February 14 2017
For one week in January, the Island of Cuba welcomed Jason Dunbar & Aubree Thomas from Luke Brown Yachts, as well as several other marine industry professionals to explore their accommodations and learn about the rules and regulations of cruising in their waters.
A few simple steps everyone should know:
1. Money can be exchanged at the marina, airport and almost every hotel. (Cuban money is the CUC, pronounced ‘kook’)
2. As of January 2017, $1 USD = $.87 CUC. This is not a traditional market-based exchange rate, rather a 13% tax.
3. You can freely move about the Island by land via tour bus or one of Havana's classic car taxis (approx.30 kooks per hour).
4. Dargel Millan, the public relations director at Hemingway Harbor, explained how Cuba offers a cruising permit, allowing boats to visit all of the island's 12 international ports. The permission to proceed from port to port take less than 20 minutes. Vessels must stay with-in the 12 nautical mile borders line or clear customs at the next port of entry. If there is a marina, then you must dock in it, unless there are draft issues, then anchoring is permitted. Dargel can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
5. You may fish to your heart is content on the north side of Cuba and fishing permits are free. A fishing guide is recommended. While on the south side, a fishing rod is “equivalent to a shot gun” and fishing is strictly prohibited unless permitted with a guide.
6. The snorkeling and diving are spectacular, but you will need a dive guide if scuba gear is used.
Cuba appears to be an aggregate of the Caribbean islands. The Havana airport is similar to those in the Bahamas, the supermarkets carry the scent of stores in the Dominican Republic, and the country side is reminiscent of the grassy, hilly terrain of the Grenadines. Cuba's city life and architecture resemble the jazz-infused French Quarter of New Orleans, where the streets are safe enough to walk at night, with a hint of leaded fuel.
However, there are a few things about Cuba that appear to go beyond the scope of other Caribbean islands. The size of Havana looks and feels larger than downtown Miami and the infrastructure was cleverly designed for traffic flow. Cuba's array of pre-1960s autos are not for show, they a part of the work force vehicles on the island, many are taxis.
By the first day, you will feel and hear music, see artistic expression, and witness the pride of independence, education, and ingenuity the people believe to be uniquely Cuban.
You are reminded this is an impoverished Caribbean Island when you walk into your hotel room - the soap was used by the guests before you and the shower trickles against the wall, But gives you the water pressure of a first-class Russian engineered hotel. The rooms feel grand with the intricate crown molding on the vaulted ceilings, large opening French doors, to the small porch, overlooking the remnants of a 500 year old wall.
The national hotel has a breathtaking outdoor bar area, sitting atop a grassy hill overlooking the sea.
The 1959 revolution propaganda machine is around every corner, but when visiting any country, as a guest, one should act as accordingly. the communist mindset and norms of this country, makes it a little tricky for the person raised with a capitalistic mindset. Do you tip, can you negotiate a cab ride, or a street vendor selling leather bags for $12 Kooks, should you buy one of the green soviet and Cuban military hats on every corner and making the perfect prop for your Instagram post?
People say “get to Cuba before its ruined”, I don’t see that happening anytime soon. What is changing, because of the American tourist; the Cab drive and street vendor have new shoes, the maids and fishing guides have been able to afford taking their 1st family vacation, the waiters have money for an air conditioned apartment, the owner of the air B&B has a new 50 “ flat screen TV, etc..
The sky line, coral reefs, historic districts and do not appear to be changing anytime soon, but the people that service those area’s seem genuinely happy to work with us.