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Tipping in Cuba

Tipping in Cuba

Written by and/or contributed to by Christopher Baker
Who should I tip and how much?
Tipping in Cuba is always a subject that arouses heated passions. Some people feel besieged on all sides by people demanding money for services which had never really been asked for; others fall over themselves to shell out cash left, right and center.

We suggest the following guidelines:
1) Restaurants (10% of bill if no tax/service already added)
Many restaurants (state and private) now add 10% service to the bill. This is annoying since you feel cheap leaving the exact money but equally no one wants to be the sucker paying twice. In some places they will suggest that this is a tax in line with new tax legislation. It is unclear if this is actually true but typically in private places they will simply say that this is a service charge.

If your waiter has been good and you like him, then splashing another 5% will do no harm. If service has not been added, then 5-10% is reasonable. More than 10% is unnecessary.

2) Staff in an all-inclusive resort (CUC 20-30 per week)
After a while in an all-inclusive resort, you realize that it really is its own world. People who return year after year to the same resort (especially Canadians) love the personal warmth, which comes from being recognized, and getting special treatment even if this is simply getting the baggage golf buggy ahead of time or a reservation at the a-la-carte restaurant. All of this love generally comes at a price, a dollar here, a dollar there, maybe some small gifts for the family on a subsequent trip. As a general rule, if someone seems to be making a special effort with you (a gardener giving you a flower, a waiter getting you champagne after happy hour has finished, etc, etc.) then they would appreciate a tip. A dollar here and there goes a long way. Change up CUC 20-30 at the start of a week and try and spend it in tips.

3) Parqueadores (25c to 1CUC)
Cuba has no parking meters and very few places where you have to pay to park your car. At the same time anytime and anywhere you park your car someone is likely to come and ask you for money for looking after it. These will be licensed parqueadores who may point to an official price list, which confusingly does not really properly distinguish between moneda nacional and CUCs. Whatever the basic rule is that anywhere that you park the car, give someone 25 cents (CUCs). Maybe they would be happy with 10 cents but why nickel and dime. If you park outside a major nightclub or at the beach for a while, they will probably want 1 CUC. Pay up and move it – it is still a bargain and your car will be safe.

4) Toilet attendants (10-25c per pop)
A few sheets to the wind, I had to be dragged away from a confrontation with a toilet assistant at a popular club last year. To call the toilet disgusting would be an understatement and yet there was an old woman demanding money for its use. In the cooler light of day, this is simply one of those things. Yes, it would be nice if toilets had running water, toilet paper and some semblance of hygiene but let’s face it, sitting outside a toilet collecting cash is not the best job either. So get some change, grin and bear it.

5) Musicians (CUC 1-2 per group)
If you like a musician who is playing in a bar or a café, especially if they play a few songs especially for you, then there is an expectation that you should pay something. There is no need to pay more than a dollar or two. But, nonetheless, music is the life of Cuba and a dollar here or there is appreciated.

6) Tour Guides (CUC 2 per person per day)
Certain guidebooks suggest CUC 2 per person per day for a tour guide. As is the case anywhere, do what you think is right but be careful of falling for a sob story especially if the person telling it is young and pretty/handsome since you are probably being played!

Bear in mind that American groups who have the same guide for a week or more have blown up the entire market and will easily give CUC 100 each adding up to over CUC 1,000 for a group of 10. This will need to be shared around and even if it is not really necessary maybe it isn’t a bad thing; it simply makes tour guides fight over who gets the American groups!


  Christopher P. Baker is a professional travel writer and photographer, and leads tours of Cuba for MotoDiscovery and National Geographic Expeditions. His six books about Cuba include MI MOTO FIDEL: MOTORCYCLING THROUGH CASTRO?S CUBA (National Geographic Adventure Press), winner of two national book awards.
? Christopher P Baker
travel writer ? photographer ? moto-journalist ? cuba expert
cpbaker@earthlink.net | www.christopherpbaker.com

Lowell Thomas Award 2008 Travel Journalist of the Year  

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