How to book a Casa Particular in Cuba

Last update 02/2020

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 and you would not want to sleep in their houses if you want a toilet that flushes and a shower.

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.

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. Here’s a post about hostels for backpackers.

AirBnB & Booking.com

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.

Booking.com suspended it’s Cuban platform in December ’19. So I don’t have to rant about them anymore :-)… Or do we? You can’t book a Casa Particular via Booking but you can book a hotel. (Which you should not do… Price/quality is going to disappoint you…)

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 [email protected] 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.

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!

10 do’s and don’ts for Americans in Cuba

Americans in Cuba

Yes… I know this page is full of prejudice :-)… It’s fun to write with a bias for a change!

Until 3 or 4 years ago I was very impressed with the Americans I met in Cuba. They were civilized, spoke some Spanish (or even very good), adapted to local culture and customs and were well prepared to the specificities of Cuba. That slowly changed so I decided to write this post for all Americans that want to visit the ‘working man’s paradise’.

Apart for people that yell ‘Muerica!!!’ that should not go to Cuba or anywhere else in the world, here are 10 do’s and don’ts for Americans in Cuba:

1 Do learn some Spanish.

Very few Cubans speak English well enough to communicate even about the basic things. Without communication, Cuba is a lot less interesting. Fortunately, you know a lot more Spanish than you know… I’ll show you in the book how much! Don’t expect everybody to speak English, they don’t… So don’t expect them to and do not get angry if they can’t tell you where the nearest ATM is (It’s in Key West)…

2 Don’t over tip.

Americans are great at tipping but over tipping makes people feel inferior. Imagine you earn 10.000 dollars a month (just as an example) and somebody tips you 1800 dollar for 10 minutes of your time. Does not feel right does it… It immediately changes your relationship with your customer. You like the money he just gave you but do you like him? Is a normal relationship with this guy still possible? Stick to 5-10%, even if the bill is just 10 dollars.

3 Get your money straight

Do learn the difference between CUC (also called the dollar or Peso) and Moneda Nacional (also called the Peso) and use both currencies. A lot of interesting things are sold in Moneda Nacional and tourist crap is always sold in CUC. Money is a hassle in Cuba so learn the tricks. This will not only save you a lot of money but also opens the door to a whole new Cuba for you.

ATMs do exist… they don’t work for you… No restaurant accepts credit cards… Please do get your money straight! (The nearest ATM in Havana is in Key West…)

Peso Cuba
Moneda Nacional MN
3 CUC peso
this is a CUC Peso

4 Don’t be loud.

I’ve already seen some Americans venture into Cuba being way too loud… You’re a guest; blend in to enhance the Cuba experience. Wear long pants if you are a man over 30. Some Americans think that their conversation is so interesting the whole restaurant needs to hear it… It’s not… Blend in, please!

5 Do realize you are always wrong.

The Cuban reference frame just does not fit your’s… So your assessment of a situation is wrong… Nothing is what it seems to western eyes. See being wrong as a game or it might destroy your ego… Especially Americans are very misinformed about Cuba. Propaganda exists on both sides of Florida straights and you’ve been told a lot of lies.

6 Talking about lies. Don’t believe too much

Don’t believe what the Cubans tell you…This is an easy one. 50% of what Cubans tell tourists I can prove to be a lie… the other half I’m just not able to prove it! Cubans tell you what they believe will help them to get into your pockets. The truth is a very vague concept in Cuba.

7 Do pack everything you need.

Wallmart does not exist in Cuba and finding simple things like deodorant or sunscreen can take a day (or more). Most modern consumption items are just not available. Take some hot salsa because the food in Cuba tends to be a bit ‘flat’.

8 Don’t stay in an all-inclusive…

Go travel and discover the country. Anyway, if you are de all-inclusive resort kind of tourist, our book is of very limited use for you. Get out there… Subtract one or even two stars from your resort to get to western levels. So if you stay in a resort…: Don’t complain.

9 Do feel safe.

Cuba is a very safe country! Crime rates are incredibly low. As long as you don’t venture out into dark neighborhoods at 3 at night with a big bundle of money and an iPhone in your pocket you’ll be fine!

10 Don’t go looking for a MacDonnald’s, Starbuck’s or ATM

There is only one on the Island and that’s in Guantanamo Bay… Guessing you don’t want to eat there! ATMs do exist but will not work for you. Blame Potus who raised the fines handed out to banks doing business in Cuba. The nearest ATM from Havana for a US citizen is in Key West.

11 Lower your expectations about everything.

Do's and don'ts for Americans in Cuba
Ask for a receipt!

Or even better, put them on hold. Service is substandard by any standard. Food is regular at best. Airco’s make noise but no cool air. Cars break down. Waitresses are not smiling and coffee is cold. Etc Etc…

Do ask for a receipt… they want you to! Translations are enigmatic.

12 Do Bring Cash

Credit Cards a nowhere to be accepted and ATMs just laugh at you. Don’t blame the Cubans, it’s the embargo!

13 Don’t give racism a second thought.

14 Do prepare yourself.

Read some books (dump the Lonely Planet, they spent 15 days in Cuba and listened to what the Cubans told them (50% is dead wrong)) and realize that Cuba is a totally different cup of tea. A good start would be this site and our book… Please read it and ask your money back if you don’t like it! It will enhance your comprehension of a very weird country and improve your stay in ‘The working man’s Paradise’!

15 Don’t even access your PayPal or Bank account.

Just don’t. They will see you’re in Cuba and block your account for a few months at best. Just leave your Finances alone! So Do Not order our book while in Cuba plz. While we’re PayPal bashing: Please don’t put the word ‘CUBA’ in the comment section when ordering our book… Por Favor! Trump is bashing Cuba and causes a lot of problems. Make as less institutions as possible aware of you stay in Cuba. It can have dramatic effects! If you have to, use a VPN!

On the ‘get the book‘ page we’ll give you a tip that will save you about two hours in Cuba. Just circumvent procedures in a legal way!

These do’s and don’ts will not enable you to encounter situations like this

Bonus: Don’t avoid the jineteros but know how to handle them!

Cuban absurdities

Just a few short stories to show that Cuba does not fit our reference frame:

Rum on an AA terrace.

Driving around with a friend we spot a beautiful terrace and decide we want to have a rum there. That’s just something we do. We stop and sit down. 4 waitresses are chatting with two barmen but none of them comes out. That’s just something they do…

So I walk in and ask for two rum. There is no rum for sale in this place they tell me. Normally that would be the end of the story but not in Cuba!

I ask for two glasses with some ice. They give it to me, I think they must be aware that we intend to drink rum. I walk out with the glasses and my friend fetches a bottle of rum from the car and we pour ourselves a glass. Content!
10 seconds later the four waitresses storm out and explain to us that we can’t drink alcohol on their terrace because it is a youth club that does not serve alcohol and therefore alcohol is forbidden…

But if we want we can drink our rum on the terrace upstairs. We get up to and walk towards the stairs. But we get stopped, we can’t take our glasses upstairs because they belong to the bar downstairs. Even my guarantee that I will return the glasses does not change that.

So now we have a problem. The rum can go upstairs but the glasses cannot, and we can’t drink rum downstairs. My friend proposes to hide the bottle and puts a napkin around his glass. The waitresses are in awe about so much inventively! That is the solution! Now we can drink our rum on their terrace! We drink our rum, chatting with our four new friends.
We decide to have another one, this time upstairs. However, that terrace is closed, and the bar inside is cleaning up after a private party. We ask for two glasses and ice again and get two plastic cups… No ice available upstairs… We sit ourselves down on the ‘closed’ terrace and one of the downstairs waitresses walks by to sign off on her shift. We call her over and ask her to fetch a glass for herself and some ice for us. Instead of fetching a glass with ice, she insists on taking our cups downstairs and comes back within minutes with a glass for herself and our cups filled to the brim with ice. (We always ask for just ONE bloque de llelo!). Suddenly glasses are permitted…
The 3 of us drink our rum in contentment on a closed terrace two plastic cups and one glass!

Now picture this story in any western country. You walk in an AA bar, ask for two glasses, pour your own rum… End of story… Here is another one you might like… The Internet is a difficult story in Cuba… but I found Free WiFi!!!

If you think this is funny… you should read our book… It’s full of things that are just different in Cuba!

Empty Hotels

Things that will not happen to you…

Now if you think that mastering the game of CubaConga reduces the frustration let me tell you the following story:

In Nicaro, a little town between Holguin and Moa on the north coast, they have abandoned a nickel factory. 4000 people used to work there and closing the plant was a local drama. The economy is down and out.

When the factory was still operational the high brass slept in ‘Casa de Visita’ a lovely 50s hotel with eight rooms and a suite.

It’s been empty ever since they closed the factory. But the staff is still fully present (can’t use the word operational here). Together with some friends, I’m having dinner in the restaurant of Casa de Visita, and I love the place. Furniture from the 50s in pristine condition, a view over the bay that takes your breath away and the food is not all that bad.
Planning on coming back (my kid lives around the corner) I ask if I can book a room. ‘No way! You are a foreigner!’
I show them my ‘Carnet’ (I have a residency, which gives me the same rights as a Cuban) and that proofs to be magic (as it has proofed before). Off course, I can sleep there!
A few weeks later I sent my girlfriend to the Casa de Visita to book a room and to verify that indeed we can rent a room. ‘No way! He’s a foreigner!’ She explains that I have a residency and magic happens again… But she can’t make a reservation… Booking and paying go hand in hand.

So two weeks later I arrive with a simple plan in mind. We’re going to have dinner and sleep in the lovely ‘Casa de Visita’.
The plot thickens as a woman storms out to tell me that I cannot stay there and by the looks of the dark dining room there is no food either. The lady, somewhere in her 40’s told me that the kitchen is closed because of a short circuit and that foreigners are not allowed to rent a room. I show her my carnet but no magic this time… I cannot stay. And since the kitchen is closed, we can’t eat of course.
But she offers to call Miramar, a hotel nearby that offers ‘the same services’ as Casa de Visita. I think to myself that I hope they offer more service than no food and no bed… She returns from the public phone and assures me that we can eat at Miramar. About sleeping I will have to convince the reception desk myself.

So I change plans. I call a friend that we will call ‘Taxi’ from now on. I call my girlfriend and explain the change of plans. Taxi and girlfriend need some time to prepare so I prepare myself for a long wait while the sun slowly sets over the bay… I ask the manager for a drink but there is nothing to drink. So I ask for a glass (when in Cuba, always carry some rum). But she has no glass as the kitchen is closed… So I sit and wait.

Shift change. One lady of undefined age leaves and another appears. All Cuban hotels seem to be managed by slightly overweight 40 something ladies with cone-shaped legs in net stockings that are tired of years of doing nothing. This one is no exception. She’s surprised to find me in the lobby so I explain my story. ‘Show me your carnet’ she says and since that sounds more like an order than a question I comply. Her conclusion is that there is no problem. I can stay at de Casa de Visita. But there is no food since the kitchen is closed…

I change plans: I love the Casa de Visita and have seen their suite (which is nothing more than a bigger room, but it is nice and was very modern half a century ago. So we are going to eat in Miramar and sleep in Casa de Visita. I call Taxi and girlfriend to inform them of the change in plans. When I hang up my new friend arrives with a sad face. She called her boss and I have to leave… I cannot spend the night in Casa de Visita.

Taxi arrives and I call girlfriend that we are on our way to pick her up (she lives 3 miles away). She’s not ready so Taxi and I decide we go to Miramar to see if we can sleep there (girlfriend and I that means).

We arrive at Miramar what ‘see the sea’ means and it’s located at a magnificent location. About 20 above the sea on a cliff with a view that matches or even surpasses the view from Casa de Visita! That is, as long as you stay outside the hotel. The architect didn’t think it necessary to put windows on the seaside. This is a post-revolution hotel and views are not important to socialists. Life is stern.

We are welcomed by a 40something lady and I had to look carefully otherwise I would think this was the woman that sent me away the first time from the Casa de Visita. She was not but starts right away telling me that ‘yes you can eat’, pointing at a set table but ‘no you cannot stay here.’ I show my carnet and say that I’m a resident. Nope, that changes nothing…

I’m tired, hungry and frustrated by this food and bed hunt and lose my cool. Words like xenophobia, bureaucracy, fear and discrimination are mixed into my tirade. The last one attracts the attention of a big black guy in a corner, that has been listening in. He simply nods to the receptionist and everything changes. We are welcome to sleep!

So I ask Taxi to fetch my girlfriend while the receptionist and I plow through the administration. They arrive 15 minutes later and we are still filling out forms. She takes us to our room. It has a romantic Fluorescent tube, the bed is terrible and the tiles on the bathroom floor are slippery, very slippery because they are not floor tiles. There’s no water except for a bucket in the shower, no soap and of course no toilet paper. Only one worn towel and a hole in the sheets.

We have dinner in an otherwise empty hotel while the staff (3 undefined women and the cook) watches a soap in the lobby. Asking for another beer sparks a fight about who’s going to fetch it. Working ethic is different in Cuba.

We ask for a bucket of water to be heated in the kitchen and retire to our room…

The surprising end of this story is in our book ☺.

Don’t worry, this will not happen to you… Here are some things that will happen to you!

Sitting on a terrace, I ask for water.

‘Still or bubling?’ asks the waiter.

‘Still please.’

‘No hay’… (the definition of ‘No Hay’ is more subtle than we’re out of it. For explanation get our book plz.

Cuba is surrealistic. Here’s how to buy a fridge…

Gifts for Cubans

What are appreciated gifts for Cubans?

Update August ’18

Why gifts and for whom?

If you want to take some gifts for Cubans with you to thank them or just to make them happy, you should consider a few things:

  • Who do you want to make happy?

    • The owners of you casa particular is not a needy person. They have access to hard currency (via you) and can buy most of the stuff they need. The same goes for the barkeeper in your hotel and all other Cubans that come into direct contact with tourists. They are the rich people in Cuba.
    • The average Cuban does not have access to hard currency and has different needs.
  • What to give Cubans?

    • The first group mentioned above often sell the gifts you give them to the second. Thus giving a gift to the owner of your casa particular makes the divide between the haves and have-nots in Cuba bigger. They ‘need’ an iPhone, iPad, Nina Ricci perfume or a laptop. So if your goal is to make them happy, be prepared to bring big gifts to Cuba.
    • The second group, the ‘regular’ Cubans have entirely different needs. You make them happy with clothes (not the worn ones with holes and stains, Cubans have their pride too!), sewing machine needles, fishing gear and all kinds of things people need for daily survival.

Soap and shampoo… NO!

  • Some websites advocate bringing things like soap and shampoo. It is a shame to load up your luggage with those products as they are for sale at the local stores. So if you want to give a bar of soap to somebody, just buy one! (And soap is cheaper in Cuba.)
  • You should bring stuff that they can use, and that is not for sale in Cuba. Bring a bundle of pens and walk into a school to donate them. This makes for an excellent excursion, and the teachers will gladly show you the school. Bring medicine and donate it to a local clinic. This too will make for a great excursion where you can see behind the scenes of Cuba’s famous health care system.

Why give?

Now prepare for some introspection. What does it mean that you want to give stuff away? You might consider yourself a good Samaritan but it implies that you feel that the Cubans are poor and helpless. They are not! (Which does not mean that there are no poor and helpless Cubans, but you have the same poor and helpless people in your home town. Better to be poor in Cuba! )

Do you hand out soap to the homes in your country?

So far a few tips on gifts for Cubans. Before you go, however, give yourself a present. Buy our book (100% money back guarantee if you don’t learn a lot) and go to Cuba well prepared! You’ll at least save a few hours of your precious time!

Children

And please don’t give to begging children. They should be in school!!! We should not learn the young Cubans that tourists are the easy way to get stuff. There is a lot of talk about de Jineteros that are pestering people. We the tourists are to blame for their behavior! We taught them that we are the easy prey that provides everything and more…

Another absurd story? How to buy a fridge in Cuba

Or: Do you think Cuba has two currencies?

Enjoy Cuba!

14 things to do in Cuba

Here are 14 of the beaten track things to do in Cuba that make you come home with a different story than your friends:

1 Give people a lift

Your car rental company tells you not to, but this is very safe and fun. Don’t take two men or a man alone. Go for couples, students or women. Just make sure there is nothing in the back of the car you are not willing to lose.

2 Take your hitchhikers home

to do in Cuba
Take a hitchhiker home

They don’t live next to the road. Taking them to their homes will show you the real Cuba, and you will get the worst coffee in your life in return. But believe us, nothing compares to this coffee in human warmth. Enjoy the company of grateful friends and bring out tip # 8.

3 Go to a baseball game

Cubans go nuts about la pelota. Stadiums are packed, and the atmosphere is great. You will be probably the only foreigner in the whole stadium! Don’t take too much money (see the chapter about money, entrance will cost you one mn as will peanuts… bring your booze)… Make friends and enjoy (bring more booze)

4 Close the Lonely Planet to find things to do in Cuba.

Don’t throw it away, it might come in handy later but just don’t look at it. It is widely known among the seasoned Cuba travellers as one of the worst LPs… Ever… We wonder if the writers ever set foot on the island. They claim they did… 3 weeks!!!

The LP is responsible for herds of individual tourists piling on the same terrace to drink the same Mojito enjoying the same view… Just because it says so in the LP… I buy it every year, just to find out where NOT to go… All places mentioned are dumps within a few months. So take the LP if you are looking for 10 things not to do in Cuba…

Just close the damn thing and discover Cuba

5 Get off the beaten path.

Cuba of the beaten path
Of the beaten path

The beaten path in Cuba is easily recognised. It is full of tourists in ugly shorts and ditto sandals wearing stupid hats. I never understood the urge of people to dress badly on their holiday. If you leave the sandal street and take two streets to the right, you are in Cuba and not anymore in the Disneyficated tourist trap. A game to play in Old Havana… If you spot sandals… turn right or left… It will lead you to unexplored parts of town

6 Dress appropriately

You will never see a grown Cuban man in shorts. At least not the educated ones. If you dress appropriately, you will be better accepted when you’re off the path of #5. By not wearing your cargo pants you show respect for the Cuban culture, and thus they will accept you as a human being instead of treating you like an ATM. Know how to handle a jinetero.

7 Initiate contact

Once dressed normally and strolling off the beaten track, reach out to people. Anybody that initiates contact on the streets wants something from you… We devoted a whole chapter on all the tricks Cubans pull to separate you from your money. So start talking with people that don’t take the initiative… They make a much better company.

8 Rum (always carry a bottle in Cuba)

Always carry a (small) bottle of rum. Just get it out of your bag if you’re enjoying the company. Before you know it you have a party! And Cubans do know how to party!

9 Don’t be afraid

Cuba is safe, very safe. Nobody will harm you. The worst thing that can happen is a bit of intimidation but that never hurts. So feel safe because you are safe. If you feel safe you are open to new experiences. If a hustler whispers “Cohiba?” go with him. NOT to buy the cigars (they are fake and made from banana leaves or at least inferior) but for the adventure to be taken around town to find the cigars he promised… You will end up in a little room on the third floor of a run-down building, and that is the purpose. And you are safe so don’t worry.

10 Spot the ‘bad’ Cubans

It is easy. A Cuban you better not deal with looks like a Cuban you don’t want to deal with.  A lot of gold, new sneakers, a watch (working), tattoos, sunglasses and a cell phone should tip you off. How do you think he got all that? He’s ripping off dumb tourists… It’s your turn if you want! So just ignore him… No… really! Just spot them, keep them out of your life.

We always try to deliver more than expected… so instead of only 10 things to do in Cuba we give you three more… 🙂

11 Donate pens to a school.

students in Cuba
students in Cuba

Just walk in with a bundle of pens and make the teachers happy… They are always looking for writing material! This will make a great excursion just like tip number 12.

 

 

12 Fake an illness

Hospital Cuba
a hospital in Cuba

Or get yourself a blister. Walk into any hospital (outside of Havana) and ask for a consult with a medic. Enjoy this excursion into the Cuban Healthcare system. You will be amazed.

13 Read CubaConga

Our eBook is designed as a game and teaches you a lot about Cuba that you can’t find in other places. It is underground and fun. Read it plz… We’ll give you at least 50 other things to do in Cuba! This is not a thing to do in Cuba… you should do this before you go! As a bonus tip, we’ll save you a few hours upon arrival HERE.

14 Moneda Nacional Day

Declare a Moneda Nacional Day. Only spent MN. CUC’s are off limit. Live and spent like a Cuban. (Buy water the day before!). Understand the double currency hoax.

15 Don’t do a drug deal

Lots of people want to sell you cigars on the street. The wise thing to do is ignore them (when did you last bought a fridge from somebody that whispered in the street: ‘wanna buy a fridge?’. Well say ‘YES’ and go to an illegal drugs (cigars) house. Don’t buy them! It’s about the experience… don’t worry… you are safe!

10 things about Cuba

Here are 10 things about Cuba your travel agent hides but you should know

1 Moneda Nacional.

Everybody, including you as a tourist, is allowed to pay for stuff in Pesos. CUC is not tourist money, it is the Cuban equivalent of hard currency. You can buy Moneda Nacional at the Cadeca where you go to change your own currency into CUC. Travel agents want you to spend your money in their controlled environment and thus often misinform their customers. Moneda Nacional can be used to buy stuff at the market, food on the streets or cafeterias and might reduce your cost for a coffee by 97%! So get some and enjoy the benefits.

2 Commission.

Everything in Cuba revolves around an informal commission system. In short: everybody that introduces a customer (you) at any place will reap a commission for that service. The friendly old man that invites you for a coffee (and then orders a Mojito) and lets you pay will receive a commission on that. The women that takes you to a restaurant… commission… the boy that shows you a casa particular… commission. The milk powder you buy for that sweet baby… Commission… By the way, milk is supplied for free until the age of 7…

Good service and advice are worth some money, but the commission system has incentives to refer you to the most expensive places, of which some have bad service and bad food/lodging/drinks etc.

The problem about this system is that not only you don’t get a very good price/quality ratio, the commission is added to your tab and you thus pay for the high prices you pay… Read up on Jineteros plz.

3 Personnel

The Cubans that work in hotels, restaurants and bars are among the richest in the country. Every hotel maid has a shop in town where she sells the soaps, shampoos and other stuff she gets from the guests. Tour operators tell you that it is customary to leave a one CUC tip per day on top of that. If you want to tip and thus help people, tip the ones not involved in the tourist industry. By the way, beggars are part of the tourism sector! (see number 6 of 10 things about Cuba your travel agent does not want you to know)

4 Wealth

Cubans don’t have a meager life and are not suppressed by the regime (the fact that we call it a regime has a negative connotation about it… we have a government don’t we?). The average Cuban has the same literacy and life expectancy as we do. A lot of basic life necessities are (almost) for free. Cubans don’t have it as bad as you are led to believe.

5 Crime

Cuba is one of the safest countries I have been (and I’ve traveled extensively)… Just watch your belongings, petty theft occurs, but relax… You are safe in Cuba. Overall Cubans are honest people but some of them need a bit of help to stay honest.

6 Beggars

Most Cubans are grateful if you give them something they otherwise cannot get. But beware, most Cubans you will meet as a novice tourist made a job out of being grateful! As said before, beggars work in the tourism sector and thus are rich… You will have a very hard time to find a beggar outside of the tourist areas!

The lovely old lady with her big cigar that let’s you take her picture for a CUC has, even to our western standards, an excellent income.

7 Salary

You are led to believe that a doctor earns 25 CUC a month and in fact that is true… But 90% of the Cuban economy is unofficial. This fact gives a total different perspective on work and salary. You and I go to work to earn money… and we think that is normal. In Cuba the perspective is the opposite. While at work you can’t make money so actually going to work is a waste of time… The average Cuban in Havana spends about 100-200 CUC a month and earns 15-20… So salary in Cuba has no effect on the standard of living! (Wrap your mind around that for a while, it will make you understand Cuba a lot better.)

8 Prices

You’ve been told that prices in Cuba are about the same as prices in Western countries. That is simply false. Basic goods (f.e. food, electricity, clothes (basic), bus fare) are a lot cheaper while luxury goods (f.e. mobile phones, air conditioning, laptops, cars) are a lot more expensive. It is very hard to compare the cost of living in Cuba to our own. Don’t try, just accept the difference and realise that our way of doing ‘economy’ is much more efficient, Cuba’s way is way more egalitarian.

9 All Cubans are friendly

NOT true. Just as in the ‘real’ world where the ‘real’ people live some people are friendly, others are not. Cuba is not a sanctuary for nice and friendly people! Most people that are nice to you by the way have a hidden agenda (see point 2 of 10 things about Cuba your travel agent does not want you to know)

10 Nothing is what it seems

Our reference frame just does not fit Cuba. Nothing is what it seems and your assessment of a situation is almost always wrong. Therefore we developed the game CubaConga. We help you getting a better insight into the real Cuban life. We are told it is funny and informative and you should read it! (we’ve been told).

Get it now and get more out of your Cuban experience! In your inbox within two minutes. It’s not just a collection of blog posts; we go one or two levels deeper in the book… On the ‘order the book page’ we have a tip for you that will save you a few hours…

Or you could read the ten most fun things you can do in Cuba

Enjoy Cuba!

Read up about renting a car before you even think about doing so!

Reviews CubaConga

Here are some reviews about CubaConga

 

Review CubaConga

We are beginning to reap the benefits of positive reviews.

HotelsCheap interviewed me. You can read it here.

CubaBookingRoom is also very happy with our book.

Cuba-Junky has put us on the front page! Yes, on the bottom of the front page, but still… the front page!

We are for sale at Amazon now. However, we would love you to check out the reviews there and buy it here… Amazon is a bit of a Jinetero 🙂

The reviews are considered genuine (and they are) by these guys

Forums and discussion panels.

People that know what they are talking about are very positive! On the other hand, on some Cuba forums, we are trashed and praised. People on forums tend to have strong opinions, even about things they don’t know anything about…

We just don’t get offended or happy with forum comments…

Here in Dutch for instance… Very mixed opinions

We are recommended by Trip Advisor and Lonely Planet (which is funny because we trash LP 🙂 ). Better, we thrash people that are individual, adventurous travellers that all have the same bucket list and eat the same dessert at the same restaurant because de L.P. says so…

 

 

Cuba Alternative Travel guide

Welcome to the alternative travel guide to Cuba.

If you want to know which church to visit in Havana or how to get from Havana to Camaguey by bus, we refer you to the Lonely Planet. This guide is an alternative travel guide that will show you the ropes of life as a tourist in Cuba on a deeper level.

CubaConga starts where regular travel guides end… Just like Cuba starts where logic ends.

The first time we went to Cuba, we didn’t have a clue how different this country is to other tropical destinations. As seasoned travelers, we understand cultural differences, and we are aware that different does not mean “not as good as at home.” But nothing can prepare you for Cuba. Over 60 years of tropical communism has etched itself into the Cuban mentality, and we wish we had read this book before our first trip.

Difficult to understand Cuba

It takes some time to understand Cuba and this alternative travel guide offers you a shortcut. Now, 14 years later, we start to understand the Cuban mentality, but it is only a start. To quote a good friend of ours, who lives on the island since the early 90’s: ‘If you think you understand Cuba, you don’t have a clue.’

And he is right; Cuba stays a mystery. But we do claim we understand what’s going on a lot better than off that enter the country for the first or second time. We wrote this travel guide because it annoyed us to see people being ripped of by the Cuban system, making their holidays expensive and frustrating.

Cuba Conga is an alternative travel guide.

We will show you how to handle the double money standard to save money and to make your Cuban experience much more authentic. We show you the pitfalls, scams, and annoyances that are easy to avoid once you know them. We even show you how to get to know the real Cubans and how to avoid the leeches.

CubaConga-voorkant

This Cuba alternative travel guide comes with a straightforward guarantee: You don’t like it for whatever reason, we give you a full refund. We can’t imagine you don’t like it…

Apart from the tips and tricks to get more out of your stay in Cuba, we will give you a lot of ‘nice to know’ information.

As you can see I’m not a native English speaker but don’t worry, our book has been professionally edited for your reading comfort.

Our alternative travel guide will greatly enhance your Cuban experience. Cuba is an exceptional country and about half of the visitors leave very disappointedly. Let us help you to become part of the other group, which falls in love with Cuba, its people, music, lifestyle and culture!

We’ll give you a time-saving tip HERE. Just to make up for the time you’ve spent on our blog.

Recommended reading:

How to book a Casa Particular

How to buy a fridge

Cuba Customs

cuba customsCuba customs

Passing Cuban customs

Your first introduction to Cuba is the long waiting line at customs.  A whole battery of austere looking custom officials checks every passenger thoroughly.  Until he or she is satisfied the gray door to Cuba remains locked.  You have to take your glasses off, put them back on and take them off again whilst your passport picture is being studied carefully.  Take your glasses off again and take a step back to have your picture taken and get ready for the interview.  This can be an entertaining process or it might get on your nerves.  This is your first indication about your future opinion about Cuba.

havana airport
Prepare to stand in line… or get our book

My advice: See the funny side of it all.

Click here for the Cuba Aduana official site in English (if it opens). Here your fun should start: You can bring one video camera and one photo camera, both with two rolls of film. And this is the new website! When did you last use a roll of film?

The customs officer might ask you: ’Hotel in Cuba?’ Since there was an unwritten law that states that you should stay in a state run hotel for at least 1 to 3 nights (opinions on unwritten laws might vary).  The following are all correct answers: Dauville, Parque Central, Presidentes, Melia Cohiba or Inglaterra, since they are all hotels in Cuba and that was the question wasn’t it? This law was abolished in 2011 but not all customs clercks got that info.

Customs in Cuba don’t forget anything!

Returning visitors are asked how often they were in Cuba before.  Please give the correct answer, they have your whole file on the screen and being one trip off might not speed up the process… In Cuba customs are very meticulous…

After the customs officer is satisfied with your answers, checks your passport once again and is convinced that your health insurance is valid the door gets unlocked with a sharp ‘click’.  You are free to enter the country… Almost that is.

100 % luggage scans

Your hand luggage is scanned, all of it…

Your suitcases are getting the same treatment behind the scenes.  You are not allowed to import Toasters, waffle irons and all other electricity intensive appliances due to Cuba’s frail energy net.  The same restrictions apply to GPS (don’t worry your Smartphone is no problem), more than one laptop or satellite equipment.  If you were planning to take any kind of drugs with you… don’t.  The same goes for porn (and yes, a Playboy is considered porn. Cubans don’t care for the interviews, they don’t read English).

Tip for frequent visitors

If there is anything suspicious in your luggage, customs makes a mark on your label. Save the ‘clean’ label from your last trip, go to the toilet (no cameras there) and change the labels. As you know the customs officers look at the labels and now you have a clean bill of health on your suitcase.

If I were you I would leave your weapons and bulletproof vest at home too.  The general rule here is that importing strange goods, can lead to strange questions by customs, which in turn generate strange effects which might not be pleasant and in extreme cases even could lead to an alternative holiday accommodations called ‘jail’. And believe us, you will not like the buffet there. So be nice to the Cuba customs!

Prescription medecine is no problem. As a rule of thumb: Normal tourist luggage is never a problem.

Fun Fact

The skirts of the female custom officers are short… very short… They are not designed that way, they have them shortned by a tailor!

No Trade passes Cuban Customs

Everything that could be considered as ‘trading goods’ is forbidden and you risk confiscation or a hefty fine.  Customs are very flexible with tourists, but do not go looking for the limits of this flexibility.  I never take more than 5 mobile phones, carefully distributed over my pocket, hand luggage and suitcases.  As soon as you’ve got more than 40 pieces of something it is considered commercial. And you do not want to be a considered a merchant! Even if you don’t plan to sell anything but just want to give stuff away to poor Cubans… In that case read this: Think before you gift.

Like this information? Check out our book! There is lots more! On the ‘get the eBook page‘ we’ll give you a tip that will save you about 2 hours at the airport after you’ve passed customs.

We even give you the mailadress (and the how to) of Havana VIP reception. They speed you through customs in no time!

Recomended reading:

Getting more Cuba out of your money

Don’t avoid the Jineteros

Rent a bike to discover Cuba

Last update July 2019

Black market

The best market in Cuba is black

About 90% of the Cuban economy is unofficial. Official channels have a very limited offer on their shelves, the black market provides almost everything. This leads to an interesting error of judgment most tourists make. We think when we hear that the average salary is about 20 $ and something costs 10 $ that the average Cuban will have to work 15 days to buy it. Sounds logical, doesn’t it?

Well, thanks to the black market (la bolsa negra), things do not add up that way.

How to survive in Cuba

Our logic dictates that we go to work to earn money. That’s not the case in Cuba.

To live, Cubans in Havana need about 150-200 $ a month (outside Havana half that amount). If your salary is 15 and you need 200… you have to make some money on the side… The money you make “on the side” is your main income.

Black eggs
Black eggs

Every Cuban is forced to be active on the black market somehow. And they all are. This renders the “official salary” a useless way of measuring prices and spendable income. Real incomes are higher than you are told, and real prices are lower than you think.

Thanks to the black market in Cuba, people can survive, make money, buy goods and since this is not in the official statistics, we make a very wrong estimation of the real situation.

Not poor

Too manny people believe that the Cubans are poor and helpless… They are not! Rich Cubans exist. Poor Cubans too. Another myth is that all Cubans live of foreigners. Not true either, Cuban has it’s hidden economy and market.

Find the black market

For a tourist, this black market is sometimes hard to find. Yes, taking an illegal taxi is easy, but finding an iPad or a fish tank will be very hard for you… Cubans are always on the lookout for contacts that can supply them stuff or that can become customers for the stuff they happen to sell. Their networks are very efficient, and that makes for a very effective black market. To complicate things, not everything on the ‘informal’ market is black :-).

Read more about the stunning paradoxes that rule Cuba in our book… On this page we’ll give you a tip that will save you a few hours in Cuba.

Last updated July 2018

Recommended Reading:

Everybody operating la bolsa negra is a jinetero

Better not rent a Car