Shopping in Havana
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Until recent times, shopping lists in Cuba were short: puros habanos (cigars) and rum. In recent years the availability of an increasing number of products on the market has changed the landscape. While prices are prohibitive to most locals, even cellular phones are now available to Cubans. The result of a slow-but-sure openness has also resulted in more shopping opportunities for tourists.
Look for muñequitas, little dolls representing orishas. Handmade goods—from wood and leather items to terra-cotta pieces—cinema posters and other graphics, musical instruments, and photographs from the Revolutionary period also make interesting buys. The light-cotton men's shirt known as the guayabera is Cuba's national garment, worn by everyone from taxi drivers to El Comandante himself. Practical (side pockets) and elegant (embroidered), the guayabera is worn loose (not tucked in) for coolness, and is considered flattering to middle-age figures.
The state agencies ARTEX and Fondo de Bienes Culturales have shops throughout Havana that sell postcards, books, CD's, cassettes, rum, cigars, and crafts. La Habana: Touristic and Commercial Guide, a booklet published by Infotur, lists the locations of the city's many Tiendas Panamericanas, which sell toiletries and other basic items.
Bargaining is expected, but unlike shopkeepers in other countries where this is true, Cubans ask very low prices to begin with and don't move far. It generally feels better to pay the extra dollar or two. At this juncture, it means a lot more in Cuban hands than in yours.
Because of the trade embargo, if you're caught bringing Cuban goods into the U.S., customs could confiscate them, and you could be subject to penalties. Even Americans who are visiting Cuba with a general or specific license or on a fully hosted basis are subject to strict limitations on the total amount they're allowed to spend daily—for hotels, meals, transportation, and Cuban goods—and customs officials may ask to see receipts.
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