Cuba questions

Old Dec 19th, 2003, 08:13 AM
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Cuba questions

I'm so excited because on the 28th I am leaving for a week in Varadero Cuba (We are from Canada!). We will be staying at a resort on the beach, but will spend most of our days doing stuff like tours to Havana and Trinidad. In preparation for our trip we have been doing some reading which has raised some questions.

1. Is it true that we should take lots of American dollars as these are what is used mostly for purchases? Are pesos any use or will they be rejected because we are tourists?

2. Are there reliable ATMs or should we bring all the cash we intend to use?

3. The $25 US exit tax - can this be paid by Credit Card or must it be US dollars cash?

4. The tourist card we need to have. Will this be issued on our arrival at the airport immigration (as it is in the Dominican Republic) or should I be trying to get these before departure here in Toronto?

Thanks for all you help!
Matrexx is offline  
Old Dec 19th, 2003, 08:38 AM
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Hola Matrexx:
I'll try and answer your questions in order.
1) American dollars are widely used in Cuba. I take lots of $1.00 bills because these are so handy for tips. There are TWO types of Pesos in use in Cuba. The Cuban peso which is used domestically and has an exchange rate (black market) of about 25:1 with the US Dollar. Generally you will never use Cuban pesos. Then there is the CONVERTIBLE PESO, which has an exchange rate of 1:1 with the US dollar. These are in widespread use. Often you will get them in change when you spend money. However these Convertible Pesos cannot be exchanged back into US dollars. So what I do is take no US bills larger than a $20, and any convertible change I get I spend first, before using my next US bill. That way, I never get stuck with any convertible pesos at the end of my vacation. Any that I am left with I use in the duty free at the airport, or to have a cold beer in the departure lounge.

2) I have heard that there is an ATM in Varadero, but not sure where it is or reliability issue. I always use cash or credit card. If using credit card, ask FIRST if it will be accepted. Not all establishments take them, and it would not be good to have finished dinner and then find out you can't pay for it.

3)The exit tax of $25.00 US MUST be payed by CASH in US DOLLARS. Ironically, they will NOT take the Convertible Peso for this. Also note, that any OVERWEIGHT penalty that might be imposed if your suitcases are too heavy when leaving must also be paid in CASH ONLY. No credit cards are allowed to be used for overweight penalties.

4)The Cuban Tourist Card (Tourist Visa) will normally be provided by your TA when you get your tickets. Check with your TA on this. If not, it can be purchased when you CHECK IN here in Canada. It costs $36.00 CAN ($25.00 USD)and you MUST have it before you leave Canada. I've always got mine with my tickeds, with the only exception being when I purchased my flight ticked directly from the Cubana check in counter at YYZ. Then I got the Visa there.

Hope this answers your questions and I wish you a great holiday in Cuba.

Feliz Navidad y Feliz Año Nuevo
(Merry Christmas and Happy New Year)
Canuck_at_Canada_eh is offline  
Old Dec 20th, 2003, 02:53 PM
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Hi Steve - Thank you for so patiently answering all my questions. I was hoping to get your responses as a fellow Canadian.

I will make sure to take lots of US Dollars with me. Though, I'm glad that I'll be able to use the convertible pesos instead as I hate having to pay in a different currency than domestic (pet peeve when people are shocked that US dollars aren't accepted in Europe!).

Oh - One more question - anything essential that should not be forgotten when packing besides the obvious like appropriate clothing, sun block etc?

Thanks in advance,

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Old Dec 20th, 2003, 08:21 PM
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Hola Louisa:

Glad to be of help. However as to your question of what is absolutely essential is hard to answer as it is really different for each person. For me essentials are my prescription medications, cameras, English/Spanish dictionary, Bottle of Canadian Whiskey for the Cuban family I stay with in Havana (they love our Whiskey, we love their Rum..... good trade!!!), AfterBite for those pesky mosquitos if you happen to get bit, Immodium, map if you have one, hat for shade, and small gifts for some of the people you meet.

As I say, it's so variable other than to say that you will probably overpack on your first trip, and fine tune your stuff on subsequent trips. I am now down to taking a single suitcase for my needs, and a second fully stuffed suitcase for my Cuban friends. I have many friends in the Toronto Cuban ex-pat community so I take down small presents from them to their families. It's real fun for me to play "Santa" when I get there and hand out all the care packages from Canada.

I know this doesn't really directly answer your question, but I hope it helps.
Enjoy the Cuban experience.
p.s. The next post is also from me. It is a listing of "What to take" that was compiled by another poster on another forum and I though it was good so I saved it to my computer. It should help you as well.
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Old Dec 20th, 2003, 08:25 PM
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Cuba... what to take. Copied and Posted from Debbie's Cuba forum.

Going to Cuba - the big list - suggestions of what to take and what to pack Posted 9-7-2002 18:28

Every once in a while, someone asks for info and I try to help out by supplying this enormous list. And, yes, I have saved it to disc. I apologize to those who've seen it many times! For those who haven't, I hope you find something useful!
I've been to Cuba 10 times so far , through the Caribbean, and parts of S.A. and Europe, and have found the following things to be quite useful. Be warned it's huge, we normally travel for 2 week periods or more, you'll know what you'll need for your own vacation.

Check out for great Cuba info.

BTW - pack your tweezers, nail scissors, razors, and cigar cutter in your CHECKED baggage. (God forbid anyone should mug you and use them to threaten the pilots with plucking, trimming, shaving, or loss of their digits, during your flight) for they will be seized by customs when you leave Canada and you'll be getting all hairy on holiday.

Take all your toiletries (shampoo, toothpaste, shower gel, deodorant, razors, shave cream, SUNSCREEN SPF 30 even in the shade! etc.) with you. Some things are available imported from Spain, Germany, Netherlands, China but they're pricey and unless you're multilingual you won't be able to read the label.

Imagine any and all things that could go wrong healthwise (only stuff that you can treat yourself!) and take along the appropriate medical supplies - you won't be able to get anything very easily if at all in Cuba. And you'll feel guilty about taking it away from the under-supplied doctors in the hotels and hospitals if they even have what you need. At the end of your trip, if you can afford to, give your supplies away to Cubans who need it, especially those with children. All too often they don't have medicines to treat something as simple as a scrape or a fever, so they really appreciate your contributions. Just make sure they understand how and when to use them and have someone explain it to them if they don't understand English. Original packaging with instructions is very important. It's also not a good idea to travel to foreign countries with your meds NOT in their original containers (think US FDA on your ass). I get syringes from my doctor with needles for taking blood and receiving injections because I'm THAT paranoid. Wonderful doctors in Cuba, no supplies. I also get a prescription for Amoxicillan for each of us, just in case, and consult a doctor before beginning the medication. If you give away your antibiotic pills, give them to a doctor only please! They may sell it, but at least someone who shouldn't use it won't use it!

Pitch the fresh fruit you took for a snack on the plane before you land in Cuba. They'll pull you over and inspect your luggage if you don't eat your apple, orange, etc. When you've just arrived in paradise you don't want to be delayed or inconvenience your fellow travelers waiting on the bus.

After you retrieve your luggage, use the loo if you have a long transfer, and proceed to find your tour rep who'll be waiting with a sign bearing the logo of your tour operator. They'll indicate which bus to get on, and if you use a porter, make sure your luggage makes it on the same bus as you. The bus is usually air-conditioned and sometimes has a toilet on-board. Your bus will likely have a Cuban tour rep to accompany you on the trip and will give an intro to your vacation and will usually offer water, beer or soft drinks for about $1. You'll have to wait for your fellow travelers going to the same resort to clear customs and immigration before heading off to your hotel. When you arrive, it's time to check-in with reception. Be sure to get your card for your beach towels and arrange for the in-room safe.

In your carry on
* tickets - passport - birth certificates - insurance docs - health cards - you get the idea... I think it's really important to always carry a current picture of your kids with you AT ALL TIMES - it makes me feel sick to even suggest that anyone's child might disappear at any time but having that photo could be an immeasurable help - small container with a couple each of gravol, Advil, Pepto Bismol - sweater (air conditioning) - prescription meds - bathing suit (if your luggage is lost, you can wait for it in the pool)

First aid kit to include
* Advil - Tylenol - Advil Cold & Sinus (yes, you can catch a cold on the plane from other people) - band aids - Polysporin (my daughter fell in a hedge of rose bush once and was shredded) - Polysporin Eye Drops - Auralgan ear drops and silicone ear plugs (hubby had ear infection from hell for 2 weeks, wanted to die) - Gravol tablets (in your carryon) - throat lozenges - Cortate for rashes/skin irritations - tensor bandage for sprains, thermometer - Pepto Bismol - Imodium (if you suspect it's food related take the Pepto just to firm things up - if it's a bacteria, you don't want to seize it up, you'll just feel terrible for a longer period of time) - sore throat lozenges - BENADRYL tablets and AFTER BITE in case you get bitten by anything to control the itch, or have an allergic reaction - * Oragel - especially if you haven't been to the dentist recently

* always take your Deep Woods Off or equivalent in the non aerosol pump bottle. Caribbean mosquitoes don't seen to be put off by the Off Skintastic or citronella of any type. Go for the heavy-duty stuff but no more than 23.75% DEET. And buy an extra bottle in the summer if you think you might go away in the winter because you won't be able to buy it then. Don't sleep with it on, take a shower, especially the kids.
* if you get a heat/sun rash, keep it clean and dry. It clears up best when you put nothing on it, except of course that during the day you'll have to put sunscreen on or cover up completely - Benadryl helps here also
* pack your stuff in Ziploc/Glad freezer bags. No leaks. Wet beach stuff.
* take a small bottle with liquid laundry detergent for washing clothes in the bathroom sink. Stain remover stick or wipes. Throw in a few plastic clothes pegs and some kitchen string to hang it up to dry in case your room does not have a line over the tub. Shake them out before you bring them in off the balcony to get rid of any bugs that may have landed there.
* shake your shoes out before you put them on in case any critters have taken refuge in them.
* pool toys like waterbeds and blow up sharks. You can sip your drink and not have to walk to the swim up bar when your legless, just paddle over, and your kids will make friends cause pool toys are kid magnets. Just make sure you take them back to the room. And consider leaving them behind for a Cuban child, just imagine how popular they'll be!
* we take our own snorkeling equipment and fins and kids lifejackets and save ourselves the hassle of one hour limits/poor equip quality/lack of availability in some resorts.
* purchase your own life jackets from Zellers for the kids and pack them in a garbage bag to bring them home in. That way, they can snorkel too or bounce in the waves at the beach, without you panicking. All too often, the lifejackets available are really grungy and not the right size for the little ones. Ditto for the snorkeling equipment. If you're serious about your snorkeling, get a flag/float.
* when you're swimming in the ocean way out or diving, don't wear yellow, don't wear jewelry, don't swim very early morning or dusk way way out on your own. Before heading way way way out, look for signs of large schools of baitfish or swooping birds as much bigger fish might follow. We've never ever seen a shark, not even on snorkeling excursions, but we've never been way way way way out either. We have seen plenty of barracuda, even bounced off a mask, but no incidents to date.
* UNDERWATER DISPOSABLE CAMERAS, along with your good one - swim with the dolphins, snorkel, and goof on in the pool. Great shots. No sand in the 35mm.
* take your own large cup for drinks. A little vote for the environment and you won't have to make so many trips to the bar.
* take your own face washcloths if you use them. I have yet to get one in a Cuban hotel. Or better yet, and not so environmentally friendly, large square MakeOffs cotton pads make great travel facecloths and don't need to be washed out and dried.
* use your in-room safe. We've never had a single thing stolen from our rooms but why tempt fate? Even shoes left on the beach and a kite we left on the bus from the airport were returned. Other travelers are usually how things go missing in Cuba so be smart.
* windsurfing stores carry great accessories for keeping valuables safe while in the water and on your person
* baby wipes in your carry on for wiping anything
* a friend of mine made a great suggestion for you girls prone to, dare I say, yeast infections. Take a package of one-day Monistat and your vacation won't be so messed up.
* a flashlight. That late night trip to the beach can be very, very dark, don't fall in any holes or step on any lizards.
* corkscrew - were you planning on sucking that cork out?
* travel alarm clock (once arrived in Cartegena on a Friday afternoon, got dressed for the evening out and decided to take an hour nap before the dancing... woke up Saturday at noon!) Some rooms have clock radios, some don't. Sometimes wake up calls don't happen.
* thank you cards and blank cards - for notes
* for the room - Lysol wipes, stick up air freshener for the closet, small can orange air freshener for the room - the Caribbean is humid and your room might be a bit musty without the A/C on all the time. Makes a big difference.
* water shoes - especially for the kids
* headsets from your last trip
* spare battery for your camera. If your shutter slams shut and won't budge, it might be your battery.
* GameBoy for the kids
* make sure your carry on is not bigger than 16 x 20 x 9 inches and doesn't weight more than 10 lbs. .
* this last trip, for the first time, I took a very small spray bottle and filled it with Raid Earth Blends, and put it in a ziploc in carry-on - worked a charm to keep the room completely bug free as a surface spray around the doors.

I cannot reiterate it enough - leave the Amex Travelers Cheques at home. Take them on your next trip anywhere else. You WILL be refused.
On our first trip to Cuba in 1996, we brought travelers cheques and cash. They are easily exchanged at the resort reception desk. Take Visa US traveler's cheques if you choose to take them at all. Any credit cards or travelers cheques drawn on US banks are NOT accepted under any circumstances in Cuba. Expect to pay a surcharge 3 - 8% to cash them.
We quickly dispensed with taking travelers cheques and simply take about $500US cash for a family of three per week.
We've never been separated from our cash unwillingly. Don't be frightened. Tourist related crimes are virtually non-existent, and if you do get caught out, it's usually been a fellow traveler, not a Cuban resident. Once, we even forgot to lock our in-room safe - left it wide open and went out for the day. The maids came in and a maintenance man and nothing was taken or touched. Everything we've ever misplaced has been returned to us, including my daughter's shoes and a hat forgotten on the beach and a kite we left on the bus on our transfer from the airport. We reported the kite to Public Relations and they were wonderful enough to make arrangements to have it brought back from Holguin City to us in Guardalavaca. Most rooms have in-room safes, check your brochures. Cuba is an extraordinarily safe place to vacation compared to other destinations in the Caribbean and the rest of the world for that matter.
$20US per person is required upon exiting Cuba, cash only.
You can obtain cash advances on your credit card from a bank, should you run out. I'd recommend going with a chunk of cash and back up of US Visa travelers cheques. Banks are located in tourist areas and sometimes in hotels. Your rep has all the details upon arrival.
Go to your tour rep's orientation meeting. You'll be informed of details about excursions, your all inclusive, and have the opportunity to ask any questions you may have. Your rep has a binder in the lobby of the hotel that lists their days off and when they are available in your hotel, their telephone number, departure info, excursion, history, tips and other info. The hotel reception can help you reach your rep should you require their assistance. It's extremely unlikely that the excursion reps will accept travelers cheques directly. You may, however, be able to pay by Visa or MasterCard directly. I hesitate to use my credit card abroad, except for major purchases, but many others do so freely.
Note: it's best to book excursions with your own tour rep! That way you have a chance of a refund should any unforeseen circumstances arise.
Count on spending $6US at least for the better bottles of rum. Note your customs limit. Canada's is 2 - 750ml - bottles per person or close to 1.4 L. Cigars and artwork are also a consideration. Souvenirs in wood are popular, be careful of termites. Other than that, your basic t-shirts, caps are all you might really consider purchasing...Excursions are priced in US dollars and vary greatly depending on your destination, anywhere from $9 to a couple of hundred for overnights and flights.

Do a search at for your hotel info (web and image searches), check,, and and have a great trip. Be sure to compare your hotel choice with all the tour operators offering it - prices vary greatly, especially selloffs.

Consulate General of Cuba
5353 Dundas St. W., Toronto

Address your health concerns:
University Health Network
The Toronto General Hospital
200 Elizabeth Street, EN g-208
Toronto, Ontario M5G 2C4

Phone: (416) 340-3000
After hours emergencies: (416) 340-4800 ext. 3946 (ask for ID resident on call)
Fax: (416) 595-5826
E-mail: [email protected]

Hours (by appointment only):
Pre-travel: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday: 8:30-4:30
Tuesday and Thursday: 8:30-6:00
Post-travel: Please call (416) 340-3675 for an appointment
Acute illness: 24-hour on-call service

Unless you're doing a jungle tour or doing a lot of eating outside of your resort in local establishments, additional vaccinations are usually unnecessary. If you are planning on those types of adventures, update your vaccinations to include hepatitis and check for world health updates with a tropical medical disease centre. Use your insect repellent.

For those interested in a little philanthropy, please consider giving to those often overlooked and forgotten on and off your resort property ...
think of the gardeners and maintenance people so hard at work and are yet seemingly invisible to many. Also, families outside the resorts.. Please check with the management to ensure that they will not encounter difficulties exiting the resort with your gifts, sometimes a written note will suffice, but best to enquire. Your resort staff greatly appreciates tips and those deserving of special attention will appreciate your dollars. Take loads of US $1 bills, 5's and 10's. Tip your maid.
I've always found the following to be much needed items and always greatly appreciated ... Whenever possible, please make sure that someone can translate for the recipients. First aid supplies in original packaging in infant formulations and those that are dosaged for both adults and children. ie. chewable/tablet acetaminophen, vitamins, cough and cold tablets, Polysporin, Band-Aids, hydrogen peroxide, vitamins, Cortate cream, Oragel, toothpaste, feminine products, Pepto Bismol tablets, disposable razors, shave cream, shampoo, diapers, stain remover, laundry detergent. Also, if you have gently used or new children's clothing, shoes, hats, and towels.
And as many of us know, it can be chilly in the winter, even in Cuba... sweaters, sweatshirts, blankets, socks and such are great too and not easily accessible to many. Gum, candy, pencils, crayons, inflatable waterbeds and rings, frisbees, toys - dollar store items go over very well. Sports equip (baseball gloves, balls). Catering to the needs of children always seems to please their parents. For adults, razor blades, sanitary products, body lotions, shower gel, and laundry detergent , etc. - consider leaving behind anything you don't finish using and first aid items.
In previous lists I forgot to mention one gift that turned out to be brilliant - vegetable and herb seed packets! To grow their own! Gave them to a friend and returned the next year to find the most awesome zucchini plants I have ever seen! I also take spices from the dollar stores packed in ziploc bags with a list of appropriate foods to use them with. However, if they don't their friend thought he'd wing it with the lamb and roasted it covered in cinnamon...agh!
I often see suggestions of cosmetics, nail polish, etc. but have always found that most women, and men, for that matter, would rather come home bearing gifts for their children and extended families! Be adventurous! Happy travels to all!

ck [guest]
And.....A few words for those who wear eyeglasses Posted 9-7-2002 20:57

Caramel Mom you have included everything- and then some, but I'm sure you will not be offended if I add the following tips (and please feel free to add this to your disc).
If you wear glasses like I do, ALWAYS travel with a spare pair (you're old ones are better than none!). Also pack a small eyeglass repair kit because those tiny screws always seem to come loose when you're on vacation. Although I also have prescription sunglasses, I always take a pair of those goofy looking sunglasses that fit over regular eyeglasses- they cost less than $20.00- SolarShields is the brand and should I "misplace" my sunglasses, or someone "borrows" them without realizing they are prescription, I have some protection against the sun for my sensitive eyes. Strange how those "borrowed" sunglasses are turned in at the front desk several hours later! If you wear contact lenses (unfortunately I can't), make sure you bring an extra bottle of cleaning solution and a couple of pairs of disposable contacts. You never know when the lens might "pop out" and according to what friends tell me, it's usually when you're swimming in the ocean. Ever tried helping your friend find a contact lenses in the sand!! Which brings up the suggestion of always bringing along an extra pair of inexpensive sunglasses (great gift for a resort worker too!) because my daughter lost her sunglasses to a big wave while bodysurfing and had a devil of a time finding reasonably priced replacements at the resort gift shop.
And a tip for those who thought they would never be able to snorkel because they are blind as a bat without glasses on. Go buy yourself an inexpensive snorkeling mask that fits properly and a small tube of marine silicone. Pop the old lenses out of the frame of those glasses you no longer wear. Carefully silicone "glue" (by the outer edges of the lenses only) the lenses onto the snorkeling mask. Do this well before you leave on vacation so the smell and chemicals of the silicone don't irritate your eyes. What a treat to go on vacation and discover the wonders of an underwater world you thought you would never be able to experience! Awesome!! I've suggested this before on another forum and got only snide remarks, so please don't bother if you find it amusing. Have a great vacation and enjoy Cuba.

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