Cuba’s Two Currencies Are Ideal for Fleecing Tourists

By Circles Robinson

Foto: ips
Foto: ips

HAVANA TIMES — The current tourist boom in Cuba accentuates the vulnerability of visitors to the the island’s two-currency system, which some have already read is a detriment to investment, efficiency and transparent bookkeeping.

On a recent trip I witnessed how the confusion between regular Cuban pesos (CUP) and the Convertible Peso (CUC) leads to the tourist being taken by the vendor or service provider.

One CUC exchanges for 24 CUP.  To buy one CUC it costs 25 CUP.  They are often both referred to as pesos.

I watched a tourist pay a vendor 1 CUC for a shot of coffee that costs 1 CUP and another pay 3 CUC for an ice cream cone that costs 3 CUP.  Occasionally somebody in line notices that the vendor is taking the tourist for a ride and they speak out; however often they get away with it.

I have also seen incidents where the visitor asked the price of an item or service and is told 10 pesos and then pays with CUP, receiving a nasty reply from the provider leading to a heated discussion and finally having to fork out the CUC.

Here’s a few tips to not be exploited by the unscrupulous. 

Cadeca money exchange. Photo:
Cadeca money exchange. Photo:

Go to a CADECA money exchange in the city and change a limited amount of your CUC’s into CUPs so that you have both.

(For reference, while the CUC is pegged to the dollar, a 10% surcharge + the commission means you will get 0.87 CUC for 1.00 USD.)

When trying to understand the correct price of something you see on the street when the sign just says 1.00 or 2.00 etc.:

– Ask someone else in line instead of the vendor and/or observe what other people are paying. Most people are honest and will explain. This is the best way to not make a mistake.

– Note if the price says CUP or the also used MN (Moneda Nacional) or CUC.

– Think logically of what the item would cost.  For example a beer wouldn’t cost 2 pesos and must be 2 CUC, a collective taxi ride is 10 CUP not 10 CUC.  Popcorn on the street makes much more sense at 5 CUP than 5 CUC. A pineapple might cost 10 or 15 pesos, not that amount in CUC.

– Many food establishments and stores now accept the two currencies interchangeable at the rate of 25 CUP to 1 CUC

– You can use 5 cents of a CUC interchangeably for 1 peso CUP.  (You lose a little in the exchange)

– Keep your CUP and CUC separately in your purse or wallet to not confuse them which is easy to do.

If you have something to add to this list or a related personal experience to tell please do!

Should a plantain cost 3 CUP or 3 CUC? Photo: Ghyslaine Peigné
Should a plantain cost 3 CUP or 3 CUC? Photo: Ghyslaine Peigné



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