Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

Personal tools

The Ultimate Cruisers' Planning Tool


You are here: Home / Users / doina / Cruising Report On Cuba & Venezuela

Cruising Report On Cuba & Venezuela

By doina — last modified Mar 11, 2008 10:51 PM

Published: 2008-03-11 22:51:19
Countries: Cuba , Venezuela

Santiago De Cuba Closed

From our experiences recently, I would advise anyone who is planning on arriving or departing from Cuba at Santiago de Cuba not to rely on or make plans around this port being open. We arrived on the 19th of January and upon calling into Santiago we were told that the port was closed, we were not allowed to enter the harbour what-so-ever and “must proceed”. The next ports heading West are Cienfuegos or Cayo Largo (Manzanillo and Niquero are not international ports). The authorities at Cienfuegos were not aware of the closure but upon investigation confirmed that Santiago was indeed closed. A week later we were informed that Santiago was still closed however it was only a paperwork issue and they may be open anytime soon. When we returned to Cienfuegos we were told that Santiago was open. Five days later, at the time of our departure, 20th of February, we were told that Santiago was once again closed. We have heard all sorts of rumours as to the reason and duration of closure, from government concerns to the incinerator not working so they couldn’t get rid of rubbish.

Overall, Santiago may be open but I would not count on it. As we found out, after a long passage, traveling the extra 250nm to Cienfuegos can be a bit of a drag and somewhat disheartening especially as we encountered a counter-current against us along the South coast.

Cuba Immigration & Customs

Our experiences in Cuba of the authorities we dealt with were overall very good. There is a lot of paperwork, however this is all completed by the officials themselves with the captain signing once or twice at each port. The officials are very polite and pleasant to deal with.

We had two charges on arrival (apx. $CUC20 and $CUC25) and an additional charge if you want a cruising permit ($CUC15).

We were occasionally asked for a very small item, such as sellotape, a pen, a beer or a sail-tie (for a sniffer-dog’s lead). Nothing was demanded however. On departure we were asked for “a gift for the baby”, after saying we had no money we were asked for Coke and eventually gave him a litre/quart of milk. Again however, there was no animosity what-so-ever. We have been informed that the authorities in Havana (due to the large number of American vessels in the past) can be very demanding for gifts/bribes/payments.

The extent of searching the boat varies at each port and for each boat. We seemed to be searched far more extensively on departure than any other time.

As a warning, we asked for 60 days on arrival and the only dates on our paperwork said 60 days. On our 30th day we were told by immigration that our visa was up. It turns out that customs will give you 60, 90, generally however long you want. However, immigration gives you only 30 days when you enter. None of our paperwork showed this and all the officials wear the same uniform (Ministerio de Interio). You can however easily renew your visa for CUC$25 per person if/when required.

Money in Cuba

Cuba is currently operating on two currencies, however unlike previously both currencies are available for all to use and the exchange between the two is fairly fixed. The two currencies are the “convertible” or CUC and the local peso. The locals will generally refer to CUCs or Cuban pesos. The rate at the time of writing was 24 local pesos to each CUC. A CUC was equivalent to about USD$0.80c.

Both US dollars and Euros can be easily changed at banks and hotels however you will be charged a commission. We personally found it was cheaper to draw cash (CUCs) from an ATM – we were using a British credit card with low/no fees, obviously this depends on your personal account charges. Using credit cards in some shops is possible however you will be discouraged both by the locals and also when you get your bill at the end of the month as there are additional fees that the retailer must charge, making it the most expensive method.

The local markets, some local restaurants and all food stands deal in pesos. If the price seems expensive then you are thinking in the wrong currency. Be aware however that if you give them CUCs by mistake instead of pesos you will more than likely not be corrected. If you are unsure, start with pesos. Some items, entrance to museums or activities will be priced (very low) in pesos for locals and a different price for tourists/non-Cubans.

Many of the more educated people in Cuba have changed to jobs which somehow receive CUCs rather than pesos. Pay is restricted in “normal” jobs and your tip to workers/staff can be equivalent to a months wage or more for many of them. You may find your bellboy, waiter or any other person in contact with tourists is a very qualified individual. Our hosts at a B&B; equivalent were a lawyer and an engineer – under Cuban law they used to receive 800 pesos per month – less than USD$27. Now they no longer work and only rent the room in their apartment. Be aware of all this when regarding prices/charges and lifestyles.

Banks are happy to change your dollars or euros and will also change CUCs back into dollars or euros at the end of your stay. They also deal in most European currencies however not in Australian dollars or some of the other more major non-European currencies.

Isla Margarita, Venezuela

Many have avoided this spot due to the perceived and very often real crimes on cruisers in Venezuela. Isla Margarita itself however is a comparatively very safe area. The anchorage in Porlamar is one of the two safe anchorages on Isla Margarita. Boat numbers in Porlamar range from 50 to just over 100 nearing the end of the hurricane season. About 40 of these boats could be considered “resident cruisers”. The anchorage can become quite rolly at times and many boats will have a stern anchor or bridle their main anchor to the stern in an effort to reduce their roll. Be aware of this when entering and anchoring. The swell is typically from the East. Winds are generally North to North-East, however they can swing from West-North-West through North to East and during the hurricane season, feeders can cause winds from any direction.

The other anchorage suitable to cruisers is Juan Griego on the North coast. All other anchorages are considered not to be safe and cruisers must not anchor in them. The local police/guarda national have requested that cruisers anchor only in Porlamar or Juan Griego as they cannot guarantee safety or response elsewhere.

There have been very few major crime incidents in Porlamar. All seem to have been from cruisers who have either gotten very/too involved in the locals and/or local women, anchored well away from other cruisers or generally not been too “street-smart” about things. This does not apply in all cases though I cannot give all details in this medium. Dinghies MUST be lifted and locked to your boat overnight and to the dock whenever ashore. They will go missing otherwise. In saying that, there have been many good stories of dinghies drifting free due to “user error” and other incidents which have resulted very favourably with dinghies/items being returned.

You have a number of options when arriving for checking in etc. Most cruisers currently use Marina Juan. (Juan Baro, For a fee he will take care of your checking in and out. It is possible also to arrange this through the “Rum Bar” or do it yourself, however this has been known to be nearly as expensive and take all day if you don’t “know the way or the language”.

The cruisers in Porlamar use VHF Ch72 as a hailing channel and operate a net each morning. Here you will find all the news including the free bus runs to the supermarket etc.

Kerri Walker