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Caribbean-On-Line » Caribbean Travel Advisor » Cuba » Dateline: Cuba

Dateline: Cuba

Let's hope that common sense will prevail and that democratic principles will be applied. I'm talking about Los Estados Unidos, the good 'ole USA, that is. As it stands currently, American citizens can't travel to Cuba. Not legally and certainly not easily. Oh sure, you can fly direct from Miami (yes, there IS a flight), but it's not a 'normal' flight. Special permission must be obtained. Some Cuba-Americans get to go once in a while to visit family. And 'journalists' are allowed as well. So how about the rest of us. Not if you are American. Nope. It's a no go zone. Not allowed. Not possible. Well, not legally anyway.

Actually, the Cubans seem to love Americans and just about anything American, sans a takeover of the island. And, with a hearty welcome at passport control, they know not to stamp your passport, as they are aware that it can be hell trying to explain a stamped passport when you return to the USA.

This is you: For real officer, I was in Cancun all that time!

So, a lot of intrepid travelers, fly there by way of Canada (From Toronto you can fly to eight different cities in Cuba), Cancun, Nassau, Santo Domingo, Caracas, London, Rome, Madrid, get the picture.

Let's say that you decide to travel to Cuba anyway. Here are some tips for visiting:

Bring cash. Your US credit card cannot be accepted here. And anyway, why would you want to use one. The Cuban government has sleepless nights, I like to think, dreaming up new ways to separate tourists from their money. They charge about 12% in fees to use your card here (and it has to be a non-US card, and certainly not American Express).

There are two currencies in Cuba at the present time. The national peso, is essentially worthless but is considered by Cubans to be worth about 22 to 1 US in exchange. However, Cubans are not allowed to possess American currency. And they know that foreigners must use the other currency. You won't easily find anyone who will exchange dollars for you. It could mean jail time. Meanwhile, there is very, very little that you can buy with the national peso.

Which brings us to the currency you can use. And be careful that you get this currency back, when you do buy something. The New Peso is as bogus a currency as you will find anywhere in the world. It has absolutely no value outside of Cuba, but is valuated by the Cuban government as if it were real. There are buy rates and sell rates. However, these rates are set by the government and change not according to real market rates but change according to government needs. So, if they want to earn 10% more this year from foreign exchange, they just change the rate. Voila! A bigger profit.

How do you get your hands on this New Peso. There are official exchange banks at the airport, and in every town. In Havana, you can go to the bank, or something that looks like one. Ask for the 'Cambio' .It goes like this: You give them your money, and they give you a bad exchange rate along with a stack of their worthless money in return. Sorta like buying monopoly dollars, or pesos, in this case. This is the 'currency franca'. You will use this to buy whatever you need, throughout the island. You will need some to pay the taxi upon leaving the airport.

The trouble is, Fidel and company are pissed at the USA, so if you dare to bring in US greenbacks (which actually they really like), they will dock you 10% off the top of the already bad rate that they are paying. It's wiser to bring Euros or Canadian dollars. You get the same bad rate, but at least you don't wind up having 10% arbitrarily shaved off.

If you have any money left over when you are ready to fly out, remember to keep 25 new pesos for airport exit tax. At the airport you can exchange any remaining pesos back into whatever currency you wish to leave the island with. But, true to form the Cubans are planning on making a little bit more from you still. Their buy back rate is...guess what...a few points lower than their selling rate. Or was that the buying rate, I always get that confused. Well, whatever it's called you wallet will certainly be lighter.

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