Written by Kieran Proctor

Places That Won’t Accept Cuban Pesos (CUP) In Cuba?

If you’ve found yourself in a store, restaurant or hotel that won’t accept Cuban pesos in Cuba, then you’re in ...

If you’ve found yourself in a store, restaurant or hotel that won’t accept Cuban pesos in Cuba, then you’re in a government run establishment. All businesses connected to the Cuban Government, will want to be paid in foreign currency.

Now, I personally avoid government owned or affiliated businesses. And I recommend my readers do the same. But sometimes, it’s unavoidable in Cuba. So, here’s what you need to know about establishments that won’t accept Cuban currency, in Cuba.

Cuban Currency (CUP) Is Worthless

The Cuban Peso (CUP), which is also called Moneda Nacional (MN), has no intrinsic value. It isn’t backed up by anything, except the word of the Cuban Government. And their word internationally, is worth less than paper their currency is printed on.

There are no gold reserves, assets or anything backing the Cuban peso. Just the word of the Cuban Government that they will pay their debts.

The Cuban Government says $1USD is worth 24CUP. Yet none of the citizens of Cuba, actually agree with the government. The real exchange rate in Cuba, is much higher than the government rate.

The Cuban Government prints more money by the day. And this money printing devalues the money that is already in circulation. The peso is on a steady decline against all major currencies. And the Cuban peso will not recover or avert its decline, against all other foreign currencies. It’s only going one way, which is down.

Because the Cuban Government’s debts and expenses are larger than what the country earns each year, they will continue to print money. And the real value of the Cuban peso will continue to decline. Cuba has the same problems, that afflict Argentina’s currency.

Because the Cuban Government know that their own currency is worthless, they will always want to be paid in foreign currency. And you can expect the Cuban Government, to avoid buying back their own currency at the airport CADECA, as you leave Cuba. They want to sell you their currency, but not buy it. So, only exchange your foreign currency for their socialist funny money, when you need to use it.

Cuban Pesos CUP
Cuban pesos (CUP) after an exchange from USD in Havana, Cuba.

The Cuban Government Needs Foreign Currency

Whenever you interact with any business owned by the Cuban Government, or with links to the Cuban State, they will only accept foreign currency at their own predetermined exchange rates. The Cuban Government won’t accept their own currency.

Part of the farce that is Cuban economics, is how the Cuban Government hoovers up foreign currency and pays local Cubans in the local peso (CUP). Pesos that the government prints and that have no real value.

In a bygone era, the Cuban Government would take all the foreign cash it collected in Cuba and fly it in cargo planes to other nations, including Switzerland. The rumor amongst the diplomatic community in Cuba, is that these rat holes have apparently been shut down.

Because it’s now much more difficult for the Cuban Government to deposit its foreign cash in foreign banks, it prefers electronic transactions. The Cuban Government will often want to be paid in foreign currency, electronically.

That is to say, the Cuban Government owned, operated or partnered establishments that you visit in Cuba, will want to be paid in foreign currency by bank or credit card. They will not want to accept cash. And of course, they will want to use their own exchange rates.

If you’re visiting a government owned restaurant or staying in a government partnered hotel, they will want you to pay them electronically in foreign currency. And they will apply their own ‘official’ exchange rate.


Dollarized Resort Towns In Cuba (Varadero & Cayo Coco)

In popular resort towns like Varadero and Cayo Coco, the Cuban Government owns or partners with the majority of the businesses that are frequented by tourists. Because these businesses are government linked, they often won’t accept the local currency.

Towns like Varadero and Cayo Coco, are in essence dollarized. And you’ll have a hard time using the local Cuban peso at tourist oriented businesses. Everyone will want to be paid in foreign currency.

You can expect towns like Varadero and Cayo Coco to become increasingly more expensive to visit. If you set foot outside of your all inclusive resort, you can expect to get sticker shock at some of the prices you will need to pay for goods and services. But you can reduce your costs by selectively visiting private businesses. And by using private service providers.

Instead of a yellow government run taxi, take a La Nave. Instead of paying the hotel for wifi, get a Cuban SIM card. Or, choose Airbnb’s over hotels. And don’t walk into MLC stores and instead seek out private markets, or buy from private street vendors.

Personally, when I’m in Varadero I will stay in a local Airbnb and eat at local restaurants. In Varadero for example, the food and drinks are better outside of the resorts. Resort food in Cuba is horrible.


Where Can I Get More Information About Cuba?

I’ve made my Complete Guide To Traveling Cuba available on this website. And I recommend you read it, before traveling to Cuba. It will help you navigate Cuba and Cuban society.

My Cuba travel guide will save you a lot of time and money on your next trip to Cuba. Cuba is not the sort of destination in which you can arrive unprepared. Read the most complete Cuba Travel Guide.