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Cuba: what to bring for gifts, getting $, and going to Trinidad

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Going to Cuba in February. Old posts say bring soap. What kind of consumer goods are hard to come by there which I could give to people for small gifts of appreciation? I have heard people can be jailed for pan handling so to give gifts not money.

Are there any ATMs for Canadian bank cards? How widely is Visa used? Is it possible to eat in cuban restaurants or are we limited to the resorts? (Experience of a friend who went there 10 years ago0.

We plan to take a package 3 days in Havana and 4 days in Varaderos then go independent travel to Trinidad, and possibly also Cienfuegos and/or Santiago. Should we book a car from here or rent there? Same question for hotels?

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    Where I have eaten and had good food in Havana.

    1) EL ALJIBE in Miramar offers a great house specialty, Lemon Chicken. Grand and not too pricey. Their wine selection isn't too bad either. Mostly from Torres, a Spanish company, but good none the less.

    2) EL FLORIDITA in Habana Vieja (Old Havana) serves the absolute BEST frozen daquiri imaginable. But at $6.00 per drink it is a little pricey. But that is the bar and drink made famous by Hemmingway and for it's historic note, and lots of photos of Papa Hemingway on the walls (with Fidel no less) is neat. Food is pretty good as well, but I have only eaten in the bar section, not the dining room.

    3) EL PATIO in Plaza de la Catedral (Cathedral Square in Habana Vieja) is also great. You can dine inside or outside in the square under unbrellas. I have always preferred the outside because the music isn't quite as loud, and also I simply love to soak up the atmosphere in the Plaza. Service can be a bit slow however. I often stop here for lunch (Sandwich Cubano) with a cold Crystal Beer. Very nice.

    If you are in Havana and want a great Mojita at the legendary bar made famous by Ernest hemmingway, then you have to have a drink at The Bodeguita Del Medio, Empedrado 207, Habana Vieja (Old Havana). Comida Criolla y Mojitos (Native food and Mojitos), what a great place to eat and drink. Located just around the corner from Cathedral Square. The walls are covered with signatures of its patrons from the day it opened. Famous signatures such as Hemmingway's and Salvadore Allende's are protected under glass. No visit to Havana is complete without a Mojito at the Bodeguita.

    5) LA DIVINA PASTORA. Tucked into the berth of the sailing ship El Galeón at the foot of El Morro Castle, it is a good spot for dinner after the cañonazo (cannon blast) at La Cabaña. I took my girlfriend here and the atmosphere is terrific. Soft breeze, soft music and soft lips. What a treat. Very romantic spot with the lights of the harbor glimmering. The food is good too. Not a place where you have paid for the view and get substandard fare. Worth every penny, though it does take quite a few of them. If you only have one night and want to make it special, then this is the place to go.

    In addition, on Calle Obispo in Old Havana there are many outdoor cafes and other cafes as well. My favourite of these are just off the edge of Plaza de Armas at the corner of Obispo and Oficios. There are three cafes in a row. Cafe La Mina, Casa del Agua la Tinaja, and Dulceria Dona Teresa. All offer good food and great ambience on the outdoor patios.

    You must think all I do is eat, but it is a great hobby. Also in six trips I have found some nice spots and plan to spend the time just relaxing and absorbing the atmosphere.

    Have fun and FORGET THE DIET...... ha, ha, ha.

    I haven't ever seen an ATM machine for Canadian bank cards in Cuba. Visa and Mastercard are used in major hotels and SOME restaurants. Ask first as it is embarrasing when they don't take it after you have eaten.

    Take LOTS and LOTS of film. Many things to photograph.

    I take small gifts of toiletries etc. Fragrant soaps, toothpaste etc. Also I carry a small Spanish/English dictionary with me and never have I returned home with it. It is always appreciated when you leave the dictionary (about $7.95 and Coles) because if there English gets better, it opens up a better job for them in the tourism industry. A hand up, not a hand out always brings a smile.

    have fun and enjoy yourself


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    My husband and I just returned from a week in Havana and I can report that any toiletries are appreciated including: soap, shampoo, shaving cream, toothpaste and brushes, makeup...these items are scarce and very expensive. Also, hard to afford on the average Cubans 'salary'. In addition to the restaurants listed by the other poster I would try eating at one of the paladars (private home that serves food). We ate at a good one--El Huron Azul near the National Hotel on Humboldt Street. Good luck!

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    Re: cash

    The ATM's which I have seen did NOT take Mastercard but Visa drawn on a UK bank was OK.

    So take a Visa card drawn on a Canadian or UK bank. The ATM's are few. There is one in the shopping centre Melia Las Americas halfway down the Varadero strip.

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