How to get around in Cuba

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.

Rental Car.

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.

The rental car is the white one. It’s number plate starts with a T
The black car is a Taxi. It’s number plate starts with a T too because Cubans hire rental cars and drive them as a Taxi.

Taxi

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.

Busses

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.  

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.

2 Viazul

This is the tourist bus (but often also taken by Cubans that can afford it) that connects most towns and tourist hotspots.

Viazul

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.

All 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. 

I always take the black one…

But hey… there are other ways to get around.

Cuban Collectivos

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!

Piquera on 19th de Mayo, corner Boyeros. Trucks to take you to the West

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.

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 40 $ 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.

I added this just to be complete. I vowed never to take a wooden bench truck again for obvious reasons.

Recommended reading:

How to handle the Jineteros CubaConga style

Racism in Cuba

Rent a car

Last update April 2019

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…

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.

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.

3 ZunZunCar drove 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. See post:

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.

Read this post however before you book anything. How to get around in Cuba

The internet is full of bull:

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.

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

Hurricane season in Cuba

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.

Hurricane Irma approaching Cuba in Sept ’17

Hurricane probability

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.

Evacuate

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.

Afterwards.

Hurricane
After hurricane Irma Cuba got cleaned op very fast. 

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!

Conclusion.

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.

Cuba Embargo

The Cuba embargo

The US, officially, still have an embargo on Cuba. And most of the time they apply pressure to other countries to avoid dealing with Cuba. No people, capital or goods are allowed to move between the two countries.  Of course, this is the official U.S.  policy, and the real world is different. Half of the chickens eaten in Cuba come from the states and a lot of rice is imported from the same country. Very different indeed.

Still, the blockade frustrates Cuba. It is illegal according to the U.N., immoral from a humanitarian point of view and a big scapegoat for the Cuban regime.

Update April 2016 (a month after Obama went to Cuba): I have to rethink the paragraph above. Somebody ordered my book and mentioned ‘Cuba’ in the comments… Two days later my PayPal account got restricted, and I received the following message from PayPal:

blockade Cuba
Blockade still very active

In the banking world ‘Cuba’ raises a lot of red flags. Obama is sweet talking but the fines handed out for doing business with Cuba never were higher!

Update October 2016: The embargo is still in full swing. A lot of people ask me if things have changed in Cuba since the embargo was lifted… It’s not lifted at all.

Update July 2017.

Since the embargo was not lifted under Obama, Trump’s decision to reinforce it again does not change much. Obama made is easier for tourists to roam the streets of Havana individually (which too manny Americans did too loudly.) Trump is returning to the old policy. This will cause less individual tourists but apart from that, does not change much.

Update August 2019

I was wrong about Trump and not changing much two years ago. Trump is putting more and more pressure on US and international companies. The activation of the Hellm’s Burton act is aggressively hurting the Cuban people Trump claim’s to help. It’s bullying at international level. This inhumane treatment of a neighbour country should be stopped.

Complicated indeed

To make things even more complicated: The European commission issued a guideline that forbids European companies to abide to the US embargo…

Thus banks that are unwilling to break US regulations but can’t do so without breaking European guidelines… ‘That is technically impossible” say some… “Of course, we can” say others… Or ‘if you send 100 Euro, the recipient will receive minus 5 CUC on his or her account.’

The blockade as a scapegoat

El Boqueo’ is the Spanish word for this embargo, and everything that goes wrong in Cuba is its due to the blockade.  The economy would be a lot better without it.  Cubans would live the good life without it.  Without ‘El Bloqueo’ words like ‘no Hay’, ‘S’Acabo’ and ‘Se Rompio’ would not be in the Cuban dictionary.  (for detailed analysis of the real meaning of these words we refer to CubaConga.) Without the blockade, every Cuban would be on time, water from the tap would taste fine, trains would run on time, roads would be perfect, and every Cuban would have a shiny new Mercedes or BMW. (Funny, these are German cars… Germany does not impose the blockade).

Cuban arrogance

In Africa, if something is screwed up, they throw their arms in the air and say with a big smile ‘This is Africa man!”.  In Cuba, they do not have to blame themselves… They throw their arms in the air and blame it on ‘El Bloqueo’. It’s never Cuba’s fault!

Status quo

The Cuba blockade is imposed by the US conservatives, and with this blockade, they effectively conserve the situation in Cuba. We don’t do politics nor do we understand them but this is one of those policies that accomplish exactly the opposite of their official goal. I always wonder what the real goal is when policies systematically put a blockade on the results they are after, but leave you to ponder that thought.

The Cuba embargo… It’s not what it seems. Like Cuba is not what it seems…

Everything you think about Cuba is dead wrong (OK, it is an Island). If you want to see the real Cuba, please read more on this site and download our book. No good, money back (and we’re not Cubans, we stick to what we say…)

On the ‘order now’ page we have a tip for you that will save you a few hours in Cuba.

Recommended reading:

Here is the Wi-Fi Manual

And here the Wi-Fi is free!

Racism in Cuba

No racism

According to the official channels racism does not exist in Cuba, but in daily life race is important. Looking at the number of expressions a language has to describe the subject can reveal the importance. Eskimos have 20 words for snow, and Cubans have twenty for race . Is that rasicm?

White

In ascending pigmentation Cubans distinguish the following shades of race. (If that order upsets you, you are not a Cuban (they don’t care) and you could also read it from the bottom to the top.)

Albino

Albino’s are pigment free. Also in Cuba

Rubio/Rubia

So white that he has blond hair and blue eyes. Mostly descendants of the Russians that spent some time in Cuba

Blanco/blanca

A white guy but he might have dark eyes and dark hair.

Trigeño/trigeña

One shade darker than Blanco. Mediterranean look.

Mulato adelantado//Mulata adelantada

Very light but mixed race.

Mulato blanconasso/Mulata blanconassa.

Same colour as adelantado but with black curls.

Java (yellow).

Blond, but not white

Mulato/Mulata

Clearly of mixed race. Considered the best contribution of the Spanish to the Cuban people.

Indio/india

Mixed blood with some Indian traits.

Chino/China

This is about the form of the eyes. Theoriginal inhabitants of Cuba had slit eyes. Colour does not matter.

MulaTICO/TICA

A little bit darker than a Mulato.

Metisso/Metissa

Another dose of pigment on top of the Mulatico

Moreno/Morena

Black with good hair (which means straight hair)

Negro/Negra

Black with afro hair (bad hair)

Negro telefono

Black as a phone

Black

 

Azul

Very black. Azul means blue and that is indeed very black!

Cubans are refreshingly political incorrect. They call each other by their race or other distinctive characteristics. A fat guy is called Fat, a skinny one Skinny. Someone with big ears is called Ears, and the guy with the big mouth is called Mouth. A black guy is called a Negro and a white one… etc etc…

In daily life

Now how does this whole race thing play out in daily life? I’ll give you an example.

I’m a white man, used to be blond, with blue eyes. I’m sitting on a crowded terrace with a good friend called Titanic. His real name is José but since he’s huge everybody calls him Titanic. He’s 130 kilos of muscle (and a pot belly). He’s a black man (Negro) and has a reputation for his sharp witt.

Just a beer

He gets up to go to the toilet and since he’ll be passing the bar I ask him to fetch another beer.

‘As always’ he says, a bit too loud, ‘the white man ordering the Negro to do the work.’

He imediatly has the attention of the whole terrace. How’s this tourist going to react?

‘Hey’ I reply a bit too loud. ‘It’s a simple task. You are smart for a Negro, you are able to do it.’ (He’s a very smart man by the way.)

All the guests, that were listening in, burst out laughing. All black men are told that they are smart ‘for a negro’ too. Titanic goes to the toilet, fetches two beers and says: ’To Blanco’s’. I return the compliment and say ‘to Negros.’ Racism in action in Cuba.

Official perspective

Race is very apparent in Cuba but not something to worry about. It’s just something you see right away (like big ears) and you can say what you see.

Off course there is racism in Cuba. Like everywhere else in the world there is a distinct reversed correlation between pigment and wealth. That I find colour irelevant does not change that fact.

Racism is considered anti-revolutionary and confronting someone for being a racist is considered an act against the revolution too. So it is very well hidden!

Personal opinion:

Judging people by their race is for the lazy and the stupid that are not willing or able to look beyond the 0,5 millimeter that determines our skin tone.

Recomended reading for you:

Things you do not see in Cuba

How to rent a car, but you might not want to…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cuban Jobs

Thanks to its unique political system and the wages paid for work Cubans developed a range of jobs that do not exist anywhere else.

You can’t live on a salary, even if you are a minister or director of a company. So everybody has a job next to his official designation.

A few examples:

We buy our rice at the supermarket and boil it. In Cuba rice is dried on the streets so it is dirty. This guy is letting the wind blow the dust out of the rice. Nest step: Looking at every grain to fish out the little stones (they will cost you a tooth) and bad grains. It’s a day’s job at every restaurant.

2 Receipt ripper.

At the door of every store, there is a man (always a man) that carefully checks if the items in your bag match the ones on the receipt. Once satisfied, he folds the receipt and carefully rips it. They all do this the same way. There must be a receipt ripper school!

3 Nail polish bottle recycler.

Nail polish man

This guy sells nail polish and pays his customers 1 Peso (4 cents) per returned bottle. He then cleans them, fills them up again with self-made nail polish and sells them for 10 Peso.

4 Bus money exchanger.

Bus money exchange

The bus costs 40 cents but if you pay with one Peso you will not get change. So this guy gives you 4 20 cent coins for a Peso. Two bus fares for 1!

5 Internet Dealer

Cuba’s Internet Provider is a monopolist. They provide internet access for 1 CUC per hour using a scratch card. This gave rise to two new jobs:

A: The Scratchcard salesmen buy the cards at the official Internet store for 1 and sell them for 2 in de WiFi parks. People pay that price because the shop always has huge lines and rarely has the cards as they are sold to the dealers for 1.25. (Dealer pays 1.25, salesperson pockets .25 and dealer makes .75 per card.)

B The Network dealer sets up his connection to the internet (paying 1 per hour) and sells off his connection via a private network for 50 cents. He’s making a profit as soon as more than 2 people are connected through his network.

6 Standing in line man

Waiting in line

This guy spends his days standing in line. All day, every day. Cuba has long lines. Everybody is waiting for something. The Colista stands in the longest line he can find and when it is almost his turn, he sells his place and goes to the back of the line.

7 The disposable lighter repairman.

Disposable lighter repairman

If your disposable lighter is empty or the flint went, this guy has a solution. He fills it up or repairs it for 3 Pesos. Most travel guides mention this guy and will tell you he uses insecticide to fill up the lighter. This illustrates the problem of those guides. They simply believe what they see or hear and Cuba has many layers. The truth is that these guys indeed use an insecticide bottle but fill it with lighter liquid. They use the insecticide bottles because they are easy to fill and to handle and last long because they are sturdy.

8 The Yellows

Guys in yellow uniforms play chicken with all government cars to stop them and fill them up with hitchikers.

9 Mosquito Hunters

Dressed in a khaki uniform these guys hunt mosquitos all day from door to door.

The list goes on and on. Nothing to guard guard, Nothing to gard gard supervisor, Plastic bag salesman, always something for sale (that’s about everybody). Market prices inspector, the specialized repairman for everything… Cuba has a lot of extraordinary jobs.

There is a lot of confusion about Cuba because we just don’t understand the system. For instance, the double currency tale is just a tale…

Want to get deeper into Cuba than ‘most travel guides’? Read this blog and then order our book…

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 mis information 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.

Now that you understand the Currency get your budget under control!

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

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…

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 ’17 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 so called 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 10 cents per liter. 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.

Update Februari 2019

In Januari the new taxi law was applied. Practica consequence: About half of those Classic American cars stopt working as a fixed route taxi!

They were replaced by 450 Russian mini vans that are government run. It’s getting hard to find a ‘normal’ fixed route taxi!

Personally I’m a bit tired of all this and take the bus. 1 peso MN…

Drinking water in Cuba

Drink water!

You should be drinking water when in Cuba. It’s hot, and you probably are walking a lot more than usual.

Water shortage

Drinking water
Drinking water?

Cuba has a planned economy and as that term already implies the supply chains don’t cope well with things that are not in the scheme. Those plans are five years old and don’t account for the recent surge in tourism.

What does that have to do with water???

Well, tourists are convinced that they should drink bottled water for their health. And since there are more tourists and the water plan does not account for that there is a lack of bottled water… Simple. So it’s hard to find water and people go thirsty.

Where did you buy that water?

This is a question I get a lot in the streets. And my answer ‘from the tap’ is almost shocking.

Safe drinking water.

Most water in Cuba is safe to drink. It tastes a bit like a swimming pool (and that makes it safe) but is perfectly OK. So if you find yourself wandering the streets looking for water, just drink from the tap… It’s safe. To avoid being sued I recommend boiling it however.

Get the taste out.

To get the bad taste out of the water is a simple trick which is in our book. Not reading it leaves a bitter aftertaste in more than one way :-). Your casa particular is most happy to do this for you.

Water Filters

add bacteria
add bacteria

A lot of Casas have a water filter. This eliminates the bad taste, but as replacing the filter costs money, most houses have been using the same filter since they bought the machine… This still takes the taste out but probably puts in some bacteria. So have it cooked after you have it filtered!

Silly advice

You might think this is a silly advice but believe me; you’ll feel different after searching for water for 3 hours on a hot afternoon!

Water from the plane.

Take a bottle of water (or two) from the aircraft. It will be a while before you can buy some… You have to stand in the different customs lines and change money. (For both lines we have a solution in our book by the way.)

Here’s a tip that makes you skip at least one line.