Why cash is crucial if you want to tour Cuba
By John Crudele January 16, 2017 | 11:14pm
Going to Cuba is like arriving at a friend’s New Year’s Eve party — a
Eventually, you sense, the place will be spiffed up, but at that
particular moment the hosts don’t exactly have their party pants on.
“I’ve never felt so poor in my life,” said one woman from Atlanta as she
sat with her boyfriend and me on the vast terrace of the magnificent
Both she and her boyfriend are pretty well off, but I understood what
I spent last weekend in Havana. I’d like to say I saw a lot of Cuba, but
I didn’t. And the reason why I stayed put in Cuba’s capital city and the
reason the Atlanta woman felt so broke are the same.
You cannot use US-issued credit or debit cards anywhere in Cuba — either
to buy something or to get cash.
Sure you could have someone wire you cash by Western Union, but how the
heck are they going to know you’re stuck? There’s virtually no internet,
text messaging was spotty, and I didn’t see a single land line in Havana.
Also, there aren’t any Western Union offices as far as I could tell.
Every American I ran into, and there were a lot, had the same feeling.
They felt trapped — “poor” in the words of the Atlanta woman — because
the amount of cash in their pocket was finite, and the amount they could
spend was not.
Your wad had to last for the duration of your trip, no matter what.
Cuba isn’t really ready for visitors yet. Adventurers, yes. The curious
like me, okay. But average tourists should stay home.
Let me give you a couple of examples of how the cash flows.
I could get an enormous meal and two frothy rum drinks at a restaurant
called Nardo’s for the equivalent of around $12. The line for a table
was an hour long because it was such a great deal.
Breakfast one day with a German woman and her 10-year-old daughter — we
got one egg, two soft drinks, a cup of coffee and two pastries — cost
$6.30. Not bad.
And then there’s the lodging issue. Through Airbnb you can get a room in
a private home for $25 to $30 a night.
That’s a bonanza for locals as a government job here pays about $30 a month.
The German woman paid only $10 a night with the owner of one house and
that included simple meals and a bucket of hot water to wash with in the
Or you can make like Frank Sinatra and stay at the 86-year-old Nacional.
It’ll cost you $338 a night — slightly more, I imagine, than it cost Ol’
A cab ride to the airport is $30. You can’t rent a car, so you have to
take a taxi anywhere you want to go. Even a thrilling ride in a
three-wheeled CocoCab cost me $7. Most rides were $10 to $20.
Two New Yorkers I met took a cooking class for $50. There was no way for
them to pay ahead of time, so they needed $100 in cash just for that,
plus the taxi fare that was probably $50.
Want to go to the beach? That’s a two-hour ride and will likely cost $100.
Cigars? At least $75 a box and as much as $400 for the really good ones.
You could buy them in an alleyway more cheaply but, like in New York,
you run the risk of getting fakes. Or mugged.
The streets seemed mostly safe. But the fact that Americans are carrying
lots of cash probably isn’t missed by those less than honorable Cubans.
This was the first time in my life that I moved my wallet to a front pocket.
Americans who happened to be carrying enough cash were offering money to
those who weren’t.
One good thing. I spent about five hours trying to get on board my Jet
Blue flight back home. And while plenty of people were selling rum,
cigars and trinkets at José Martí International Airport, there was
virtually no food or beverages available.
So that was a cash-saver. I did manage to score this Cuban sandwich, and
I was the envy of all the other tourists.
Source: Why cash is crucial if you want to tour Cuba | New York Post –