Counterfeit cigars and driving advisories: the do's and don'ts of traveling to Cuba

By Christina Vazquez - Reporter

PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. - Investors, government officials and company executives met Thursday in Fort Lauderdale for a Cuba Investment Forum to talk about finance, telecommunications, tourism, energy and infrastructure.

One of the participating CEO's, Steve Marshall of Travelucion.com, made a special detour to speak with the Call Christina team on what he calls the Do's and Don'ts of traveling to Cuba.

Originally from the United Kingdom, Marshall has lived in Cuba for 11 years.

"It is such a unique environment," he said.

His company Travelucion Media is an online travel and digital media marketing company. Marshall said they specialize in travel marketing, online booking solutions and electronic reservations for international visitors to Cuba.

WEB EXTRA: The do's of Cuban travel with Steve Marshall

Driving: Refrain from driving in Cuba. If a tourist gets into a serious car accident, Marhsall said the Cuban authorities are likely to prevent that person from leaving the country until the case is resolved in court (which can take months) -- compelling that person to run up a longer than expected, and pricier stay in Cuba.  

How you can prevent this: Hire a local driver with his own car, or hire a driver if you plan on renting a car.

"I would recommend a driver to drive you around the biggest cities, especially Havana," Marshall said.

Tip: Don't be afraid to negotiate pricing with a driver before proceeding. With the tourist influx, prices for taxi transportation have risen significantly.  Where one could previously hire a driver for as little as $30 USD for the entire day, it now costs that amount to go from one part of Havana to another.

Romance: Tourists, especially men, should beware that they could be sought after by locals for "quickie romances," with the hope of getting married and leaving Cuba for the U.S.  

Souvenirs & Cigars: Travelers are allowed to bring back up to $400 USD worth of merchandise from Cuba.  That includes up to $100 in cigars and rum purchases.

Warning: For U.S. travelers buying smokes in the black market (from an unofficial Cuban Cigar shop), U.S. Customs has imposed a two-box limit, meaning they will confiscate anything over that limit.

Marshall also recommended buying cigars in a store rather than on the street to avoid counterfeit cigars.

Luggage: To a $2 per pound overage fee, your luggage must be less than 44 pounds when traveling to the island.

How to prevent this: Only pack what you really need during your stay in Cuba.

Toiletries:  Marhsall recommends stocking up on drug store items. Items commonly sold in drug store chains are not easily found in Cuba to include deodorant, shampoo, aspirin and even sunscreen. 

Most importantly, Marshall says to "go with an open mind... Cuba has beautiful people, very open, and 90 percent of what you will take away from Cuba will be your experience with the Cuban people."

Marshall's firm, with 432 Cuba-themed websites dedicated to directing web viewers to his Cuba travel booking platform, was recently bought by Canadian investment firm Cuba Ventures Corp., whose shares are now being traded on the Canadian TSX Stock Exchange.

Travelucion is competing with online competitors like Airbnb and Booking.com (a subsidiary of Priceline) for American bookings to Cuba. 

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