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12 Tips for Travelers to Cuba (Part Two) Posted in December 20, 2015

Havana VIP door Tips for Travelers to Cuba

Tips for Travelers to Cuba (part two)

This is the second part of our of our series offering expert advice and tips for travelers to Cuba.If you didn’t read the first part, go here.

As we said before, although visiting Cuba may (for the time-being) seem novel and exotic to U.S. travelers, everyone else in the world has been traveling to Cuba for decades. Consequently, there is a well-worn Cuban trail of tourist traps and pitfalls, that can easily be avoided with some advance preparation.

7) Cash is King in Communist Cuba.

If there is one tip for travelers to Cuba that is the most important it’s this: Bring Plenty of Cash, either U.S. Dollars or Euros. Travelers checks are not accepted anywhere, and while some U.S. based credit cards are now usable in Cuba, many places lack the infrastructure to be able to accept them. We’ve seen too many travelers not bring along enough cash thinking they could use credit cards or ATMs, only to end-up having to curtail their activities for lack of funds.

Tip: If you travel to Cuba via a third country (Bahamas, Mexico, Canada), set aside $25 CUC per person that will be required at the end of your trip for airport departure tax.  If you travel through us directly from the US, you don’t need to worry about this.

8) In Cuba Only Change Money at a Hotel or Cadeca (Casa de Cambio).

Currency exchange scams on foreigners are common in Cuba. Confusingly, Cuba has two systems of currency, the Cuban Peso (CUP) referred to as Moneda Nacional, and the Convertible Peso (CUC), which is the currency travelers will use most. While the nominal exchange rate of the CUC is equal to the U.S. Dollar and is the currency foreigners use most. At current exchange rates, $1.00 USD equals $0.87 CUC. The CUP can be used by Foreigners and Cubans alike to purchase goods and services outside the tourism sector, and is valued at 24 CUP to 1 CUC.

A great souvenir tip for travelers to Cuba: The 3 CUP note and coin have a portrait of Ché Guevara on them and make for nifty souvenirs. They are often “sold” to tourists at inflated values as a scam. The value of 3 CUP in U.S. Dollars is 12.5 cents.  Here’s what a three CUP note looks like:

Havana VIP Tours example of the Cuban Peso Note

9) Average Taxi Fare in Havana is $8 CUC.

Negotiate cab fares up front and before you enter the car. A ride between La Habana Vieja and El Vedado should be about $8 CUC and a longer trip to Miramar around $10 CUC. No fare in greater Havana should be more than $12 CUC. The going rate to or from Havana’s José Martí International Airport is $30 CUC. When in doubt in Havana call a yellow government operated Cubataxi at 855-5555, and ask the driver turn on the meter.

10) In Cuba Use Street Sense: Anyone who strikes up a conversation with “Hello My Friend, Where You From?” is not really your friend.

As a general rule anyone on the streets of Cuba who greets you using this phrase is a street hustler (JINETERO in Cuban slang). He hopes to somehow make money off of you, usually in the form of commissions paid by Casas Particulares and Paladares he’ll tout. If you adopt the right attitude, dealing and talking with Jineteros can be amusing. When the amusement wears-off, politely but firmly ask him to leave you be. If he doesn’t buzz-off, flag down the nearest police officer and “your friend” will disappear.

When it comes to protecting tourists and travelers on the street, Cuban Police are very effective and NOT corrupt (especially in comparison to other Latin American countries). In all other matters, however, like filing out paperwork for a lost passport, or a crashed rental car, put all your plans aside and expect mind-numbing hours of delay. Super important tips for travelers to Cuba when it comes to dealing with Cuban authorities: Never try to bribe a Cuban cop. Period. ‘Nuf said.

Compared to all other destinations in Latin America, Cuba is very safe when it comes to violent street crime against tourists. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule, so be cautious and use common sense.

11) Assume That All Cigars Sold on the Street Are FAKES.

Tips for travelers to Cuba to successfully buy real brand name cigars on the Black Market are impossible. Face it: All cigars you can buy off the street are F-A-K-E! And the cigars that your driver, tour guide, or new friend whom you met on the Malecón wants to sell you and swears are real, aren’t. Even if the box looks perfect and has the seals and everything. If you want real Cuban cigars, be prepared to pay handsomely for them, and only buy them from a Casa de Habanos, the official brand name of the Cuban Government cigar stores.

The most convenient place to buy cigars to take home to the U.S. is in the duty-free store in airport the departure lounge. They have all the popular brands and sizes, and you don’t have to lug them around your whole time in Cuba. U.S. travelers to Cuba may import to the U.S. up to 2 liters of Rum and up to 50 cigars for a combined total value of $100.00 USD.

All that being said, scoring cigars off the street can be a fun “clandestine” adventure. And they can often be good smokes. They’re still Cuban cigars, just not $400 Cohibas. If you decide to go for it, exercise common sense: be careful; bring a buddy; and assume what again?… that they’re not the real thing (no matter what the Jinetero selling them says). Spend only as much as you are comfortable LOSING. Around $25.00 per box is a good price.

12) When in Cuba Smile, Have Fun, and Dive-in deeply.

Finally, some attitude tips for travelers to Cuba: You’re visiting one of the liveliest, most fascinating places on the planet. Keep a positive adventurous outlook. If you want to dance in the streets with a group of Rumberos you stumble upon, then shake your booty – even if you don’t know the steps. If you want to discuss Proust over a game of chess with an old man in the park, have at it. And if you want to dive into the water off the Malecón seawall go for it (just be sure you jump where the Cubans kids do – where the water’s deep enough).

That’s all for now. If you have questions after reading this post, check out our answers to you Cuba travel questions, or  Contact us now to set-up you trip to Cuba.

Tips for Travelers to Cuba - Havana VIP
12 Tips for Travelers to Cuba (Part One)
Havana VIP Tours Malecon Day
Cuba Travel Tips – Responses to Your Questions
Lisa Cashion Schreiber

They were very organized and we experienced some truly authentic Cuban experiences- highly recommend

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Claudine Rosetti

5 stars for sure! Since I found Havana VIP via an internet search, Tony was very patient in our 45 minute introductory phone call to reassure me that his company was not only legitimate but that they had been in business for over 13 years and knew the ins and outs of Cuban travel for American citizens. Our group ranged in age from 13 to 75 (Grandma~ my mother, came along and she rode a horse in Vinales. Edwardo, our...

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Jane Hammond

We have just returned from a trip to Cuba, arranged by Tony and HavanaVIP. Three couples traveled to Trinidad and Havana, with a particular focus on upcoming Cuban artists. Every plan and arrangement happened flawlessly - guides and drivers were always on time, helpful and endlessly cheerful. Ernesto was our first guide in Trinidad, and he could not have given us a nicer introduction to this amazing country - both the history, and the social state of things today. Attending...

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Nick Nicastro

I can’t recommend HavanaVIP highly enough if you plan to visit Cuba (as you should, and soon!) The island of course is fascinating and friendly and full of interest. But I particularly wanted to mention what great friends our guides Eduardo, Adrian, Mario, Natasha and Olivia became to us. They were beyond compassionate to the needs of my mobility-impaired wife. Tony was always forthcoming and helpful, even as our plans changed due to health circumstances. And HavanaVIPs local connections got...

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Alain Rossmann

A memorable experience, great planning and local execution by Havana VIP.

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Glo Harris

My daughter and I travelled together. She was celebrating her 50th BIRTHDAY. From beginning to end this 5 day trip was magical: planning with Tony was seamless, he took care of each detail just as we discussed, his knowledge of Havana was thorough and his attitude patient and sensitive...and I can be annoying with myriad questions. The guides were the best we have had anywhere, the accommodations on the Malecon comfortable. We particularly enjoyed going to individual artists' galleries, most...

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Rob Boffard

Havana VIP sorted our honeymoon for us. Tony was a pleasure to deal with, and the activities he sorted out for us were perfect. Our guides - Kenia, Ginetet, Eduardo - and drivers - Damaso, Darvel, Eduardo - worked overtime to make us happy. Would highly recommend this company if you ever head to Cuba; they know what they're doing, and they make things simple. Unbelievable trip.

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Santiago Hermes

La Galería Santiago Hermes considera que la agencia Havana VIP realiza un buen trabajo en la promoción de la autenticidad cubana

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Martha Whetstone

We just got back from Cuba and we highly recommend Havana VIP. The quality of the trip was first rate. The guides and drivers were just great and all went out of their way to make our trip run smoothly. The accommodations were all comfortable and we enjoyed our conversations with our hosts. We felt like we really got to see a variety of cities, towns, and countryside. We traveled with two doctors and the guide arranged for us to...

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Martel Angelo Postell
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Jacqueline Postell

Havana VIP made every aspect of travelling to Cuba a breeze. Working with Tony was effortless. Tony and I spoke about the things we were interested in experiencing and then was able to create a seamless itinerary that was startlingly impressive. We met the kindest people; our tour guide, Jorge Gonzalez Estrada and driver, Eduardo, were so knowledgeable, accommodating and welcoming, we felt like family by the end of the trip. The flow of the activities were well timed and...

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Adrián Lamela Aragonés
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Lisa Mastronardi

Imagine hosting 25 friends and family in Havana in August for a 50th birthday celebration. Imagine most of these guys are well traveled, international, seasoned jet setters and you are going to try and wow them with a great adventure. What is a girl to do? Hire the best.

The Havana VIP team both in the US and in Havana knocked it out of the park.

Great housing, fantastic excursions, customized itinerary, amazing experiences,...

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Cara Hogan

Havana VIP Tours did a fantastic job with our trip. My husband and I loved how everything was handled smoothly from the moment we arrived in Cuba until we left. The housing, the tour guides, the drivers, the dinners, and more were all fantastic and well planned out. We learned so much about Cuban culture and history and met some amazing people along the way. If you're looking for an immersive, informative and fun experience of Cuba, this is the...

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Brocky OA

Tony & Havana VIP Tours did an outstanding job from inquiry to finish. We couldn't have asked for more. We were 8 people traveling (4 cousins) whose grandmother & aunts & uncles lived in Havana for 4 years prior to being allowed to enter the US from 1922 - 1926. So we decided to visit where they lived. My wife found the address & we said let's go. We contacted Tony and explained about our journey that we wanted. Tony...

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Josh Poling

My wife and I traveled to Cuba with my parents in November 2016. Tony and Havana did a great job coordinating a custom trip to meet our interests. All of the guides and drivers they set up were very professional. I honestly can't imagine travelling to Cuba any other way! We made sure all of our guides knew we wanted to experience the real Cuba and get off the beaten path, and they were always more than happy to oblige....

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Nancy Pettersen

From our first conversation with Tony we felt we were in the right hands. He listened to what we wanted down to small details like food and music, customizing our trip for 4 adults. The wonderful Cuban people who guided us through Trinidad, Cienfuegos, and Havana were interesting and a great highlight, even down to our Havana driver Pedro who was so much fun. We found our days informative, educational and great fun filled with history, culture and the arts...

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Elizabeth Furst Frank

Tony organized a fantastic family visit to Havana for us. Magalys was a wonderful guide - full of information, always on time, and very friendly. Lidice gave a family cooking lesson in traditional Cuban food. And we loved our family salsa dancing lesson as well. We highly recommend Tony and his team.

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Lj Pruitt

I struggled with finding a tour operator that understood the new laws for Americans to legally travel to Cuba. I called Havana VIP Tours and was pleasantly surprised to speak with someone that knew more than me – Tony. In addition, it was clear that Tony had a deep knowledge of places and things to do in Cuba.

We are a family of 4 ranging in age from 15 years to 83 years. Our interests are...

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James West III

Having traveled extensively, allow me to say that in all aspects the service provided by Havana VIP Tours was the probably the best in all aspects; Communication, Logistics,Transportation, Lodging, On the ground support services, and, well, everything. Tony laid out what was to be offered in the Tour package, and unlike many in the business, he delivered to the most minute of details. His coordination of Flights was well taken care of, as well as necessary Visas. He communicated what...

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Judith Chevalier

We visited three cities and Tony arranged the housing and the transportation and a number of experiences for us. We are a family of 5 and the kids range from 19 to 7, but everybody was very happy with the places we stayed and the activities we had. We really did get to meet a number of interesting people and got a closer look at life in Cuba than we would have if we had set it up on our...

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Mercedes Sera
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Paul Audia

An amazing experience from start to finish.

From the planning of the trip to the people we met and guided us through the country, this was an educational and informative trip filled with Cuban culture, history, and Art.

I'm not big on planned trips but I am so glad we found you and your team for this experience! Thank you!

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Deisy Suarez

Tony is the best ! He arranged a 5 day havana tour for me and my friends. We stayed at a private house and ate at the best local places. Our driver was amazing and couldn't recommend any other concierge company in havana. Our experience was truly magical and unique.

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Stephanie Marsh
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Linda Meier

Tony arranged a 2 1/2 week custom visit to Cuba in March for four couples. We stayed only in "casas", frequently ate in private restaurants, visited with families and were very pleased with our itinerary. I would agree that of all the wonderful experiences we had, the people themselves and their stories and friendliness were the highlight. I would highly recommend using Havana VIP to organize a customized trip free of hassle and complete with backup support should it be...

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Jennifer Brandenburg

Our visit to Cuba was a fabulous experience. We learned so much about its interesting history, rich arts and culture through a very full and diverse set of daily activities. Our interactions with Cuban people were insightful. The trip took a lot of advance planning and precise scheduling by Tony and his Havana VIP Tours team. Our guides and drivers, as well as our hosts at the casa particulares, all took good care of us – special recognition for Hector,...

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Pat Topitzer

Tony arranged our 8 day visit and he completely hit itout of the park. We presented something of a challenge... 2 no-longer-young grandparents with their 23 year old granddaughter. and one of us had some significant physical challenges as well. Between the guides and the drivers, the lodgings, restaurant recommendations, the itinerary, I cannot imagine we could have been any more thrilled with our first visit to Cuba, The people, of course, are the major draw in our view, but...

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C Cybele Raver

Tony and his team were terrific- we felt lucky to be so fully immersed in art, culture, and history while visiting Havana and Trinidad. Tony listened closely to our preferences and interests, providing us with excellent itinerary, superb guest-house stays, talented and engaging tour guides, and warm and helpful drivers for ground transport.

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