Money Tips for American Tourists.

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When considering what form of currency to bring to Cuba, it is helpful to look back at a bit of history first, particularly the years 1991-1999. At that time in Cuba, there was an economic crisis known as “Período Especial” (special period). This rough time for the Caribbean Island was the result of two factors: the economic embargo put in place by the US government and the collapse of the communist countries in eastern Europe. In response, Fidel Castro decided toopen the gates to tourism to bring money from outside and create a second currency, creating a situation where Cubans would continue to use the Cuban Peso (at least for some very basic products) and the tourists would use American Dollars, allowing the economy to slowly grow.

Eventually, the “Peso Convertible Cubano” (CUP) was created, pushing the US dollar out of the Cuban finance system. Since the CUC was born to replace a foreign currency with the same value, the CUC and USD were exactly the same, just different notes. Eventually, in an attempt to fight back against the embargo, the dollar was devalued by 10%. In reality, the CUC and the USD move together always with a 10% difference.

At the time of this post 100 CUC = 90 USD and 100 USD = 87 CUC (money change tax). That is why I recommend coming to Cuba with euros. If you live in the US, change your money before coming.

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The Right Way to Queue in Cuba

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The Cubans are far from being organized people; we are relax and we work. This is something you might experience as soon as you set foot in the Country. The way we queue, for example. could be very disconcerting for foreigners. We don’t typically form a single line, waiting until our turn comes. Cubans will often find a place to sit close to the waiting line (sometimes as much as 10 or 20 meters, or or even more), or we just leave and come back 30 minutes later, still expecting to have the same place. To accomplish this, we always ask when we need to queue for “El último” (last person waiting). As long as we keep an eye in this person, we know our position in the queue. In case this “último” (last person) abandons his or her position. It might also be wise to ask him/her who is he/she following, so that you can follow two people and never lose your position. If you need to leave the queue, it is also customary to tell the person following you. If you intend to come back later and want to keep your position, then you should tell this person, “I need to do something. I will be back in 10 minutes.” (It’s never really 10 minutes, but that’s what we say).

So, when you go to the bank to change money at the ETECSA building or need to get an INTERNET card, you know what to do in the waiting line. Ask who is “EL último” and who is before “El último” then sit and relax some while you wait.

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What to bring to Cuba

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You have probably read online or heard from friends how difficult is to get things in Cuba, let me tell you something, it’s truth. The reason is very simple, Cuba is a poor country with a communist system from the 3th world that had been blocked for the USA government for more than 50 years, but let’s focus in the problem and not in the reasons that cause it. 
Everything is hard to get for the Cuban people, since a few color pencils to electronics devices or parts. The goal of this post is to teach foreigners tourists how to help the locals and help themselves. I want focus in the simplest things that I often heard my customers say, “oh I didn’t know other wise I would bring my old…” movil phone, laptop, camera, bicycle or whatever old stuff they have and are not longer using. Even with the mony we can’t find those objects in the black market and definitely not in the shops. You could bring your old stuff and we will happily pay for it, in that way you make some extra cash and we get what we need. If you are not sure what to bring and you want to help, just ask the Cubans you have to contact for any cain of services you need, if they need something, we appreciate that very much.

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Mobiles and Apps in Cuba

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With the technological improvement in Cuba, using a mobile is getting easier. Thats is why I want to share some tips that could be very helpful for those who want to visit Cuba.

Cell phone and internet

The only way your phone will work in Cuba is when your provider have contracts with the cuban telecommunication company ETECSA. Internet in the phone is also possible although expensive
To know if your country and operator has a contract with ETECSA and the prices to call within the island click here.
If you do a roaming contract something you should do with your operator you will be available to use internet through the mobile data, I highly suggest to use it just in the places where 3G connection is found, otherwise is almost impossible to open a web therefore is more expensive.

The 3G network will be available in:

  • La Havana
  • Varadero
  • Cays at north of Villa Clara province
  • Cays at north of Ciego de Avila Province

The other way to use internet in Cuba is with the recently created wifi zones, and not that recent “telepunto de ETECSA”. The price for both choices is the same, 2.00 cuc/hour. To use those options you should buy a card, that comes with an username and password, in the ETECSA offices, or in hotels but careful here in the hotels the price is higher.

Wifi zones location

  • La Habana: La Rampa (Malecón hasta el cine Yara), parque de 51 en La Lisa, parque Fe del Valle (Galeano y San Rafael), el Anfiteatro de Marianao y el Paseo de la Villa Panamericana
  • Pinar del Río: parque Independencia and parque Roberto
  • Amarán and Viñales
  • Artemisa: boulevard and parque de la Iglesia
  • Mayabeque: parque de Güines and boulevard de San José
  • Matanzas: parque La Libertad and parque Peñas Altas
  • Villa Clara: parque Leoncio Vidal and parque Remedio
  • Cienfuegos: parque Martí and Rápido Punta Gorda
  • S. Spiritus: parque Céspedes de Trinidad and parque Serafín Sánchez
  • Ciego de Ávila: parque Martí and parque Morón
  • Camagüey: parque Agramonte and plaza del Gallo
  • Las Tunas: Plaza Martiana and Tanque de Buena Vista
  • Holguín: parque Calixto García and parque Julio Grave de Peralta
  • Granma: bulevares Bayamo and Manzanillo
  • Santiago de Cuba: parque Céspedes, parque Ferreiro and parque Plaza de Marte
  • Guantánamo: parque Martí and parque central Baracoa
  • Isla de la Juventud: boulevard Nueva Gerona

Useful apps to use in Cuba

Lets start with something we all use whenever we travel to places we don’t know, GPS. Since you can’t be connected all the time, an app that let you download maps to use offline later is very handy in Cuba.
Maps.me is a very nice GPS application available for android and iOS systems that comes with navigation and the possibility to download the maps to use offline. It’s free, that by the way is the only chance the Cubans living within the island can get apps due to we don’t have a way to pay even if we want to, the country hasn’t implemented online payments. And other good thing for maps.me is that the map for cuba has only 32 MB something very appreciated if your device is under 8 GB of memory. Besides this, there are some others apps that also work like Gaia or Offline maps and more you can check in the web.
Is always very important the communication with relatives and friends back home. If you take a look to prices for calling from cuba to overseas (click here to see the price) you will realize how expensive it is. Or making a video chatting to share a little bit of what is going on with the important people of your live. Well, you cant do that at least not naturally. Services like google hangout or skype are locked in Cuba because off the USA embargo, and that’s when you use a trick.
There are several apps that create a VPN in your phone. What this applications does is connecting your phone through a proxy located in other place of the world so when request one of those locked services they won’t know you are in Cuba. In iOS you can use Ovano vpn that creates a VPN profile in your mobile and with a single switch on is ruining this one is very stable, ovpn finder will give you a list of proxies and the countries they are located, and then use Openvpn the enable the proxy you want to use. For android you could try Droidvpn very simple to activate. I don’t really know how theses apps manage your data privacy do and online research about it, what you need is an app that creates a VPN in your device, fell yourself free to use whichever you want.
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Bike adventure

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At Cuban Style have already some very interesting cycling tours, but we want more. We want to create new and unique routs just for ours customers. With that thought in mind we are determined to explore new places to visit around Viñales, and that’s what I want to share with you today, the experience I had during the first exploration.
The first question was, Where to go? I took a map I have and saw a very interesting path to follow starting from Viñales west direction that goes eventually to the north rounding Viñales to finally coming back to Viñales again from the east entrance, basically a loop that start and finish in the same place for 70 km. For me was perfect, thinking in people that stay in Viñales and enjoy cycling.

The start.

With an air pump, a tower, a torch, a few tools, the map and some cash in my backpack at 6:30 am on July 8 of 2015, I begun to pedal. The first 32 km were fast, over pavement street with acceptable conditions and just a few hills, was dark until 7:30 am, – that is when the sun rise – with landscape very similar to what can be see in Viñales. Around 8 O’Clock I reached a little town called Pons. This first part was known territory for me but after that I didn’t know what to expect.
The first surprise was when the street becomes in an earth road, and it was going to continue in that way for the next 30 km. I started to see very beautiful places in both sides of the road I was moving on, what make me stop from time to time to take photos. Besides been wet season here, the trial was fine, some hill up and hill down but nothing really difficult. I did get worried when after a few kilometers I was seeing in the sides of the way “Aroma and Marabú trees”. Those plants are very invasive and had become in a serious problems for Cuban farmers, the biggest problem for me were the thorns Aroma and Marabú has, thorns from 1 to 5 cm large very hard that could easily punch my tires. The road allows me to go in a good speed, between 15 to 20 km/h, I was been as careful as I could be, with the trees and the death branches with big thorns in the ground. I sow just one person,a farmer several minutes after leaving Pons none else was there, in some point I had the feeling that far away place was unsettled which make me wonder what should I do if something goes wrong. And after 14 km with that insecurity my biggest fear becomes truth, my front tire was flat.

Fuck up.

The sky becomes bigger, the fresh temperature I had felt until that moment turns really hot, the orange color of the slate soil under my feet increase my frustration, the thing is that this kind of ground is to dry for grow crops, which means even less people live in places like that. I rise up my head and all I see were pines trees, Marabú and Aroma, the conclusion of my situation just show up to me “I’m fuck up”. Taking the map I saw three possible choices, walking back for 14 km to find someone to fix my tire in Pons and return to Viñales failing the exploration, continue straight for 16 km to “La costanera” located at 15 km from Viñales using the main street and do hitchhiking there, or heading north for 9 km to a place call “Sitio Morales” fix the tire and continue pedaling to Viñales for 30 km. This last choice seemed better even when that was going to give me 9 km extra of my original plan but I wouldn’t need to walk that far carrying the bike. And then I remembered what Cubans did during the special period (1991-1998) to patch up tire tires and that becomes in my fourth option.
The special period was a very difficult crisis the country had in the 90’s, but as a good thing it develop a lot people creativity. To seal the holes of the inner tube tying with a thread and problem solve. So my next problem was where to get some peace of thin string, from my tower of course. With the tools I was carrying in my backpack I extract the tube from tire put some air and for my surprise it had 2 liter holes. Took me more than an hour to get a thread long enough to fix the punch, and another hour to repair it, but I get it. When the job was done I felt like the king of the jungle solving a big problem without resources, nothing could stop me now, except realizing that my back tire was flat too. I though god is really piss off with me, and I’m not religious. I tried to fix that to but I wasn’t available to take any other good thread from the tower. I used all the good strings in fixing the front tire, all the strings I was getting now was rotten, or maybe I was just too tired and inpatient to make it right. It was almost 3 pm I couldn’t waste time any longer, so came back to option 3 and find Sitio Morales as faster I could.
After 1 km walking, the route I was following was cut off for a river, was I lost? Or the map wrong? it was not suppose to be a river there. I did not spend time thinking what to do, it was to late, I had to keep moving, still a big distance to cover , not very clear the path to follow and none to ask with just 5 hours of sun left. My chances to have a hot shower and a nice bed was just coming down. What a hell I thought, let me just cross the river. I took off my shoes put them around my neck, one hand for the bike and the other for a stick to explore the river before give any step. Luckily the river wasn’t deep and the force of the water was less than expected, “operation cross the river success”. With the river behind I just needed to find a path to Sitio Morales and be there faster as possible to be available to return with sun light. Half and hour later I met Tatica and Pello.

Real farmer life

Going for a trail north direction with the only company of a few pigs that were moving around and the far away singing of some cricket rounded by trees and shrubbery that provide me shade I continued with my mission to find Sitio Morales, when I heard the sound of hope. There was some people having a conversation, that could have some goods thread to fix my back tire or at least show me the path I should take. A farmer couple Tatica and Pello were living in that place named Bejuquera. I walked to their house and about 6 dogs came to give an unfriendly welcome barking me very close to my legs, all I could do was wait for the farmers to send the dogs away, you can’t just disrespect someone animals in their properties that’s rude. They grumble the dogs and invite me in. After the proper greetings I ask them for a piece of thread and the direction to follow. Surprise surprise !!! they had punch for tires and solve my problem. They give me a chair and Pello start to find the tools to repair the bike. Seen the way those persons live give a big impression, as a Cuban person I know the way farmers live, I visit farmers every day in Viñales in my tours, but this was different. In the about 200 square meters of the property all I could see was liter barns with no more than 4 m x 4 m. It was 5 of them, wood in the walls and thatch in the roof without more floor than the same earth of the ground. No electricity, no water system, they had a Tv that work with some batteries and an old petrol engine to charge the batteries. A refrigerator that works with kerosene currently out of service because for the past 3 month they haven’t get the ration of kerosene that the government provide for this cases, the thing is that the truck that move the fuel from Viñales to Bejuquera was broken and the local administration couldn’t send any other transportation, I felt the eager in their voices when they tell me the story. Pello’s wife Tatica ask me if I had lunched – it is 3:30 pm you must be very hungry – she said. Oh no I’m fine, I had a big breakfast this morning – that was my answer, the truth is I just had a glass of milk in the morning before leaving my house, you can imagine how my stomach was actually filling. Without any other question she get inside the kitchen and came back with banana chips and fried pork, OH man!!! this guys know how to cook. That made me feel embarrassed but my stomach couldn’t refuse the offer. The rain start before Pello finish to fix my tire, crazy thunder storm for more than an hour, a good time we spend chatting about our life. By 5 O’Clock in the afternoon the rain had stopped and the tires were fixed so Pello shows me the path to came back to Viñales.

Coming back.

Even after the rain the road wasn’t too muddy, for the particularity of the slate soil. The must beautiful landscape was that last part of the trip, unfortunately my mobile batteries was on 10%, and the light after the storm, not very good, I manage to take a few acceptable photos that could be seen at the end of this post. I when for about 15 km on this earth road and another 15 in the main street that leads to Viñales, by the time reached home was already 7 pm and my cyclo-computing marked 70 km in total.
For all the problems I had in the trip I get to the conclusion that is not a good idea to offer it as a service, it seems too risky to take customers on that trip but for me it was definitely worth it. Without any more words to say I leave you the photos I took below.
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About Cuba and its people

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They say that when the conqueror Cristóbal Colón arrived in Cuba with his fleet of caravels, believing he had found the Indies, he was so moved by the beauty before him that he described it as the most beautiful land that human eyes ever saw.

Colón would not be the only one to delight in this Caribbean island. Those who have come to Cuba over the last six centuries have found incredible natural and man-made charms; from prehistoric hillocks of Viñales, the waterfalls and exotic flora of Tope de Collantes (some consider their warm beaches to be among the most beautiful in the world), Trinidad with is colonial vestiges, Camaguey and its architectural heritage, and the sights in Habana Vieja (included in the list of the seven wonders of the modern world cities). These make Cuba a thrilling destination for travelers of all nationalities, who are often surprised by the warmth and friendliness of the Cuban people, famous for their hospitality.

Of us, it is said, we are witty, clever, humorous, rooted in our traditions, and proud. We all feel deeply the mark of our Cuban identity. There is hardly another people as true to its roots as the Cubans; tobacco, sugar cane, royal palm, heritage bequeathed to us by Spain, Africa and even China. The poet Fernando Ortiz described the range of cultures in Cuba as a delicious “ajiaco”, referring to one of the traditional dishes of Cuban cuisine, a broth based on the fusion of all kinds of meals, corn and meat.

Cuba is a kind of paradise in the Caribbean Sea, at the confluence of cultural attractions, traces of colonial architecture, cultural vestiges of a past that does not die, and the simplicity of its people. It is well worth it to get to know Cuba and the Cubans.

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Taxi, Bus or Rental Car

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This post is intended to help travelers who want come to Cuba but aren’t yet familiar with the transportation options inside the country. The choices are limited and easy to understand. You can travel by taxi, bus, or rent-a-car.

Taxis

Taxis in Cuba can be found almost anywhere, excluding some remote locations like Guanahacabibes where population is very low. Otherwise, not a problem. You can easily call a taxi from your hotel, casa particular, restaurant, bar, or club, or just find one on your own off the street. Be prepared to be surprised; your taxi could be a modern car (modern in Cuba, of course) with air conditioning, comfortable seats, in perfect condition, or it might be exactly the opposite. There’s also a good chance it will be a gorgeous classic American car, or it could be falling to pieces. If you aren’t up for a surprise, just ask for a nice car when you order a taxi. The prices vary quite a bit, depending on several factors, including the point of departure, distance to destination, the road conditions, time of day, and, of course, the driver’s discretion. It is a good idea to know roughly how many kilometers you will be traveling. A good baseline price estimate might be around 0.50 CUC per km.

Then there are collective taxis, which are cheaper because they go with all seats occupied and divide the price in 4, 6 or 8 people, depending on the size of the car. There is the private taxi too, where you always choose the time to be picked up, what music you want to hear, but you pay for the trip yourself. Lastly, there is the luxurious the hired car, which is quite expensive but still cheaper (at least in most cases) than renting a car. With this option, you have a private driver to take you wherever you want, whenever you want, for as many days as you want. In some cases, the driver might speak your language (or the other way around) and work as a guide.

Buses

The bus is definitely the cheaper and more common way to travel in Cuba. Bus travel normally takes 1 or 2 hours longer than a taxi, depending on the number of stops it makes on the route, but the buses are very comfortable, have air conditioning (note: it is sometimes so cold inside that you might want to bring a sweater), and they always leave on time. Bus tickets can be purchased online (www.viazul.com – buy one week in advance, and always print your tickets), in person at the Viazul office, Cubanacán office, Infotour office, and in some hotels. When buying in person during the low season, you can usually buy just one day in advance of your trip, but you should plan to buy your tickets two days ahead of time during the high season (December through March).

Rental cars

Renting a car is certainly the most expensive option. Car renters must pay the daily rate for the car, the insurance, and the fuel (1.30 CUC per liter of diesel and 1.25 CUC per liter of unleaded fuel). Before choosing this option, you might consider you destination. For example, in Viñales, most activities don’t require a car (hiking, horseback riding, etc), so you might end up paying for a car you don’t use. However, car rental is a very appealing option for travelers with children, the elderly, travelers with disabilities, or those who need to travel long distances quickly. The primary advantage of a rental car is the independence that comes with it (albeit, at a price). Be aware that some rental car companies use Chinese cars, like the Geely, which have a reputation for being unreliable.

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Arriving in Viñales

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Compared with the rest of Cuba–especially major tourist destinations–Viñales has very few people who will hassle you on the street. However, when you first arrive, it might be a different story. This is understandable, as Viñales is a very small town with almost 600 “Casas Particular,” which makes competition fierce.

So, the minute you first set foot in Viñales, you might appear to some like “fresh meat.” The luggage and the disoriented face says to everyone, “I’m new here, and I need a place to stay.” If you use a taxi or a rented car, this won’t be a problem. But if you come by bus, as most people do, the situation can be quite annoying. Here’s what you can expect:

The bus door will open, and a crowd of people will rush the doorway, yelling “Señor! Habitación! Mi casa barata!,” all while putting their card so close to your eyes that you can’t even see what’s on it. When you finally manage to exit the bus, you will find yourself in the middle of this crowd. For a good room in Viñales, you can expect to pay 20 to 25 CUC per night. However, the people who crowd the bus stop will likely be offering their places for 15 CUC or possibly less.

Buyer beware! They might be good rooms, but you might not get good service when you get there. Most of the people who go to the bus stop to find business have had their casa particular for a very long time, but they haven’t been able develop a good reputation. Unfortunately, these are the casa owners who are likely to push you to buy all of your meals from them and to organize all your activities, which makes for a suffocating environment. This might be a good option if you are short on cash, but there are better places to stay in Viñales.

I would recommend booking your stay before you arrive. There are plenty of good suggestions in guide books and some online. And the owners of the reputable casas will make sure you feel welcome as soon as you get there. What a relief it is to pull up in the bus, look into the crowd, and see someone holding a poster with your name on it.

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