Author Topic: Has anyone traveled to Cuba?  (Read 729 times)

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DollyPond

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Has anyone traveled to Cuba?
« on: September 26, 2013, 10:53:34 AM »
Dear All,

In ther near future I may have the opportunity to travel to Cuba. I'm in the US so that's a rare chance.  The trip would be with an organized group (League of Women Voters) and not just a random jaunt on my own.

I have a friend, who when she heard of this, started telling me what a horrible experience her friends from Canada had had. 

Her first statement was "You need to bring your own syringes!!!"
Me: Why?
Her: Beacuse if you need to go to the hospital they don't have sterile equipment!
Me:  I hardly think it's that bad there.
Her: Oh, yes it is!  And you have to take malaria shots!
Me: There are no shots for malaria.  You take Lariam which I've done before when traveling in Central America.

She just couldn't get past what a terrible place Cuba is.  I'm thinking that her friends were expecting it to be a luxury resort ilke Hawaii or something.  I am interested in seeing unspoiled rainforests and pristine coral reefs because there has been little commercial development there.

Anyone have perspective on this?

Outdoor Girl

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Re: Has anyone traveled to Cuba?
« Reply #1 on: September 26, 2013, 11:05:30 AM »
Canadian here.  I have not been to Cuba but lots of friends have.  It really depends on what kind of trip you are going on.  If you are going to a resort and staying there, you really don't have to worry about too much except to make sure you have money left (it used to be $20) for when you leave, kind of like an exit tax.  Most of the resorts probably have a doctor on staff for small injuries.  My friends did leave all of their toiletries behind, like shampoo and toothpaste, as tips for the maids because those kinds of things are very hard to get/expensive.  If you are truly looking for a resort experience, don't go less than 4 star.  A coworker went to a 3 star place and was disappointed in the food, in particular.  And don't ever go to a resort whose completion date is within a couple of months of your check-in date.  Chances of it being completely finished on time are slim to none.

If you are going out into the community, it is a very poor country for most of its citizens.  But if you've travelled Central America, I would imagine it is very similar and you'd be used to it.

I would recommend getting a TwinRix (Hep A and B) vaccine series and any other vaccines your doctor recommends.  Better to be safe than sorry.  (I get the Hep shots for work because I handle sewage.)
I have CDO.  It is like OCD but with the letters in alphabetical order, as they should be.
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Clareish

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Re: Has anyone traveled to Cuba?
« Reply #2 on: September 26, 2013, 12:01:50 PM »
Canadian again here, and I've been to Cuba a few times.

It's awesome, and generally the 'cheapest' of the holiday inclusive countries.

I've never gotten any shots or vaccinations prior to going, my doctors have never recommended it. The water, particularly in the resorts, is fine, and the Cuban medical system is fascinating as well as advanced enough that other countries (Venezuela comes to mind) appear to send their doctors to train there.

Friendly people, beautiful. Have some cash for the exit visa ($25 bucks or so?) and don't bring American money. They can't accept it, and it's a pain to change. If anything, bring Canadian money with you to exchange when you get there.

Outdoor Girl

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Re: Has anyone traveled to Cuba?
« Reply #3 on: September 26, 2013, 01:14:28 PM »
That's interesting about the American money because I seem to recall all my friends telling me that they only wanted American money.  I'll have to ask some of my coworkers that I know have been to Cuba.

The reason I was recommending vaccinations to the OP is because I got the impression that she wouldn't necessarily be doing a resort based trip.
I have CDO.  It is like OCD but with the letters in alphabetical order, as they should be.
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Wulfie

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Re: Has anyone traveled to Cuba?
« Reply #4 on: September 26, 2013, 02:16:48 PM »
I asked my assistant who is from Cuba and goes back all the time. She said US money is fine if it is cash but they can't accept credit cards from the US.  She said that the crime level is very low and they take drug use VERY seriously. Being caught with just one MJ cigarette is 1 year in jail the first time, 5 years and loss of anything electrical in your home the 2nd time and 25 years the 3rd time.  Medical care is just like here other than advanced medical treatment, they usually have you airlifted back to your home country for major issues.

She did say to watch what you say about the government. As a tourist they will probably not do anything but you can go to jail for saying negative things about it. 

She said if you can let her know what area you will be in, she can give you better information about that area. She also said if you are going to be in the Havana area, let her know and she will get you in touch with her family there, having a local to help you out can prevent some problems.

Akka

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Re: Has anyone traveled to Cuba?
« Reply #5 on: September 26, 2013, 03:19:49 PM »
Hello!

Just went to Cuba, less than a month ago.
First of all, it is a beautiful country - I cannot even begin to express how beautiful. People are very friendly and it is the safest place I have traveled to (in terms of walking around, crime etc).

Tips:
- Money: Cuba has a dual currency. You will be only dealing with CUC (convertible Pessos). Those are kind of... monopoly money, in the sense that they are only available in Cuba and only valid in Cuba. You can convert them at the airport (don't bother in Havana, the line is long), at banks (don't bother either) or at your hotel if you are staying in a big one. The price is about the same in all three.
- American Dollars: you can exchange them but there is a penalty of about 10%. Euros and Canadian dollars are both fine and can be exchanged easily with no penalty.
- Cash vs Cards: In Cuba cash is king. You cannot use Debit cards anywhere. You can use Credit Cards (Visa, Mastercard) in a few places (including big hotels), but you cannot use any Credit Card issued from an American Bank (even if it is visa or MasterCard). It goes without saying that American Express and Diners are not accepted.
- You have to pay 25 CUC on exit of the country (at the airport)

Hotels:
- There are many luxurious hotels and resorts in Cuba, although their definition of luxury may vary to what we are used to in USA / Western Europe. Their 5 star equals more to a European 3 star hotel in terms of rooms. Also, note that because of the humidity older hotels tend to have a certain ... smell, for lack of a better word.
- Always prefer hotels that are partly privetly owned (versus 100% State Hotels). The Melia chain is a good bet, you can find it in most major destinations except from Trinidad.

Food:
- In large hotels you will always find a buffet for breakfast / lunch / dinner with various offerings. But keep in mind that Cuba does not import food like we do and thus there are limitations.
- The main things offered in most restaurants are: chicken, lobster (very cheap and big), shrimps, fish, pork. You will not find veal  easily as their cows are mostly used for milk / dairy products.
- In the past months there was a law that allowed privet restaurants, which means that a lot have poped up. If you want, PM me the city you plan to visit and I can recommend some places.

Vaccines / Health:
- I did not do any vaccines before my trip, but better to consult your doctor.
- The Cuban health system is supposed to be one of the best in the world. I fortunately did not have to try it out, but I really would not worry to much about it, especially if you do not have any particular medical issues.
- I would propose that of course you took any medication you have to take and some generic ones (for headaches, stomachaches, mosquito bites etc) with you because you will definitely not find the brand you use in Cuba.

Personal Care:
Also take any personal care products you need with you (shampoo, shower gel, toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, female hygiene  etc). Very few brands are available in Cuba and they are quite expensive (not something that you will not be able to afford, but more expensive than at home)

Electricity: 110v and 220v available in most places, most plugs have labels on them saying which is which (very convenient!)

Tips / Giveaways:
All Cubans prefer their tips in cash :)   Usually 1-2 cuc will do (no need to tip by american standards 15%) for cab drivers, waiters, maids etc. 0,5 - 1 CUC is the norm for band players, toilette attendants and the other one hundred people that will kindly request for a tip (yes, it gets old after a few days!!)

I stand with those who say don't give away shampoos and candy, as you are really not doing any favor to the locals or the country.
I can tell you that those things exist in Cuba and Cubans can buy them - things have changed for the best for them in the past 5 years.
I can point you to several articles that debate the issue of "giveways" by tourists if you are interested, so that you can make up your mind for yourself.


Finally... on rainforests... Sorry! The Spanish beat you to them. For reasons that I can explain (but I don't want to bore everyone else) there is very little of the original wildlife preserved. There are beautiful places / nature but nothing like the Amazon. I can point you to certain places which are easily accessible and you can visit though. Coral reefs, no worries, you will see and they are amazing indeed.

I am going to shut up now, as I can talk about Cuba for ages it seems. If you need anything don't hesitate to PM me!

Outdoor Girl

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Re: Has anyone traveled to Cuba?
« Reply #6 on: September 26, 2013, 03:36:27 PM »
If you are prone to intestinal upset with change in diet and water, take your own OTC drugs like Imodium.  Those will be expensive.  I'd take any OTC medications you might need with you, regardless.  Especially motion sickness meds, if you are prone to it.  Most of the resorts are a significant bus ride away from the main airport, from what I understand.

Akka, I'm glad to hear that things have improved for what the Cubans can buy for themselves.  So I'll rescind my suggestion to leave your toiletries behind.   :)
I have CDO.  It is like OCD but with the letters in alphabetical order, as they should be.
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paintpots

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Re: Has anyone traveled to Cuba?
« Reply #7 on: September 27, 2013, 06:21:39 AM »
I went to Cuba a couple of years ago and would reiterate previous posters' comments.

Firstly Cuba is a beautiful country with a fascinating history and a culture that won't be around for much longer, so it's well worth a visit asap. Cash is definitely the way forward, although it is kind of stressful - we changed when we got there but carrying a large wodge of cash around when we weren't sure where we could get more money wasn't ideal. You can go to banks there and take out money, but US bank cards might be challenging.

How/where are you travelling? If you're staying in the tourist strip (Varadero), then I wouldn't worry too much - it's very tourist friendly and safe, and most hotels are all inclusive so you don't need to worry about carrying cash on you etc. If you're travelling around the country (particularly in Havana) beware of overly friendly people on the street, because they may be trying to con you (a standard thing is to make friends with you, offer to show you the town and then take you to a bar where you would buy drinks and be presented with an extortionate bill. Fortunately I had heard about this so we excused ourselves but even we were taken in initially) - DF and I got quite fed up after the first day because as obvious tourists people were constantly trying to talk to us and it got quite stressful trying to separate genuine from fake - eventually we just decided to ignore everyone, which felt horribly rude, but there you go. Other tourists we met on our travels (we backpacked and stayed in locals' houses for the most part) had experienced similar problems.

Outside Havana (Trinidad is gorgeous, highly recommend a visit) this isn't such a problem, but do be prepared for it. Tourist dollars are worth a lot to the locals so they will try and get hold of them. Things are changing quickly though, so it may have changed since we were there.

Healthwise, malaria isn't a problem in Cuba, you're more at risk from Dengue, which you can't do anything about. Take the usual anti-mosquito precautions and take any medication you think might need. You may be asked to present proof of travel insurance before they let you enter to prevent health tourism. Also don't forget suncream etc.


cabbageweevil

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Re: Has anyone traveled to Cuba?
« Reply #8 on: September 27, 2013, 08:46:05 AM »
How/where are you travelling? If you're staying in the tourist strip (Varadero), then I wouldn't worry too much - it's very tourist friendly and safe, and most hotels are all inclusive so you don't need to worry about carrying cash on you etc. If you're travelling around the country (particularly in Havana) beware of overly friendly people on the street, because they may be trying to con you (a standard thing is to make friends with you, offer to show you the town and then take you to a bar where you would buy drinks and be presented with an extortionate bill. Fortunately I had heard about this so we excused ourselves but even we were taken in initially) - DF and I got quite fed up after the first day because as obvious tourists people were constantly trying to talk to us and it got quite stressful trying to separate genuine from fake - eventually we just decided to ignore everyone, which felt horribly rude, but there you go. Other tourists we met on our travels (we backpacked and stayed in locals' houses for the most part) had experienced similar problems.

Haven't been to Cuba -- was seriously contemplating it some years ago, but plans fell through.  Would love to go now, but the money isn't there.

From what I've read:  especially since the country's sugar industry basically collapsed, consequent on the fall of the Soviet Union, Cuba has been trying to survive mostly on tourism. This has led to some excesses, including the "false befrienders" as mentioned by jammytoast.  These folk -- mostly young -- are known locally as jineteros (male), jineteras (female). The latter, mostly young ladies who seek to sell their -- er, charms -- to male tourists.  All understandable; but makes for these people being something of a plague on foreign visitors.  It's the same, of course, in all poor countries which are in any way on the tourist circuit.

Again, from what read -- I gather that old-school Communists in Cuba feel absolutely mortified by the jinetero/a phenomenon; and greatly wish that if this kind of stuff has to happen, all concerned would handle it in a more dignified way.

DollyPond

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Re: Has anyone traveled to Cuba?
« Reply #9 on: September 27, 2013, 11:13:35 AM »
Wow!  I never expected to get so much information so soon!  Thanks to all, especially Akka, for such positive responses and useful info.

So far the trip that was scheduled to go November 4-11 has been cancelled but they are planning other trips in the future.  I'm not sure about the exact details of where they plan to visit/stay, etc.
Once I get more details I may be sending PMs to some of you to get more information.

My friend who freaked out over the trip (and I suspect her friend as well) tends to be a bit Princess-y and has never traveled outside of First World situations.  So seeing how most of the rest of the world has to live may have been quite a shock.  However, she made it sound like I'd time traveling back to Medieval times.

Thanks to all who have responded and anyone else should add their experiences as well.
« Last Edit: September 27, 2013, 11:17:13 AM by DollyPond »