Havana es Havana!

Havana: Nothing compares to it!

Last update 12/2018

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
Havana without makeup

Inhabitants

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.)

30%

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:

Clandestina

Clandestina Havana
Clandestina

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.

Stock exchange

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

Temporary housing

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.

Carlos III

Carlos III

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.

Salchipizza

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!

SalchiPizza

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 Copyshop

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

Nine universities.

15 districts.

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.

Shopping
Shopping

Havana is a metropolis, and you cannot ‘do’ it in two days. Don’t go to Havana to shop!

Virtual guide

Let this guy help you discover the hidden gems.

Biking

Do get yourself a bike to see the real Havana. Your local hero has some excellent bike trips through the outskirts.

Scam City

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.

Recommended reading:

Things you do not see in Cuba

Get your money straight

Cuba Propaganda

propaganda

Propaganda… We have it too!

“Always Coca Cola”, “Mc Donald’s, I’m loving it!” We have our kind of propaganda in our capitalist society. Our propaganda aims to make us consume particular products and services. If you are aware of this or not, it works…

Ministry of Propaganda

I do not want to get into the fake news discussion. There is a lot of fake news about Cuba and even the US government is in on that. Cuba has a ministry of propaganda and they at least call it that way. We have add agencies that violate the truth much more!

Cuba has Propaganda too, but different

Cuba has a different kind of propaganda because there is no commercial competition. They do not have to distinguish between almost similar products because everything is state produced, state distributed and state owned. So Cuban propaganda is aimed at politics and ideology. Coke and McDo are replaced by socialism and communism, and those ideologies are “sold” to the people by hollow slogans as “Father land or death” or “Nature and revolution”.  There is a whole ministry dedicated to producing those empty slogans, just like we have an industry, producing the same empty slogans (add agencies), with the difference that in Cuba they sell an ideology and in the west they sell stuff.

Father land or death

Truth is in the eye of the beholder

In Cuba, propaganda goes deeper. It is part of the school system too. Look around; you don’t see children cry in Cuba! (Some might argue that consumerism is part of our education system too…)

propaganda
Even freedom is in the eye of the beholder

An example of school propaganda: We picked up two students that were hitchhiking, and they just had a class in philosophy. So I asked which philosophers they talked about. “Marx and Lenin” was their answer. Slightly amused I asked what kind of philosopher Lenin was, and their answer was that Lenin was a “Very Practical Philosopher”.

If you don’t see the joke in that answer, you might not want to read our book…

Because of ‘our’ propaganda ‘our’ perception of Cuba is wrong just as the Cuban’s perception of the capitalist world is wrong.

‘We’re always wrong in Cuba. Let us help you out with an entirely different perspective…

Perspective is everything
Perspective is everything

CubaConga is an alternative travel guide to Cuba, that skips the propaganda and shows you life like it is, the pitfalls you should avoid and will not only save you about 200$ per week, it will greatly enhance your fun and insight, as well as reduce your budget.

If it does not… we will refund you. No questions asked.

You probably understand that this is propaganda for our book :-). Get it here and up your game. It goes deeper than this blog. At the ‘Order, the book now please‘ page we’ll give you a bonus tip that will save you at least 2 hours in Cuba. Just to refund the time you’ve spent on our blog…

Recommended reading:

Drinking water... A different story that will quench your thirst.

How to book an authentic Casa Particular

 

Rent a car

Last update August 2018

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.

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 as you can see here Gaviota. 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…

rent a car

Arguments against renting a car

Cost

Cars are way more expensive than anywhere else in the world. It’s just costly.

Availability

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…

Waiting time

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.

Happy driving!

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.

To find such a taxi, ask your casa particular or go to the Viazul station. This will add at least 10 CUC to the price so just book one trip (let’s say Havana-Trinidad which should cost you about 90-100 CUC for a whole car). Then talk to the driver and negotiate prices for all the trips you want to make. But you will have to bargain hard!

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 this method:

  • 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.

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.

Double currency hoax

There is a lot of confusion about currency and money in Cuba.

Last update Sept 2018

A lot of people think, and a lot of websites claim that Tourists have to use CUC (Convertible Currency) and Cubans use MN Moneda Nacional). This is utter nonsense on a lot of levels!

Peso Cuba
Moneda Nacional MN

Some misinformation about currency

First of all: You can use MN as a tourist, and I recommend you do so, just to show that you understand money! Cubans use CUC all the time. You can exchange your CUC for MN in all Cadecas.

Secondly: The Convertible Currency is only Convertible in Cuba. Take it home, and it is worthless. Like Monopoly money is only money within the game. So it is only convertible in name.

3 CUC peso
this is CUC (double currency?)

Thirdly: People often ask me ‘how to spend their money without supporting the regime. Impossible! When you arrive you exchange your hard currency to Game Money. The hard currency is already in the government bank. You only spend Game Money (does not matter if you call it CUC or MN). If you do not want to support the ‘regime’, you should go elsewhere.

Fourthly: There is no double currency in Cuba! (I’ll explain below). Cubans pay 25 MN with a CUC and 3 CUC with 75 MN or with 2 CUC and 25 MN. Both are used simultaneously and are mixed up.

Difference between CUC and CUP bills:

Before I explain that there is no double currency, here’s how to distinguish CUC from CUP.

CUC bills have buidings and statues on them, CUP bills faces. That’s easy to remember because you need a lot of people (faces) to make a building.

Cuba is poor, and thus Cuba should be cheap. Both are untrue.

You might think that Cuba must be cheap because you’ve heard that a doctor earns 40 CUC a month.

Well, it’s not… (And a physician does not live on 40 CUC). Cuba is expensive. Nobody can live in Havana on 40 CUC a month. If you don’t want to go hungry, you need about a hundred. And if you want to buy clothes and wear shoes you need a hundred more and if you want to keep your house in a reasonable state that’s another hundred…

I believe that a Cuban in Havana needs about 200-300 CUC a month to live a decent life…

Because jobs don’t pay those salaries everybody is making money on the side. Or even worse, the salary people get is the pocket money you make on the side.

The average salary of 20 dollars is just a myth (we explain that in our book). So if somebody charges you 10 for half a day’s work, he’s not getting half a month’s salary, he’s just getting a decent pay.

Tips

All tips are welcome but don’t give foreign coins. I’m a European and come home with at least 4 pounds of coins every year because the Cubans can not exchange them and sell them to me.

Double currency

They say that Cuba has a double currency… Moneda Nacional and CUC. (both are called Pesos by the way).

That’s an artificial debate. The MN is pegged to the CUC and always has the same value 25/1 or (24/1 when you are buying). So if something costs 25 pesos, it costs 1 CUC. If something costs 100 Pesos, it costs 4 CUC and the other way around. (small print… not taking into considerations Cuban companies.)

Calculus for the ‘double currency.’

A simple trick to convert Pesos to CUC:

Take off two zeros and multiply by 4.

CUC to Pesos:

Add two zeros and divide by 4.

The idea of a double currency just makes things more complicated, but in reality, it’s just the same currency, expressed in different terms. You can pay something that costs 10 CUC with 250 MN or with 6 CUC and 100MN or 50 MN and 8 CUC. The conversion is always the same.

I think the debate is artificial because the US has a double currency too. Dollars and Dimes… There are always 10 Dimes to a Dollar so you can price stuff in Dollars and Dimes. If something costs 10 Dimes, you can pay a dollar!!! Really!!!

Back to the virtual double currency in Cuba: We recommend you use both because it shows the Cubans you understand the system. They are very surprised if a foreigner understands their money and it will bring down your budget and earn you respect.

We explain more about the so-called double currency system in our book… Even the Cubans believe there are two currencies!

Now that you understand the Currency get your budget under control

We do have an entirely different view on Cuba than the main stream Travel guides and websites. We live here and did not understand it all after the two or three weeks most travel writers spend researching Cuba.

Here’s how you handle the street hustlers…

Rent a Motorcycle in Cuba

rent a motorcycle
rent a motorcycle

 

Until recently people that wanted to rent a motorcycle could only rent 50cc scooters that were not fit to discover the whole island. And those are no real bikes!

Cuba is relaxing its laws slowly, and now you can rent a motorcycle! With some restrictions that is… It’s still Cuba!

You cannot just rent one (or two) hop on and discover the island. (Well, there is a way: find a foreigner that has temporary residency and a motor and is willing to rent it to you… I’ve done that a few times, and it is great although the motorcycle had some problems.) In practice this is just not possible as a tourist.

Brand new BMWs

To avoid those problems you can now rent a brand new BMW Enduro. That’s the perfect bike for the Cuban road conditions.

Profile organises motor tours all over Cuba with those BMW F700 GS.

motorcycle adventure
Motorcycle adventure

The advantage is that you and your group (individual subscriptions are welcome) always will have a guide and troubleshooter with you. Cuba is bound to give you some trouble at some time. The guide speaks English and is a motor fanatic, so you are in good company.

9-day motor tours

They organise three different tours, all nine days. See their website for details. They take care of everything (lodging, food and motorcycle) so you can concentrate on cruising.

The good thing about Profile is that they are very flexible. You can negotiate an individual motorcycle tour with them! (only company doing so).

I did a tour with them; it was a great adventure! Great company too. All bike enthusiasts like me. We had a ball, and the bikes were perfect. (One broke down and got replaced within 4 hours!) That’s a miracle in Cuba!

motorcycle rental
Waiting for a new bike

But

Before you rent a motorcycle, you should familiarise yourself with Cuba. It is a totally different culture, and nothing is what it seems to you. Here’s for instance how to save a few hours upon arrival.

Or read this to understand it is a different ballgame!

We realise that we see Cuba in a different light than the main stream travel stuff… here’s how we handle the Jineteros. (And you will run into them!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taxi wars in Havana

Fixed route Taxi

Many people in Havana depend on the old American cars that drive around as fixed route taxi. It’s simple. You stick out your arm horizontally and shout or signal your destination at the driver. He stops, you get in and get out, paying 10 or 20 MN depending on the distance.      Worked fine!

But now there is a war going on.

What happened?

In December the government raised the price of illegal diesel by 300%. HuH?

Yes, all those beautiful American cars have modern diesel motors that run on diesel, and you will never see one of those Almendrones at the gas station. They all run on stolen diesel.

So how does de government raise the price of stolen goods? It’s simple. They doubled fines and the number of inspectors. The risk for the merchants went up, supply down, and prices exploded on the black market.

Taxi price

Drivers had to raise their prices.

The government forbids that right away.

Drivers started to make short rounds instead of the usual long hauls. I had to change taxi three times to get home (paying three times 10 Pesos) were before I just took one car, paying 20. So the drivers raised their prices by 50% without raising them. 10 pesos just went less distance.

The government counteracted by issuing an official price table. A very detailed description of rates for each trajectory. This, in fact, was lowering the prices people were paying.

Taxis on strike

Taxi drivers were responding by driving around empty, stating to the customers they were ‘taxi privado’ now and would only take the customers straight to their homes (at ten times the price they would normally have to pay.)

Taxi mess in Havana

This has been going on for a few weeks now (March 17) and a solution does not seem at hand. Some drivers make their normal routes, others the short rounds, others drive around empty, and most of them simply stay at home. Some charge the new official prices, others just keep charging the old prices and some stick to the ‘taxi privado’ principle.

Public transport in Havana is a mess at the moment and getting home sometimes a chore…  The government is bothered with this situation and is deploying extra buses.

Streets are full of people looking for transport and empty cars looking to make an extra buck.

As soon as the situation settles down, I will tell you the outcome of this conflict.

Update June 2017

Everything sort of back to normal. (normal is NOT a Cuban concept). Taxis are working again at the prices they used to ask before the whole conflict. The price of illegal diesel back down to about 20 cents per litre. So it’s safe to recommend them again.

Do take a fixed route taxi while in Havana!

Update December ’17

The dirvers counter by refusing longer distances and thus effectively raising the prices again.

Update Februari 2018

The government is fed up with this capitalistic game and trows in a lot of buses that take the fixed routes taxis take. Same distance for 1 Peso or 5 in an airco bus. No more people looking for rides. Taxis half empty. They are loosing the fight they started.

Drugs

Don’t do drugs in Cuba.

Don’t buy drugs in Cuba,

Don’t bring drugs to Cuba,

Don’t use it, sell it or talk about it.

Don’t even think about it.

Cuban policy on drugs is very, very severe. Very…

Punishment

Your new friends
Your new friends

Punishment for drug offenders is severe if you are caught with drugs. You will spend a dozen years in a minus 5 star all-inclusive. And it’s not even in Varadero!

You don’t want these new ‘friens’.

Fake

Most drugs tourist encounter are no drugs anyway. You might snort some washing powder or smoke some horse shit…

Considering that; I don’t recommend to put anything into your body with a needle!

On the bright side

The only drug that is allowed in Cuba is alcohol (yup that’s a hard drug too.) It’s even pushed by the government and for sale on every street corner, gas station, grocery store or supermarket. Sometimes I wonder why they don’t sell it at schools. Sometimes it’s the only thing for sale in the whole venue! A shot is sold for as little as 3 Moneda Nacional…, which is 12 cents.

While being drunk is a national hobby, every other form of drug use, even smoking a joint, is strictly forbidden!

So don’t. It’s not worth it.

If you can’t survive for two weeks without drugs, don’t go to Cuba, see a doctor.

Other addictions

That being out of the way, let’s talk other addictions that are legal and fun in Cuba:

Drink, dance, sex and a different perspective on life and work sums that up.

Last revised July 2018

Visa for Cuba

Yes, you do need a visa for Cuba.

Unless you live in one of the very special visa-free countries of the world… You probably don’t. But in case of doubt: Visa requirements Cuba

So how do you get a Cuban visa?

If your visa is included in your ticket, you have no problem whatsoever. Move on… Read about money or some crazy stories about Cuba… Or just order our book here right away!

How to get a visa for Cuba?

Authentic

You could go to the embassy or consulate in your country. This trip makes for an interesting excursion and will be your first impression of Cuban bureaucracy. (So don’t go there if you are in a hurry!)

A problem with this approach is that everybody in your party will have to be present, ticket and passport in hand. You can buy a visa for other people, but this costs 25 $ per person extra! Yes, that’s right, visas go for 20-25 dollars (depending on country) and buying one for your absent hubby costs 25 extra.

Unprepared and in a hurry

Probably somebody or some company sells Cuban visas at your airport of departure. This is your penultimate solution. Too expensive and not very sure.

Adventurous

If you manage to board your plane without a visa, you still need one to enter Cuba. Before customs, there is a table that sells visas. The problems here are: The person responsible might be on a break that break might take a few hours. You have to pay in CUC, which you don’t have yet and can not obtain before customs. So, in reality, this option is symbolic! Don’t leave home without a visa!

The problems here are: The person responsible might be on a break that break might take a few hours. You have to pay in CUC, which you don’t have yet and can not obtain before customs.

So, in reality, this option is symbolic! Don’t leave home without a visa!

Practical, fast and safe.

Just order it over the Internet. CubaVisa is reliable, fast and they even offer a ‘filled in visa’ service.

Don’t make any mistakes filling in your visa… One letter missing, striking out something or any other error makes it invalid.

Check their shipping destination list to make sure they ship to your country.

Cuba visa
This is a Cuban visa

An extra advantage of CubaVisa is that they sell the best Cuba roadmap and since rental cars don’t have a navigation system that might come in handy. They have a list of countries they ship to.

 

They even have the pink visas that you need if you are travelling via the USofA! A non-US resident also needs to comply with the US travel restrictions!

After you’ve got the visa problem out of the way, you might want to read our book to prepare for your trip. Cuba is a whole different ballgame, and you need to understand that! To compensate for your time, we’ll give you a tip on the ‘get the ebook’ page that will save you a few hours on the airport!

Don’t want to buy the book yet? Find out how the WiFi works in Cuba. It sounds simple but has some pitfalls (like everything in Cuba).

You will run into jineteros by the way (and if you don’t know what they are, you are not ready to go to Cuba yet… Here’s how you handle them!

 

Reasonable budget for Cuba

What is a reasonable budget for Cuba?

You can spend all the money you want in Cuba; it is not a cheap destination. It’s not Asia, and you definitely can’t live on 5 $ per day. We’ll explore a reasonable budget here.

First of all, you have to get there. We have no clue about from where you will be arriving or where you want to go so we’ll omit the flight. From Europe, you could take the boat in Rotterdam if you want to travel slowly (about three weeks, via Venezuela). It’s a very relaxed and slow, but you don’t have a jet lag upon arrival!

Spending money

What should be in your budget?

Sleeping

Eating

Drinking

Transportation

Shopping

Party

Culture

Company

Miscellaneous

We’ll explore each of those below.

Sleeping

Hotels.

We would not recommend hotels. They are expensive, not so good as you would hope and always should have a star or 2 less than they boast next to their names. (Fun to know, Hotel Parque central literary lost two stars recently… Nobody got hurt!)

Still, want to stay in a hotel? Budget between 25 for a dump up to 600 for the five stars in Havana.

Casa Particulars

Most travel websites and guides recommend staying in a Casa Particular, and I would mildly agree with them. It’s the Cuban version of a BnB and in general, offer a much higher price/quality ratio than the official hotels. You can find a Casa particular from 20CUC and up. 20 CUC is very hard to find and impossible in Havana Veilla, Viñales or Trinidad. Prices are usually per room and without breakfast. Here’s how to book a casa particular.

Most travel advice stops here. So let’s look deeper to bring a standard budget down a bit

Campismo

The Campismos are all located off the beaten track. They are some sorts of holiday parks with little cabins. Most are in the middle of beautiful nature. I would recommend everybody to spend a night or two in a Campismo. Prices range from 2 to 8 CUC per night per cabin. You need a car, bike or creative transport to get there. Reservations are difficult, to say the least… Just show up and talk to the receptionist (if there is one). Every major town has a Campismo Popular office. The Campismos are hard to find and not easy to reach. You probably need a rental car to get there. But they are cheap, fun and this is the real Cuban adventure.

Hostels

Hostels are a new formula in Cuba. Especially in Havana. Based on a Casa Particular permit, hostels put up to six beds in a room and rent them for 5 to 8 CUC per night. These are great budget places, especially for backpackers and single travellers.

 

Illegal houses

Not a very good casa particular
illegal Casa particular

Some Cubans are willing to rent you a room for a night or two for a tenner in an unlicensed house (all Casas particular need an official licence, are very much state controlled and pay rather hefty taxes). Risks are not so high as you might think. The police might kick you out at 3 o’clock in the morning, and then you have to find another house. Chances of this happening are very low. Cubans, however, take bigger risks. If the police kick you out, they will get a huge fine (in CUC) and risk losing their house altogether. It’s not possible for you as a foreigner to estimate how high the probability of this happening is, so leave that to the Cuban offering you a room. He is well aware of the risk he is taking and probably took his precautions or has his connections that minimise the potential problem. So if someone offers you an illegal house, bargain the price, and I have no objection you stay there.

All prices (except hotels and Campismo’s) are negotiable. Put some effort in negotiating, and you will save about 20%.

Summary sleeping budget:

It’s impossible to find a place to sleep below 8 CUC. The absolute minimum budget would be ten on average… You will be sleeping in Hostels and Campismos at least 2/3 of the time to get to this budget. Hostels being not very comfortable and lacking privacy and Campismo are not very practical or easy to reach. More of a realistic budget for sleeping would be 25-30 per night per room. If you want to spend a lot of time in Old Havana, Viñales or Trinidad your budget goes up with about 5 CUC/night since those places are more expensive.

Eating

How do you want to eat? On the low-end, you can survive on 4 CUC a day or even less if you are willing to eat Cuban Pizza every night. (Believe me, pizza sounds good, but you are not prepared to eat more than one a week.) Breakfast in your Casa typically costs 4-5 (pp) and negotiating will bring that down to 3-4. Breakfast in the cafeteria down the street (there is always one): Coffee, a cheese sandwich, and a fresh juice cost about 80 cents. To be paid in Moneda Nacional (Read this to get a clue about the double currency system). Lunch and dinner are the same stories.

In a cafeteria, you can get a full meal for about 2 CUC and a pizza for 10 – 20 MN.

Only eat once
Only eat once

Dinner in your Casa Particular should cost between 8 for pork and chicken up to 12 for lobster and crocodile (the last being illegal but tasty!). You can spend between 7 and 100 CUC per meal in the paladars and restaurants. Spending a lot of money on food in Cuba does not mean it’s good by definition. Some restaurants offer great price/quality ratios others minor ones. Home cooking sounds good, but you will not have a kitchen with the equipment nor the ingredients. Herbs, pepper, fresh pasta… Forget it if you don’t stay long term.

You can save a lot of money eating cheap. You could eat (rather well) for about 3-4 CUC per day. But that’s hard work. I recommend you use a budget of 15 and if you want to eat well every meal to about 30. Sometimes you will spend more, sometimes less. On average you can eat on 15 per day.

Transportation

Your budget for transportation depends on how many kilometres you want to travel and how comfortable you want to do that. A rental car doubles your budget. (Read more about rental cars here).

Different forms of transportation

The bus.

In the town, the bus costs 40 Centavos (MN), and if it’s not too crowded, you can perfectly take it. Avoid very crowded buses, as your pockets, will probably be picked. Between towns, you have to take the Viazul. Often these are full (they are not, and a solution to this problem is in our book). On the Viazul site, you can find prices and departure times. The Viazul is the only thing that sticks to a timetable in Cuba!

Taxis, both legal and illegal

Shared taxis should be slightly more expensive than a Viazul ticket. See ‘rental cars’ for more information about the illegal taxis. Legal taxis that put on the meter are costly and don’t add very much to comfort or speed. So why take them?

Trucks

These are freight trucks that have been modified to carry passengers. They are getting better every year! Commercial buses cannot be used by a private enterprise, so private transport is done with a truck. The price (for you) should be around 1/3 of the Viazul price for the same trajectory. In Havana, they leave from the central train station. They don’t have timetables and stick to that principle very well.

Trains

Don’t. Period… Just don’t.

Hitchhiking

Same advice… Don’t

Summary Transport budget.

Make a rough estimate of the number of kilometres you are going to travel and divide that number by 18 if you’re taking buses 15 for illegal taxis (this is pp). Double that if you rent a car.

In town, you take fixed route taxis or buses they do not affect your budget.

Shopping

Please prepare and take everything you need. There is nothing you can buy in Cuba that is better or cheaper than at home. Just don’t go shopping.

Drinking

A beer costs 1 or 1,50 in a club. Cola (the Cuban version) 55 cents and a mojito between 1 and 7. I spent about 5 per day for drinks, but some people don’t get to noon with that. I’ll leave this to your personal needs or perception of them. Put 10 CUC in your budget if you are not a sponge and you will be all right. A bottle of rum always comes in handy and costs about 7 for a good rum.

Partying

For most places, you pay 10 to get in. Live music in Old Havana and the Malecon is free. So are open air concerts and street parties. Buy a bottle of rum and some cups, sit on the Malecon, share the rum and you will have a party!

Culture

Museums are between 4 and 8 CUC. Ballet and opera 25 (which is worth it… I’ve seen Rigoletto with about 80 singers on stage!) The cinema is 80 cents and looking at prime classic cars on Saturdays (at the Piraqua) is free.

Company

Jinetera
80 CUC company

You are a tourist, and the bad news is that you are not going to make real friends in a few days. Company has a price in Cuba. For a friend put 5 CUC per day per friend in your budget and for the more exotic company (male or female or both, whatever makes you tick) about 50 to 80 per day. I’m not going to elaborate on this as I believe consenting adults should do what they consent to do… But before you read this please.

Miscellaneous

This part of your budget is not entirely up to you. Being ripped off is a big chunk of this budget item. Some Cubans are very good at it, and you better learn fast. Plan for 5 to 100 CUC per day, depending on your wits and how much ‘clue’ you have… Get a clue here and order our book. As a bonus, we’ll give you a tip that will save you a few hours on the airport.

Conclusion Budget for Cuba

You can survive for 40-50 CUC pp per day. With a bit of clue, you can bring that down to 30. Without any clue, you are going to spend 70-100 CUC per day. With ‘company’ and without a clue you will pay about 200 a day. Good luck!

Knowing how to handle the jineteros will cut your budget by at least 20%. Here’s how!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jineteros and Jineteras

How to handle Jineteros and Jineteras

Don’t avoid the Jineteros and Jineteras: they are fun, and you can’t avoid them anyway.

jinetero
As soon as he covertly makes money… he’s a jinetero

Bad advice

The whole Internet and all travel guides are full of warnings: Avoid the Jineteros and Jineteras because they are trouble! Beware! Warning! Run away!

As you might have noticed, my opinions differ from the mainstream point of view. That’s because I’m a resident in Cuba and have more experience with Cuba than the average blogger/journalist/travel guide writer/tourist that spends three weeks here.

What is a Jinetera?

Short history of Jineterismo

First came the Jinetera (feminine). It all started with Fidel proclaiming in a speech that Cubans did not need to earn extra money by getting involved with tourists. The state took care of everything, so the women that were getting involved with foreign men did so for their pleasure. They rode the foreigner just for fun. Hence the term Jinetera which translates in jockey in English. In the same speech, he proclaimed that Cuba has no prostitution, but if there were prostitutes in Cuba it would be the best-educated prostitutes in the world!

He was right and wrong at the same time. Yes, prostitution does exist in Cuba and yes they are well educated for the most. The Jinetera was born.

Soon after that followed her male companion:

Jinetero
This is a jinetertero

 

The Jinetero

You can spot jineteros by their golden chains!

And tooth!

Broader definition.

This couple evolved. The definition of a Jinetera was ‘a prostitute’. Now a Jinetera is somebody that somehow makes money with tourists. And since making money in Cuba is almost always illegal… And we believe that people that do illegal stuff are bad, Jineteros are bad. On top of that, we think that our way of doing things is good. Most people now define a Jinetero as a street hustler. But he is much more than that! The ones on the street annoying tourists are just the top of the iceberg.

Let me put this in perspective by comparing the things that are blamed on Jineteros with our Western world:

  • ‘Jineteros make money taking you to a Casa Particular or restaurant.’

  • Those bastards! Well, do you think booking.com does not earn money? Airbnb is a super Jinetero! They not only charge a 15% commission but in Cuba also employ Jineteros that find the houses for them (and get a fee for that). On top of that, that 15 % never make it to Cuba. It disappears into the pockets of a multinational.
  • Jineteros act friendly but just want to make money.

  • Did you ever meet an unfriendly car salesman? Did a waitress ever show her real feelings to you? Isn’t it standard practice in the West to act friendly to make money?
  • Jineteros covertly make their money. They don’t tell you it’s about the money!’

  • Well, what’s your job? How do you make money? Does a nurse tell a patient that she’s only helping him because of the money? (She is… If the hospital stopped paying her, she would find another job.) Does the friendly car salesman tell you about his commission? Our book is also for sale at Amazon, do they tell you they pocket 50%? We consider making money as normal, but when a Cuban does it, it’s suddenly wrong.

    Jinetero
    Or is this a Jinetero?
  • They mislead you lie and are manipulative.

  • Will not even go there… We have whole industries devoted to that.
  • They drive up prices.

  • So do your supermarket, real estate broker and even the nurse. Everything would be cheaper without them. Everybody with a paycheck drives up the price.
  • They just want to marry you to get out of the country.

  • Yep, gold diggers only exist in Cuba. Getting married to somebody just to better your life does not happen elsewhere… Talking about love, we would recommend reading Romance in Cuba before you fall into it…
  • The United States department of state defines them as “Street “jockeys,” who specialize in swindling tourists. Most jineteros speak English and go out of their way to appear friendly, by offering to serve as tour guides or to facilitate the purchase of cheap cigars, for example. However many are in fact professional criminals who will not hesitate to use violence in their efforts to acquire tourists’ money and other valuables.”

I would use the word propaganda here if that were not a communist monopoly. What a Bullsh**. Yes, sometimes street hustlers can become aggressive (verbally) but almost never (as in very, very rarely) violent. Very rarely! Cuba is incredibly safe!

The Internet and travel guides also offer advice on how to handle them:

  • Don’t let a Jinetero find you a place to stay, ask the owner of your casa particular to book in the next town.’ As if he does not get a commission for that. He’s just a Jinetero with a Casa Particular. They now pay each other by topping up their phones after a reservation.
  • Tell them to go away. Avoid them!’ It’s simple: You can’t. Everybody is making money on the side of his real salary (why and how in our book). So you would have to avoid everybody.
  • Don’t dress as a tourist so they will leave you alone.’ Cubans can spot a tourist from a mile away. It does not matter how you dress; they will spot you!
  • Don’t go to the tourist areas.’ ??? HUH? Better not go to Cuba if you don’t want to see it.

Forget about all that crap.

Jineteros are no criminals! They are people like you and me, trying to make ends meet. Often they are intelligent and I have my best friends among them. We are jineteros too… We lure you in with a website full of usefull information and then want to sell you a book with even more usefull information! Aren’t we bad!

How to handle Jineteros and Jineteras CubaConga style?

Relax & respond.

Feel at home and behave like you’ve been in town for a few weeks. Learn some answers that will convince them right away that you are not a stupid tourist. It’s easy. You will notice right away that their attitude changes. They will tell you that ‘you are a Cuban now.’ Respect you and suddenly it’s about the fun, not the money.

‘Hi my frien, where you from?’ Some good answers: Marianao or La Lisa (both respected rough neighborhoods in Havana.) La luna (the moon)… indicating that you know the game and want no part of it.

‘How are you my frien?’ The answer to that and some other opening lines used in the street are in our book. (We are jineteros also… we sell a book to keep this blog alive and inform you on a deeper level.)

So relax! You’ve read our book you know the tricks; nobody can ‘get’ you… Relax and enjoy!

Feel and act as if at home

Acting as if you belong means that you don’t do things you would not do at home either. If you walk to your local shopping mall and somebody whispers: ‘he man… Want to buy a car?’ or ‘Need some dope?’ or ‘Buy me a drink friend.’ What do you do? I suggest you do the same in Cuba.

Know the game, understand the tricks…

You can even relax more if you’ve read our book… You know the tricks and master the game… so enjoy!

We have lots of tips in our book how to avoid the real scams and how to have fun with the Jineteros… Get it here, and we’ll give you a tip that will save you a few hours at the airport. Just to make sure you want to read it we throw in the review of PBS’s Karen Muller 🙂

Enjoy Cuba and don’t worry about the Jineteros!

Want to rent a car? Maybe think again, there is a better option.