Informacion economica sobre Cuba

Conscious Consumption In Cuba: How To Have A More Authentic Trip While

Supporting Private Businesses

by Jessica Marati on Dec 7th 2012 at 1:00PM

Until very recently, nearly every entity in Cuba was owned and operated

by the government.

But in the past few years, the Cuban government has tried to promote

private businesses in hopes that the shift will provide a much-needed

boost to the economy. In late 2010, President Raul Castro announced that

the government would start making it easier for individuals to open

private businesses for the first time since a limited experiment in the

1990s. By July 2012, nearly 250,000 people had opened restaurants, shops

and service enterprises, contributing to a total 387,000 Cubans that

have chosen to be self-employed, according to the New York Times.

It's not a complete success story, though. According to the Times, Cuban

entrepreneurs regularly run into high taxes, steep customs duties and

arbitrary red tape. Cubans that rent out rooms in their homes as casas

particulares, for instance, must write down their guests' full

information in log books the moment they check in, lest a surprise

inspection lead to heavy fines. License fees for these types of

businesses are high, and often prohibitive.

Still, the loosened regulations are a positive sign for the future of

private business in Cuba, and travelers can have a positive, and

powerful, impact on this growth. One big reason is that most travelers

to Cuba use the Cuban convertible peso (CUC), rather than the Cuban

national peso (CUP). The CUC is most often used by foreigners for

tourism-related transactions, like hotels and meals, while the CUP is

used by most Cubans for everyday expenses. The difference between the

two currencies is vast – 1 CUC is equivalent to about 25 CUP – which

means that spending CUCs at privately run businesses can have a large

impact on the proprietors' pocketbooks.

If you are visiting Cuba independently, there are a number of ways to

have an authentic travel experience, while supporting private business

owners and the local economy. Here are a few.

Stay in a casa particular

Cuba's answer to Airbnb, casas particulares, are privately run bed and

breakfasts, usually run out of people's homes. Staying in casas

particulares are a great way to interact with locals and get an inside

look at how Cubans (or at least those with access to tourist dollars) live.

The government imposes strict regulations on casas particulares, so you

can generally expect rooms to be clean and stocked with a fan, air

conditioner, mini-fridge and bottled water for sale. Rates are

standardized, and usually range from $20-50 per room, per night. For an

additional fee, your host will also provide meals. One casa particular

in the Bay of Pigs even offered musical entertainment!

Casas particulares are easily booked through international booking

websites like or, or through Cuban

sites like or Or, you can just

roam the streets on the look-out for a white sign with blue writing that

reads "Arrendador Divisa" – they are ubiquitous in most city centers,

particularly Havana. If that host doesn't have a room, he or she will

more often than not call upon their network of friends to find you

another one.

Dine at a paladar

Paladares are privately owned restaurants, often run by families out of

their living rooms. They tend to have much better food and selection

than the government-run restaurants, which are pretty uniformly bland.

Like privately run restaurants elsewhere, paladares run the gamut in

terms of quality and atmosphere. One of the most renowned is Paladar la

Guarida, an elegant spot at the top of a 20th-century tenement in

Central Havana, famous as a setting for the film "Fresa y Chocolate."

The menu changes regularly but tends to feature inventive dishes with

ingredients not often found in spice-strapped Cuba. My cantaloupe

gazpacho with dried shrimp was superb.

Another popular spot in Havana is Paladar San Cristobal, which lives up

to its five-star TripAdvisor rating. We felt instantly welcome from the

moment we stepped into the colonial Spanish courtyard. Our host and

waiters lavished us with free wine refills and shots of ron, then lit

our first Cuban cigars to top off the meal. When they heard it was my

birthday, they disappeared to the back of the restaurant and reemerged

with an antique amethyst brooch, which they presented to me as a

remembrance of Cuba. The thoughtful service overshadowed my slightly

oversalted ropa vieja.

Take a private salsa class

Nobody wants to be that awkward gringo doing the two-step on the dance

floor at the salsa club. Brush up on your Latin dance skills with

private lessons from one of Cuba's informal dance schools. The best way

to find a private instructor is to inquire at your casa particular, or

ask around at popular salsa venues, like the bar at Hotel Florida. Rates

are about CUC$10-20 per person per hour, and longer intensive courses

are available.

Buy a used book in Havana's Plaza de Armas

The charming, tree-shadowed Plaza de Armas in Old Havana is a hub for

used booksellers, many of which operate independently. Most books are in

Spanish, but you can usually find an odd English or French title left

behind by an itinerant traveler, as well as bootlegged copies of Ernest

Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea," set off the Cuban coast.

Hitch a ride in a classic car

Rumbling along the Malecon in a classic car is a Cuban experience that

can't be missed. Look out for classic cabs with yellow license plates,

which indicate that the car is privately owned. Some of the most

beautiful and well-kept cars congregate at the Parque National in Centro

Habana, but their rates tend to be high. Be sure to negotiate a fare

before you start your joyride.

A final note

Traveling in a country with such a complex economic structure can be

eye-opening, but also frustrating. If you are a tourist using CUCs, you

will often be charged more than the local CUP equivalent. An ice cream

shop charging 5 CUP for a cone (US$.20) will probably charge you a full

CUC (US$1) instead.

Remember that the difference might be negligible to you, but could mean

a lot to the vendor. Exercise patience, and try to avoid being stingy.

And when you experience great service, don't be afraid to tip!

Related Articles:

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

December 2012
« Nov   Mar »
Please help us to to pay for more powerful servers. Thank you.
Peso Convertible notes
Peso Convertible