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

Racism in Cuba

No racism

According to the official channels racism does not exist in Cuba, but in daily life race is important. Looking at the number of expressions a language has to describe the subject can reveal the importance. Eskimos have 20 words for snow, and Cubans have twenty for race . Is that rasicm?

White

In ascending pigmentation Cubans distinguish the following shades of race. (If that order upsets you, you are not a Cuban (they don’t care) and you could also read it from the bottom to the top.)

Albino

Albino’s are pigment free. Also in Cuba

Rubio/Rubia

So white that he has blond hair and blue eyes. Mostly descendants of the Russians that spent some time in Cuba

Blanco/blanca

A white guy but he might have dark eyes and dark hair.

Trigeño/trigeña

One shade darker than Blanco. Mediterranean look.

Mulato adelantado//Mulata adelantada

Very light but mixed race.

Mulato blanconasso/Mulata blanconassa.

Same colour as adelantado but with black curls.

Java (yellow).

Blond, but not white

Mulato/Mulata

Clearly of mixed race. Considered the best contribution of the Spanish to the Cuban people.

Indio/india

Mixed blood with some Indian traits.

Chino/China

This is about the form of the eyes. Theoriginal inhabitants of Cuba had slit eyes. Colour does not matter.

MulaTICO/TICA

A little bit darker than a Mulato.

Metisso/Metissa

Another dose of pigment on top of the Mulatico

Moreno/Morena

Black with good hair (which means straight hair)

Negro/Negra

Black with afro hair (bad hair)

Negro telefono

Black as a phone

Black

 

Azul

Very black. Azul means blue and that is indeed very black!

Cubans are refreshingly political incorrect. They call each other by their race or other distinctive characteristics. A fat guy is called Fat, a skinny one Skinny. Someone with big ears is called Ears, and the guy with the big mouth is called Mouth. A black guy is called a Negro and a white one… etc etc…

In daily life

Now how does this whole race thing play out in daily life? I’ll give you an example.

I’m a white man, used to be blond, with blue eyes. I’m sitting on a crowded terrace with a good friend called Titanic. His real name is José but since he’s huge everybody calls him Titanic. He’s 130 kilos of muscle (and a pot belly). He’s a black man (Negro) and has a reputation for his sharp witt.

Just a beer

He gets up to go to the toilet and since he’ll be passing the bar I ask him to fetch another beer.

‘As always’ he says, a bit too loud, ‘the white man ordering the Negro to do the work.’

He imediatly has the attention of the whole terrace. How’s this tourist going to react?

‘Hey’ I reply a bit too loud. ‘It’s a simple task. You are smart for a Negro, you are able to do it.’ (He’s a very smart man by the way.)

All the guests, that were listening in, burst out laughing. All black men are told that they are smart ‘for a negro’ too. Titanic goes to the toilet, fetches two beers and says: ’To Blanco’s’. I return the compliment and say ‘to Negros.’ Racism in action in Cuba.

Official perspective

Race is very apparent in Cuba but not something to worry about. It’s just something you see right away (like big ears) and you can say what you see.

Off course there is racism in Cuba. Like everywhere else in the world there is a distinct reversed correlation between pigment and wealth. That I find colour irelevant does not change that fact.

Racism is considered anti-revolutionary and confronting someone for being a racist is considered an act against the revolution too. So it is very well hidden!

Personal opinion:

Judging people by their race is for the lazy and the stupid that are not willing or able to look beyond the 0,5 millimeter that determines our skin tone.

Recomended reading for you:

Things you do not see in Cuba

How to rent a car, but you might not want to…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

Double currency hoax

There is a lot of confusion about currency and money in Cuba.

Last update Sept 2018

A lot of people think, and a lot of websites claim that Tourists have to use CUC (Convertible Currency) and Cubans use MN Moneda Nacional). This is utter nonsense on a lot of levels!

Peso Cuba
Moneda Nacional MN

Some misinformation about currency

First of all: You can use MN as a tourist, and I recommend you do so, just to show that you understand money! Cubans use CUC all the time. You can exchange your CUC for MN in all Cadecas.

Secondly: The Convertible Currency is only Convertible in Cuba. Take it home, and it is worthless. Like Monopoly money is only money within the game. So it is only convertible in name.

3 CUC peso
this is CUC (double currency?)

Thirdly: People often ask me ‘how to spend their money without supporting the regime. Impossible! When you arrive you exchange your hard currency to Game Money. The hard currency is already in the government bank. You only spend Game Money (does not matter if you call it CUC or MN). If you do not want to support the ‘regime’, you should go elsewhere.

Fourthly: There is no double currency in Cuba! (I’ll explain below). Cubans pay 25 MN with a CUC and 3 CUC with 75 MN or with 2 CUC and 25 MN. Both are used simultaneously and are mixed up.

Difference between CUC and CUP bills:

Before I explain that there is no double currency, here’s how to distinguish CUC from CUP.

CUC bills have buidings and statues on them, CUP bills faces. That’s easy to remember because you need a lot of people (faces) to make a building.

Cuba is poor, and thus Cuba should be cheap. Both are untrue.

You might think that Cuba must be cheap because you’ve heard that a doctor earns 40 CUC a month.

Well, it’s not… (And a physician does not live on 40 CUC). Cuba is expensive. Nobody can live in Havana on 40 CUC a month. If you don’t want to go hungry, you need about a hundred. And if you want to buy clothes and wear shoes you need a hundred more and if you want to keep your house in a reasonable state that’s another hundred…

I believe that a Cuban in Havana needs about 200-300 CUC a month to live a decent life…

Because jobs don’t pay those salaries everybody is making money on the side. Or even worse, the salary people get is the pocket money you make on the side.

The average salary of 20 dollars is just a myth (we explain that in our book). So if somebody charges you 10 for half a day’s work, he’s not getting half a month’s salary, he’s just getting a decent pay.

Tips

All tips are welcome but don’t give foreign coins. I’m a European and come home with at least 4 pounds of coins every year because the Cubans can not exchange them and sell them to me.

Double currency

They say that Cuba has a double currency… Moneda Nacional and CUC. (both are called Pesos by the way).

That’s an artificial debate. The MN is pegged to the CUC and always has the same value 25/1 or (24/1 when you are buying). So if something costs 25 pesos, it costs 1 CUC. If something costs 100 Pesos, it costs 4 CUC and the other way around. (small print… not taking into considerations Cuban companies.)

Calculus for the ‘double currency.’

A simple trick to convert Pesos to CUC:

Take off two zeros and multiply by 4.

CUC to Pesos:

Add two zeros and divide by 4.

The idea of a double currency just makes things more complicated, but in reality, it’s just the same currency, expressed in different terms. You can pay something that costs 10 CUC with 250 MN or with 6 CUC and 100MN or 50 MN and 8 CUC. The conversion is always the same.

I think the debate is artificial because the US has a double currency too. Dollars and Dimes… There are always 10 Dimes to a Dollar so you can price stuff in Dollars and Dimes. If something costs 10 Dimes, you can pay a dollar!!! Really!!!

Back to the virtual double currency in Cuba: We recommend you use both because it shows the Cubans you understand the system. They are very surprised if a foreigner understands their money and it will bring down your budget and earn you respect.

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

Now that you understand the Currency get your budget under control

We do have an entirely different view on Cuba than the main stream Travel guides and websites. We live here and did not understand it all after the two or three weeks most travel writers spend researching Cuba.

Here’s how you handle the street hustlers…

Visa for Cuba

Yes, you do need a visa for Cuba.

Unless you live in one of the very special visa-free countries of the world… You probably don’t. But in case of doubt: Visa requirements Cuba

So how do you get a Cuban visa?

If your visa is included in your ticket, you have no problem whatsoever. Move on… Read about money or some crazy stories about Cuba… Or just order our book here right away!

How to get a visa for Cuba?

Authentic

You could go to the embassy or consulate in your country. This trip makes for an interesting excursion and will be your first impression of Cuban bureaucracy. (So don’t go there if you are in a hurry!)

A problem with this approach is that everybody in your party will have to be present, ticket and passport in hand. You can buy a visa for other people, but this costs 25 $ per person extra! Yes, that’s right, visas go for 20-25 dollars (depending on country) and buying one for your absent hubby costs 25 extra.

Unprepared and in a hurry

Probably somebody or some company sells Cuban visas at your airport of departure. This is your penultimate solution. Too expensive and not very sure.

Adventurous

If you manage to board your plane without a visa, you still need one to enter Cuba. Before customs, there is a table that sells visas. The problems here are: The person responsible might be on a break that break might take a few hours. You have to pay in CUC, which you don’t have yet and can not obtain before customs. So, in reality, this option is symbolic! Don’t leave home without a visa!

The problems here are: The person responsible might be on a break that break might take a few hours. You have to pay in CUC, which you don’t have yet and can not obtain before customs.

So, in reality, this option is symbolic! Don’t leave home without a visa!

Practical, fast and safe.

Just order it over the Internet. CubaVisa is reliable, fast and they even offer a ‘filled in visa’ service.

Don’t make any mistakes filling in your visa… One letter missing, striking out something or any other error makes it invalid.

Check their shipping destination list to make sure they ship to your country.

Cuba visa
This is a Cuban visa

An extra advantage of CubaVisa is that they sell the best Cuba roadmap and since rental cars don’t have a navigation system that might come in handy. They have a list of countries they ship to.

 

They even have the pink visas that you need if you are travelling via the USofA! A non-US resident also needs to comply with the US travel restrictions!

After you’ve got the visa problem out of the way, you might want to read our book to prepare for your trip. Cuba is a whole different ballgame, and you need to understand that! To compensate for your time, we’ll give you a tip on the ‘get the ebook’ page that will save you a few hours on the airport!

Don’t want to buy the book yet? Find out how the WiFi works in Cuba. It sounds simple but has some pitfalls (like everything in Cuba).

You will run into jineteros by the way (and if you don’t know what they are, you are not ready to go to Cuba yet… Here’s how you handle them!

 

Reasonable budget for Cuba

What is a reasonable budget for Cuba?

You can spend all the money you want in Cuba; it is not a cheap destination. It’s not Asia, and you definitely can’t live on 5 $ per day. We’ll explore a reasonable budget here.

First of all, you have to get there. We have no clue about from where you will be arriving or where you want to go so we’ll omit the flight. From Europe, you could take the boat in Rotterdam if you want to travel slowly (about three weeks, via Venezuela). It’s a very relaxed and slow, but you don’t have a jet lag upon arrival!

Spending money

What should be in your budget?

Sleeping

Eating

Drinking

Transportation

Shopping

Party

Culture

Company

Miscellaneous

We’ll explore each of those below.

Sleeping

Hotels.

We would not recommend hotels. They are expensive, not so good as you would hope and always should have a star or 2 less than they boast next to their names. (Fun to know, Hotel Parque central literary lost two stars recently… Nobody got hurt!)

Still, want to stay in a hotel? Budget between 25 for a dump up to 600 for the five stars in Havana.

Casa Particulars

Most travel websites and guides recommend staying in a Casa Particular, and I would mildly agree with them. It’s the Cuban version of a BnB and in general, offer a much higher price/quality ratio than the official hotels. You can find a Casa particular from 20CUC and up. 20 CUC is very hard to find and impossible in Havana Veilla, Viñales or Trinidad. Prices are usually per room and without breakfast. Here’s how to book a casa particular.

Most travel advice stops here. So let’s look deeper to bring a standard budget down a bit

Campismo

The Campismos are all located off the beaten track. They are some sorts of holiday parks with little cabins. Most are in the middle of beautiful nature. I would recommend everybody to spend a night or two in a Campismo. Prices range from 2 to 8 CUC per night per cabin. You need a car, bike or creative transport to get there. Reservations are difficult, to say the least… Just show up and talk to the receptionist (if there is one). Every major town has a Campismo Popular office. The Campismos are hard to find and not easy to reach. You probably need a rental car to get there. But they are cheap, fun and this is the real Cuban adventure.

Hostels

Hostels are a new formula in Cuba. Especially in Havana. Based on a Casa Particular permit, hostels put up to six beds in a room and rent them for 5 to 8 CUC per night. These are great budget places, especially for backpackers and single travellers.

 

Illegal houses

Not a very good casa particular
illegal Casa particular

Some Cubans are willing to rent you a room for a night or two for a tenner in an unlicensed house (all Casas particular need an official licence, are very much state controlled and pay rather hefty taxes). Risks are not so high as you might think. The police might kick you out at 3 o’clock in the morning, and then you have to find another house. Chances of this happening are very low. Cubans, however, take bigger risks. If the police kick you out, they will get a huge fine (in CUC) and risk losing their house altogether. It’s not possible for you as a foreigner to estimate how high the probability of this happening is, so leave that to the Cuban offering you a room. He is well aware of the risk he is taking and probably took his precautions or has his connections that minimise the potential problem. So if someone offers you an illegal house, bargain the price, and I have no objection you stay there.

All prices (except hotels and Campismo’s) are negotiable. Put some effort in negotiating, and you will save about 20%.

Summary sleeping budget:

It’s impossible to find a place to sleep below 8 CUC. The absolute minimum budget would be ten on average… You will be sleeping in Hostels and Campismos at least 2/3 of the time to get to this budget. Hostels being not very comfortable and lacking privacy and Campismo are not very practical or easy to reach. More of a realistic budget for sleeping would be 25-30 per night per room. If you want to spend a lot of time in Old Havana, Viñales or Trinidad your budget goes up with about 5 CUC/night since those places are more expensive.

Eating

How do you want to eat? On the low-end, you can survive on 4 CUC a day or even less if you are willing to eat Cuban Pizza every night. (Believe me, pizza sounds good, but you are not prepared to eat more than one a week.) Breakfast in your Casa typically costs 4-5 (pp) and negotiating will bring that down to 3-4. Breakfast in the cafeteria down the street (there is always one): Coffee, a cheese sandwich, and a fresh juice cost about 80 cents. To be paid in Moneda Nacional (Read this to get a clue about the double currency system). Lunch and dinner are the same stories.

In a cafeteria, you can get a full meal for about 2 CUC and a pizza for 10 – 20 MN.

Only eat once
Only eat once

Dinner in your Casa Particular should cost between 8 for pork and chicken up to 12 for lobster and crocodile (the last being illegal but tasty!). You can spend between 7 and 100 CUC per meal in the paladars and restaurants. Spending a lot of money on food in Cuba does not mean it’s good by definition. Some restaurants offer great price/quality ratios others minor ones. Home cooking sounds good, but you will not have a kitchen with the equipment nor the ingredients. Herbs, pepper, fresh pasta… Forget it if you don’t stay long term.

You can save a lot of money eating cheap. You could eat (rather well) for about 3-4 CUC per day. But that’s hard work. I recommend you use a budget of 15 and if you want to eat well every meal to about 30. Sometimes you will spend more, sometimes less. On average you can eat on 15 per day.

Transportation

Your budget for transportation depends on how many kilometres you want to travel and how comfortable you want to do that. A rental car doubles your budget. (Read more about rental cars here).

Different forms of transportation

The bus.

In the town, the bus costs 40 Centavos (MN), and if it’s not too crowded, you can perfectly take it. Avoid very crowded buses, as your pockets, will probably be picked. Between towns, you have to take the Viazul. Often these are full (they are not, and a solution to this problem is in our book). On the Viazul site, you can find prices and departure times. The Viazul is the only thing that sticks to a timetable in Cuba!

Taxis, both legal and illegal

Shared taxis should be slightly more expensive than a Viazul ticket. See ‘rental cars’ for more information about the illegal taxis. Legal taxis that put on the meter are costly and don’t add very much to comfort or speed. So why take them?

Trucks

These are freight trucks that have been modified to carry passengers. They are getting better every year! Commercial buses cannot be used by a private enterprise, so private transport is done with a truck. The price (for you) should be around 1/3 of the Viazul price for the same trajectory. In Havana, they leave from the central train station. They don’t have timetables and stick to that principle very well.

Trains

Don’t. Period… Just don’t.

Hitchhiking

Same advice… Don’t

Summary Transport budget.

Make a rough estimate of the number of kilometres you are going to travel and divide that number by 18 if you’re taking buses 15 for illegal taxis (this is pp). Double that if you rent a car.

In town, you take fixed route taxis or buses they do not affect your budget.

Shopping

Please prepare and take everything you need. There is nothing you can buy in Cuba that is better or cheaper than at home. Just don’t go shopping.

Drinking

A beer costs 1 or 1,50 in a club. Cola (the Cuban version) 55 cents and a mojito between 1 and 7. I spent about 5 per day for drinks, but some people don’t get to noon with that. I’ll leave this to your personal needs or perception of them. Put 10 CUC in your budget if you are not a sponge and you will be all right. A bottle of rum always comes in handy and costs about 7 for a good rum.

Partying

For most places, you pay 10 to get in. Live music in Old Havana and the Malecon is free. So are open air concerts and street parties. Buy a bottle of rum and some cups, sit on the Malecon, share the rum and you will have a party!

Culture

Museums are between 4 and 8 CUC. Ballet and opera 25 (which is worth it… I’ve seen Rigoletto with about 80 singers on stage!) The cinema is 80 cents and looking at prime classic cars on Saturdays (at the Piraqua) is free.

Company

Jinetera
80 CUC company

You are a tourist, and the bad news is that you are not going to make real friends in a few days. Company has a price in Cuba. For a friend put 5 CUC per day per friend in your budget and for the more exotic company (male or female or both, whatever makes you tick) about 50 to 80 per day. I’m not going to elaborate on this as I believe consenting adults should do what they consent to do… But before you read this please.

Miscellaneous

This part of your budget is not entirely up to you. Being ripped off is a big chunk of this budget item. Some Cubans are very good at it, and you better learn fast. Plan for 5 to 100 CUC per day, depending on your wits and how much ‘clue’ you have… Get a clue here and order our book. As a bonus, we’ll give you a tip that will save you a few hours on the airport.

Conclusion Budget for Cuba

You can survive for 40-50 CUC pp per day. With a bit of clue, you can bring that down to 30. Without any clue, you are going to spend 70-100 CUC per day. With ‘company’ and without a clue you will pay about 200 a day. Good luck!

Knowing how to handle the jineteros will cut your budget by at least 20%. Here’s how!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Missing in Cuba

Things you don’t see in Cuba

Of the things you don’t see, half might be there but out of sight.

A friend of mine told me that you should never believe what you hear in Cuba and only believe half of what you see.

Whining kids

Walking through town, you will see a lot of kids. They don’t whine! Yes, sometimes they cry if they fall hard or are in pain, but they don’t whine. And if you see a whining kid, it is probably at least half ‘owned’ by a Yuma (foreigner). Somehow the way Cubans treat their children makes them responsible, small adults.

Boats on the sea

noboatsFrom the Malecon in Havana, but everywhere else too, you will see the only Caribbean sea without any ships. Once a week a cruise ship will sail into the Havana harbour and sometimes a freighter, but there just aren’t any other ships or boats to be seen.

It is awe-inspiring at night; you are staring into a black void! Enjoy

Nips and tucks

There is no plastic enhancement in Cuba. Everything you will see is real! (Some Italians smuggled implants for their girlfriends, and they paid top CUCs to get them implanted (illegally), but you will not see them, they live in expensive discotheques).

Not a Cuban girl
Not a Cubana

Snow and advertising

Neither Snow nor advertising is legal in tropical socialism. No billboards exist except the ones shouting out political statements. Snow is such a nightmare for Cubans that although it has not snowed since Columbus, Cuba bought four snow shovels a few years ago. Better safe than sorry!

Gum on the streets

If a Cuban buys gum (or gets it some other way) he will chew it all day, put it on his nightstand and chew on the next day. The average gum lasts for a week or so.

This does not mean you don’t have to watch your step. There is dog shit everywhere. Dogs roam free and have no masters running after them with a plastic poop bag.

Supermarkets that cater to all of your needs

The concept of a supermarket is almost non-existent in Cuba. Almost because there is one supermarket that caters to foreigners and rich Cubans: Palco in Miramar, a rich suburb in Havana. Nor wil you find outlet stores, shopping malls or fastfood chains.

Decision stress…

In Cuba you either buy the deodorant or not. There are only two brands: available or not available. So if you need a deodorant I would recommend the first brand.

Tourists that are not being ripped off.

You will find that out for yourself when you get there… Here are some tips and tricks.

Traffic Jams

Just not enough cars to make Jam…

Old American cars at the gass station.

The almendrons run on water! You will never see them fill up their tank in a gass station… The truth is that all the old cars that serve as a fixed route taxi have a modern diesel engine. They buy their diesel on the black market and not a gass station.

Almendron
Almendron on water

People that know these secrets (klick)

What you do see are jineteros. 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. 2 CUC per hour in a country where average wages are about three times that amount (per month) means that an average Cuban paid 30% 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 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 is 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 dough… Must have something to do with Trump and Cuban politics or the fact that KHCO was caught with a joint.

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

 

 

How to book a Casa Particular in Cuba

Do Book a Casa Particular!

The best way to discover Cuba is book a Casa Particular. Sometimes this is confused with ‘staying at the home of real Cubans’ but you have to realize that most Casa owners are the elite Cubans because they have access to hard currency. The ‘real’ Cubans would be the people that work in your Casa.

There are different ways to book a Casa particular:

Safe and sure

Go safe and surf the web.

Or just google: ‘Book a casa particular’ and you will find loads of booking sites. Don’t be surprised that the Casa you’ve booked is full and they take you to another one. That’s just Cuban business… They make a commission on that… Most Casa’s you will find on the internet, however, are professional B&Bs. The fun is gone as soon as they start calling their guests ‘clients’. It’s still closer to the real Cuba than any hotel but mostly it’s strictly business.

Here’s a site where you can book your casa.

Here you can book a hostel. 

Internet sites

The websites that group loads of casas are called agencies in Cuba… They collect a commission (which is added to the price you pay). It’s easy to spot the ‘internet Agencies’… The base price seems to be 30CUC/night. This means they pocket 5/10 CUC… If the base price is around 35 you’re dealing with a ‘Casa shark’. If on top of that there is a booking fee… (this price range is for houses that are not in Old Town Havana or Vedado. There prices are a bit higher)

More about the commission system in our book.

Budget

A new class of Casas emerged last year. On a Casa Particuar permit, they rent out beds and not rooms. Perfect for travelers on a budget and mostley found in Havana. You can book one here.

AirBnB

When AirBnB came to Cuba in 2015 You could find Cuban houses on AirBnB but you couldn’t book them. It was just a PR stunt. AirBnB couldn’t transfer funds to Cuba so they couldn’t pay the Cuban owners… Some of the house owners weren’t even aware that they were on AirBnB!

Update March 2016. Obama brought a present… from now on everybody can book via Airbnb and Airbnb is allowed to pay the homeowners their fees. This evokes an ethical/practical question. We explain in our book how the commission system works. Jineteros pocket 5 CUC per night and thus raise the price of your house. That’s too bad but the money at least stays in (or comes to) Cuba and helps the local economy.

Now Airbnb is the super jinetero peddling housing. The problem is that the 5 CUC now becomes 15% and the money never gets to Cuba. It’s being skimmed by an American multinational. So the Cuban economy is less stimulated if you book through Airbnb… We are not very happy with this because we think Cuban Jineteros are nicer that American multinationals and we prefer that they make a few dollar. The choice is yours.

Bad for Cuba

Another update 2017. AirBnB is about 2 months behind with payments. Blablabla about the US embargo…Homeowners refuse bookings… It’s a mess… Forget about AirBnB… On top of that they drive prices down with their logaritms. Good news for you, very bad for the Cubans who already have to struggle to make ends meet and pay the hefty taxes. I met a guy who was very proud he rented a room for 7,85 per night… That is simply abusing the home owner who is forced to rent his room to pay taxes.

If you still want to book via AirBnB you have to fill in a form to declare you are abiding to US regulations. If you are not an US citizen you can fill in whatever you want, the form does not apply to you.

Cuba-Junky

You could download the Casa-app from Cuba-Junky… loads of Casas! Cuba-Junky does not charge a commission to the casa’s they promote. The downside is that you will have to comunicate yourself and that is mostly done in Spanish. (Google translate is your friend!)

Adventure

Less sure is just go with the flow and find a Casa wherever you are. This might cost you a few dollars in commission and you have no clue as to where you end up. It might be a villa or a dump… Every Cuban you meet on the street is willing to help you find a Casa Particular. Just wander the streets and you or a helpful Cuban will find you one… This always will get you a bed… Mange, sometimes, is optional!

Not a very good casa particular
another Casa particular

Authentic

You could also send me a mail at cubabookconga@gmail.com and if I’m not in Havana “my” house (as in the Casa particular I always stay) is available. You can not find this house over the internet, nor will you stroll by it,  it’s outside the tourist zones…

It is a luxury house (even with a hot water Balloon) and the people are my friends… (that means I consider them very nice!). This is my way of helping them out a bit… Don’t worry about the commission… They serve me a good meal once in a while, however! :-).

Have to be a bit of a bitch here… This offer is only valid for people that bought the book… I’m not a ‘for free’ travel agency. Sorry that I have to say this here.

Privacy

Or, if you want some more privacy (wink wink) you could rent a private house or apartment.  Please read Love & sex in Cuba before you make plans :-). This site specializes in independent casas particulares without a host checking on you. You are free to do whatever you want.

Do book a Casa Particular!

Anyways, the way to go is booking a casa particular! You can’t get closer to the real Cuba.

Read more about Casas Particular in our book. We’ll show you the tricks and explain the best method to deal with this particular system.

After you found a Casa, you have to rent a car or find yourself another form of transportation. We would recommend the last option… Renting a car can be a hassle and we have a better solution!