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.)

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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

Jineteros and Jineteras

How to handle Jineteros and Jineteras

Don’t avoid the Jineteros and Jineteras: they are fun, and you can’t avoid them anyway.

jinetero
As soon as he covertly makes money… he’s a jinetero

Bad advice

The whole Internet and all travel guides are full of warnings: Avoid the Jineteros and Jineteras because they are trouble! Beware! Warning! Run away!

As you might have noticed, my opinions differ from the mainstream point of view. That’s because I’m a resident in Cuba and have more experience with Cuba than the average blogger/journalist/travel guide writer/tourist that spends three weeks here.

What is a Jinetera?

Short history of Jineterismo

First came the Jinetera (feminine). It all started with Fidel proclaiming in a speech that Cubans did not need to earn extra money by getting involved with tourists. The state took care of everything, so the women that were getting involved with foreign men did so for their pleasure. They rode the foreigner just for fun. Hence the term Jinetera which translates in jockey in English. In the same speech, he proclaimed that Cuba has no prostitution, but if there were prostitutes in Cuba it would be the best-educated prostitutes in the world!

He was right and wrong at the same time. Yes, prostitution does exist in Cuba and yes they are well educated for the most. The Jinetera was born.

Soon after that followed her male companion:

Jinetero
This is a jinetertero

 

The Jinetero

You can spot jineteros by their golden chains!

And tooth!

Broader definition.

This couple evolved. The definition of a Jinetera was ‘a prostitute’. Now a Jinetera is somebody that somehow makes money with tourists. And since making money in Cuba is almost always illegal… And we believe that people that do illegal stuff are bad, Jineteros are bad. On top of that, we think that our way of doing things is good. Most people now define a Jinetero as a street hustler. But he is much more than that! The ones on the street annoying tourists are just the top of the iceberg.

Let me put this in perspective by comparing the things that are blamed on Jineteros with our Western world:

  • ‘Jineteros make money taking you to a Casa Particular or restaurant.’

  • Those bastards! Well, do you think booking.com does not earn money? Airbnb is a super Jinetero! They not only charge a 15% commission but in Cuba also employ Jineteros that find the houses for them (and get a fee for that). On top of that, that 15 % never make it to Cuba. It disappears into the pockets of a multinational.
  • Jineteros act friendly but just want to make money.

  • Did you ever meet an unfriendly car salesman? Did a waitress ever show her real feelings to you? Isn’t it standard practice in the West to act friendly to make money?
  • Jineteros covertly make their money. They don’t tell you it’s about the money!’

  • Well, what’s your job? How do you make money? Does a nurse tell a patient that she’s only helping him because of the money? (She is… If the hospital stopped paying her, she would find another job.) Does the friendly car salesman tell you about his commission? Our book is also for sale at Amazon, do they tell you they pocket 50%? We consider making money as normal, but when a Cuban does it, it’s suddenly wrong.

    Jinetero
    Or is this a Jinetero?
  • They mislead you lie and are manipulative.

  • Will not even go there… We have whole industries devoted to that.
  • They drive up prices.

  • So do your supermarket, real estate broker and even the nurse. Everything would be cheaper without them. Everybody with a paycheck drives up the price.
  • They just want to marry you to get out of the country.

  • Yep, gold diggers only exist in Cuba. Getting married to somebody just to better your life does not happen elsewhere… Talking about love, we would recommend reading Romance in Cuba before you fall into it…
  • The United States department of state defines them as “Street “jockeys,” who specialize in swindling tourists. Most jineteros speak English and go out of their way to appear friendly, by offering to serve as tour guides or to facilitate the purchase of cheap cigars, for example. However many are in fact professional criminals who will not hesitate to use violence in their efforts to acquire tourists’ money and other valuables.”

I would use the word propaganda here if that were not a communist monopoly. What a Bullsh**. Yes, sometimes street hustlers can become aggressive (verbally) but almost never (as in very, very rarely) violent. Very rarely! Cuba is incredibly safe!

The Internet and travel guides also offer advice on how to handle them:

  • Don’t let a Jinetero find you a place to stay, ask the owner of your casa particular to book in the next town.’ As if he does not get a commission for that. He’s just a Jinetero with a Casa Particular. They now pay each other by topping up their phones after a reservation.
  • Tell them to go away. Avoid them!’ It’s simple: You can’t. Everybody is making money on the side of his real salary (why and how in our book). So you would have to avoid everybody.
  • Don’t dress as a tourist so they will leave you alone.’ Cubans can spot a tourist from a mile away. It does not matter how you dress; they will spot you!
  • Don’t go to the tourist areas.’ ??? HUH? Better not go to Cuba if you don’t want to see it.

Forget about all that crap.

Jineteros are no criminals! They are people like you and me, trying to make ends meet. Often they are intelligent and I have my best friends among them. We are jineteros too… We lure you in with a website full of usefull information and then want to sell you a book with even more usefull information! Aren’t we bad!

How to handle Jineteros and Jineteras CubaConga style?

Relax & respond.

Feel at home and behave like you’ve been in town for a few weeks. Learn some answers that will convince them right away that you are not a stupid tourist. It’s easy. You will notice right away that their attitude changes. They will tell you that ‘you are a Cuban now.’ Respect you and suddenly it’s about the fun, not the money.

‘Hi my frien, where you from?’ Some good answers: Marianao or La Lisa (both respected rough neighborhoods in Havana.) La luna (the moon)… indicating that you know the game and want no part of it.

‘How are you my frien?’ The answer to that and some other opening lines used in the street are in our book. (We are jineteros also… we sell a book to keep this blog alive and inform you on a deeper level.)

So relax! You’ve read our book you know the tricks; nobody can ‘get’ you… Relax and enjoy!

Feel and act as if at home

Acting as if you belong means that you don’t do things you would not do at home either. If you walk to your local shopping mall and somebody whispers: ‘he man… Want to buy a car?’ or ‘Need some dope?’ or ‘Buy me a drink friend.’ What do you do? I suggest you do the same in Cuba.

Know the game, understand the tricks…

You can even relax more if you’ve read our book… You know the tricks and master the game… so enjoy!

We have lots of tips in our book how to avoid the real scams and how to have fun with the Jineteros… Get it here, and we’ll give you a tip that will save you a few hours at the airport. Just to make sure you want to read it we throw in the review of PBS’s Karen Muller 🙂

Enjoy Cuba and don’t worry about the Jineteros!

Want to rent a car? Maybe think again, there is a better option.