January 2nd 2015
Before heading downtown for the day, my dad a man in the lobby named Jeff, a Canadian film producer. He is currently producing three films here in Cuba, one being about salsa dancing. Jeff has been to Cuba 40+times and has a Cuban wife, so obviously he knows all the ins and outs of this country.
We got some good insider info about were to exchange CUP for Cuban pesos. In Cuba they currently have two currencies, CUP and the Cuban peso. As a foreigner, when you come to Cuba you will only be given CUP when you go to a money changer. Pesos are typically not given to foreigners, they are what the locals use for purchasing goods and services. CUP’s are fine to use if you’re staying in the tourist areas of Cuba but if for instance you are going to a local market place, as we witnessed firsthand, your CUP won’t be converted fairly from pesos to CUP. As of today, 1 CUP = 24 peso, but usually venders will convert 1:10 vs 1:24 so you’re getting half of what your CUP is really worth. Jeff pointed out a market place near the hotel about two blocks that has a money exchanger in it. This money exchanger only accepts CUPs and pesos so you would need to first go to the currency exchanger to convert Canadian dollars to CUPs then go to this separate exchanger to exchange CUP for peso. It’s super bazaar but if you traveling in the local areas like we are, it’s worth it to have both currencies.
Also when taking local taxis outside of central Havana, you can negotiate a far better price in pesos then in CUP. We got from Miramar to central Havana for 60 peso for 3 people (so that’s like $2.70). We walked two blocks or so away from the hotel to hail down a cab but had we taken a cab from the hotel directly we would have been charged 15 CUP (so 325ish pesos)! That is an unbelievable difference! Coming back from central Havana however we had to pay more as North Havana (Miramar) is further away from the tourist area where cab drivers tend to get more as they are able to rip off tourists and get in more fares per hour. We paid 5 CUP ( so 125 pesos) to get home. However we did travel in a car that was 68 years old!
Oh another thing Jeff mentioned was 30 CUP (so $30 US dollars) a day is what you can get for an all-inclusive 30 minutes from the city called the Tropicoco Hotel. The food is well probably the same as that offered in the city but you are right on a beach. I think we are paying $70 US dollars a night here at the Copacabana but only have breakfast included. So if you’re paying $100+ a night in Havana you better be downtown in a five start resort. Get this, Jeff also mentioned that for the Copacabana if you go to the front desk, you will be quotes a price for a room, say $70/night, but if you go to the Cuban tourist desk literally around the counter still in the hotel, you can get a price of a room in the Copacabana for half what the desk is offering! How? I don’t know it’s just people ripping tourists off all the time!
We spent the afternoon in central Havana at the Museum of the Revolution. It was ok, it was cool to see photos and clothing from the revolution but it was only one floor of information and only half of it was translated into English. The best part about the museum was the yacht encased in glass outside in the back of the museum. The yacht was the yacht Fidel Castro and his officers used to smuggle weapons from Mexico to Cuba for their second attempt at overturning the government. The ability to bring military weaponry into Cuba ultimately allowed them to win the revolution. In Lonely Planet, they said the boat was guarded 24/7 so that no one could steal it and escape to Florida. Legit the book said that. Now this boat is encased in bullet proof glass and is a good 500m from the ocean…. How would anyone steal it and sail it to Florida?
We were going to go to lunch at Los Nardos which is a good place to eat right across from the parliament building. We walked to it and found a lineup of 20 people! Jeff told us when we got back to the hotel that if you gave the front door man 10 CUP you could jump the line. We didn’t know that at the time so we continued onto a second restaurant he suggested in China town!
Yes Cuba has a China town… It was probably was built in the 50’s when the United States had a large presence in Cuba but once the revolution occurred the Chinese left. This was the first time ever in any city I’ve been to where I was unable to find a single Chinese person in China town! The restaurant we went to was Fenix Darado. They offered a really nice vegetable soup but their fried rice and vegetable chow mien was horrible. I think because they have a lack of spices here they compensate by drenching everything in oil. We found out later that another Chinese restaurant further down actually had a Chinese chef! It was the only Chinese restaurant in Cuba that actually had a Chinese chef! So the place we ate at had a Cuban chef making his interpretation of Chinese food… That explains a lot!
Watch out…. Here comes another Vegan Rant!!! Omg the food here is the worse, particularly if your vegan. I’d highly recommend if you are vegan and want to come to Cuba that you stay in a “casa particular” it’s like a bed and breakfast so you’re staying in someone’s home and breakfast is provided. I’m sure you could pay your host to make dinner for you as well. At least then you may have more luck at getting some decent food. The problem is these bed and breakfasts are not advertised online so you would have to either know someone before coming to Cuba that has a particular or book a hotel room for a night or two and ask around once you got here where you could stay.
Also if you want to come to Cuba from Canada and not have a package deal through Sunwing, you can fly WestJet. Sunwing vacations are for 1 week periods; our travel agent had to jump through hoops to get us a 3 week package. With WestJet, it’s just like booking a flight anywhere else in the world.
One more thing Jeff mentioned was the Canadian embassy has a BBQ every other Friday! We might go next week, hope they have some grilled tempeh and veggies (now I’m seriously dreaming).