Trip report Jan 2013
Replies: 16 - Last Post: Feb 6, 2013 11:31 AM Last Post By: ElCubanito
Feb 4, 2013 7:20 AM
Trip report Jan 2013Toronto was overcast and – 5c when I left and 31/2 hours later Cuba was sunny and 26c on arrival. Checking in at the Westjet counter it was $20 to ship the Samsung LED TV as an over-sized second piece of luggage. It was a full flight less a few seats, the tourist card/visa were handed out during the flight and arrived in Varadero on schedule. We were the only in-coming flight and immigration inspection was fast and through the door to the X-ray machine to inspect the carry-on bags. It’s about 35 ft to the luggage carousel and after I retrieved my suitcase and TV it’s another 25ft to the security gate to exit the terminal. As I approached the gate a customs official pulled me aside and asked what was in the box. Told him it was a TV and he said TVs 32” and under is a flat $150cuc and anything over 32” is $400cuc tax. Lucky for me the TV was 32”. Missed my bus because of the paper work, 1st I had to fill out a form stating what it was and cost and go to another desk so they could enter the info into a computer and to the cashier cage to pay the applicable taxes to a lady who walked to another desk where I had to show her the paper that the tax was paid to her only a few minutes ago and as I was leaving the terminal the lady at the security gate asked to see the paper which she witnessed less than 2 ft away. Wasn’t asked to open the TV box or see the invoice. Exiting the terminal I was the last passenger and a taxi driver who just dropped some tourists off at the departure terminal offer to drive me for $90cuc. Told him all I had was $40 after paying taxes on the gifts and he said OK because he was returning to Havana empty. Had I known that I would have offered him $30. The hotel bus would have been $20 or 25 and would have dropped me off at the closest hotel to my casa and from there I would have to take a taxi to my casa and from the airport my driver took me to direct to my casa without the need to transfer my luggage twice.
The first week I was getting $98cuc per $100 CDN. The second week dropped to 97 and 96.
Jan 22 Cubacel announced that customers could have 12 months of service with a $40 deposit rather than $5 per month or $10 for 2 months to maintain an active line regardless of now much money was in the account. Good news for BeardoUK.
The same week they also announced a new tax structure for the casa owners plus they will be required to pay 10% on the rent collected each month. Good news for the casa owners and bad news for the gov’t if you can’t believe what the new taxes on the rooms are.
We went to some new restaurants we haven’t tried before like Wuaoo across from Hotel Habana Libre on Calle L. Nice deco, good service but the food is over-priced like a $7 hamburger and if not for the tourists the place would be empty. Because the restaurant has windows that open smoking is permitted. My partner said we should stick to the restaurants where Cubans eat like La Roca and Los Nardos and the pizza place on the top floor. Good value for your money.
One of our most memorable evenings out was the bar Floridita for its ambiance, music and a good mixture of customers keeping the place packed from 9pm to closing. Heads-up, it’s not cheap and a bottle of water is $3 plus a tip but the daiquiris were selling like hot cakes and of course everyone wanted their pictures taken with Hemingway at the end of the bar.
After been dormant for the last 3 or 4 years renovation has finally began on the Capitolio on the Prado. Ave Galiano is closed to traffic to replace the water lines. The highway from Varadero to Havana is work in progress as they repair and replaces sections of the roadway at a time reducing the highway to one lane each way.
Good weather in the high 70s except for one day when a cold front moved in and it rained on/off. A few days it was hot enough to spend a day at Las Playas del Este and eat some fresh lobsters in a nearby casa.
Moved around by private taxi. One day we needed a car for 3 hours because there were 3of us and my partner found a botero with a large American car in excellent condition for $10 an hour. He wanted $30 for 2 hours but agreed on $10 per house and he drove us across the bay and waited in the car while we visited friends and he drove us around Vedado looking at houses, sightseeing and visiting friends and to lunch. Later I felt bad because we didn’t invite him to join us for lunch but I guess he was happy with the money because he gave us his business card and told us to call him on his cell anytime.
If you are thinking of buying a house in Cuba ……forget about it. Caveat Emptor because it’s the Wild West unregulated and done on the honor system and a handshake. In the 90s every other Cuban was a jinetero and today every other Cuban is a corridor. You can obtain a computer print-out of the houses for sale or trade in Old Havana, can’t remember the address. It was a learning experience and a good way to see the inside of other people houses and how they live.
Legal Internet is $60 for 30 hours in Havana if you have a license or $100 per month in the black market. My partner downloaded a program into her Samsung Galaxy 2 that can capture the info on the caller carnet. Name, address, ID on his/her carnet, age, date if birth, etc.
Life is good in Havana if you have money. You can live like a tourist and spend a bundle or you can live like a Cuban on peso.
Going home we were on the new 800 serial plane in the Westjet fleet less than 2 months old. No entertainment center, no TV and the seats only recline about 2” compared to the older planes that reclined to your neighbor lap. The new planes will have WiFi instead of TVs.
Don’t disrespect the customs officials on your way out as they are only doing their job. 2 tourists were a little intoxicated and belligerent the officials during x-ray and they pulled the 2 guys to one side and in public removed each item from their carry-on bag and left them on the table for them to re-pack. I guess that really set them off because they continue to belittle the airport staff and just as we were preparing to board the plane the police arrived to take the 2 men into custody and the flight was delayed as they unloaded their suitcase for an extended vacation in jail.
Feb 4, 2013 11:55 AM
Could you expand on this a little...sounds like just more taxes for the casa owner? How is that good news?
"The same week they also announced a new tax structure for the casa owners plus they will be required to pay 10% on the rent collected each month. Good news for the casa owners and bad news for the gov’t if you can’t believe what the new taxes on the rooms are."
Feb 4, 2013 12:20 PM
2Seems like we were at the same places around the same time. I spent 28 days in cuba this january with 20 of them being in vedado and 8 in varadero.
I tried the same restaurant as you, but i can't remember the price being that high on the hamburger. I had checked the price on it beforehand and was going to try it myself but i saw someone else eating a hamburger on the way in and it looked pretty small and bad. So i settled for a 3-4 dollar sandwich which were small as well and not that tasty.
Feb 4, 2013 3:44 PM
Feb 4, 2013 4:11 PM
Feb 4, 2013 4:24 PM
Feb 5, 2013 6:53 AM
6Could you expand on this a little...sounds like just more taxes for the casa owner? How is that good news?
Jconchie – I don’t know if it’s true or not but I invited the owner of our casa to dinner and he said they are announcing some new regulation on TV @8pm and if it’s good news he will invite me to dinner. For him it’s good news because he said the new room tax is less than $100 per room per month but the owners have to pay on top of the taxes 10% of the rent collected. In Havana the rooms usually rent for $30 in hi season and if fully rented will be an additional $90 in revenue on top of the taxes per room and in low season the owner doesn’t have to close shop. Cubans are not dumb and if you give a Cuban a nickel they will start a business and if you give a Cuban 2 nickels they will buy your business. Casa owners are already thinking of how to take advantages of the new regulation and I am not Cuban and I can think of a 100 ways to avoid paying the $10% surcharge and have more money in my pocket at the end of the month.
Feb 5, 2013 7:00 AM
7Seems like we were at the same places around the same time. I spent 28 days in cuba this january with 20 of them being in vedado and 8 in varadero.
Travistouchdown – I go 4 times a year so it’s reasonable that we would have crossed path along the way somewhere. A few years ago you posted that you were in Cienfuegos and I was there at the same time and 2 or 3 years ago there were only 2 main streets, 2 disco worth going to, 2 peso restaurants, 3 Rápido, 1 main park in the center of town and we never bump into each other despite the fact that my partner goes jogging every morning the length of the Malecón without seeing any tourists.
Feb 5, 2013 7:05 AM
Feb 5, 2013 7:12 AM
9Hi rickie - I've never been to Floridita, too expensive for me. But Franklin is now playing at another new restaurant on Obispo so even Monserrate lacks its former charm
Jen – I am surprised. You spend 20 hours on an airplane to Cuba and thousands of dollars on your mate yet you wouldn’t spend $5 to treat yourself to a daiquiri at the famous Floridita and listen to some fantastic music and have your picture taken with your arm around the Noble prize winner Hemingway ;-)
nothing is forever for a Cuban. Today they are with one girl and next week they have a new girlfriend. One week they are playing at one restaurant and the next week they are playing at a new restaurant.
Feb 5, 2013 7:14 AM
10assuming all the aduana guys are on the same page (which I doubt). They cost $400 here in Guatemala so that's not so bad. you go in and out of Varadero right?
Hi Chef, your message arrived too late as I had already left for Cuba. I flew into and out of Varadero. I got a Boxing Day deal for the Samsung. $249 including the tax for a 32” LED. You can pre-empty the negotiation at the airport by bringing along a copy of the new regulation re: TV that I will email to you. Just print it out and show them. We had dinner with your buddy Jorge and his wife and he said to say hi to you. He came to our casa to drive us to the restaurant and we talked about a whole range of things happening in Cuba.
Feb 5, 2013 12:11 PM
Feb 5, 2013 1:16 PM
Feb 5, 2013 3:00 PM
Feb 5, 2013 3:03 PM
14#9 - so Rickie - 20 hours? 20 hours? LUXURY!!!! From my house, 24 hours and three flights to an overnight in México City, and then add on Mex - Havana - Santiago for good measure.
By the time I reach Cuba, I am really wondering about my sanity, and the thought of an ersatz Hemingway is less than appealing :)
(4 star Hotel)
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(4 star Hotel)
From US$65.77 per night