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This page includes notes of interest to sailors who are perhaps thinking of cruising Cuban waters.
We start with overall observations, then mention some anchorages/ports below
A complicated issue in Cuba, because there are two currencies. The Peso is supposed to be for Cubans only. We exchanged 18 for the Canadian dollars in late 2006. Euros, Sterling and some other international currencies exchange for an equivalent rate, BUT if you offer US dollars, there is a 20% (or more) tax, so US is a poor currency to bring. Cubans generally do not want foreign currency. This Peso is known widely as the "local Peso". The official name is the "Moneda National", abbreviated on many signs to "M.N."
Tourists are supposed to use the "Convertible Peso". These are often known as "dollars" in Cuba, but officially as "CUC". These cost $1.30 Canadian each in late 2006. We had to use them for all government charges, marinas, fuel and in the good restaurants. Many supermarkets selling imported or high-end food etc require CUC. Prices seems to us to be about equal to Canada. When I bought 16 CUC at a bank with US cash, it cost me $US 24. Some friends with a German credit card took cash from the bank, and found it expensive, since the bank converted their Euros to $US, then converted to CUC at 1.5$US to one CUC.
When we have considered using our Canadian credit card in restaurants, there is a charge of about 10%, so we use cash.
Local markets have a limited variety of fruits and vegetables, which are VERY cheap, as are eggs and cheese.
There is a "tax" of 20% when converting US$ to CUC or local Pesos.
Bottom line is that it is best to take Euros, Sterling or Canadian dollars. All can be readily converted to Cuban money without penalty.
Diesel is fairly readily available at a reasonable price. We did not buy any, but a friend who did found that seller bailing the fuel out of a large above-ground tank with a rusty bucket, because the pump did not work. At least. have a BaJa filter or similar, and best of all , avoid buying diesel.
"CUBA: A Cruising Guide" by Nigel Calder is the most recent and best cruising guide. A shore side guide is essential if you want to enjoy Cuba. We used the Lonely Planet guide. Both are readily available at Amazon.com and other bookstores.
The American and British charts are pretty useless, except for keeping offshore. We bought the Nobeltec electronic charts, since we had been pleased with the superb quality of their N. American and Bahamian charts. However, Nobeltec coverage of Cuba is poor, and almost useless for a cruising yacht. The most recent C-Map charts we have seen of Cuba are excellent, as the Navionics charts we saw on a Raymarine chart plotter.
Cuban paper charts are good, and are best bought as a set of 7 books, published by Edimar, a division of the Instituto Hidrografico de Cuba (ICH), also known as GeoCuba. Blue Water Books in Fort Lauderdale sells them for about $70US each. Price in Cuba is about $40 CUC, or about 2/3 of stateside price if you start with $Cdn. Main sales point is Tienda el Navigante at 115 Calle Mercadores, near Plaza des Armas in Habana Vejo. The charts for the NW coast were not available, and are never available according to several sailors we spoke with. We bought them from the GeoCuba office at the "la Regla" end of the cross-harbour ferry. (It leaves from just S of the main international passenger terminal, near Plaza de Armas). Address is Punta Santa Catalina, Regla, Ciudad de Habana. Normally GeoCuba does not sell directly, but helped us out on a personal visit. The ferry (la lancha por la Regla) leaves about every 15 minutes and the fare is about 1.5 cents Canadian. They confiscated my pocket knife, and held it till I returned, all in good humour. (Try taking a large pocket knife through airport security in N. America. It is gone for ever.)
Customs and Immigration
Cuban formalities are notoriously time consuming. It took us 3 hours for 7 officials and 3 dogs to check Milvina and the two of us into the country on first arrival. That was the only work the crew did in their 24 hour shift that day. Boats arrived about one every three days while we were there, so the officials had lots of time.
All were polite and in good humour, but some wanted a small kickback. We stuck with cold drinks and a magazine.
Internet access is lousy. It was not working at the marina. Closest to marina Hemingway is Club Havana, 20 minute walk to the East. there are only four computers, often busy. No WiFi. Hotel Palo (Probably misspelled name) about $5 by taxi, S of the first roundabout (redonda) towards Havana is better, with 24 hour service and no waiting. Both are $5/hour.
Around Havana, most large hotels have Internet access, but normally only on their computers with no WiFi. The only WiFi access we found was at the Hotel Saratoga, on the square surrounding the Capitulo in the centre of Havana.
It is very difficult for an average Cuban to access the Internet. Most public we found was a "telecommunications-Internet" establishment a few blocks from Plaza des Armas, Calle Obispo (No. 457 as I recall), near Aguacate, on the left side. The computers are behind an unnamed door, but ask and you can get there. Still no WiFi, but only $4.50/hour. Of course, this rate is well beyond the budget of an ordinary Cuban.
Cabo San Antonio
There is a small marina just inside Cabo San Antonio. Clder's book mentkions it s being propsoed, but is was operational in 2006. However, the advertised car rental, ships chandler etc do not exist.
There is a dock for 2-3 boats, with diesel and water. Staff were very friendly, and run a small restaurant. Showers but no laundry. About 2 m depth alongside the quay. We anchored about 100 m W of the quay, in 1.9 m water, at 21 deg 54.07 N, 084 deg 54.48 W. Max about 3 boats could anchor. Shelter was good in an Easterly wind.
Beware a pair of red and green lights on the dock, visible as you approach. They are NOT the entry channel.
I would not enter at night.