Rick’s Santiago Cyber Café presents: page 12 of 12

The Roads to Cuba



F.A.Q. – Frequently Asked Questions and Tourist Tips


When 2 people are going to Cuba for 2 weeks I suggest you should bring the following items. Some of these items may not be available where you are staying or they may be expensive.

  1. At least 2 bottles of waterproof cream type sun tan lotion – 1 number 15 and 1 number 30.
  2. Gum and small snacks like nuts, raisens or chips. Cuban children really like chicklet gum, ‘Dentyne Ice’.
  3. English to Spanish/Spanish to English dictionary.
  4. Charcoal tablets or capsules, electrolyte crystals and Imodium. These are just in case you or a friend gets a case of tourist diarrhea. DO NOT take Imodium if you have a fever as this will cause you problems. There is always a good doctor on duty at most hotels and you should consult them if you have a fever.
  5. Face cloths. They do not supply you with facecloths at the hotels or Casa Particulars.
  6. Pen and a note pad to write peoples names, phone numbers or important information down.
  7. A photocopy of your passport.


Questions and answers -

  1. Q. What type of money should I bring to Cuba?

A.              If you are Canadian - bring Canadian money and only bring $5, $10, $20 bills and NO $50 bills and change them at the Cuban airport money exchange when you enter Cuba or at the Hotel front desk where you are staying. When you get the Cuban convertible pesos only get 1 peso, 3 peso, 5 peso or 10 peso notes. Do not bring American money unless you want a very bad exchange rate and you may refuse to accept American money. Visa, MasterCard and The Amigo Card are probably the best credit cards to bring and you will probably have to show your Passport when shopping in the city if you use a credit card. I wouldn’t rely on finding an Interact machine and expect to get money out of it with your Canadian Debit card, Mastercard or Visa.

  1. Q. Can I get a cash advance on my Mastercard, Visa or Amigo Card at a Cuban Bank?

A. Yes you can. Cuban Banks are usually air conditioned with long lineups that move slowly. “Sounds like Canada”.

  1. Q. Should I tip the bar tenders, waiters and maids?

A. Yes, but only use Cuban Convertible Pesos do not use Canadian or American money because they have a hard time exchanging that currency into Cuban currency. Hotel employees cannot exchange Canadian money at the Hotel front desk; they have to wait in a long line at a Cuban bank in order to exchange Canadian dollars into Cuban Pesos.

  1. Q. How many Cuban convertible pesos should I tip to get good service?

A. Tip a Cuban maid – 1 Peso per day or one small gift. Tip a Cuban waiter – 1 Peso per day. Tip a Cuban bartender – 1 Peso a day. Sometimes you will meet a hotel employee you really like or maybe that person will do you a favor; in a case like that you should give them 2 Pesos or more or a piece of clothing for them or their child if they have one. I always bring calendars as they are very hard to get in Cuba and I give them away to my Cuban friends. Remember the average Cuban worker only earns between $200 and $400 Canadian a year in wages so anything you give them is much appreciated.

  1. Q. Can I use Canadian or American money to tip a maid or waiter?

A. Cuban people have difficulties converting Canadian or American money into Cuban money. Cubans cannot use Canadian or American money to buy anything in their stores where they shop. It is much easier for you the tourist to go to the front desk of the Hotel and convert your Canadian money into Cuban Pesos C.U.C. and give them a Peso or 2 Pesos. Cuban workers are not allowed to go to the front desk and convert foreign money into Cuban Pesos. If a Japanese tourist was in Canada on vacation and he gave a waiter 1000 Japanese Yen the Canadian waiter wouldn’t like it very much and a Cuban waiter thinks the same when you give them a Canadian Loonie or a Canadian Toonie. It is very inconsiderate to tip in Canadian or American money.

  1. Q. Can I leave a gift for the maid instead of money?

A. Yes, some items are very expensive and sometimes can be hard to find for the average Cuban. The best gifts to leave should be new and unused and from my experience the maids prefer tubes of toothpaste, tooth brushes, hairbrushes, packages of gum, dental floss, bottles of shampoo, bars of soap, pens, writing pads, bottles of aspirin and if you really want your room to shine try giving the maid a piece of children’s or adult clothing. You can give used clothing as long as it is clean and in good condition.

  1. Q. Is it safe for me to walk in a Cuban city during the day?

A. Yes, very safe. But like anywhere it is best to take precautions: first of all remove all gold necklaces and other jewelry and put them in a safe place and also hold your purse or camera bag against your chest when in crowded areas. You will probably be approached on the street by young men who will want to escort or guide you around the city and for this service you will be expected to give them a few convertible Cuban Pesos (equivalent to about $2.50 Canadian) for every hour they guide you, you can also give them a base ball cap, a shirt or a t-shirt. Choose a young man who can speak some English and get them to show you around, this will prevent two things 1. You will not get lost in the city with a guide and no other young men will come up and bother you when they see you already have a guide. These street guides also know their way around and can show you places you would have a hard time finding without a guide. Most street guides usually know of and can take you to private Restaurants in people’s homes called Paladars. Cuban Paladars usually serve better food than the Hotel you are staying at and the average supper costs about 4 to 8 Cuban convertible Pesos ($5 to $10 Canadian) plus your drinks. You do not have to buy the guide a meal unless you feel they are doing a good job and they have been with you for more than a few hours, they usually would not expect it. When out at night in a Cuban town or city it is best that you have a Cuban guide with you that you know and trust. When out late at night do not walk alone on dark streets that have few people on them. Spend a few Pesos and take a cab.

  1. Q. What do I need to take when I stay at a Casa Particular in Cuba?

A.      Everything you would normally take to a hotel, plus your passport. They need to see your passport to take the number off it. You may be able to get by with the photocopy of your passport but you better ask first.

  1. Q. I have read on the internet that sometimes the Customs people in Cuba want tourists to stay at a Hotel for the first 3 nights in Cuba and not at a Casa Particular even if reservations have been made at the Casa Particular. Is this true?

A. No.  In Cuba it is not necessary to have a reservation in any hotel. If the Casa Particular is legal and has a Cuban Government License Number you will have no problem. So, when you arrive at the airport in Cuba just put the name, address and license number of the Casa Particular you will be staying at in your tourist card. You can get the tourist card from the Airline Company you are flying with before you leave your own country.

  1. Q. Can I use Cuban computers to surf the web and get my e-mails from Canada?

A.      Yes. But Cuban computers are usually expensive to use at Hotels or Cafes. 2 Pesos or $2.50 Canadian for 20 minutes of dial up service and in most cases your time runs out before you can finish what you wanted to do. My experience was in 2005 but in all fairness Cuba is getting better for accessing the internet and it is only a matter of time before Cuba has high speed internet service. Dial up internet service sucks big time anywhere in the world. Remember you are on vacation, relax and forget about high tech crap and remember why you came to Cuba in the first place. Sun, warm weather and good cheap rum.

  1. Q. Can I use my cell phone in Cuba?

A.      No, thank God. There may be a law against cell phone use in Cuba and if there isn’t there should be. You are on vacation for crying out loud. Next winter why don’t you go to Mexico or Florida?

  1. Do you want more information?  Go here.
  2. Q. What is the phone number for Air Canada Information in Havana?

A. The phone number for Air Canada is 266-4175.

For general information try 649-5666 or 266-4133.



Distributing anything in Cuba can be quite the experience.

I took 2 dozen t-shirts to Havana once and decided to hand them out to a bunch of youngsters hanging around watching other youngsters playing baseball. Dozens of youngsters dropped what they were doing and rapidly ran towards me. I almost panicked, hands were appearing out of nowhere grabbing for a t-shirt, I managed to get them handed out in half the time I originally thought it was going to take.

I only know of one organization that is working with Cubans but I'm sure there are many more.

Masonic Relief for Cuba has their Humanitarian Aid distributed through the Freemason Lodges in Cuba, they send medical instruments, medical supplies, multivitamins and cases of Ibuprofen, shampoo, soap, lotions, Glucosamine, Chondroitiin, MSM, Polysporin and water purification tablets.

I am a Canadian Freemason and many Cubans I have met have one family member who is a Freemason. Freemasons help the entire community not just other Freemasons and they have proven to be one of the most honest when it comes to getting the goods to the people who need it the most. I have met 2 surgeons in 2 different cities in Cuba, they were Freemasons and other members of the Cuban Freemasons are from all walks of life. 

Here is a link to this Canadian Organization http://nelsonking.ca/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=59&Itemid=30

If you read this page it will say the items that are most needed by Cubans.

As you are aware over the counter non-prescription drugs are not available due to the cost and prescription drugs are very difficult to obtain. The average income for a Cuban is $20.00 - $25.00 per month, the cost of aspirin or any drug is very expensive for them. There are 30,000 Regular Freemasons in Cuba and The Gran Logia de Cuba has a Masonic Home for the Aged and there is a desperate need for these non-prescription and prescription drugs.
For the last 10 years Masonic Relief for
Cuba has supplied both non-prescription and prescription drugs to the Masons and The Grand Lodge of Cuba.

Cubans will take almost anything and they will be happy that you gave them a gift.

Santiago de Cuba Casa Particulars are plentiful as are Havana Casa Particulars. It is a good way to meet real Cuban people that are more than happy to accommodate your needs. Once you stay in a Cuban Casa Particular and eat in a Havana paladar or Santiago de Cuba paladar you will be happy you tried this new experience.

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November 25, 2009