Not just another book about Cuba

CubaConga is not ‘Just another book’ about Cuba. Let us introduce ourselves to you:

About the Author(s)

Just like everything else in this book I am/we are just a fantasy. You could refer to us as “your very knowledgeable friends from Cuba). Any resemblance to real author(s) is a mistake, a big mistake. A very big mistake indeed. We’ve decided to write ‘not just another book about Cuba’ to help you get the most of your stay on this bizarre island.

We are the collective that took on the task to write the inside story about Cuba for real travellers who want to avoid awkward situations and get the most out of their trip to this great Island. From now on we will refer to ourselves in the first-person.

Nothing you know about Cuba is true.

OK, I’ll admit that it is an island somewhere south of Florida and that they have a lot of old cars, but everything else is just not true. I’ve been to Cuba many, many times and still is only half of what `I think’ true. This gives me still a lovely 50% margin of error. One of the most intriguing aspects of Cuba is that our usual reference frame just does not fit. Cuba is an exercise in being wrong, making the wrong estimations and predictions about situations and people. It is one big surprise.

Most things being said about Cuba are dead wrong. A well-known travel site claims that Cuban prices are about similar to those in Europe or Canada. I admit that if you do not have a clue about how things work, this is more or less true. Now, 8 years later and having spent almost 3 years in total in Cuba, costs are about half of those during my first visit. The intention of this book is to help you to get the most out of your vacation by showing you what could go wrong so that you can avoid all the rookie mistakes I made.

Let me give you a simple guarantee:

This book about Cuba will cut your expenses by at least 30% and will enhance your understanding of the Island, and you’ll have a lot more fun!

The three basic rules for every traveller can be summarized as follows:

1 50% of what Cubans tell you, I can prove are lies, the other half I’m not sure about.

2 Nothing is what it seems. You are always wrong.

3 The former rules don’t always apply.

Please read some of our blogs to prepare you for a surprising trip to the working man’s paradise! Get your time back… We have a tip for you on the BuyBook page that will more than refund the time you’ve spent on our blog…

And then buy this book about Cuba.

We have a 100% money back guarantee if you don’t like it. It is a Zip file with a PDF and an ePub and will be delivered to your mailbox instantly…

Enjoy Cuba

And don’t be fooled by the jineteros!

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!

Reviews CubaConga

Here are some reviews about CubaConga

 

Review CubaConga

We are beginning to reap the benefits of positive reviews.

HotelsCheap interviewed me. You can read it here.

CubaBookingRoom is also very happy with our book.

Cuba-Junky has put us on the front page! Yes, on the bottom of the front page, but still… the front page!

We are for sale at Amazon now. However, we would love you to check out the reviews there and buy it here… Amazon is a bit of a Jinetero 🙂

The reviews are considered genuine (and they are) by these guys

Forums and discussion panels.

People that know what they are talking about are very positive! On the other hand, on some Cuba forums, we are trashed and praised. People on forums tend to have strong opinions, even about things they don’t know anything about…

We just don’t get offended or happy with forum comments…

Here in Dutch for instance… Very mixed opinions

We are recommended by Trip Advisor and Lonely Planet (which is funny because we trash LP 🙂 ). Better, we thrash people that are individual, adventurous travellers that all have the same bucket list and eat the same dessert at the same restaurant because de L.P. says so…

 

 

How much Money to Cuba?

Money Cuba
Money in Cuba…

Bring cash to Cuba

Cuba is one of the last economies in the world where there is a cash only economy. So how much money do you need to take to Cuba? Of course, this depends on your life style. How much does a car cost?

Except in some hotels, plastic money is useless. To make matters worse, the few ATMs they have don’t accept your card (or will swallow it). You could go to a bank to get money with your credit card but please ask your bank if your card is valid in Cuba.

We mean it: Take cash to Cuba

The best way to an excellent money to Cuba is Cash. Big notes are no problem.

No-dollars

Some people think they should take Dollars since that is the number one international currency. That would be a mistake since Cuba is “at war” with the US they impose a 10% penalty to the Dollar. So if you are going to take money to Cuba, take Euro’s, Swiss Franks, Mexican Pesos or British Pounds.

Good travel shops have a money belt that you use as a regular belt. money-belt

It is a very discreet and functional way to transport and stash money.

How much money do you need?

How much money you need depends on the life style you want to lead, how manny friends you want to make and how much you know. In Cuba the ‘I don’t have a clue’ tax is very high. A typical budget will double if you are paying this tax. That’s why our book is a very good investment (and it’s funny too).

In Cuba, nothing is what you think it is. That is the fascinating aspect of the working man’s Paradise but also one of its pitfalls. Proper preparation will substantially reduce the cost of your stay.

How much money can you import?

Well up to 5000 $ you don’t have to declare your money. Above that you have to. Declaring it does not really matter… You can bring as much as you like… Cuba as a state likes you to bring money (and leave it behind).

Money in Cuba is different

We spent a whole chapter in our book on money because it is a surprisingly complicated matter in Cuba. They have a double currency system. CUC and MN. To make things clear they are both indicated with a dollar sign and both called Peso. But one is worth 25 times more than the other. This simple phrase alone should convince you that you should prepare at least a bit before you go to Cuba.

A typical budget for prepared people would be around 40-60 Euros per day per person but unprepared this can easily double for exactly the same holiday. Prices for a cup of coffee vary from 2 CUC to 1 Peso in the next door place. That is 50 times cheaper! For the same coffee… Taxis will charge you a high ‘no clue tax’, as will restaurants, casas and everybody else. Get a clue please!

Get a clue!

We recommend a good preparation before you decide to take your money to Cuba, it makes a huge difference. It’s always better to be prepared than surprised… And you will be surprised!

To help you prepare we wrote a ‘tell it like it is’ no-nonsense guidebook. Please read it; it will enhance your pleasure and reduce your costs.

Please don’t think this blog explains everything… the book goes one or sometimes two levels deeper :-)…

If you want, you can get it here. We offer a no good, money back guarantee and since we’re not Cuban, we stick to our word :-).

Anyway, on this page we have a tip that will save you a few hours at the airport… you’re welcome 🙂

 

 

Cuba Alternative Travel guide

Welcome to the alternative travel guide to Cuba.

If you want to know which church to visit in Havana or how to get from Havana to Camaguey by bus, we refer you to the Lonely Planet. This guide is an alternative travel guide that will show you the ropes of life as a tourist in Cuba on a deeper level.

CubaConga starts where regular travel guides end… Just like Cuba starts where logic ends.

The first time we went to Cuba, we didn’t have a clue how different this country is to other tropical destinations. As seasoned travelers, we understand cultural differences, and we are aware that different does not mean “not as good as at home.” But nothing can prepare you for Cuba. Over 60 years of tropical communism has etched itself into the Cuban mentality, and we wish we had read this book before our first trip.

Difficult to understand Cuba

It takes some time to understand Cuba and this alternative travel guide offers you a shortcut. Now, 14 years later, we start to understand the Cuban mentality, but it is only a start. To quote a good friend of ours, who lives on the island since the early 90’s: ‘If you think you understand Cuba, you don’t have a clue.’

And he is right; Cuba stays a mystery. But we do claim we understand what’s going on a lot better than off that enter the country for the first or second time. We wrote this travel guide because it annoyed us to see people being ripped of by the Cuban system, making their holidays expensive and frustrating.

Cuba Conga is an alternative travel guide.

We will show you how to handle the double money standard to save money and to make your Cuban experience much more authentic. We show you the pitfalls, scams, and annoyances that are easy to avoid once you know them. We even show you how to get to know the real Cubans and how to avoid the leeches.

CubaConga-voorkant

This Cuba alternative travel guide comes with a straightforward guarantee: You don’t like it for whatever reason, we give you a full refund. We can’t imagine you don’t like it…

Apart from the tips and tricks to get more out of your stay in Cuba, we will give you a lot of ‘nice to know’ information.

As you can see I’m not a native English speaker but don’t worry, our book has been professionally edited for your reading comfort.

Our alternative travel guide will greatly enhance your Cuban experience. Cuba is an exceptional country and about half of the visitors leave very disappointedly. Let us help you to become part of the other group, which falls in love with Cuba, its people, music, lifestyle and culture!

We’ll give you a time-saving tip HERE. Just to make up for the time you’ve spent on our blog.

Recommended reading:

How to book a Casa Particular

How to buy a fridge

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 2019

Travel Cuba

Find out how to travel Cuba

If you are exploring how to discover Cuba, you’ve come to the right place. It is an excellent question to ask.

This site (and the book that goes with it) will enhance the quality while reducing your budget of your trip to Cuba. We have a different perspective on how to travel Cuba. We don’t agree with anything you’ve found on the net or in your travel guide. That’s because we almost live here and have a deeper understanding of what the best ways are to explore Cuba.

capitolioCuba

Cuba

As you might have noticed in my articles, I’m not a fan of organised travel.

Cuba is a challenging destination, and you should be prepared if you want to get the most out of it.

No commercial bull***

This is the “tell it like it is” book about Cuba. Most information you will find on the web or in travel guides is politically tainted or just false due to commercial or political interest. Most sites and books with information about travel to Cuba contain just crap information. (sorry, promised you a tell it like it is book)

Do you want to know what Cuba is all about? Do you want to travel Cuba on an entirely different level?

Read the book and play the game of Cuba Conga with us and enjoy. Click this link, and we’ll save you a few hours on the airport!

We have extensive travel experience, having spent almost eight years in Cuba between the two of us. This means that the book Cuba Conga gives you access to insider knowledge about the strangest country in the Latin world.

Tropical Communism shaped curious minds

Trust us; you don’t have a clue! Everything you know or have been told about Cuba is just not true. (OK, it is an island, some of them drive ancient cars, and they speak a sort of Spanish).

This is the official, totally anonymous, CubaConga site. We tell the truth as we see it. That’s why we have to stay anonymous. Real information about real people could mean real problems in the real world, and we want to prevent that at all cost.

If you travel Cuba understanding a bit of the Cuban frame of reference your holiday will become much better and attractive. We provide you with the insights that will make your vacation much more fun, that will help you to make real friends and will save you a lot of money.

Read a sample of our book HERE.

A simple promise: If you buy the book and are not happy with it, you will simply get your money back.

Travel Cuba well prepared! It is nothing like Spain or Switzerland.

Recommended Reading:

Get yourself a digital local

To discover Havana

 

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…

Cuba Cheap

How to make Cuba Cheap

Here are a few tricks to make Cuba cheap, although it will never become as cheap as Asia.

Buy food at the market and preparing your meals will bring down prices of feeding yourself by 80%.

Cuba cheap
Buy your food at the market

Eat in MN restaurants and cafeterias. A meal for 1.50!

Buy big 5 litre bottles of water and fill up your little bottle. Or just get your water from the tap. Filter first.

Be a student and take your student card with you. Age does not matter

Buy, rent or borrow a bike, walk or take the bus/fixed route taxi.

Negotiate a lot and about everything. That does not make you cheap; they will respect you for it.

Spent a few days at a Campismo, they are very cheap

Never arrive somewhere with a Cuban by your side.

Ignore everybody that starts talking to you on the street.

Don’t make (too manny)  Cuban friends.

Speak Spanish. Nothing drives up prices more than the inability to communicate.

Know what you owe and count your change.

Eat 5 pesos pizza (once).CubanPizza

Book your Casa beforehand, using the Internet. Or read this.

Stay away from the tourist areas.

Don’t believe anything anybody tells you.

Use MN whenever you can.

It can be fun to be cheap

Not all of these tips will enhance the fun you have, but they all bring your budget down.  Other ways make Cuba cheap and preserve the quality of your holiday: For those tips we refer to our book, which is cheap too, compared to the savings it will bring.

Your Spanish is better than you think!

Nothing raises prices more than the inability to communicate. Learn some Spanish!

You know more Spanish than you think.   Almost all words that have more than three syllables in English are derived from Latin and have the same meaning in Spanish.   Just pronounce: reservation, communication, vocabulary, direction, investigation or permission with a Spanish accent and you will be understood.

An exception would be ‘introduction’ (‘exception’ itself is no exception by the way), if you ask to be introduced to someone, you are asking if you could put part of yourself into the other person.    In Spanish, you present yourself

You see, your Spanish is already a lot better than you think.

During the next part, I will put the Spanish word between brackets just to show you how good your Spanish already is. (to read that part.. you have to buy the book 🙂 though… Sorry…)

Save money, buy our book

No matter how hard you try, Cuba will never become cheap as long as you are not a Cuban. So the best tip to make Cuba cheap… become a Cuban… :-)… the second best tip is to read our book. We’ll give you a time-saving tip on this page

You might want to understand the double currency system too. (spoiler alert: there is non)