Simon Calder's Holiday Helpdesk: Coping with two currencies in Cuba

 

Q. My daughter is off to Cuba. Her worry is money. If the Cubans don't accept dollars, should she take pounds? And what is the best way of getting cash?

Name withheld

A Your daughter will become one of the relatively small number of British travellers to experience the beautiful chaos of the last bastion of communism in the West.

Cuba is a fabulous island, but with some annoying habits to contend with – such as its mad financial system. Jose Public uses the ordinary Cuban peso, for which the current rate is around 40 to £1. They used to be available mainly on the black market, but now they are exchanged legally at “Cadeca” kiosks – dotted around Havana and other Cuban cities. Travellers should always have a modest supply, say about £10 or £20 worth, in order to access items from pizza to city buses at locals’ prices. But for most essentials – accommodation, long-distance transport, meals in decent cafes and restaurants – foreigners need the CUC. This is the “convertible peso”, the island’s home-made hard currency.

The CUC is a peculiarly Cuban device. While the US dollar is the international currency of choice just about everywhere in the Caribbean, for political reasons Cuba has created its own (which, right now, is worth almost exactly the same as the dollar, at about 1.50 to the £). You can’t buy them abroad, so your daughter will need to change some upon arrival.

The best rates (ie where the “spread” between buying and selling rates is narrowest) are offered in exchange for the euro. It is probably not worth changing sterling into euros first, because you will lose a little on that transaction too. But a few low-denomination euro notes are useful, particularly in the back of beyond where locals will look askance at the Great British Fiver.

Besides cash, it is worth loading a pre-paid currency card with some sterling or euros so that she can use ATMs – and you have the parental privilege of topping up the balance from afar when it starts to run short.
Finally, while Cuba is the safest place in the Caribbean, ask your daughter to take extra care of her possessions in Old Havana and the centre of Santiago.

Click HERE to email Simon.

You can also tweet him your questions @SimonCalder

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

    £15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

    Recruitment Genius: Transportation Contracting Manager

    £33000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A global player and world leade...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel and Spa Duty Manager

    £18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are friendly, sociable, ...

    Recruitment Genius: Payroll and Benefits Co-ordinator

    £22300 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This museum group is looking for a Payro...

    Day In a Page

    Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

    The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
    How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

    Heavy weather

    What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
    World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

    World Bodypainting Festival 2015

    Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
    alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

    Don't call us nerds

    Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
    How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

    How to find gold

    Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
    Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

    Not born in the USA

    Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
    10 best balsamic vinegars

    10 best balsamic vinegars

    Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
    Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

    Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

    Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
    Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

    Greece referendum

    Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
    Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

    7/7 bombings anniversary

    Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

    Versace haute couture review

    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
    No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

    No hope and no jobs in Gaza

    So the young risk their lives and run for it
    Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

    Fashion apps

    Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy