back three bottles of Rum (1 for personal use, 2 as gifts), and less than $100 in misc souvenirs (nothing agricultural or otherwise restricted). This, as near as I can tell, doesn't violate any rules, right? (The "12 reasons" discussion aside).

I'll be returning through LAX and am GE, but want to make sure I'm in the clear with my plans.

Thanks.

Last edited by Presguy; Apr 25, 17 at 1:53 pm
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