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…
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…
We are getting famous :-). This was an actual interview!
Can you tell us about your Cuba travel site? When and why did you start it?
I wrote the basis of CubaConga 7 years ago as an alternative travel guide for friends and family that wanted to go to Cuba. I found that everything that they knew or found about Cuba was inaccurate. Ok, it is an Island…
So I wrote the book to help them enhance their Cuban experience. They were happy with it, so I decided to sell it over the internet and started www.bestcubatravelguide.com about five years ago to make it publicly available.
Why do you prefer to remain anonymous?
Everybody (except me I believe) has a political, commercial or personal agenda on the Internet when it comes to Cuba. Because I tell the truth as I see it, this might offend the Cubans although my book clearly shows my love for Cuba. I don’t want that truth to be (auto) censored just to avoid getting kicked off my favourite Island. If some colonel does not like my opinion that is a real risk.
Tell us about CubaConga. What will readers find in your ebook?
It’s a no-nonsense reality guide about life as a foreigner in Cuba. The book describes it as a game in which you can play at different levels. Hence the name CubaConga which is inspired by Donkey Kong. A game with obstacles and levels.
The book takes you by the hand and shows you Cuba under the surface.
Your tagline is “valuable tips about travelling the real Cuba” … what isthe“real Cuba” and how can we find it?
The “real Cuba” is all around you all the time. The problem is that most people don’t have the eyes to see it. The trick is simply opening your eyes, and that’s the primary goal of CubaConga. If you understand what you see, you see more!
What makes Cuba a great travel destination?
Everything is entirely different from our western civilisation. Nothing is what it seems to our reference frame. That makes the whole of Cuba one big surprise. At least if you go there to really travel it, not if you want to see the Disneyfied sites that all tourists are hoarded through.
What should visitors be wary of while visiting Cuba? What’s your best advice on avoiding trouble?
The best advice to avoid trouble in Cuba is “Don’t go there”. You will always run into some trouble because Cuba is so different it just does not fit our brain. But be reassured, most trouble is quite harmless. Cuba is a very safe country!
How easy is it for tourists to get ripped off when visiting? How can you avoid scams?
In Cuba, the price of ignorance is rather high. I call it the ‘no clue’ tax. Avoiding scams is easy: Don’t interact with any Cuban. Lock yourself up in your room. But that’s no fun, is it? The second best way is to read my book. If you know what is coming, it is easy to anticipate. You will still get scammed a few times, but at least you know it. I recommend laughing about the few dollars they will take from you. It is the price of learning the game.
Where are some of your favourite destinations within Cuba?
I live in Havana and Holguin. Travelled the whole Island a few years ago but now just live here. I’m not a tourist anymore. But I would recommend Vinales and Trinidad for the novice Cuba traveller, and I would recommend just spending some time in any park, chatting with the locals.
Where do you like to stay when visiting?
I have my own house in Havana and a son in Holguin. I would recommend anyone to stay at a Casa Particular (that’s the Cuban B&B)
What’s been the most interesting or unique experience you’ve had visiting Cuba? A story that you find yourself telling over and over again…
I’ve got loads of stories, but two that can be put in a few sentences are:
– Talking to two students that just got out of a philosophy class I asked them which philosophers they talked about. ‘Marx and Lenin’ they replied. Being some of an amateur philosopher myself, I can see some philosophy in Marx but ‘what kind of philosopher was Lenin?’ I asked.
‘A very practical one’ was their reply.
– The waiter asks us if we want sparkling or natural water. Sparkling replies my friend. ‘We don’t have that’ says the waiter. ‘OK, natural then.’ They did not have that either!
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.
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.
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 budgetwill 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, onthis pagewe have a tip that will save you a few hours at the airport… you’re welcome 🙂
Going to Cuba? Looking for a map? This is the best map we know and an offline version for your phone can be downloaded here: https://maps.me/
Here’s an entirely different Cuba map for you. It is a book called CubaConga.
This is the map of the mentality in Cuba. We think that it is essential to understand the people, mentality and culture so to help you, we wrote this politically incorrect alternative travel guide.
It is a map for manoeuvring Cuba and avoiding trouble.
The map is not the territory.
So we don’t pretend to understand Cuba. On the other hand, we are quite sure we know Cuba better, much better than you do.
Due to our extensive travel experience in Cuba, we have developed an understanding of this tropical working man’s paradise and wanted to share this with you so that you can make the most of your stay. And believe us, you need more than just a map for that.
Thanks to the mental map of the Cubans, which differs from yours, Cuba is a fascinating country to visit. Nothing is like you perceive it at the first impression. We pretend we can help you understand more, make fewer mistakes and save loads of money with our book. (If you do not agree, we will refund you). Our book is a fun read on top of that.
If you are looking for a physical map, which you would need if you rent a car (we recommend you do so!) If you want a taste of our book, you can read a bit here.
In total, our book took over 39 months of research, and we enjoyed every moment of it. You can now reap the fruits of our hard work.
Not on any Cuban map
It is important for us and even more so for the people we know to stay anonymous. Just for their protection. That’s why nobody wrote this book, nobody is hosting this site, and nobody can be linked to this site. We are off the map but on the spot.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It has to be blue. The red signs indicate that’s a Casa Particular for Cubans only, mostly rented by the hour.
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.
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 :-).
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).
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…