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Tours & Tour Guides, Tipping and Tips when staying in Havana

cheshire
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Tours & Tour Guides, Tipping and Tips when staying in Havana

I have recently returned from my first trip (a week) to Havana and it was absolutely fabulous. I cant profess to be an expert, as many people who contribute to this Forum have a lot more experience and knowledge of this fabulous city but I thought I would share some of my experiences with anyone thinking about going and also some suggestions while there.

Tours and Tour Guides

You can do Havana on your own with a good guide book but I really would not recommend this. Mainly because of the vast amount of restoration being done by UNESCO throughout the city. The guide books simply cannot keep up to date with places that have been restored and are lovely to visit. Many of the museums are behind closed doors of old houses and you would never know they were there if you did not have a good guide to show them to you.

I know this has been said 100 times before on this Forum but the best guide is Jorge who can be contacted at jorgeguide2004@yahoo.com. We only managed to book him for half a day, which was our first day. He met us at the hotel and we walked round to the Museum of Revolution. Throughout this walk he pointed out buildings of interest, told us the history and made recommendations of where to eat and visit. The Museum of Revolution is interesting but the descriptions are in limited english and Jorge brought the whole history of Cuba to life - this is a guide that makes you really feel you are living the past - other people were earwigging on our tour and many complemented him when we were about to leave. I really wish he could have been our guide throughout the week.

The next day we booked a tour of the city through Virgin holidays. My husband wanted to go on an airconditioned coach which turned out to be a big mistake. If you book one of these tours they are cheap and it is an economical way of seeing the city but you miss so much. Firstly there are at least two nationalities with you so each descripton has to be described in different languages. You drive past many fabulous buildings but only are few are mentioned and you cannot ask the guide "what is that" when you are with 40 other people. Even when you stop to walk through the old town it is very rushed and again only the main sights are pointed out. The tour takes about three - four hours but you really dont take in that much. For the same money we could have had a private tour with Jorge and seen and learnt much more.

After this tour we decided to book private tours and these were done through Cubacon. The first one we did was the Canon ceremony. Our guide was not very good at all, he hardly said anything to us except "Look here are the soldiers in their uniforms - they look nice". Well we could see that but what about some of the history etc.

We had a couple of other tours through Cubacon and the guides were better than the one we had for the Canon ceremony but still not a patch on Jorge - the problem is when you book the tour you don't know who you will get so it is very hit and miss so my advise to anyone if you are going to Cuba look on the trip advisor forums for good tour guides (Marta and Pototo are also meant to be very good) and book their services before you get to Cuba.On our final day Jorge arranged for Raul to show us round the Capitol and Museum of the City and he also took us to a building that had a scale model of Hanana City. It was facinating to see all the landmarks and the model changes from day to night. We would never had found this in a guide book or if we had been on an organised tour bus. Again he was much cheaper for private tours than Cubacon charge.

Tipping

Tip as you go along and with cash. Most Cubans earn £10/$20/20 CUC a month and no more. The guide we had on the coach tour was a lovely boy in his 20's. He spoke five languages fluently. One of the old gentlemen tourist on the tour asked him if he was on his "Gap Year". Because the Cubans are so well read and well educated and speak english so well, I think people wrongly assume they are like middle class english or americans. The guide had no concept of what he was being asked and when the tourist explained he told him that Cubans were not allowed to leave the country to travel or work abroad (very few do but this has to be approved by the government). He said he would love to be able to save up and travel like the people he meets from other countries but this was not possible. Everything he earned was only enough to buy food and clothes - he could never afford to save up for a holiday like us, even if he was able travel.

Another guide told us that if you work in the travel industry the government assume you receive money in tips so you get taxed on this - so sometimes if you have received good tips you do get a little bit extra but other times you actually loose money.

Everyone we met did not expect to be tipped ( with the exception of a few ladies in the Museum of the City) but they are so appreciative when you do. We found carrying around lots of change 1CUC coins or 3 & 5 CUC notes was very useful. You can be sitting in a cafe and a group of musicians will serenade you and its only fair to give them a few CUC for the entertainment. We did see several people wave their hands at musicians shooing them away. One night in La Fontana restaurant a group of trendy 30 somethings actually asked the musicians to play for them but then didn't give them anything for doing so. The worse thing I experienced was a photographer snapping away at an old Santa Ria lady dressed win white and smoking a cigar. He was getting her to pose while he snapped away with his very expensive equipment and when she held out her had he just walked off. The look on her face was not one of anger but of a person who had been humiliated in public and had had her sole taken away. So my advise is if you can afford to go to Cuba you can afford to tip so please do. We tipped our maid daily in the hotel and also left some items that Cubans would consider luxuries or impossible to get. I took some trainers my kids had grown out of but were still in good condition and left these along with packets of sweets, perfume etc. There are shops in Havana that sell these but they are very scarse and expensive for most Cuban people to buy.

Tips when staying in Havana

Firstly - take a roll of toilet paper or tissues with you whenever you leave your hotel. Every public toilet I went into including the ones in the Saratoga hotel did not have toilet paper ( the only exception to this was the Parque Central hotel and Tropicana). Some hotels have a lady sitting outside who will hand you a square of loo paper in exchange for 1 CUC but it is only a small square so carry extra with you.

Ladies take sanitary towels or tampons with you regardless of whether you think you will need them. I didn't think I would need any but received a suprise (probably due to the long flight) and found it impossible to buy any. Eventually I found a packet of pads (ask for Intima) in the drug store in the Prado arcade but that was only after our receptionist at the Parque Central managed to track some down for me.

As well as the above carry some sweets in your bag when you go out. You often see school children or toddlers walking in the streets of Havana (always well behaved and immaculately dressed) and if you can give them some sweets they are really appreciate.

The only negative point is there are a small minority of people that try to befriend you and then get you to buy drinks for them. (most Cubans would never do this) They will first ask you the time, where you are from and invite you to a bar to listen to a concert - we never fell for this but were approached - the authorities are very strict on these people but there are some around (mainly around the Capitol building) so just walk on and pretend you dont speak english.

Finally if you are planning a trip to Havana - do so soon. There is no other city like it in the world and the Cubans are unique. They are so well educated and articulate, their lives are enriched with Music (everywhere in Havana you will hear live music) art and culture yet most have never been out of the country and never will as much as they would love to be able to. Yet they show no resentment to tourists (unlike so many other countries in the world).

These people are genuinely friendly and appreciate of the fact you have visited their country. Visiting Havana was a wonderful but humbling experience - it just makes you realise how much we have and how little we appreciate how lucky we are.

cheshire
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1. Re: Tours & Tour Guides, Tipping and Tips when staying in Havana

Sorry - The correct email for Jorge is jorgeguide2004@yahoo.es

Mullumbimby...
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2. Re: Tours & Tour Guides, Tipping and Tips when staying in Havana

Thanks Miss Cheshire..you were obviously deeply affected by your trip..thanks for your advice!

Spoon in Oz

ps I land in Cuba for my first time on the 18th of feb.

Isle of Wight...
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3. Re: Tours & Tour Guides, Tipping and Tips when staying in Havana

Thank you very much for this detailed posting, very interesting and informative ! Will print it out for when we go to Cuba.

Barnsley
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4. Re: Tours & Tour Guides, Tipping and Tips when staying in Havana

Great report which should come in very useful for our first visit in March.Could you advise on the dress code for the hotel and also for wandering the streets of Havana during the day and night. We're combining our visit,3 nights at the NHPCentral with 11 nights at the Playa Pesquero. I'm ok with what to wear at the beach resort but not sure as a visitor to the city.We don't know what our luggage allowance will be as we're taking an internal flight from Holguin to Havana with First Choice who haven't given us our itinery yet but presume we'll have to travel light!

Thanks again for a super report.

cheshire
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5. Re: Tours & Tour Guides, Tipping and Tips when staying in Havana

Basically anything goes in Havana and at the Parque Central.

I am old fashioned and like to "dress for dinner" (accentric english upbringing i'm afraid), so in the evening I would wear either a shift dress or floaty skirt or dress and never felt overdressed but some people wore more casual clothes. The Cubans are smart dressers, you wont see many in short trousers and t-shirts in the evening so I would say smart casual if the best bet.

As for the day again anything goes. especially as Havana is a working city. You would see tourists in shorts and sunhats and other people in suits. Its a very cosmopolitan city so whatever you feel comfortable in pack. It is very hot however so take a sunhat, comfortable shoes and cool clothes. Hope you enjoy your holiday as much as I did, have a great time.

Havana, Cuba
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6. Re: Tours & Tour Guides, Tipping and Tips when staying in Havana

Hi Mrs Slg:

Am I allowed to say here that a friend (including his wife) considered you the best dressed woman in Havana the day they met you? I hope you take it as what it is: A compliment to a very elegant lady!

I should add that yes, Cubans will appreciate any well dressed visitor at day and night times. Believe it or not it is taken as a matter of respect to the country you are visiting and make us feel that educated and well mannered visitors are coming to see this island. I would love to be able to record some comments of Cubans (no matter their economic conditions and possibilities to dress properly) when we see fellows/fellas wearing overused flip-flops, broken jeans that have been washed zillions times (with scratches included) and dirty t-shirts that have not seen detergent during their lifetimes. …not to mention those who forgot to bring deodorant without understanding they were visiting a sub-tropical country with a hot and humid weather.

And to be clear, I am not referring here expensive-fancy-boutique type stuff…just clean, casual, decent and appropriate dressing will make a lot of Cubans very happy if they have to give you any kind of services during your visits IMHO.

cheshire
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7. Re: Tours & Tour Guides, Tipping and Tips when staying in Havana

Why thank you Voy - please pass on my thanks to your charming and distinguished friend and his beautiful wife. I do hope it is not too long before we meet up again.

One of the things that really impressed me about Havana was the fact that the Cubas were so clean and well dressed. The school children, even the teenagers always looked immaculate in crisp white clean shirts and clean skirts and trousers - compared to some of the teenagers over here - dirty clothes, shirts hanging out of trousers, chewing gum and basically looking complete slobs, you have to stop to remember that Cubans do not have the luxury of automatic washing machines and tumble dryers as we do but basic washing facilities and washing lines over the streets - yet they still manage to look ten times better than most brits and americans (sorry chaps but its true). So the moral of this posting is When in Cuba do as the Cubans - wash reguarly and dress well - it is as Voy requests only polite!

Dorset UK
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8. Re: Tours & Tour Guides, Tipping and Tips when staying in Havana

marvelous post.

cant wait, will be in Havana for 3 days in feb, already booked with Jorge, he cant guide me but one of his associates will. he said he will find the time to see me. my wife love to dress up, she was worried if she overdressed, not now.

once again one off the best and informative postings.

aj

Barnsley
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9. Re: Tours & Tour Guides, Tipping and Tips when staying in Havana

Thanks for the help in what to wear in Cuba. I love to wear nice clothes, especially on holiday. Must remember to pack comfortable sandals and a wide brimmed hat!

Can't wait.

Reading
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10. Re: Tours & Tour Guides, Tipping and Tips when staying in Havana

What a great, helpful review and tips! Thanks for the detail slj: my family and I are taking our first trip to Cuba at the end of March....can't wait. We're only going to get 2 days in Havana as we 'need' a beach break....the rest is in Varadera: any other suggestions to fill 2 days in the capital with teenage reluctant tourists will be welcome!

Simon, Reading, simonwatson1@compuserve.com

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