The internet never forgets and a lot of information is outdated to say the least.
About 10 years ago the first ATMs became available but the first few years they only worked VISA credit and debit cards issued by non US banks. Hence the confusion that ATMs don’t work in Cuba.
Then they started accepting Mastercards in 2017 but still no other debit cards than VISA. A few months later almost all cards worked with the exception of all cards issued by US banks. The embargo forbids them to pay their Cuban counterparts so the Cuban Banks block those cards because they will never recuperate the money.
Then Machines with a Maestro logo appeared. But they were just second hand ATMs and they did not bother to take the logo off. Like there are still busses driving around on their way to Amsterdam.
Nowadays (December ’19) Almost all cards work.
That your card works does not mean the ATM works. There are a lot of reasons for them not to work. They are out of money, the Internet connection is down, it just broke down, there is maintenance going on or any other excuse. I have not been able to use any ATM for over a week once.
Cuban logic dictates that the better your plan B is, the higher the probability than plan A is a succes… So if your plan B for not being able to use the ATM today is sleeping under a bridge and eating a Cuban pizza you are doing it wrong. Always keep other options open to get money and always get money some time before you run out!
Get your card back
Cuban ATMs hand out the money first and then you have to close the transaction and you get your card back. A lot of people are used to the opposite hence the warning above. Your system is used to getting the money and walking away. In Cuba you then just lost your card… And getting it back will take a few days at least.
If there is a line at the ATM, just walk on. In our book we tell the funny story about Cubans and their ATM but if you don’t want to buy that just belief us… walk on if there is a line.
Using the ATM is more expensive than elsewhere in the world. A 100 CUC is converted in 103 US $ which is then exchanged for you local currency by your bank. So you lose about 6%. On top of that: Most banks charge a fee per transaction. Ask you bank if and how much, I can’t make a list of all banks ;-).
Sometimes, without any apparent reason, your card is spewed out by the machine that states ‘transaction not possible’ without further motivation. The begin screen shows you which bills are available in the machine and if you want to get 150 from a machine that only carries 20s… That is just not possible and the transaction is cancelled.
Cuba is a cash society. You can not pay anything with a card, any card! (not true, you can pay in a lot of shops with a card issued by a Cuban bank. But you can not get such a card… So forget about paying lunch or your casa particular with a card.
In short: Yes you can get money out of the ATM if you’re not US based. Don’t put too much fate in that and bring enough cash. Replenish your CUC before you run out. And don’t get taken in (too much) by those Jineteros
Do you take US Dollars to Cuba or exchange them before you go into another currency?
Well, conventional wisdom states that, since there is a 10% penalty on the exchange Dollar/CUC you should win a few percentage points by exchanging your dollars to Canadian or Euros before you go.
This way you save a little bit (about 2 percent, depending on the rates you get at your bank. I will not go into the details here but the official rate is 0.87 CUC for a Dollar.
But… (in Cuba there is always a but)
The Cubans are opening hard currency stores were you can only buy products in foreign hard currency and the products are priced in USD. Demand for Dollars is high at the moment and this morning I was offered 1.15 in the street!
The Euro has a ‘hard currency bonus too but it is smaller. 1,08 in the Cadeca, 1,12 in the street.
So in stead of 87 CUC for a 100 I got 115! So at the moment the debate about currency is more about courage. Do you dare to exchange in the street with the ‘illegal’ currency traders? Then do take US Dollars! (And know the difference between CUC and CUP before you make a deal!)
Update Nov 19: And suddenly the Dollar madness was over. US$ back to 1,02 in the streets. (that’s still a whopping 15% higher than the official exchange rate!)
To prove my point this post is written in Cuban Logic. If you get it you might want to try to get Cuba.
We westerners draw the wrong conclusions about Cuba for several reasons:
We tend to believe what we see. All travel guides describe in amazement how the Cuban disposable lighter repair man fills lighters with insecticide and it works!
That is what they see so it must be true. They see a guy filling lighters with a can with dead insects on it. And it does work indeed. How inventive of the Cubans! Let’s make an item about it…
The reality is that the cans of insecticide contain regular gas. The repairmen use them because they are sturdy and easy to refill. Insecticide is flammable indeed but you need a lighter to light it, not a flint. Filling a lighter with insecticide kind of defies the purpose. On top of that it is very unhealthy to inhale burning insecticide, Cuban health authorities would intervene immediately. and the stuff is a lot more expensive than gas. So the reality is not what you see.
Everybody is just repeating what everybody else is saying. Opinions on Cuba are based on incorrect observations and myths of old that keep being repeated and are never researched by the writers. ‘Cubans have a salary between 10 and 20 CUC is one of those convictions. Nobody ever askes a teacher how much he makes and if they do, the Cubans give the wrong answer which they know will help them get some stuff of money from the tourist. The reality today is that a Cuban teacher earns between 41 and 53 CUC/month depending on age and experience. Still not a lot of money but way more that you think but still not enough to live on.
Salary means nothing in Cuba. Everybody makes money on the side, and most of the time they make more money on the side than their salary. The myth of Cubans as poor and helpless people is total B*llS**t. (which does not mean that there are no poor and helpless Cubans by the way)
All those convictions are shared and thus reinforced. The worst are travel blogs. They come to Cuba, make all the rooky mistakes there are and then explain to other people how to make the same mistakes. Being harsh now, there are some exemptions like WhyNotCuba and ASocialNomad.com are rather good with beginners info but they are the exceptions that confirm the rule.
Since we believe what we see, our interpretation of what we see is what we believe. Sounds philosophical so let me give you some examples.
We see a woman with a box with a ventilator on it walking through the shopping street. Our conclusion is that this woman just bought a 50 CUC ventilator. But that is not what you see… You see a woman with a box with a ventilator on it. In Cuba there is no reason to believe neither that there is a ventilator in the box nor that she just bought one. If you look closely you will see that the box has been opened at least once. It’s just her high status shopping bag.
I walk past a gas station with a friend. There is a sign that states ‘No Hay Petrolio’ and another one that says ‘Aire’. So my friend concludes that they don’t have petrol but they do have air. But I can se a car filling up at the petrol pump so I point to the car and say that they do have petrol and they do have a sign saying that they have air and that does not mean they have air. It’s all a matter of interpretation!
This happens on different levels. If a sign on the gift shop says ‘CLOSE’ that does not mean that the shop is not far away or that it is not open! Pushing the door proves that it is close indeed (you can’t push a door that is far away) and if the door opens it is not closed either.
4 The truth
Cubans tend to tell tourists what they think will benefit them the most. They think we foreigners are gullible and stupid. If a Cubans tells you that he earns 20 CUC per month but he’s wearing new Nike’s, Brand jeans, an Armani (fake) shirt, Rayban sun glasses, a golden chain and a big watch and owns a Samsun S9. The value of his whole outfit is about 30 times his monthly income… How???
I can prove that about 50% of what the Cubans tell us is not true and I’m just not sure about the other half.
Most things being told about Cuba is nonsense. That’s why we wrote CubaConga. If you believe the nonsense you will never understand the reality.
You can use a multitude of public transport and different types of Taxi’s. But let’s be honest, taxis are for real tourists. Do you ever take a taxi in your home town?
Let’s just take an example to illustrate cost, speed and comfort.
Vedado to Old Town.
I’m on 23 in Vedado right now, also known as ‘La Rampa’ and I want to go to Old Havana, which the Cubans call ‘Havana’. These are the different ways to get there:
The most expensive way is to say ‘yes’ to a guy that walks here all day and every day asking if you want a ‘Taxi Barato’. ‘Barato’ means cheap and saying yes to this guy will cost you about 5 CUC more than just finding a taxi yourself.
The official taxis are the most expensive but also fast and comfortable. If you drive a hard bargain you should be able to get to the old town for 5 CUC
Comfort *** Price ***** Speed **
Official ‘modern’ Taxi’s
You can take an official (yellow) taxi that is waiting in front of a hotel. They typically start at 15 to 20 but can easily be talked down to 10 and to 5 with a lot of effort.
If you just get in without making a deal first it will cost you 20 to 25! Negotiate first!
Taking an official taxi anywhere else will save you 2 to 5 CUC. In Vedado there are a lot of Taxi’s!
Comfort * to *** Price **** Speed ****
Official Vintage taxi’s are normally not used as A to B taxi but for ‘tourist drive around for a lot of money’
Conclusion: The most expensive way to get from Vedado to Havana Veilla is a taxi.
The hop on hop of tourist bus is a great way to get to know Havana but also not a ‘how do I get from Vedado to the Old Town’ solution.
Be a passenger on a bike. Only one person per bike! Same as with taxi’s you should negotiate! It can be done for 1 CUC, I can do it for 2 and you should be able to get the distance for 3.
Comfort * Price** Speed ****
Fixed route taxi’s
The next best option (and I would take one if I were you, just for the experience) is the fixed route taxi. Almost all the old American cars that drive down 23rdstreet are going to Havana (that’s how Cubans call the Old Town). Just stick you arm out horizontally and shout ‘Havana’ or point to the right (from the drivers perspective). Cost 10 MN but give the guy a CUC, you as a tourist should pay a little more.
Comfort ** Price ** Speed ***
To get deeper into the Havana transport system I suggest you download the app Habanatrans. Here you find all the public transport routes and the stops.
Next up on the still cheaper ladder: Taxi ruteros. Yellow minivans and small busses will take you to Parque Curita, which is just behind the Capitolio for 5 Pesos per person! There are two types of yellow busses coming by. The one in the picture above is a fixed route Metrotaxi and it’s destination is painted on the hood. Check on Habanatrans if it’s going your way. The bigger yellow busses also do fixed routes and they indicate their destination with a piece of paper behind the windscreen. They are not on HabanaTrans. Just ask the driver. Also 5 pesos.
Personally these are my favorites. Once you’ve figuered out the routes it’s easy as pie, fast and comfortable.
Comfort *** Price * Speed **
Wanna realy cheap it? Take the bus. One of my favourites, because of it’s regularity, is bus 222. Most buses that drive down 23 however go to or trough the Old Town. Just ask the driver to be sure. ‘Havana?’
1 Peso! (Actually 40 cents but you will not get change from a Peso. See post Cuban Jobs on how to make two trips on one Peso.
Comfort none if the bus is full (beware of pick pockets). Price: How do I rate a 1 Peso ride…? That is actually for free. Cheaper than wear and tear of your shoes walking the distance!
The 222 also makes for an interesting excursion. Have a Moneda Nacional day (only spend Pesos), get on the 222 in Parque de Fraternidad and stay on it until it’s terminal in Lalisa. No tourists there! Get to know Lalisa and hop on a bus back.
Basically there are 2 types of accommodation in Cuba: Hotels and Casas Particular.
Hotels are state owned (at least 51% but let’s not get technical) and don’t live up to the international classification. Deduct at least one star for the real comfort level. So if you are looking for a terrible price/quality ratio go for a Hotel.
‘Hostal’ is a classification invented by the Cubans. It’s just a different name for a Casa Particular with more than 1 room. Cubans think it has a classy ring to it!
Some innovative Cubans came up with the idea to rent out beds in dormitories per bed and not per room on a Casa Particular permit. Hence the hostel was created. They are perfect for the solo budget traveller. So a hostel is simply a Casa Particular that rents beds in shared rooms.
Casas typically charge 25 CUC and up per room (in Havana). Hostels for backpackers start at 6 CUC per bed. So if you are travelling alone it is a lot cheaper and much more fun because you will make new like-minded friends from all over the world, that are also travelling on a similar budget.
There are many different ways to travel from A to B in Cuba.
Here is a list of the different forms of transport from the most expensive and comfortable to the cheapest.
It’s hard to rent a car. There are just not enough cars available as Cubans rent many of the cars that are mend for tourists, either to drive taxi with them or just as a personal carefree car. See this post for how to rent a car and what the pitfalls are. Rental cars are extremely expensive and hard to find. Read the rental car post plz.
What? Taxi is less expensive than the bus? (See bus below). Yes it is.
A lot of Cubans rent tourist cars to drive them as a taxi. They have a long-term rental contract, which brings down the absurd rental price a bit. Renting it with two drivers and driving it 24/7 and buying illegal fuel makes it possible to take a taxi for less than the bus.
Taxi’s pick you up at your place and deliver you to the doorstep of your destination. Taxis are shared with other people (Collective) or you can rent the whole car.
You can book a taxi in different ways. Ask your landlord (who will add about 20 to 80 to the price as his commission) or the porter of your hotel (who will do the same).
Better to book one before you go. Here ZunZunCar comes into play. A lot of sites offer taxi services and most are bloody expensive. ZunZun is disrupting the Cuban taxi market with good service for reasonable prices.Just go to their site, fill in your needs and pay… The taxi will show up on time on your address! You can do this weeks ahead.
There are two ways to take the bus (for you that is… you are a tourist).
Most tourists that don’t want to rent a car (or are not able to find one) take the bus. Seems a logical reflex all around the world but not in Cuba. You as a foreigner are only allowed to take the Viazul or Gaviota. It’s service is rather trustworthy, the Viazul is rather comfortable (take a sweater, the air-conditioning is ON FULL) and they seem cheap.
Comfort ****, speed ****, Practical *** price **
1 Package tour/excursion.
Just walk into any hotel and find the tourist desk. Book an excursion, and show up in the lobby at the given time. Get on the bus and do take a sweater.
This is the tourist bus (but often also taken by Cubans that can afford it) that connects most towns and tourist hotspots.
But to take a Viazul you have to go to the Viazul station to buy a ticket the day before. Forget about booking online but their site has a time table.
Most travel guides will tell you that the Viazul station is on the corner of 26 and Avenida Zoologico. That used to be the case but they moved it to the central bus station on the corner of Boyeros and 19 de Mayo as of April 2019.
Here’s some good information about taking de Viazul and how to book it.
Taxi versus Bus
Now let me show you why a taxi is way cheaper than the Bus. For this article I take the example of two people traveling from Havana to Viñales.
You can pay with your credit card for a colectivo with ZunZun for 27 USD between Havana and Viñales. The car will pick you up from your casa and deliver you to the next.
Or you can go to Viazul station the day before (10 CUC taxi), spend a few hours there, buy the ticket for 12 CUC pp and then go back home (10 CUC taxi) and then go back there the next day to take the bus (10 CUC taxi). When you get to your destination you have to take some form of transport to your Casa Particular, which adds another 5 CUC.
If you are a couple travelling taking the Viazul to Viñales will cost you 59 CUC and a lot of time. I don’t know about you but time is value to me.
If you take ZunZuncar it will cost you 5 less and you will save about half a day. For me that’s a no brainer and I have not taken any busses for the last 10 years.
But hey… there are other ways to get around.
Where the Taxi’s fetch you at your casa and deliver you to the next one’s doorstep the Cuban Collectivos drive from Piquera to Piquera. The cheapes way to get to Viñales is to go to a piquera, get a Truck there for 5 CUC pp to Pinar del Rio and in Pinar you take another collective for 2 to Viñales. Cost of the whole operation: 10 to get to the Piquera (in this case opposite the central bus station) 10 to get to Pinar for the two of you and 4 to get to Viñales. 24 CUC. If you travel light and take a bus to the central bus station, costs will go down to 14 CUC! That’s 7 pp.
To find the Piquera to your next destination, just ask around. ‘Donde es la Piquera por… (fill in destination)’. Everybody knows!
The downside of this system is the speed. You have to wait until the truck has enough passengers; the truck is rather slow (about 3 hours to Pinar de Rio). Then you have to wait for a collective to find enough passengers to Viñales. It will take you a whole day but if you are on a budget this is the way to go and not the bus!
My advice to first timers would be to pre-book a taxi for at least the first trip you are making. Once you get better at the game of CubaConga start negotiating with the taxi drivers. I would book my first transfer (probably Havana-Viñales) ahead with ZunZun, because getting out of Havana is not easy, and take it from there to the game in the streets which is cheaper and more fun.
Comfort ***, speed ***, Practical *** Price ***
The Cuban Cuban way at a Cuban price
If you want to go to Vinales on a Cuban budget you go to the intersection of Boyeros and Premiero Anillo. You wait next to the freeway on a Cuban Truck. Whilst the trucks at the Piqueras have seats in them, these have wooden benches. Which sounds like fun but your buttocks will start complaining within 10 minutes and the trip to Pinar del Rio will take about 4 hours. Lousy suspension add to the experience!
But if you want to travel on a budget… 20 Pesos MN (which is about 80 CUC cents). In Pinar you take the collectivo to Vinales for 50 Pesos or another truck for 10. Total cost = 30 or 70 pesos. Total time 8 hours and resulting in a blue but.
Comfort *, speed *, Practical **** Price *****
I added this just to be complete. I vowed never to take a wooden bench truck again for obvious reasons.
The Cuban buses (called Youtong or Astro) that travel between cities are not for you. You just can not take them as a tourist. However if you want to travel de countryside you can take a Cuban bus. Let’s say you want to go from Holguin to Mayari. (Don’t know why you would want that but let’s assume you do.) You find out where the trucks leave for Mayari (which is on the road to Moa). In this case that is Las Baleares. A truck will take you to Mayari for 20 pesos on a wooden bench. The Cuban bus will take you for 5 MN but getting on one is a bit of a hassle…
You arrive at Baleares and find the waiting room for Moa. You will see piles of people there. They are waiting for different busses so should out ‘Ultimo por Moa’. Somebody sticks up his hand and you are in line after him. Just keep an eye on him because the speaker announcing the busses is unclear. When he gets up to get a ticket, join him. You get a piece of paper with a number (this is called your ‘turno’.) When the bus arrives you use this number to pay at the desk that will hand you your reservation and you can get on the bus… My advice… Don’t!!!!
Speed *, Practical *, Comfort *, Price *****, Waiting time Minus *****
The second best way to explore Cuba is to rent a Car.
If you want to rent a car, do so before you go. But you might want to read this post to the end (and our book) before you do so! Once in Cuba the agencies never have the car you want (or any car for that matter).
Let me explain in this post why you should not rent a car and then if you still want to rent one how to do it. Read on for a better solution than renting a car yourself.
Rent a car on the Internet.
Although they have three different brand badges in Cuba: REX, Havanauto’s and Cuba Car (Al websites might be offline or not… It’s Cuba). All car rental companies belong to the state. So there is no competition. Monopolies make for bad service, high prices, bad websites and very limited options. A first glance at their websites will convince you that this is going to be hard. Just try to find the car you would like on one of the sites above and you will see.
No other operators are available on the market. Forget about AVIS or Budget or any other favourite agency.
How to rent one?
If you want to rent a car directly from the state-run companies there are a few things you should know. The websites are not very user-friendly.
Step 1: Fill in your requirements and you will probably get the answer ‘no car available that fits your requirements’. Play around with ‘Pick-up’ location, Pick-up time and Pick-up date and type of car, until you get a car proposal. This can be time-consuming.
Step 2: Fill in the required application.
Step 3: Get a bill from a vague office in Paris or Hamburg (depending on your location). This strange payment request is the ‘Embargo effect’. You can not pay Cuba directly due to the US embargo so the Cuban rental car companies have set up front companies abroad to be able to receive money.
You can pay that bill, works 99% of the time! You might or might not get a voucher, but your car will (probably) be waiting for you.
Shopping around for a better price is useless… It’s a state monopoly. All cars are the same price everywhere. (Unless they are a lot cheaper but that is too good to be true and usually will cost you less money for no car. This site, and others like it, are notorious for renting NO cars for a very good price. Then, a few days before you leave they tell you that you have to upgrade (extra money) because your car is not available. Whether you pay or not, does not matter. No car upon arrival. New ones are popping up regularly. Use your common sense! Too good to be true is just not true.
But read on…
Arguments against renting a car
Cars are way more expensive than anywhere else in the world. It’s just costly.
There are very few cars available for rent. Very few. Even if you rent a car via the internet, you might not get one. (And you might not get refunded either)
At the moment a lot of Cubans rent the tourists cars and drive them as a taxi. They rent long term and pay a little bribe under the table. So there are just not enough cars for regular tourist available…
I’ve set up my office at a hotel that has a rental car agency and pity the guys hanging around for hours waiting for their vehicle. And sometimes, after waiting 5 hours, they get send-off because there is just no car available.
Supplemental costs of car rental
In addition to the rather high prices per day, you will have to pay 10-20 CUC per day in insurance, a deposit (depending on the company but you can do this with your credit card) and the full tank of gasoline (which is not full). And of course the gasoline you will consume during your trip.
When returning your car, you will have to pay a 100 CUC fine if you didn’t read our book. (Not that they ask if you know it, but because of a trick they pull with the contract. The cost of not reading CubaConga can be rather high).
If you decide to rent a car, we explain not only how to avoid the 100 fine but also what to do in case of a flat tire (probability you will get one about 80%).
How to rent a car
Renting a car can be a frustrating process. All state run companies (remember, monopoly so not very customer oriented) have websites to rent cars. You fill in your requirements and they tell you: ‘no car available matching your requirements’. And that is because the specific car you want to rent at that specific agency is not available at the time you want it. As you can see there are 3 variables in this search: specific car, agency and time. If you want to pick up a car outside opening hours the result is ‘no car available matching your requirements.’ The same goes for the other variables
Playing around with cars, dates and times will get frustrating.
Cuba Travel Network
The solution is a renowned Dutch company that reversed the search system. You fill in your requirements and they tell you which cars are available that match your requirements. If you want to rent a car with no hassle and hidden costs (their prices include the insurance fee) just fill out THIS FORM.
The better solution:
Rent a car with a driver for less
You could decide to rent a car with a driver. A lot of Cubans rent tourist cars for a lot less than you can. They fill them up with black market gasoline and drive taxi all day.
4 ways to find a (shared) taxi (from most expensive to cheapest)
1 The below mentioned ‘Yotellevo’ Crazy expensive!
2 Ask your landlord or the porter of your hotel. This will ad 20 to 80 to the price depending how gullible you look.
3ZunZunCardrove a hard bargain with the drivers and they offer good prices. Just book you trips online and they will get you at your house and deliver you right on the doorstep of you next lodging. They also offer Car+Driver options.
4 Drive the hard bargain yourself and go to the Viazul station. Lots of taxi’s there that want to take you anywhere. Get there before the bus for your destination leaves. Once it is gone prices go up (DUH).
This is a quote I received from yotellevocuba for Havana-Camaguey (560 km):
Hola Sr. (a):
Ante todo un saludo y gracias por su comunicación con nosotros. Sobre su solicitud el precio de ese recorrido sería de 390.00 CUC ida, e ida y vuelta de 430.00 CUC.
That is an outrageous price since I’m able to make this trip for 100 (renting a whole car! (And you should be able to do it for about 120.)
Having a clue, in this case, would bring the price you pay down to less than 25%! That’s why we wrote our book… Please read it and get yourself a clue!
Advantages of using taxi’s:
You use the car when you need it. If you want to spend a few days in a place, you don’t pay.
It’s a lot cheaper in gasoline. You would have to fill up your tank in an official gas station at 1.20 CUC/litre. Your driver buys it on the black market for half that price.
You do not have to spend 4 to 5 hours at the renting agency, waiting for your car. (Customer service and State Monopolies don’t go well together.)
He knows his way around and can act as a guide. You will have lunch and dinner in cheap places that offer excellent service and good food.
You won’t get any fines.
If your driver becomes your friend, you will have an ally during your adventures.
It’s very relaxed to let someone else do the driving. He knows local conditions and understands Cuban traffic better than you do.
You will not get a flat tire.
If you still want to rent a car Cuba Travel Network is your best option. If you find one, pull the trigger! Shopping around for a better price is useless and the car might not be available anymore next day.
We explain in our book how to get and negotiate such a deal.
You should know
That the probability of getting into an accident is quite low and the chance people get hurt even lower. But not 0! If you get into an accident with injuries, you might not be allowed to leave the island until the investigation is finished. That might take a month or more… Every year a few tourists get stranded on the Island.
Renting a car in Cuba is different. Almost everything is different in Cuba, so please prepare your trip! Read our book for much more advice on how to best cope with Cuba.
You might realise by now that we have a different view on Cuba than the mean stream Travel guides and websites. That’s because we are residents and spend a lot more time on the Island than the average writer. Here’s for instance how you should handle the street hustlers.
Some fun facts about Havana and a few must-sees just of the beaten track.
The capital of Cuba is the biggest city in the Caribbean. ‘Havana es Havana’ say the Cubans, and it is hip and happening. The Old Lady is bent and bruised but just got a new hip and dances through life!
Havana has about 3 million inhabitants. (Officially it’s 2.1, but a lot of Cubans migrate to Havana illegally because in Cuba you can’t just move to another town.) They all come looking for work and fortune, and you just might be it! (See ‘how to handle jineteros.)
Do spend more time in Havana than you initially planned. The city is much bigger and more interesting than just the Old Town and Vedado. If you want to get to know the town and look behind the mask, it puts up for tourists. My friends and I at TripUniq can give you a hand. We know the city like the back of our hands and will not only show you what most tourists miss, we’ll tell you where to eat well and cheap, reveal some secrets and be your virtual friend.
Here you can unlock ‘Tino’s Havana’ a 4 day guide to the highlights of this amazing city by foot and on a bike…
Havana, just a few steps of the beaten track.
Every tourist guide book (and live guides too) send everybody to see the same stuff. It’s not hard to find Capitolio, Prado, Plaza Veilla or Parque Central.
Most people leave it to that but just a few steps of the beaten track are some gems you should incorporate into your visit:
This shop was a landmark of creativity almost before it was legal. They have Cuban designers working for them, and print their own products in shop. Original T-shirts, bags and other textiles. Fun creative and if you want a souvenir this is the place to buy an original one
Villegas 492 between Muralla and Brasil, Old Havana.
Since the socialist system has no need for a stock exchange the impressive Havana stock market was transformed into a restaurant for workers. Very cheap, bad food and not for you but worth a visit because of the impressive setting and the contrast of the building with the furniture and the patrons. Just push the door open!
Obrapia 257, Between Cuba and Aguilar
Ministry of infrastructure.
OK… this is a joke but I find it’s symbolical value very amusing. The ministry moved out in the 80’s leaving a building for which it is responsible in total decay. Cuba’s infrastructure is suffering and this ministry shows it. Don’t go in. Bricks might fall.
Corner Sol and Aguillar
While the monumental villas on Plaza Veilla were renovated (thanks to Unesco) the abundant inhabitants were moved into these houses. After renovations some people (the lucky ones) were allowed to move back but the majority got an apartment in Alamar. The residents of the last villa renovated still live here.
Muralla betwee Calle Cuba and Plaza Veilla.
This shopping mall shows that the myth of 20 CUC salaries is just that, a myth… It’s a shopping mall for Cubans that are here to shop. See what they buy and what things cost. Gone is your compassion with the poor Cubans.
Ever had some bread made by a Michelin star chef? Salchipizza is just that. Alberto bakes his bread in a small shop and it’s culinary!
Have a sandwich here… it’s culinary. Or a complete lunch.
Alberto is a Michelin chef and a local celeb. He spoke at TEDx Havana in 2017, travels the world (and brings back his ingredients). Owns a Beach club in Italy and came back to Cuba to bake bread for personal reasons and to live these historic times.
Intersection Zanja and Infanta
The biggest copy shop in Havana (and the oldest by the way) is directly opposite the Havana Libre Hotel. Take some time to find it (you have to enter it trough the souvenir shop… follow the students…
Look at the ingenious way they provide the printers with ink.
These are the hip guys!
Some facts about Havana
On average one building comes down per day.
The sewage systems date from 1911 and the much-needed renovation is sponsored by Kuwait.
Its nick is ‘city of Columns’ and was founded in 1519.
The whole of the Old town and the 9 kilometres of Malecon are Unesco World Heritage.
Fine beaches at 15 minutes drive by beach bus.
Havana is a metropolis, and you cannot ‘do’ it in two days. Don’t go to Havana to shop!
It’s is also the scam capital of the world. Everywhere in the world tourists are being scammed. Usually, lower class bums do that. In Havana however, the university professor and the dentist join the game because they too have to make a buck or two to get through the day. This makes life as a tourist just a bit more challenging… If you know how to handle them, jineteros are fun. If you don’t, you will get scammed a few times and from then on just ignore all Cubans. Which is a pity because Cubans are interesting, cultivated and fun!
Do prepare, please.
Prepare yourself for a different mentality, and you will have a better time in Cuba.
Talking about time: On the ‘get the eBook’ page we’ll give you a tip that will save you a few hours on the airport… You don’t have to buy the book, just get the tip.
Officially the Cuban hurricane season starts at the first of June and ends the 30thof November. That’s 6 months.
That does not mean you have hurricanes for 6 months a year but that there is a probability of a hurricane during those months. It’s not like the tulip season in Holland where you are sure to see some tulips! Hence the confusion there is about, and the fear for the hurricane season.
On average Cuba gets hit by a hurricane once every 4 years. (That’s a rough estimate). So the word ‘season’ is a bit misleading. On the other hand: hurricanes never hit Cuba outside this period.
When a hurricane hits Cuba it does not hit the whole of the island. It’s only partial as most move from south to north across part of Cuba.
So the probability of you, spending two or three weeks in Cuba, being hit by a hurricane is very, very low!
My wife (48) lived through 5 hurricanes in her life. It’s scary as hell she tells me but she survived :-). (Obviously)
Response to hurricanes
Even if the area you are in gets hit, you will be kept safe. Tourists are very secure in Cuba and they are prepared. About 10 before the hurricane hits a hurricane warning is issued and preparations start almost like in the rest of the world.
Two days before the damn thing arrives meteorologists are able to identify the region it will hit.
In the West the news will tell people to evacuate and everybody loads up his car and winds up in a enormous traffic jam. It’s hard to get out of the endangered zone. Cuba sends the army and busses to evacuate first the tourists and then the population. This is all well coordinated and works like clockwork. Hurricane discipline is great in Cuba and you will be taken to a hotel away from the dangerous zones!
Sitting it out.
During the hurricane you might want to cut room service some slack. You will probably sit in the dark because the current is out. It might be a boring day (or even two) but you will live and will have a great story to tell. You might want to stock up on water as the showers might be out.
I arrived in Cuba 10 days after Irma hit the island. Irma was huge and very devastating and hit most of Cuba, passing from east to west instead of the normal south-north path.
10 days later everything was up and running again. No signs of Irma passing except some trees that fell down in the countryside and some damaged houses at the shoreline.
The current was up and running within 5 days! Compare that to Puerto Rico (US soil) where it took over a year to get that done. Water was flowing out of the tap; streets were clean, damage repaired.
Cuba deployed the army and all of his citizens to clean up the mess. There was a mandatory ‘clean-up-day’ for everybody. Within a week life was back to normal for 99% of the people.
Not one tourist got hurt! Not one!
If you just go a few weeks, the probability of Cuba getting hit by a hurricane during that time is very low. I’ve spent about 6 years in Cuba and never witnessed one. Once went trough a tropical depression though, and that was a lot of wind and rain! Scary! I’m not looking forward to a hurricane at all but considering the probabilities I keep taking the risk.
Cuba is well prepared to handle the situation, throws the needed resources in and will keep you safe.
Now we have that out of the way: Cuba is different! You might want to understand the money before you go.
Until recently, renting a bike was impossible in Cuba because Cubans were not allowed to rent their bikes. (Something with dirty profit and thus capitalism.) So now, with some pride and we like the guy so to promote him, we announce:
Rent a Bike in Havana
Ovidio (an old-timer of 73) has found a way around this problem. He took out a license of ‘operador de equipo recreativo’ and on that license, he is allowed to rent bikes to foreigners.
He flew in about 20 bikes from Panama and is renting them out for 14 CUC’s per day.
That means 7*14=98 per week and 30 or 31*14=420 a month…
The per year price: Special offer! 365*14=5110 CUC. No, there is no advantage in renting long-term… it’s 14 per day! That’s Cuban buisiness for you.
The company is financed by a nice Italian (never thought I would say this, I don’t care much for the Italians that frequent Cuba). The two of them are chatting on the curb all day. Their bikes are terrible, so their place is worth a visit but don’t rent a bike if you want to live.
And zen came the Germans.
Olvidio’s bikes are made in China, bought in Panama and not very good to say it friendly. But until February 2017 they were the only bikes for rent in Havana.
Profile (a German travel agency) changed that. They designed bikes, especially for the Cuban roads and climate. Made in Germany. These bikes are just perfect to make a tour, even for the whole of Cuba if you want! They deliver the bikes at your doorstep and pick them up again. It’s German organisation: quality, and efficiency.
Or you can pick them up at their central location in Vedado… You should book beforehand though… Parque Mariana de las Grajales, Calle D and 23, in front of restaurant Irani Topoli, VEDADO. Save 10 per bike!
Profile also has bikes for rent in Holguin and Santiago.
Do rent a bike
Enjoy your bike ride in Havana! Go out to Miramar and take the ferry across the bay to Casa Blanca. If you want, this guy can give you some bike itineraries via TripUnique.
Biking is the perfect way to discover the non-touristy parts of Havana. If you spent more that three days in Havana (and I would recommend that) rent a bike!