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

Cuba Embargo

The Cuba embargo

The US, officially, still have an embargo on Cuba. And most of the time they apply pressure to other countries to avoid dealing with Cuba. No people, capital or goods are allowed to move between the two countries.  Of course, this is the official U.S.  policy, and the real world is different. Half of the chickens eaten in Cuba come from the states and a lot of rice is imported from the same country. Very different indeed.

Still, the blockade frustrates Cuba. It is illegal according to the U.N., immoral from a humanitarian point of view and a big scapegoat for the Cuban regime.

Update April 2016 (a month after Obama went to Cuba): I have to rethink the paragraph above. Somebody ordered my book and mentioned ‘Cuba’ in the comments… Two days later my PayPal account got restricted, and I received the following message from PayPal:

blockade Cuba
Blockade still very active

In the banking world ‘Cuba’ raises a lot of red flags. Obama is sweet talking but the fines handed out for doing business with Cuba never were higher!

Update October 2016: The embargo is still in full swing. A lot of people ask me if things have changed in Cuba since the embargo was lifted… It’s not lifted at all.

Update July 2017.

Since the embargo was not lifted under Obama, Trump’s decision to reinforce it again does not change much. Obama made is easier for tourists to roam the streets of Havana individually (which too manny Americans did too loudly.) Trump is returning to the old policy. This will cause less individual tourists but apart from that, does not change much.

Update August 2019

I was wrong about Trump and not changing much two years ago. Trump is putting more and more pressure on US and international companies. The activation of the Hellm’s Burton act is aggressively hurting the Cuban people Trump claim’s to help. It’s bullying at international level. This inhumane treatment of a neighbour country should be stopped.

Complicated indeed

To make things even more complicated: The European commission issued a guideline that forbids European companies to abide to the US embargo…

Thus banks that are unwilling to break US regulations but can’t do so without breaking European guidelines… ‘That is technically impossible” say some… “Of course, we can” say others… Or ‘if you send 100 Euro, the recipient will receive minus 5 CUC on his or her account.’

The blockade as a scapegoat

El Boqueo’ is the Spanish word for this embargo, and everything that goes wrong in Cuba is its due to the blockade.  The economy would be a lot better without it.  Cubans would live the good life without it.  Without ‘El Bloqueo’ words like ‘no Hay’, ‘S’Acabo’ and ‘Se Rompio’ would not be in the Cuban dictionary.  (for detailed analysis of the real meaning of these words we refer to CubaConga.) Without the blockade, every Cuban would be on time, water from the tap would taste fine, trains would run on time, roads would be perfect, and every Cuban would have a shiny new Mercedes or BMW. (Funny, these are German cars… Germany does not impose the blockade).

Cuban arrogance

In Africa, if something is screwed up, they throw their arms in the air and say with a big smile ‘This is Africa man!”.  In Cuba, they do not have to blame themselves… They throw their arms in the air and blame it on ‘El Bloqueo’. It’s never Cuba’s fault!

Status quo

The Cuba blockade is imposed by the US conservatives, and with this blockade, they effectively conserve the situation in Cuba. We don’t do politics nor do we understand them but this is one of those policies that accomplish exactly the opposite of their official goal. I always wonder what the real goal is when policies systematically put a blockade on the results they are after, but leave you to ponder that thought.

The Cuba embargo… It’s not what it seems. Like Cuba is not what it seems…

Everything you think about Cuba is dead wrong (OK, it is an Island). If you want to see the real Cuba, please read more on this site and download our book. No good, money back (and we’re not Cubans, we stick to what we say…)

On the ‘order now’ page we have a tip for you that will save you a few hours in Cuba.

Recommended reading:

Here is the Wi-Fi Manual

And here the Wi-Fi is free!

Cuba Propaganda

propaganda

Propaganda… We have it too!

“Always Coca Cola”, “Mc Donald’s, I’m loving it!” We have our kind of propaganda in our capitalist society. Our propaganda aims to make us consume particular products and services. If you are aware of this or not, it works…

Ministry of Propaganda

I do not want to get into the fake news discussion. There is a lot of fake news about Cuba and even the US government is in on that. Cuba has a ministry of propaganda and they at least call it that way. We have add agencies that violate the truth much more!

Cuba has Propaganda too, but different

Cuba has a different kind of propaganda because there is no commercial competition. They do not have to distinguish between almost similar products because everything is state produced, state distributed and state owned. So Cuban propaganda is aimed at politics and ideology. Coke and McDo are replaced by socialism and communism, and those ideologies are “sold” to the people by hollow slogans as “Father land or death” or “Nature and revolution”.  There is a whole ministry dedicated to producing those empty slogans, just like we have an industry, producing the same empty slogans (add agencies), with the difference that in Cuba they sell an ideology and in the west they sell stuff.

Father land or death

Truth is in the eye of the beholder

In Cuba, propaganda goes deeper. It is part of the school system too. Look around; you don’t see children cry in Cuba! (Some might argue that consumerism is part of our education system too…)

propaganda
Even freedom is in the eye of the beholder

An example of school propaganda: We picked up two students that were hitchhiking, and they just had a class in philosophy. So I asked which philosophers they talked about. “Marx and Lenin” was their answer. Slightly amused I asked what kind of philosopher Lenin was, and their answer was that Lenin was a “Very Practical Philosopher”.

If you don’t see the joke in that answer, you might not want to read our book…

Because of ‘our’ propaganda ‘our’ perception of Cuba is wrong just as the Cuban’s perception of the capitalist world is wrong.

‘We’re always wrong in Cuba. Let us help you out with an entirely different perspective…

Perspective is everything
Perspective is everything

CubaConga is an alternative travel guide to Cuba, that skips the propaganda and shows you life like it is, the pitfalls you should avoid and will not only save you about 200$ per week, it will greatly enhance your fun and insight, as well as reduce your budget.

If it does not… we will refund you. No questions asked.

You probably understand that this is propaganda for our book :-). Get it here and up your game. It goes deeper than this blog. At the ‘Order, the book now please‘ page we’ll give you a bonus tip that will save you at least 2 hours in Cuba. Just to refund the time you’ve spent on our blog…

Recommended reading:

Drinking water... A different story that will quench your thirst.

How to book an authentic Casa Particular

 

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!)

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

Local Havana Hero

Finally, I did it! I’m a HERO

A local one, that’s true, but I am a Hero 🙂 (just a local one).

What happened?

TripUniq a website that specialises in unique trips (the name gives it away) is expanding to Havana, and they asked me to be one of their Local Heros… Their website is very user-friendly. You go there, fill in what you like (f.e. shopping… in that case don’t go to Havana). Good Food (yes! In Havana), culture, music or art (all plentiful in Havana). Type a short text about your wishes and pay up (in my case 7 Euro per day).

In the background, they have a convenient system, which I (your local hero) will use to put your individual trip advice in an app that will guide you.

An offline digital friend

The app works fine offline. You will get your tailor made trip advice and just follow the steps it outlines to get a unique Havana experience. I’ll throw in a few facts and absurdities to make it more fun.

I, as a local hero, specialise in the real Havana. So I (local hero) will show you the must-sees in the old town, but we will soon go underground to make your experience unique and local.

No more hours of planning, no more doubts about what to do and you will not miss out on the good stuff!

Tino in TripUniqu, Your local Havana Hero

Now before you book me (or another local hero), please get to know my perspective.

Some people want to keep living the illusion of rum and salsa. That’s fine by me, but don’t read my book if you want to be delusional…

Prepare and read our book plz.

You can get it here, and I’ll give you a small practical tip on the order page that will save you a few hours waiting time in Cuba…

Recommended reading:

Things you do not see in Cuba

Cuba’s absurdities

 

Cuba safety and dangers

Cuba is known for her safety and lack of dangers

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

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

Safety in Cuba

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

Real dangers in Cuba.

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

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

A few safety tips for the really stupid

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

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

Don’t get (too) drunk.

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

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

Dangerous:

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

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

Be safe!

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

Recommended reading

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

Cuba Peso

Two Peso in Cuba

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

CUC Peso

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

pesocuc

MN Peso

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

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

Pesomn

Double currency

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

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

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

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

Know the difference

CUC or Peso?

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

Cuba peso
Peso or CUC?

Money in Cuba: quite complicated

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

To get money.

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

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

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

When to pay with CUC and when with MN?

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

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

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

Practical calculus

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

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

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

The end of the CUC?

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

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

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

 

Cuban Cigars

How to buy Cuban Cigars?

Lots of people return from Cuba with one or a few boxes of Cuban Cigars and want to sell them for a profit because they bought great cigars at a very low price. Let me pop that dream for you: If you know nothing about cigars and don’t understand Cuba, chances that you made a good deal are close to zero.

Cuba has a very high ‘no clue’ tax on everything. So if you have no clue about how to test a cigar and rely on the story of the guy selling them you pay that fee.

“Buy Cohiba sir?”

You will never buy a real Cohiba following the guys that whisper this in your ear in the street. Never! They will look like Cohiba, they will be packed in a very nice box and have all the seals, but the cigars are NO Cohibas! Buying them for 10% of the official price in your home country is NOT a good deal. Trying to sell them once back will only get you laughter and no profit.

Straight from the factory!

Stories like: ‘my aunt works in the plant’, ‘my husband is the manager’, ‘you must have read in the paper about the cooperativas making cigars’ are all just BS. Those stories are as good as the boxes they sell look, and both are fake…

There’s a whole underground industry which ends with a salesman selling you fake cigars in a little room. Before that tobacco is stolen from the factory floor, cigar bands are falsified (or bought in the cigar band factory), boxes are made in an attic and seals are stolen.

All this cumulates into the moment that you buy real Cuban cigars… Not…

Only two reasons to buy Cuban cigars in Cuba.

Cuban Cigars

1 They look good on your coffee table and make for a good story. Say ‘yes’ to the cigar peddler, have him take you to an illegal ‘shop’, drive a hard bargain (you should be able to get to about 25 a box, they will start at 125) and buy yourself a conversational piece.

2 It makes for a fascinating excursion! Just say ‘yes’ to a cigar peddler and follow him to a back room in a dump… Don’ buy the cigars!

Where to buy Cuban Cigars?

If you want to buy Cuban cigars, use Google and find yourself a cigar shop with an excellent reputation in your town.

‘No clue tax’ evasion

The ‘no clue tax’ doesn’t only apply to Cuban cigars. It applies to everything in Cuba. You could consider our book good tax advice :-). We have the tax heaven route figured out for you! Buy it now and save on taxes and time.

In Cuba, you buy cigars from a jinetero. If you do not know what that is, you should not even go to Cuba. Here’s how to handle those street hustlers!

Free Wifi in Havana

Yes, read that again: Free WiFi in Havana!

The internet in Cuba

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

Fiber optics

Then, in 2011 the optic fibre cable connecting Cuba with Venezuela stirred hope, but nothing much happened. Stories about sharks eating the cable and some government official buying the wrong cable explained nothing. Internet stayed slow and prices high. 1 CUC per hour in a country where average wages are about 30 times that amount (per month) means that an average Cuban paid 3% of his monthly income for 1 (ONE) hour of internet. (That all of this is plain bulsh#t must be clear… we explain it in our book)

In June 2015 Etecsa, the Cuban telecom monopoly opened up WiFi zones in every city. Prices went down to 1.5 CUC an hour in 2017 and to 1,- in 2018 if you could buy a scratch card. These cards are always sold out but can be bought on the streets for 2 CUC. The mechanism of this phenomenon is beyond the scope of this article, but some people are making big bucks here.

Free WiFi

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

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

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

No Free WiFi for you

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

Password: abajoelbloqueo(down with the embargo)

Free WiFi Kcho and Google
Free WiFi in Havana

Update April 2016:

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

Update Feb 2018

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

Sometimes the WiFi acces is free at ‘La Seguera’ the park at the intersection of 31 and 41. Must be an error but it works! Sometimes…

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

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

Recommended reading:

How to survive the jineteros.

Tips and Tricks for WiFi connection