Shopping

Compared with much of Latin America, Cuba is expensive for the tourist, but compared with many Caribbean islands it is not. Whereas in the 1990s most towns would have one or two dollar shops, there are now lots of supermarkets and smaller shops selling imported items in CUC$. Some of these may actually have been made in Cuba in the free-trade zones , where they are allowed to sell 25% of their produce on the domestic market in CUC$. Shopping centres are springing up and the materialist culture is creeping in. It is not unusual for a
casa particular
to have two or three fridge freezers and a microwave, yet the woman will be doing the laundry in cold water in an outside sink as she has done all her life, and the family will travel on a bicycle.

There is very little you can buy in pesos cubanos apart from some food in some areas. Shoes, clothing, cosmetics, toiletries, camera film, imported food and drink are all available in CUC$. Throughout the country, stores are surprisingly busy, despite the small proportion of the population having direct access to CUC$, or
divisa
, as hard currency is known. All bags and receipts are checked on leaving a store.

The main souvenirs to take home with you have to be
rum
,
cigars
and
coffee
. The street price of a bottle of rum ranges depending on its age and quality. Cigars can cost whatever you are prepared to pay, but they are still the best in the world . Remember that all the best tobacco leaves go into cigar making rather than cigarettes. Make sure you buy the best to take home and don't get tricked into buying fakes, you may not get them through customs. You are only allowed to take 23 cigars out of the country without a receipt. If you are buying any souvenirs to take home, remember to keep the official receipt in case you have to show it at customs on departure. If you are after a specific cigar brand, go to a specialist shop, where the cigars are stored at the correct temperature and the staff are knowledgeable. While there is a fairly large stock at the airport you can't rely on finding what you want.

Handicrafts are now being developed for the tourist market and there are artesanía markets in Havana, Trinidad and Varadero, which hold an overwhelming amount of stock. Wooden carvings, inlaid wooden boxes for cigars, jewellery, key rings, baseball bats, model sailing ships, cotton crochet garments, ceramics, Che Guevara berets and innumerable T-shirts will be offered to you. There is a considerable amount of artwork of varying degrees of worth, but you may pick up a bargain. If you are a serious collector, skip the markets and go straight to the galleries in Havana. Taking art out of the country requires a special licence.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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