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 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.

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.

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

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.

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 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…

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.

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.

Cuba Wi-Fi. The manual.

How to use Wi-Fi in Cuba

In 2015 Cuba started rolling out Wi-Fi zones. They are still at it, and every city has at least one.

Simple Wi-Fi access

The principle is simple. You find yourself a Wi-Fi zone by looking at the people. If they are browsing or talking with their device, they are online and thus in a Wi-Fi zone.

Wi-Fi zone Cuba
Found a Wi-Fi zone!

You connect your device by logging in using a scratch card from Etecsa (Cuban telecom monopolist).

And that’s it… You would think… Nope, think again.

 

Wi-Fi in real life

Wi-Fi scratch cards

So you need a scratch card, to begin with. They sell them at the Etecsa shop, and waiting lines are impressive. Once inside (make sure you stand in the right cue) you will find the cards sold our 80% of the time, due to the Cuban Black market principle. (More about that in our book.) Officially Etecsa sells the cards for 1,50 CUC, and that gives you 1 hour of Wi-Fi Internet. In reality, they sell the cards for 2 to the street dealers, who in their turn sell them on the streets for 3.

Update Nov 2017: Etecsa lowered the price of the internet to $1 per hour. Prices of cards on the street went down imediatly to $2.

So don’t wait in line and just buy them on the street. The vendors hang around in the Wi-Fi zones and will approach you… Pay 2 CUC, that’s the price. Everybody has to make a living.

Scratch the card

You will see two large numbers. One for the user name and the other one is the password. (In that order). Connect your device with the Wi-Fi-Etecsa network and the login screen will appear. (More about the other networks that appear later in this article). Fill in the user and password, and you are online! Well eh…

Security settings.

Your device will refuse to connect because you are trying to access an insecure network. (And it is insecure! You are being monitored.) If you select ‘connect anyway’ things get interesting. You should switch off all security settings and accept and ignore all warnings. Your device will help you to do so… Switch them all off! Probably that still is not enough!

Time

time Cuba
both on the automatic time setting

This is because the time on your device does not match the network time. Switch automatic time setting off and put the right time manually. Now you are online! Enjoy.

Cheaper Wi-Fi

If you observe the people in the Wi-Fi zones, you will see guys (and sometimes a girl) sitting there with laptops equipped with a little Wi-Fi antenna. Those are the Internet dealers. They will connect you for half the price. 0,5 CUC per hour. They just create a network and you are connected to their account.

Wi-Fi Cuba
The Internet dealer will set you up

The best thing about these dealers is that they will set up your device so that it can connect to their private network. Don’t worry they all are IT professionals, probably better than the IT guys at your work. You don’t have to buy a card; you don’t have to break all kinds of security settings. Great!

You don’t have to find a scratch card; you don’t have to enter long numbers (in which you always make a mistake) or play with your settings.

The drawback is that the dealers share their connection with as many people as possible. That’s their business. Connect at 1 CUC/hour and sell 6 connections at 0,50… make 2 :-).

Video chatting, watching Facebook clips or going on YouTube is a problem due to the band with. Mail will do fine!

Samsung

Some Samsung phones just don’t want to connect with their original operating system. They just can’t find the WiFi. Update your phone before you go and you should have no problem.

Free Wi-Fi

Want even slower but cheaper Internet? There’s even a FREE Wi-Fi zone in Havana! (It’s not for you)…

Try ‘No Wi-Fi’

Cuba is one of the last places on earth that is not Internet dominated. Go off line for a while. People back home will understand that when you’re in Cuba, the Internet is a difficult thing. They will forgive you for not liking their new profile picture within an hour!

Go cold turkey for a few weeks! You will find it relaxing after a while!

Last tip

On this page, we’ll try to sell you our book (you should read it, by the way, it will add a dimension to your stay in Cuba) and give you a relaxing tip that will save you a few hours on the airport…

You will run into the jineteros (and if you don’t know what that are you’re not ready to go to Cuba yet.) We don’t agree with most main stream sources and we think you should handle them this way: How to deal with jineteros?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cuba safety and dangers

Cuba is known for her safety and lack of dangers

Cuba is very, very safe. Incredible safety! We can be very short about that. If you don’t do idiotic things, you will be safe.

In Cuba, the police are very respected and not always visible (a lot of undercover agents keeping you safe.) Nobody will attack you, stick a knife up your tummy or wield a gun (there are no guns on the island other than police and army. That’s one of the advantages of a police state) Cars are too slow for drive-by shootings anyway.

Safety in Cuba

Harassing or robbing a tourist is considered a significant crime and very severely punished. The Cuban police have a reputation of always getting her man and cameras are everywhere and are believed to see everything. Don’t worry… Cuba is very very safe!

Real dangers in Cuba.

The only real danger is being scammed for a few bucks. It dents your ego and if you don’t learn fast it might even be dangerous for your wallet in the long run. But these are soft scams compared to the rest of the world. And they are more intelligent because in Cuba the social elite like a surgeon or a college professor scam tourists too… That makes the dangers in Cuba actually funny!

In the last ten years, only one (ONE!) tourist got killed by violence, and this Mexican was involved in a drug deal… Steer away from drugs, and you will be safe.

A few safety tips for the really stupid

Don’t walk at 3 o’clock in the morning alone in a bad neighbourhood with a 3000$ camera, bulging wallet and gold chains on your neck. Leave your Rolex at home (time is of no importance in Cuba). Don’t carry weapons and don’t do drugs.

Don’t kill anybody (Cuban or tourist) or get into physical fights.

Don’t get (too) drunk.

Don’t do anything sexual with underaged (18) boys or girls… Cuba takes her youth seriously and is fierce in protecting it. I agree with that policy.

That’s all there is to keep yourself safe in Cuba!

Dangerous:

The biggest danger for normal people are the holes in the pavement! No really… watch out where you put your feet! I see a lot of tourists that have done an unexpected excursion to the hospital because they broke a wrist or twisted an ankle… Watch your step. Don’t step in the holes or the dog shit… Dogs roam free in Cuba.

If you rent a car, don’t drink and drive.

Be safe!

And now let safety go and prepare to have fun in Cuba! On the ‘get the e-Book‘ page we have a tip for you that will save you a few hours in Cuba!

Recommended reading

You will run into the jineteros. (And if you don’t know who they are, you are not ready for Cuba.) Here’s how to handle them.