Missing in Cuba

Things you don’t see in Cuba

Of the things you don’t see, half might be there but out of sight.

A friend of mine told me that you should never believe what you hear in Cuba and only believe half of what you see.

Whining kids

Walking through town, you will see a lot of kids. They don’t whine! Yes, sometimes they cry if they fall hard or are in pain, but they don’t whine. And if you see a whining kid, it is probably at least half ‘owned’ by a Yuma (foreigner). Somehow the way Cubans treat their children makes them responsible, small adults.

Boats on the sea

noboatsFrom the Malecon in Havana, but everywhere else too, you will see the only Caribbean sea without any ships. Once a week a cruise ship will sail into the Havana harbour and sometimes a freighter, but there just aren’t any other ships or boats to be seen.

It is awe-inspiring at night; you are staring into a black void! Enjoy

Nips and tucks

There is no plastic enhancement in Cuba. Everything you will see is real! (Some Italians smuggled implants for their girlfriends, and they paid top CUCs to get them implanted (illegally), but you will not see them, they live in expensive discotheques).

Not a Cuban girl
Not a Cubana

Snow and advertising

Neither Snow nor advertising is legal in tropical socialism. No billboards exist except the ones shouting out political statements. Snow is such a nightmare for Cubans that although it has not snowed since Columbus, Cuba bought four snow shovels a few years ago. Better safe than sorry!

Gum on the streets

If a Cuban buys gum (or gets it some other way) he will chew it all day, put it on his nightstand and chew on the next day. The average gum lasts for a week or so.

This does not mean you don’t have to watch your step. There is dog shit everywhere. Dogs roam free and have no masters running after them with a plastic poop bag.

Supermarkets that cater to all of your needs

The concept of a supermarket is almost non-existent in Cuba. Almost because there is one supermarket that caters to foreigners and rich Cubans: Palco in Miramar, a rich suburb in Havana. Nor wil you find outlet stores, shopping malls or fastfood chains.

Decision stress…

In Cuba you either buy the deodorant or not. There are only two brands: available or not available. So if you need a deodorant I would recommend the first brand.

Tourists that are not being ripped off.

You will find that out for yourself when you get there… Here are some tips and tricks.

Traffic Jams

Just not enough cars to make Jam…

Old American cars at the gass station.

The almendrons run on water! You will never see them fill up their tank in a gass station… The truth is that all the old cars that serve as a fixed route taxi have a modern diesel engine. They buy their diesel on the black market and not a gass station.

Almendron
Almendron on water

People that know these secrets (klick)

What you do see are jineteros. Here’s how to handle those street hustlers.

Time in Cuba

What time is it in Cuba?

Officially the time in Cuba is GMT – 5. But since Cuba also applies daylight saving and is not very good in synchronizing its systems nor at communicating, in March and November time is an, even more, fluid concept than normal.

Automatic time setting in Cuba:

Time in Cuba
Time in Cuba

I’m the proud owner of two smartphones. One with a Cuban SIM and the other SIM is international. Both synchronize with the network. And since there’s only one network that’s the same network… Just look at how well this worked this year:

Airlines and Time in Cuba

From a well-informed source (let’s call him a passenger) I got the following quote from a pilot: “Welcome to Havana. Our stop over will be 1.5 hours or 2.5 we don’t know. Does anybody have the right time in Havana?”

So if the airlines don’t know… Why would I? Two days later the network got it right or at least agreed on the right time.

time in Cuba
Another Time in Cuba

Cuba is the perfect place of letting go of the time.

Nacional Time and Convertible Time

If you don’t get this joke read Cuba and Money
Time is an artificial construct we humans created to add some stress to our lives. In Cuba, the sun goes down and then up again, and they call the time between those two events ‘Noche’. The other half of the time is more detailed: Madrugada, dia, medio dia, tarde and noche and you make appointments accordingly. It’s useless to make an appointment at 10.15. Nobody gets that concept!

Let go of time

The only solution for a visitor (and that is what we are) is letting go of the way we think about time. It just does not fit Cuba and sticking to our construct makes life very very complicated.

The big challenge for every non-Cuban is figuring out how things work in Cuba. I can tell you from personal experience that things don’t work the way we think they should. Live with that!

Take off your watch

If you take off your watch, Cubans will have no pretext to ask you what time it is. This question is by definition a excuse because no Cuban cares about time! They are at least an hour late…

Those Cubans that ask you for the time are jineteros. Here’s how to handle those street hustlers.

To help you get more insight into the weird world, we call Cuba we wrote a book… Do yourself a favor… We’ll give you a tip that saves you a few hours on the order page.

Last update: somewhere in July this year (and for me that is 2018)

Recommended Article.

Things we’re used to but you do not see in Cuba

 

Cuba Peso

Two Peso in Cuba

The currency in Cuba is called Peso. Both of them are called Peso. So if people say Peso, then they are talking about CUC or Moneda Nacional (MN). Up to you to figure it out.

CUC Peso

The CUC is the Cuban ‘hard currency’, pegged roughly 1-1, to the US dollar. ‘Hard’ has a very relative meaning here since the CUC is only valid in Cuba itself like Monopoly money only serves on the board. Try buying a real house or a candy bar with it, and you will see. Most tourists think that the CUC is the only money they can use. Not true. The CUC is also called Dollar.

pesocuc

MN Peso

You can also use the Peso (MN)! This Peso is pegged to the CUC at 1-24/25. You buy 24 MN with one CUC, and 25 MN will buy you 1 CUC.

If your coffee costs one CUC, that would be 24 MN. Not knowing the difference and paying in the wrong currency ups the price 24 fold! Don’t worry it will not be the other way around since the Cubans know the difference very well…

Pesomn

Double currency

They say that Cuba has a double currency… Moneda Nacional and CUC.

That’s an artificial debate. The MN is pegged to the CUC and always has the same value 25/1. So if something costs 25 pesos, it costs 1 CUC. If something costs 100 Pesos, it costs 4 CUC. A simple trick to convert Pesos to CUC: take off 2 zeros and multiply by 4. The idea of a double currency just makes things more complicated, but in reality, it’s just the same money, expressed in different terms.

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

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

Know the difference

CUC or Peso?

Since both currencies are called the Peso, the Cuban government figured out a smart way to make the distinction. The Peso CUC is indicated with a dollar sign with one vertical bar, and the Peso MN is indicated with a dollar sign with two vertical bars. Smart!
The problem is that about half of the Cubans know this, about a quarter of the vertical bars is correctly put.

Cuba peso
Peso or CUC?

Money in Cuba: quite complicated

Thanks to this dual currency system the economy is opaque at least. To complicate matters, some state companies are allowed a different exchange rate varying from 1-24 via 1-12 to 1-1. But that’s just nice to know; it does not concern the foreign traveller.

To get money.

Let’s start with the basis. Where do you get CUC and MN? You cannot exchange CUC outside of Cuba.
CUC can be changed at any (almost any) bank, the CADECA (official exchange office) and if you are fortunate enough that your credit card works at the teller machines, they will spit out CUC for you. (Only for non-US bank related Visa Cards…)

Don’t buy them on the street! There is no loophole to get better rates on the street like there were in the former communist countries… Just don’t buy in the street.

The CUC thus acquired can be changed in any CADECA (except the airport and hotels) into MN. Change 20 CUC into MN, and you will be good for a week at least.

When to pay with CUC and when with MN?

As a rule of thumb: If it seems cheap it’s CUC, and if it seems rather expensive it’s MN.

So:
–    A Pineapple for 10 is… MN
–    A taxi for 4 is…  CUC,
–    Coffee for 1 depends… You can have a coffee for 1 MN or 1 CUC…
–    A pizza for 10 is… MN unless you are in a restaurant.

We have a whole list in our book on what you pay with MN and when to pay in CUC. The price of our book is not in MN nor CUC; it’s in Euro by the way☺. Seems expensive but it’s cheap! Knowledge is priceless in a country like Cuba where the “no clue tax” is very hefty! Get wise here!

Practical calculus

In practice, the MN and CUC are coupled in a fixed rate. So a 10 MN bill is just a 40 cents CUC coin. To be able to ‘talk’ MN (which makes a great impact on how Cubans perceive you) a simple trick does it:

Conversion MN->CUC: Take off two zeros and multiply by 4 (hence 100 MN becomes 4 CUC).

Conversion CUC-> MN: add two zeros and divide by 4 (hence 200 MN becomes 8 CUC.

The end of the CUC?

In July 2015, July 2016 and May 2017 the government announced they were going to abolish the CUC… A lot of shops are accepting MN to pay for imported goods (including ‘local import’). The CUC still exists today… The explanation of ‘local import’ is in our book 🙂

Now if this post contained information you did not know yet you might want to read this post about things you should know before you go to Cuba too!

Or you might want to read how to deal with the legions of street hustlers…

 

Free Wifi in Havana

Yes, read that again: Free WiFi in Havana!

The internet in Cuba

Cuba has slowly opened up the Internet. First, there was the problem that all Internet communication should go via satellite and that made it slow and costly. Consequently, Internet access was slow and expensive.

Fiber optics

Then, in 2011 the optic fibre cable connecting Cuba with Venezuela stirred hope, but nothing much happened. Stories about sharks eating the cable and some government official buying the wrong cable explained nothing. Internet stayed slow and prices high. 2 CUC per hour in a country where average wages are about three times that amount (per month) means that an average Cuban paid 30% of his monthly income for 1 (ONE) hour of internet. (That all of this is plain bulsh#t must be clear… we explain it in our book)

In June 2015 Etecsa, the Cuban telecom monopoly opened up WiFi zones in every city. Prices went down to 1.5 CUC an hour in 2017 if you could buy a scratch card. These cards are always sold out but can be bought on the streets for 2 CUC. The mechanism of this phenomenon is beyond the scope of this article, but some people are making big bucks here.

Free WiFi

‘Tomorrow I’ll take you to a free WiFi spot” whispered a friend of mine…

He sparked my interest… Free WiFi? WTF!!! In Cuba?!?

The next day we were on our way. First the bus, then an almendron and a short walk. After an hour we arrived at the studios of KCHO. And even outside the wall, there were many, many people surfing on their laptops, tablets, and smartphones. Kcho opened up his Internet connection and on the wall (on the outside) he explains the few simple steps to connect to his network. And it is Free!

No Free WiFi for you

Before you run off to Kcho to update your FB status, I have to advise you not to. The abundance of young Cuban intellectuals all sharing this connection makes it slow. Very slow. You as a tourist are more than able to buy a scratch card and use the paid link. Don’t take away the bandwidth for people that cannot afford to buy it! But if you want an enjoyable excursion here’s Kcho studios (located on the corner of 7A and 120.

Password: abajoelbloqueo(down with the embargo)

Free WiFi Kcho and Google
Free WiFi in Havana

Update April 2016:

Kcho now works together with Google… They opened the first Google centre in Cuba. 15 Chromebooks offer free internet! And it is broadband! On a critical note, the WiFi is free as in money but not free as in ‘do whatever you want.’ KHCO is a personal friend of Fidel and is monitoring content…

Update Feb 2018

Poof… Gone is Google and gone is the free WiFi… Good ETECSA (paid) connection dough… Must have something to do with Trump and Cuban politics or the fact that KHCO was caught with a joint.

Want some more hidden information on Cuba? Keep reading our blog or buy our Book (and no, the book is not a collection of blog posts) 🙂

On the ‘get the book’ page we’ll give you a practical tip that will save you a few hours in Cuba.

Recommended reading:

How to survive the jineteros.

Tips and Tricks for WiFi connection

 

 

How to book a Casa Particular in Cuba

Do Book a Casa Particular!

The best way to discover Cuba is book a Casa Particular. Sometimes this is confused with ‘staying at the home of real Cubans’ but you have to realize that most Casa owners are the elite Cubans because they have access to hard currency. The ‘real’ Cubans would be the people that work in your Casa.

There are different ways to book a Casa particular:

Safe and sure

Go safe and surf the web.

Or just google: ‘Book a casa particular’ and you will find loads of booking sites. Don’t be surprised that the Casa you’ve booked is full and they take you to another one. That’s just Cuban business… They make a commission on that… Most Casa’s you will find on the internet, however, are professional B&Bs. The fun is gone as soon as they start calling their guests ‘clients’. It’s still closer to the real Cuba than any hotel but mostly it’s strictly business.

Internet sites

The websites that group loads of casas are called agencies in Cuba… They collect a commission (which is added to the price you pay). It’s easy to spot the ‘internet Agencies’… The base price seems to be 30CUC/night. This means they pocket 5/10 CUC… If the base price is around 35 you’re dealing with a ‘Casa shark’. If on top of that there is a booking fee… (this price range is for houses that are not in Old Town Havana or Vedado. There prices are a bit higher)

More about the commission system in our book.

Budget

A new class of Casas emerged last year. On a Casa Particuar permit, they rent out beds and not rooms. Perfect for travelers on a budget and mostley found in Havana. You can book one here.

AirBnB

When AirBnB came to Cuba in 2015 You could find Cuban houses on AirBnB but you couldn’t book them. It was just a PR stunt. AirBnB couldn’t transfer funds to Cuba so they couldn’t pay the Cuban owners… Some of the house owners weren’t even aware that they were on AirBnB!

Update March 2016. Obama brought a present… from now on everybody can book via Airbnb and Airbnb is allowed to pay the homeowners their fees. This evokes an ethical/practical question. We explain in our book how the commission system works. Jineteros pocket 5 CUC per night and thus raise the price of your house. That’s too bad but the money at least stays in (or comes to) Cuba and helps the local economy.

Now Airbnb is the super jinetero peddling housing. The problem is that the 5 CUC now becomes 15% and the money never gets to Cuba. It’s being skimmed by an American multinational. So the Cuban economy is less stimulated if you book through Airbnb… We are not very happy with this because we think Cuban Jineteros are nicer that American multinationals and we prefer that they make a few dollar. The choice is yours.

Bad for Cuba

Another update 2017. AirBnB is about 2 months behind with payments. Blablabla about the US embargo…Homeowners refuse bookings… It’s a mess… Forget about AirBnB… On top of that they drive prices down with their logaritms. Good news for you, very bad for the Cubans who already have to struggle to make ends meet and pay the hefty taxes. I met a guy who was very proud he rented a room for 7,85 per night… That is simply abusing the home owner who is forced to rent his room to pay taxes.

If you still want to book via AirBnB you have to fill in a form to declare you are abiding to US regulations. If you are not an US citizen you can fill in whatever you want, the form does not apply to you.

Booking.com

If you insist on booking with a big player please use booking.com. Their head office is in Amsterdam and thus they don’t have problems with the Trump embargo and are able to pay your host. Here’s a search box to find an available house.

Booking.com

Or you can surf the whole island with this map:

Booking.com

Cuba-Junky

You could download the Casa-app from Cuba-Junky… loads of Casas! Cuba-Junky does not charge a commission to the casa’s they promote. The downside is that you will have to comunicate yourself and that is mostly done in Spanish. (Google translate is your friend!)

Adventure

Less sure is just go with the flow and find a Casa wherever you are. This might cost you a few dollars in commission and you have no clue as to where you end up. It might be a villa or a dump… Every Cuban you meet on the street is willing to help you find a Casa Particular. Just wander the streets and you or a helpful Cuban will find you one… This always will get you a bed… Mange, sometimes, is optional!

Not a very good casa particular
another Casa particular

Authentic

You could also send me a mail at cubabookconga@gmail.com and if I’m not in Havana “my” house (as in the Casa particular I always stay) is available. You can not find this house over the internet, nor will you stroll by it,  it’s outside the tourist zones…

It is a luxury house (even with a hot water Balloon) and the people are my friends… (that means I consider them very nice!). This is my way of helping them out a bit… Don’t worry about the commission… They serve me a good meal once in a while, however! :-).

Have to be a bit of a bitch here… This offer is only valid for people that bought the book… I’m not a ‘for free’ travel agency. Sorry that I have to say this here.

Privacy

Or, if you want some more privacy (wink wink) you could rent a private house or apartment.  Please read Love & sex in Cuba before you make plans :-). This site specializes in independent casas particulares without a host checking on you. You are free to do whatever you want.

Do book a Casa Particular!

Anyways, the way to go is booking a casa particular! You can’t get closer to the real Cuba.

Read more about Casas Particular in our book. We’ll show you the tricks and explain the best method to deal with this particular system.

After you found a Casa, you have to rent a car or find yourself another form of transportation. We would recommend the last option… Renting a car can be a hassle and we have a better solution!

10 things about Cuba

Here are 10 things about Cuba your travel agent hides but you should know

1 Moneda Nacional.

Everybody, including you as a tourist, is allowed to pay for stuff in Pesos. CUC is not tourist money, it is the Cuban equivalent of hard currency. You can buy Moneda Nacional at the Cadeca where you go to change your own currency into CUC. Travel agents want you to spend your money in their controlled environment and thus often misinform their customers. Moneda Nacional can be used to buy stuff at the market, food on the streets or cafeterias and might reduce your cost for a coffee by 97%! So get some and enjoy the benefits.

2 Commission.

Everything in Cuba revolves around an informal commission system. In short: everybody that introduces a customer (you) at any place will reap a commission for that service. The friendly old man that invites you for a coffee (and then orders a Mojito) and lets you pay will receive a commission on that. The women that takes you to a restaurant… commission… the boy that shows you a casa particular… commission. The milk powder you buy for that sweet baby… Commission… By the way, milk is supplied for free until the age of 7…

Good service and advice are worth some money, but the commission system has incentives to refer you to the most expensive places, of which some have bad service and bad food/lodging/drinks etc.

The problem about this system is that not only you don’t get a very good price/quality ratio, the commission is added to your tab and you thus pay for the high prices you pay… Read up on Jineteros plz.

3 Personnel

The Cubans that work in hotels, restaurants and bars are among the richest in the country. Every hotel maid has a shop in town where she sells the soaps, shampoos and other stuff she gets from the guests. Tour operators tell you that it is customary to leave a one CUC tip per day on top of that. If you want to tip and thus help people, tip the ones not involved in the tourist industry. By the way, beggars are part of the tourism sector! (see number 6 of 10 things about Cuba your travel agent does not want you to know)

4 Wealth

Cubans don’t have a meager life and are not suppressed by the regime (the fact that we call it a regime has a negative connotation about it… we have a government don’t we?). The average Cuban has the same literacy and life expectancy as we do. A lot of basic life necessities are (almost) for free. Cubans don’t have it as bad as you are led to believe.

5 Crime

Cuba is one of the safest countries I have been (and I’ve traveled extensively)… Just watch your belongings, petty theft occurs, but relax… You are safe in Cuba. Overall Cubans are honest people but some of them need a bit of help to stay honest.

6 Beggars

Most Cubans are grateful if you give them something they otherwise cannot get. But beware, most Cubans you will meet as a novice tourist made a job out of being grateful! As said before, beggars work in the tourism sector and thus are rich… You will have a very hard time to find a beggar outside of the tourist areas!

The lovely old lady with her big cigar that let’s you take her picture for a CUC has, even to our western standards, an excellent income.

7 Salary

You are led to believe that a doctor earns 25 CUC a month and in fact that is true… But 90% of the Cuban economy is unofficial. This fact gives a total different perspective on work and salary. You and I go to work to earn money… and we think that is normal. In Cuba the perspective is the opposite. While at work you can’t make money so actually going to work is a waste of time… The average Cuban in Havana spends about 100-200 CUC a month and earns 15-20… So salary in Cuba has no effect on the standard of living! (Wrap your mind around that for a while, it will make you understand Cuba a lot better.)

8 Prices

You’ve been told that prices in Cuba are about the same as prices in Western countries. That is simply false. Basic goods (f.e. food, electricity, clothes (basic), bus fare) are a lot cheaper while luxury goods (f.e. mobile phones, air conditioning, laptops, cars) are a lot more expensive. It is very hard to compare the cost of living in Cuba to our own. Don’t try, just accept the difference and realise that our way of doing ‘economy’ is much more efficient, Cuba’s way is way more egalitarian.

9 All Cubans are friendly

NOT true. Just as in the ‘real’ world where the ‘real’ people live some people are friendly, others are not. Cuba is not a sanctuary for nice and friendly people! Most people that are nice to you by the way have a hidden agenda (see point 2 of 10 things about Cuba your travel agent does not want you to know)

10 Nothing is what it seems

Our reference frame just does not fit Cuba. Nothing is what it seems and your assessment of a situation is almost always wrong. Therefore we developed the game CubaConga. We help you getting a better insight into the real Cuban life. We are told it is funny and informative and you should read it! (we’ve been told).

Get it now and get more out of your Cuban experience! In your inbox within two minutes. It’s not just a collection of blog posts; we go one or two levels deeper in the book… On the ‘order the book page’ we have a tip for you that will save you a few hours…

Or you could read the ten most fun things you can do in Cuba

Enjoy Cuba!

Read up about renting a car before you even think about doing so!

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 rece 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.

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!

 

 

 

Cuba Customs

cuba customsCuba customs

Passing Cuban customs

Your first introduction to Cuba is the long waiting line at customs.  A whole battery of austere looking custom officials checks every passenger thoroughly.  Until he or she is satisfied the gray door to Cuba remains locked.  You have to take your glasses off, put them back on and take them off again whilst your passport picture is being studied carefully.  Take your glasses off again and take a step back to have your picture taken and get ready for the interview.  This can be an entertaining process or it might get on your nerves.  This is your first indication about your future opinion about Cuba.

havana airport
Prepare to stand in line… or get our book

My advice: See the funny side of it all.

Click here for the Cuba Aduana official site in English (if it opens). Here your fun should start: You can bring one video camera and one photo camera, both with two rolls of film. And this is the new website! When did you last use a roll of film?

The customs officer might ask you: ’Hotel in Cuba?’ Since there was an unwritten law that states that you should stay in a state run hotel for at least 1 to 3 nights (opinions on unwritten laws might vary).  The following are all correct answers: Dauville, Parque Central, Presidentes, Melia Cohiba or Inglaterra, since they are all hotels in Cuba and that was the question wasn’t it? This law was abolished in 2011 but not all customs clercks got that info.

Customs in Cuba don’t forget anything!

Returning visitors are asked how often they were in Cuba before.  Please give the correct answer, they have your whole file on the screen and being one trip off might not speed up the process… In Cuba customs are very meticulous…

After the customs officer is satisfied with your answers, checks your passport once again and is convinced that your health insurance is valid the door gets unlocked with a sharp ‘click’.  You are free to enter the country… Almost that is.

100 % luggage scans

Your hand luggage is scanned, all of it…

Your suitcases are getting the same treatment behind the scenes.  You are not allowed to import Toasters, waffle irons and all other electricity intensive appliances due to Cuba’s frail energy net.  The same restrictions apply to GPS (don’t worry your Smartphone is no problem), more than one laptop or satellite equipment.  If you were planning to take any kind of drugs with you… don’t.  The same goes for porn (and yes, a Playboy is considered porn. Cubans don’t care for the interviews, they don’t read English).

Tip for frequent visitors

If there is anything suspicious in your luggage, customs makes a mark on your label. Save the ‘clean’ label from your last trip, go to the toilet (no cameras there) and change the labels. As you know the customs officers look at the labels and now you have a clean bill of health on your suitcase.

If I were you I would leave your weapons and bulletproof vest at home too.  The general rule here is that importing strange goods, can lead to strange questions by customs, which in turn generate strange effects which might not be pleasant and in extreme cases even could lead to an alternative holiday accommodations called ‘jail’. And believe us, you will not like the buffet there. So be nice to the Cuba customs!

Prescription medecine is no problem. As a rule of thumb: Normal tourist luggage is never a problem.

Fun Fact

The skirts of the female custom officers are short… very short… They are not designed that way, they have them shortned by a tailor!

No Trade passes Cuban Customs

Everything that could be considered as ‘trading goods’ is forbidden and you risk confiscation or a hefty fine.  Customs are very flexible with tourists, but do not go looking for the limits of this flexibility.  I never take more than 5 mobile phones, carefully distributed over my pocket, hand luggage and suitcases.  As soon as you’ve got more than 40 pieces of something it is considered commercial. And you do not want to be a considered a merchant! Even if you don’t plan to sell anything but just want to give stuff away to poor Cubans… In that case read this: Think before you gift.

Like this information? Check out our book! There is lots more! On the ‘get the eBook page‘ we’ll give you a tip that will save you about 2 hours at the airport after you’ve passed customs.

We even give you the mailadress (and the how to) of Havana VIP reception. They speed you through customs in no time!

Recomended reading:

Getting more Cuba out of your money

Don’t avoid the Jineteros

Rent a bike to discover Cuba

Last update July 2018

Black market

The best market in Cuba is black

About 90% of the Cuban economy is unofficial. Official channels have a very limited offer on their shelves, the black market provides almost everything. This leads to an interesting error of judgment most tourists make. We think when we hear that the average salary is about 20 $ and something costs 10 $ that the average Cuban will have to work 15 days to buy it. Sounds logical, doesn’t it?

Well, thanks to the black market (la bolsa negra), things do not add up that way.

How to survive in Cuba

Our logic dictates that we go to work to earn money. That’s not the case in Cuba.

To live, Cubans in Havana need about 150-200 $ a month (outside Havana half that amount). If your salary is 15 and you need 200… you have to make some money on the side… The money you make “on the side” is your main income.

Black eggs
Black eggs

Every Cuban is forced to be active on the black market somehow. And they all are. This renders the “official salary” a useless way of measuring prices and spendable income. Real incomes are higher than you are told, and real prices are lower than you think.

Thanks to the black market in Cuba, people can survive, make money, buy goods and since this is not in the official statistics, we make a very wrong estimation of the real situation.

Not poor

Too manny people believe that the Cubans are poor and helpless… They are not! Rich Cubans exist. Poor Cubans too. Another myth is that all Cubans live of foreigners. Not true either, Cuban has it’s hidden economy and market.

Find the black market

For a tourist, this black market is sometimes hard to find. Yes, taking an illegal taxi is easy, but finding an iPad or a fish tank will be very hard for you… Cubans are always on the lookout for contacts that can supply them stuff or that can become customers for the stuff they happen to sell. Their networks are very efficient, and that makes for a very effective black market. To complicate things, not everything on the ‘informal’ market is black :-).

Read more about the stunning paradoxes that rule Cuba in our book… On this page we’ll give you a tip that will save you a few hours in Cuba.

Last updated July 2018

Recommended Reading:

Everybody operating la bolsa negra is a jinetero

Better not rent a Car

Casa Particular Cuba

Casa Particular in Cuba

A casa particular is the official Bed and Breakfast in Cuba. They are often referred to as ‘sleeping in the houses of real Cubans’. This is a euphemism. Most owners of the Casas are social upper-class, party members and relatively rich. The real Cuban cleans and cooks at your Casa Particular for 2 or 3 CUC a day.

Things change quickly in Cuba… there is a newer post about how to book a Casa Particular here

The word “casa particular” means ‘private or lonely house’… that’s why most of them are in buildings and crowded areas… :-). Bring ear plugs, Cuba has a wall of back ground noice.

The real Cuban houses

If you want to know how real Cubans live, get yourself invited to a meal at the home of the cleaning lady at your casa. Be discreet; Casa owners do not like their personnel to mingle with tourists. So that you know, the owner of your Casa Particular is NOT a typical Cuban.
Still the Casas are by far the best way to get to know the country. I would prefer a Casa Particular above a hotel anytime. Better service, better food, better beds (most of the time), friendlier people and more freedom.
You can recognise an official Casa by this sign.

Casa-Particular-Divisa

It has to be blue. The red signs indicate that’s a Casa Particular for Cubans only, mostly rented by the hour.

Pitfalls

Staying in a Casa Particular has some pitfalls too. That’s why you should read our book. We help you travel Cuba the smart way and will not only save you a lot of money, we will give you insights about the country, and it’s people that are off the record and (sometimes) politically incorrect but true.
You can either pre-book your Casa over the internet or find yourself one on the spot. Here is a site with many Casa’s. Finding a Casa Particular is no problem. I never pre-book and always get a good deal because I understand the game… You might too if you go through the trouble of reading our book.

Best option

Still, the Casa particular is by far the best way to get to know the Cuba. We help you understand the way this works and explain what you can negotiate and what not.
You must understand that the Casas are heavily taxed and thus seem very expensive if you compare their prices to the monthly pay a Cuban receives. But they are only taxed on the rooms they rent, not on the food they serve you.
We have a whole chapter of tips and advice how to handle the pitfalls you can encounter in your Casa. Please read it to prepare your stay. You can start by reading part of our book on this site.
To download the whole book, you must compensate our troubles with a few Euros  :-).

On the ‘order the book’ page we’ll give you a tip that will save you a few hours…