Hostel or Hostal?

The concept ‘hostel’ is a bit confusing in Cuba. 

Basically there are 2 types of accommodation in Cuba: Hotels and Casas Particular. 

Hotels are state owned (at least 51% but let’s not get technical) and don’t live up to the international classification. Deduct at least one star for the real comfort level. So if you are looking for a terrible price/quality ratio go for a Hotel.

Casas Particular are private businesses that rent out rooms. Here’s that story.

‘Hostal’ is a classification invented by the Cubans. It’s just a different name for a Casa Particular with more than 1 room. Cubans think it has a classy ring to it! 

Hostel

Some innovative Cubans came up with the idea to rent out beds in dormitories per bed and not per room on a Casa Particular permit. Hence the hostel was created. They are perfect for the solo budget traveller.  So a hostel is simply a Casa Particular that rents beds in shared rooms. 

Dormitory in a hostel

Casas typically charge 25 CUC and up per room (in Havana). Hostels for backpackers start at 6 CUC per bed. So if you are travelling alone it is a lot cheaper and much more fun because you will make new like-minded friends from all over the world, that are also travelling on a similar budget. 

Here are a few examples:

Concordia Backpackers

Hostel Caissa en Neptuno

All of them are perfect for the solo backpacker.

Sleep tight and make a some new friends!

But first:

Get your money straight!

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.

Rent a bike in Havana

Rent a bike forbidden

Until recently, renting a bike was impossible in Cuba because Cubans were not allowed to rent their bikes. (Something with dirty profit and thus capitalism.) So now, with some pride and we like the guy so to promote him, we announce:

Rent a Bike in Havana

bike in Havana
rent a bike with driver

Ovidio (an old-timer of 73) has found a way around this problem. He took out a license of  ‘operador de equipo recreativo’ and on that license, he is allowed to rent bikes to foreigners.

He flew in about 20 bikes from Panama and is renting them out for 14 CUC’s per day.

That means 7*14=98 per week and 30 or 31*14=420 a month…

The per year price: Special offer! 365*14=5110 CUC. No, there is no advantage in renting long-term… it’s 14 per day! That’s Cuban buisiness for you.

Friendly Italian

The company is financed by a nice Italian (never thought I would say this, I don’t care much for the Italians that frequent Cuba). The two of them are chatting on the curb all day. Their bikes are terrible, so their place is worth a visit but don’t rent a bike if you want to live.

Good Bikes

And zen came the Germans.

Good bikes

Olvidio’s bikes are made in China, bought in Panama and not very good to say it friendly. But until February 2017 they were the only bikes for rent in Havana.

Profile (a German travel agency)  changed that. They designed bikes, especially for the Cuban roads and climate. Made in Germany. These bikes are just perfect to make a tour, even for the whole of Cuba if you want! They deliver the bikes at your doorstep and pick them up again. It’s German organisation: quality, and efficiency.

You can book your bike online. They deliver the bikes at your home!

Or you can pick them up at their central location in Vedado… You should book beforehand though… Parque Mariana de las Grajales, Calle D and 23, in front of restaurant Irani Topoli, VEDADO. Save 10 per bike!

Profile also has bikes for rent in Holguin and Santiago.

Do rent a bike

Enjoy your bike ride in Havana! Go out to Miramar and take the ferry across the bay to Casa Blanca. If you want, this guy can give you some bike itineraries via TripUnique.

Biking is the perfect way to discover the non-touristy parts of Havana. If you spent more that three days in Havana (and I would recommend that) rent a bike!

For the lazy people… electric bikes: Cubyke

When in Havana, look around… Find the things I did not see in Cuba (yet).

Before you go to Cuba however, you should read our book!

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…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rent a Motorcycle in Cuba

rent a motorcycle
rent a motorcycle

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

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

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

Brand new BMWs

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

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

motorcycle adventure
Motorcycle adventure

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

9-day motor tours

They organise three different tours, all nine days. See their website for details. They take care of everything (lodging, food and motorcycle) so you can concentrate on cruising. (Prices are sleeping and eating included and about 60% of the competition’s.)

Now for most bike enthousiasts, an organized tour with people you don’t know, is not the perfect trip. Legally there is no other way however. Except if you are The Conga (thats me). I’ve found a (legal) way around this but only for more than 2 people… (Which I can’t publish on the web). Renting a bike on your own to roam free is just not possible. Forget it until they change the law.

Sent me a mail with your wishes [email protected] and I’ll see what I can do (no guarantees and you will still travel with a Cuban guide).

Back to the Germans

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

motorcycle rental
Waiting for a new bike

But

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

Or read this to understand Cuba is a different ballgame!

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

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…

Drugs

Don’t do drugs in Cuba.

Don’t buy drugs in Cuba,

Don’t bring drugs to Cuba,

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

Don’t even think about it.

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

Punishment

Your new friends
Your new friends

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

You don’t want these new ‘friens’.

Fake

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

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

On the bright side

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

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

So don’t. It’s not worth it.

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

Other addictions

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

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

Last revised July 2018

Visa for Cuba

Yes, you do need a visa for Cuba.

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

So how do you get a Cuban visa?

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

How to get a visa for Cuba?

Authentic

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

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

Unprepared and in a hurry

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

Adventurous

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

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

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

Practical, fast and safe.

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

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

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

Cuba visa
This is a Cuban visa

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

 

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

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

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

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