Taxi wars in Havana

Fixed route Taxi

Many people in Havana depend on the old American cars that drive around as fixed route taxi. It’s simple. You stick out your arm horizontally and shout or signal your destination at the driver. He stops, you get in and get out, paying 10 or 20 MN depending on the distance.      Worked fine!

But now there is a war going on.

What happened?

In December the government raised the price of illegal diesel by 300%. HuH?

Yes, all those beautiful American cars have modern diesel motors that run on diesel, and you will never see one of those Almendrones at the gas station. They all run on stolen diesel.

So how does de government raise the price of stolen goods? It’s simple. They doubled fines and the number of inspectors. The risk for the merchants went up, supply down, and prices exploded on the black market.

Taxi price

Drivers had to raise their prices.

The government forbids that right away.

Drivers started to make short rounds instead of the usual long hauls. I had to change taxi three times to get home (paying three times 10 Pesos) were before I just took one car, paying 20. So the drivers raised their prices by 50% without raising them. 10 pesos just went less distance.

The government counteracted by issuing an official price table. A very detailed description of rates for each trajectory. This, in fact, was lowering the prices people were paying.

Taxis on strike

Taxi drivers were responding by driving around empty, stating to the customers they were ‘taxi privado’ now and would only take the customers straight to their homes (at ten times the price they would normally have to pay.)

Taxi mess in Havana

This has been going on for a few weeks now (March 17) and a solution does not seem at hand. Some drivers make their normal routes, others the short rounds, others drive around empty, and most of them simply stay at home. Some charge the new official prices, others just keep charging the old prices and some stick to the ‘taxi privado’ principle.

Public transport in Havana is a mess at the moment and getting home sometimes a chore…  The government is bothered with this situation and is deploying extra buses.

Streets are full of people looking for transport and empty cars looking to make an extra buck.

As soon as the situation settles down, I will tell you the outcome of this conflict.

Update June 2017

Everything sort of back to normal. (normal is NOT a Cuban concept). Taxis are working again at the prices they used to ask before the whole conflict. The price of illegal diesel back down to about 20 cents per litre. So it’s safe to recommend them again.

Do take a fixed route taxi while in Havana!

Update December ’17

The dirvers counter by refusing longer distances and thus effectively raising the prices again.

Update Februari 2018

The government is fed up with this capitalistic game and trows in a lot of buses that take the fixed routes taxis take. Same distance for 1 Peso or 5 in an airco bus. No more people looking for rides. Taxis half empty. They are loosing the fight they started.

Havana es Havana!

Havana: Nothing compares to it!

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.

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 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…

 

Finding a fixer in Cuba

Everybody is a fixer in Cuba

This blog is about finding a fixer in Cuba. Sometimes a fixer is worth his weight in gold; others just cost their weight in gold. You have to make the difference.

Offers of fixers:

Cuban streets are full of people more than willing to help you out. In the tourist areas, they are all (yes, all) just after one thing: Becoming your fixer for an hour, day or week and getting as much money out of your pocket as possible. So streets are off limit if you want to find a fixer in Cuba.

How fixers work

Fixers have all kind of ways to earn money. The most used method is the commission system. A fixer will get commission where ever he takes you (and that commission is added to your bill). The more money you spent, the better for him… Guess what his primary objective will be?

You don’t need a fixer

But why would you need a fixer? You can fix everything yourself. Read our book to get up to speed on how to handle Cuba, and you will probably be a better fixer than anybody you will meet on the street!

Enjoy Cuba and fix it yourself!!! With our help it’s easy!  Let us be your fixer from a distance! Fixing stuff in Cuba is a piece of cake. Order our book HERE, and we’ll give you a tip that will save about two hours one in Cuba… We fixed a waiting line problem.

Because Cuba is very safe, you can fix your own stay. Only if you really want a fixer and want to pay top dollars you can send us a mail at cubabookconga@gmail.com. We will fix it. Or this guy can be your fixer app in Havana 🙂

Or you could read our book. It’s faster and cheaper… 🙂

Don’t take a jinetero as your fixer. You will not buy his loyalty no matter what you pay.

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 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.

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

Buy, rent or borrow a bike or walk.

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 talks to you on the street.

Don’t make 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.

 

Cuba Cheaper

Cuba is not cheap, but you can make it cheaper.

To discover Cuba cheaply is quite impossible… You can go to Cuba cheap, but then you do not discover it. The cheap way to go to Cuba, without actually getting to know it, is to take an all-inclusive holiday package, which will get you to the working man’s paradise but you will be in a hotel where only the bad quality and lousy service will give you an impression of the real Cuba.

Cheap to Cuba
Cheap but not Cuba

Real Cuba

We can, however, help you to discover the real Cuba cheap(ish) by helping you to avoid al the scams, show you the ropes of the Cuban way of negotiation and give you an overall impression about how cheap things can get if you know more about the mechanisms of the market.

Moneda Nacional

You can, and must, use the two currencies. The more you use Moneda Nacional, the cheaper Cuba becomes.

No Clue Tax

In Cuba, nothing is what it seems… You should wrap your mind around that statement to get a clue. It’s expensive not to understand how things work. The no-clue tax in Cuba can be very high. Please get a clue!

Our whole book is about how to manage this complicated country. The less you know, the more expensive Cuba is. Although it will never become really cheap, we can cut your budget in half. It will cost you a tenner, but the rewards will be great!

Not only will Cuba become quiet cheap if you know where to look for what and what to avoid, but it will also become a lot more fun and a lot less frustrating.

So if you plan to discover Cuba cheap… read our book, please! On the get a clue page we’ll give you a tip that will save you a few hours…

Like Francisco said: “This book is like walking the street with a knowledgeable friend that shows you the ropes, how to discover Cuba cheaper and find the interesting stuff!

Recommended reading:

How to handle Jineteros.

What about money?