Now you booked a trip to Varadero, Cuba or want to book one, but you don’t know what to expect and what to bring? One thing you need to bring for sure: bug spray. I have been to Varadero twice, both times I booked an all-inclusive hotel, and I came up a list of things to know in Varadero:
Varadero is a popular Canadian winter destination. At the hotel we stayed in, 50% of guests are Canadian. There are tourists coming from all over the world, like the United States, Russia, Columbia… Even though we might not get an idea about Cuba, the local Cubans have an idea about Canada tourists.
If you want to know where to visit in this island, check out my other post about Places to Visit in Varadero.
Generally, I found the trip very pleasant. Even though it is a tourist area, but the security is very good. There is rarely any pickpocketing. However, there are some things I found interesting in my past trips.
Things to Know in Varadero
Taxi is expensive
Taxi is very expensive in Cuba. I heard from locals that taxi drivers make the same amount of salary as doctors there. However, you could negotiate the price with the taxi driver before you take the service. Also, sometimes the taxi driver told you a price, it is per person rather than per ride. So be sure the find out the total price before you took the service.
CAD and USD is not accepted
There are two currency systems in Cuba: CUC and CUP. In general, CUC is for foreign tourists and CUP is for locals. The market for currency is determined by the Cuban government. The exchange rate for CUC is 3% above USD. You can’t convert to CUC in Canada, it has to be done in Cuba. However, this rate varies where you exchange your money.
Exchange rate is better at bank than hotel
Obviously, the exchange rate at Bank is better than one at the hotel. There is one bank in Varadero: Banco de Credito Y Comercio.
However, when we went that bank, the wait time was long. I would recommend exchanging all the money at once at the bank. So if you have time and want to a better exchange rate, be sure to go to Banco de Credito Y Comercio.
There is a 25 CUC per person exit tax when you leave Cuba
There is a 25 CUC/person exit tax when you leave Cuba. However, when I went with Air Canada in December 2017, the exit tax is included in the airfare. Nevertheless, double check with your air provider. I have heard a story that people run out of cash to pay this, they end up selling their phones or shoes to locals for only 25 CUC. So if you want to keep your shoes and your phones at end of the trip, be sure to save enough money to pay for this.
It is illegal for locals to accept goods from foreigners
I am not 100% sure about this, but I encountered a local approaching me asking for used clothing, soap or shampoo. He told me he arrested and fined once for doing the same thing. He was wearing an Armani Exchange shirt. I guess he was trying to pretend that he was a hotel guest.
We went to the local supermarkets; things sold there are in CUC and the price is about same in Canada. So I start to wonder, how would they afford it?
Even though the hotel is only for hotel guests, all beaches in Cuba are open to all public. Apparently, there are policemen patrolling along the beach during the day, but they got off around 5:30 (not sure exactly). And that is when the local I mentioned above would come out and try his luck with tourists. I saw several men like him on the beach after sunset.
I would recommend if you have unwanted clothing and want to donate anyway, and you have extra space in your luggage, bring them and secretly give to the locals or children you encountered. Be sure don’t like policemen see it.
Tipping is necessary
Tipping is very necessary. I ask the local tour guide about how much money staffs at the hotel make per month. The answer is very little, around 500 CUP, which equals to 20 CUC, about 30 CAD. I also ask a staff at the beach about his working hours, the answer is a lot. He started his day 7 am at the beach finished around 6:30 pm.
I am not sure whether their answers are 100% truthful. However, I don’t think locals are making much money so that is why tipping is necessary. 1 dollar tip means a lot to them. I also heard the Varadero is a rich part of Cuba, so I start to wonder how is the life of people in the rest of Cuba?
Anyway, I heard from an experienced tourist that he would pack things like used clothing and sample-size cosmetics back home, and give to hotel staffs as tips. Hotel staffs really appreciated it. This gives me an idea: next time I am going to Cuba, I am going to pack all my unwanted clothing, stationery, cosmetics, shampoo, soap, toothpaste… and give out as tips.
So you don’t necessarily need to give out money as tips, but tipping is very necessary.
Want to Book an Excursion?
Price is same everywhere
We booked 2 excursions: one day in Havana and 1/2 snorkeling excursion at the Coral Beach. I noticed the price is same regardless which agency you book it from. We book snorkeling excursion online in advanced and the price is same as Air Canada tours. So I would recommend waiting until you got to your hotel and booked through the agency you travel with.
Non-US Credit Cars are accepted
If you book through Air Canada, they do accept credit card, but charged in US dollars. American credits cards are not accepted, only Canadian credit cards are accepted.
Pina Colada at Washroom Stop
One thing about excursion: on the trip to Havana, there is a washroom stop on the way to Havana and this stop sells freshly made Pina Colada for 5 CUC. However, I don’t really like the taste. I think it tastes worse than the free ones I got from the hotel.
Things to Bring
- enough CAD cash
- bug spray
- itch relief
- after-sun lotion
- tissue (tissue quality at our hotel is not the best)
- unwanted clothing to give to locals