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First time to cuba - pls help

Hi everyone,

Our family will be visiting Cuba for the first time this March. We are very happy to have found this wonderful forum - all of your comments have been very informative and helpful. Will you please help us with a few questions:

  1. we will be staying in Havana for 2 days before going to Veradero ( Air Transat duo city package). The package includes hotel and breakfast in Havana only. How much cash do you think we need to bring for a family of 4 to spend in Havana ( 2 lunch, 2 dinners, snacks, tour or private tour of Havana, taxis, bus, admission, souvenirs etc.) ? ( for 2 adults and 2 teens). We just have no idea, never having been to Cuba before.

  2. I have read on this forum that there are private tours and driver/personal guides in Havana that we can contact via email to arrange ahead of time. I saw a post from Martian in August, 2006 recommending Pototo. Email: pototo@cuba-junky.com .

Will you recommend Pototo ? does he still do private tours ? are there others that you can recommend perhaps ? we are looking for someone English speaking and trustworthy to take us on a private tour of Havana ( we are very interested in the history, culture, arts and food in Havana). Any suggestions ?

  1. A bit confused about what credit cards will be accepted. Will a BMO (bank of montreal) mastercard be ok in Cuba ? can we get cash advances from the bank in Cuba ( what bank do we go to ?).

  2. We are going to Veradero for 4 nights AI - Tryp Peninsula. Any suggestions as to day trips to take while in Veradero ? anyone knows a driver and personal guide who can take us around for a day trip around Veradero ?

  3. I’ve read the general information page , but if there are any helpful tips, guidance, info, or things to avoid that you can pass along to us first-timers, we would greatly appreciate it.

Thank you and look forward to your help and guidance.


You can of course spend as much (or little) as you like in Havana, but here’s a rough estimate… lunch 10 CUC each, dinner 20 CUC each, snacks and water 5 CUC each, museum admissions 10 CUC each per day, taxis won’t be much since you’re there for only 2 days, say 10 CUC per day. Souvenirs as much (or little) as you want to spend. A private tour can vary wildly in cost depending on what you want to do… a simple walk around Old Havana or someone to go out with your teens at night to watch out for them won’t be much money. If you’re doing the Tropicana then it’s expensive.

Read these threads:



Pototo is always my first choice, but there are other resolvers mentioned in the links above.

Have a look here for some excellent links and info regarding Havana tours:


I don’t have any experience with Bank of Montreal credit cards, but most credit cards are fine as long as they have zero affiliation with the US. You should never depend on just one card. Bring a back-up as well as cash. Yes, you can get a cash advance at a bank, bring your Passport. For only 2 days in Havana though it’s much easier to simply bring cash (new, unmarked bills) and exchange them at the airport or at a Cadeca (official government exchange facility.) With the exception of the occasional restaurant almost all purchases outside your hotel will be in cash.

Which hotel are you staying at?

No real need for a tour around Varadero, the double decker bus will run you into town, it runs up and down the length of the pennenula for $5. While in town you can get a horse and buggy ride or take a spin in the coco cabs, great fun!
Check out the market and the Josone Park, the museum was closed the day we went to see it and never went back to check it out, may be worth a look.



Thanks, Martian , for your response :slight_smile:

we’ll be staying at the Melia Habana - its part of the “Air Transat duo city” package , can’t change it, unfortunately - would have preferred to stay in old havana instead…

do you think I should send Pototo an email now to make arrangements or should I wait till closer to our departure date (March 13) ? how does it work ? can I tell him I heard about him from you at this site ? what might be the costs roughly for a full day private tour, with driver & guide ? we just want a guide to show us around, learn about the cuban history/culture/food etc.

I will second Martian’s recomendation of Pototo. He set up a walking tour for us with a guide that included a short tour in a classic american car. Pototo did not guide us on our tour, but the guide provided, Louis, was wonderful and knowledgeable. We set up our arrangements via email 2 or 3 months in advance and kept in touch. We called Pototo once we arrived in Cuba.

Susan :slight_smile:

thanks everyone - so much helpful advice and info…I just can’t wait to see Cuba :slight_smile:

are there other towns near Veradero that is worth seeing ?

ok, I’ll email Pototo now - 3 to 4 months in advance, Susan said - wow - I better get to it today… Susan - do you have an estimate for us as to costs for the private tour for the day ? do you also pay for the guide’s meals ? just not sure how this works…

If you read the links then you’ll see one example (with price) for a tour/meal/ride in a classic car/etc. that Pototo can provide. His English is decent, simply drop him a line letting him know your situation and he will reply with a few suggestions.

Too bad you’re at the Melia Habana. It’s a cold, soulless place in a lousy location. That said, if you haven’t been to a developing country before it does offer a decent escape from the hustle and bustle of Havana.

Have fun.

ok, just sent an email to Pototo - keeping my fingers crossed.

yes, I know, we saw pictures of Melia Habana - not ideal - but its part of the Air Transat package, can’t change it…then again, we’ll just mostly return to the hotel at night to sleep - hopefully the rooms are decent ( has anyone stayed at the Melia Habana ???)

what is the Tropicana ?

I’ve (unfortunately) stayed there and it’s a typical big, impersonal, utterly forgettable hotel that caters to tour groups and low end business people. It has no redeeming features whatsoever and simply offers a safe, westernized escape from Havana. The rooms and breakfast were perfectly adequate.

Throw on some more money in your budget for taxi fare though because it’s quite a drive from the usual tourist sights in Old Havana.

The Tropicana is in the western end of Havana, same general area as your hotel.

Air Transat says the hotel provides a free bus to old Havana - have you taken one of those ? or should we not bother and go with a taxi ?

I know just what you mean about Melia Habana - I have mentally prepared everyone in the family , not to expect anything and that its just a place to fall asleep at night. Would you say its like our Best Western, Holiday Inn type of thing ?

I read from TripAdvisor that NH Parque Central in Havana is the best place to stay at .

Martian, I’m thinking of taking $1,000 Canadian dollars with us - not sure what that translates to in CUC - does that sound about right for family of 4 for 2 days in Havana plus a little extra for small trips/gifts in Veradero ?

do they accept $100 bills ? or is it better to bring $50 bills ?

There are free shuttles between the hotel and Old Havana but during my stay I was never able to find one, or it was already full. The last shuttle also came back to the hotel fairly early in the evening so it was never any use.

You shouldn’t try to make a direct comparison between Canada and Cuba. It’s not like Best Western or Holiday Inn, it’s just like I described, nothing more nothing less. It’s perfectly adequate and all your family needs to remember is that they’re not in North America anymore, so keep an open mind and enjoy the new experiences.

The NH Parque Central is fine - not my cup of tea unless I’m there on business - (I like the smaller boutique hotels) but the location is superb and service is very good. If you’re in Park Central then it’s an excellent place to slip into for a few moments, if only to use their great washrooms. (Straight through the lobby, past the bar, up against the far wall.) It’s also a good place to liberate some toilet tissue if you forgot to bring some with you.

$1,000 CAN = about 750 CUC. Remember to set aside 25 CUC each for your departure tax which leaves you about 650 CUC. That’s enough to have a great time. Hundreds are fine to exchange, just be sure they’re new, unmarked bills.

Thank you, Martian…will especially keep in mind where to go for washrooms and toilet paper :slight_smile:

Is it safe at all to keep our cash and passports in the safe in our hotel rooms ? ( Melia Habana in Havana/ Tryp Peninsula in Veradero).

Has anyone had any problems before ?

I wasn’t kidding about the toilet paper. Always have some with you because it’s not always available. A handi-wipe or two is a nice luxury as well, along with a small bottle of hand sanitizer.

There is (almost) never a problem with hotel safes, especially at big established hotels/resorts like the ones you’re staying at.

Remember you’ll need your Passport to exchange money, otherwise simply keep a photocopy with you and lock everything else in the safe. Don’t carry anything with you that isn’t necessary. In Havana that means no dangling jewelry, etc.

Thanks, Martian - you’ve been great help. By the way, still haven’t heard back from Pototo yet - I guess it takes him a while to respond ?

Thanks, and you’re welcome.

Email has been off-and-on the last few days. Give him another day or so then simply resend it.

The Tropicana is a show - lots of dancing girls (and boys) in feathery costumes. Probably the same routines (and same costumes) as they were using in the 1950s.

For us who live here, the main interest in the Melia Habana is the oriental fusion restaurant which gives tastes of things you don’t find elsewhere in Cuba.

I know just what you mean about Melia Habana - I have mentally prepared everyone in the family , not to expect anything and that its just a place to fall asleep at night. Would you say its like our Best Western, Holiday Inn type of thing ?

I read from TripAdvisor that NH Parque Central in Havana is the best place to stay at .[/quote]

The Melia Habana at least has water features and hanging plants to try and create some interest. The Melia Cohiba strikes me as worse.

There is no one “best” place to stay - different people will prefer different places. I find the Parque Central pretty soulless - and ugly to look at. But the roof-top pool is a good place to hang. (Though it was the Saratoga’s roof-top pool that got in the UK Guardian’s list of five best in the world.) Last time I was in the PC, I thought the washrooms were beginning to look a bit tired. (Though the Saratoga’s are not much better).