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A Tourist in Cuba

March 26, 2018

Recently, I went on a tour of Cuba, a bus tour that began and ended in Havana.  I took photographs as I went.  Most of the people on this tour were Americans, likely because they are allowed to travel to Cuba now.  The information below is based on my own observations, along with comments from our Cuban guide.

Cuba has two currencies.  The convertable peso, usually called a CUC, is maintained on par with the US dollar.  It’s used by tourists, and can only be exchanged with other currencies within Cuba.  The Cuban peso, usually called a CUP, is worth about 1/25 of a CUC.  It’s used by ordinary Cubans as wages and to purchase what they need.

You will see old American cars all over Cuba.  Most of them are taxis, with tourists as passengers.  They are kept in repair by their owners.  You’ll also see newer cars, from Russia, Eastern Europe, Asia, or Europe.  Many of them are also taxis.

The tourist buses are all made by Yutong, a large bus company in China.  There are older buses for Cubans.

You will see rows of market stalls everywhere, selling handicrafts to tourists.  The sellers are middlemen.  Prices are in CUCs.

There were musicians at every restaurant, even the buffet restaurants in our hotels.  I assume they were independant of the restaurants.  Whenever they came over to our table to play music, they collected a tip from most of the people at the table.  They also sold CDs of their music to people at our table.

The washrooms at restaurants and historic sites are for tourists.  There’s usually a woman seated at the entrance, selling toilet paper to women and paper towels to men.  One washroom I used had an electric hand dryer, but it was unplugged.  I wondered if the woman had unplugged it, but I still paid for a paper towel.

The airport at Havana was crowded and chaotic.  The currency exchange at the airport was my last opportunity to exchange CUCs for other currency.  I asked for Canadian dollars.  They didn’t have any.  I had to take American dollars instead, even though the government there takes 10% for itself.  At the airport, they did match my photograph with my passport, and did take my tourist visa.  Security there did X-ray my carry-on luggage.  I was happy to be on my way back to Canada.


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