Many Cubans take jobs in the tourist and service industries for the tips that so significantly top up their salaries (the average state wage is equivalent to around $18CUC a month). In general, it’s appropriate to tip waiters, hotel cleaners and baggage carriers, car park attendants, toilet attendants and tour guides, but be aware of the differences between people who own their own business and those who work for the state. For example, a taxi on the meter means the driver works for the state and a tip is appropriate; most taxis don’t have a meter as they are privately owned and paying your fare is enough. Similarly, the hosts at a casa particular wouldn’t expect a tip, though if they employ cleaning staff a tip for them is always a nice gesture. Service charges of 10–12 percent are now fairly common in state restaurants and in smarter paladars.

Gay and lesbian travellers

Homosexuality is legal in Cuba and the age of consent is 16, though same-sex marriage remains illegal. Despite a very poor overall record on gay rights since the Revolution, there has been marked progress in the social standing and acceptance of gay men and women in Cuba since the early 1990s. That said, police harassment of gay men and particularly of transvestites is still quite common. Despite this, there are now significant numbers of openly gay men in Cuba, though gay women are far less visible. There is still a strong stigma attached to same-sex hand-holding or similar displays of sexuality, but freedom of expression for gay people is greater now than at any point since 1959. There are no official gay clubs and bars as such in Cuba but there are a few gay-friendly venues, particularly in Havana and Santa Clara.

Mariela Castro, the daughter of President Raúl, has emerged as a champion for gay rights in Cuba in recent years. As director of Cenesex, the National Centre for Sex Education, she has been instrumental in a number of initiatives designed to increase tolerance and awareness of gay issues. In 2007 Cenesex was behind the country’s first official recognition and celebration of the International Day Against Homophobia.

There is no pink press in Cuba. The only magazine in which gay issues are regularly discussed is the rather academic Sexología y Sociedad, the quarterly magazine published by Cenesex.

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