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Cuba On A Budget: The Ultimate Guide On How To Visit The “Revolucion” Island.

Clelia Mattana AMERICAS, BLOG, CUBA, LATIN AMERICA, USEFUL GUIDES 61 Comments

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HOW TO AVOID SCAMS, SEXUAL TOURISM AND MOVE AROUND CUBA:

Bargaining your way through the country: jineteros and the fair prices of transportation.



This is your once in a lifetime chance to master your bargaining skills – should you succeed in winning the bargaining game, an award will be provided at the check in desk of your returning flight.

Ok, back to being serious… Cubans are smart. Really smart. Poverty has taught them how to survive, and they will take advantage of you when they can.

Without ever threatening the unaware traveller, they will insist, charme, and do anything to have things their way. Travelers lose their humanity here, and to most Cubans anybody who is not from the island is literally a walking ATM. I found this humiliating.

 

SEXUAL TOURISM IN CUBA:

 

Others may have a more pragmatic approach and simply accept it as a status of things. For as sad as it is, men and women alike do go to Cuba in search of sexual tourism. Be prepared to see good looking young men accompanying middle aged foreign women who will be living a second youth; or beautiful teenager girls (little more than children) sitting right next to men old enough to be their grandfathers.

Or even adult women who, lacking good looks (think body and facial hair and big features), make it well up with their charme, laughter and good manners and will offer their company to foreign men for the fees that will help them pay the bills for the rest of the year. They all want a better life.

 

not-for-sale-photo the richest.com

Source: www.therichest.com

 

SCAMS AND JINETEROS IN CUBA:

You will be called, invited, asked if you want company or sexual favors, begged for clothes, soap and each one will have a heartbreaking story to make you want to give all you have.

Some of them are genuine, but not all of them. People will invite you for a drink, until you will eventually be presented with the bill – for both yourself and your host. Beware of this, it is a common practice. It is up to you to decide if you want to pay or not, but you should go in prepared.

The unaware tourist will fall for scams so easily that it may be worth spending a few words preparing you so that you’re not ripped off on a regular basis.

Keep in mind that the Spanish spoken in Cuba will test the understanding abilities of even the most fluent of speakers: Cubans speak fast, mumble a lot, and their body language and slang is completely different to what you may have learned in other Latin American countries. People will generally make sure you understand what they say, but at times they may take advantage of the fact that you can hardly get a word.

The first word one has to learn in Cuba is jinetero. Although the literal translation  is “sex worker”, the word implies much more than just sexual favors. A jinetero is usually an intermediary – he is the person that normally offers you a taxi ride and negotiates the price with you (and tries to rip you off).

He will suggests you to go to a certain casa particular or paladar or you’ll meet him outside the casa particular you have booked, telling you that the owner died and will want to take you to a different one.

 

ADVICE ON TRANSPORTS IN CUBA:

 

Whereas with casas and paladares the prices are more or less settled and there is little to bargain (although you may be annoyed by a jinetero who pushes you to opt for a specific place, because he will get a percentage for bringing in customers), it is when it comes to transportation that they become tricky.

They will shoot the prices to skyrockets levels, and tell you there are no buses leaving on that day, or that all the seats are taken. Anything to make you hop on that car. Be prepared to negotiate, and don’t be ashamed to become a ruthless bargainer.

Do your homework beforehand: always ask for fair taxi prices at your casa particular for example. Knowing the right price will give you more leverage when negotiating the fares. Be prepared to walk or take the bus if necessary.

cuba-vintage-car-havana-

Typical Vintage car in Cuba

To give you an example based on my experience:

I went to see the ceremony of the Canonazo at La Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña. The taxi fare back to my casa didn’t cost more than 3 CUC. As the ceremony ended I was literally surrounded by taxi drivers and jineteros. I told them what my destination would be and they gave me very high prices.

I tried to bring the price down. As nobody seemed to agree, I told them that I would just walk, it was a pleasant night after all. Then and there, someone decided that he would take me for 3 CUC.



Same thing with long distance taxis. I was in Viñales, and had to go to Las Terrazas (by the way, don’t go: you really don’t miss much). A bus ride would cost me 8 CUC. Two of us were traveling, so we figured that if a taxi would take us there for 20 CUC as opposed to the 16 we would have to pay for the bus, that would be a fair price. We negotiated down from the initial suggested price of 50 CUC.

Be prepared to share a taxi – traveling with little luggage  comes in handy in this case. Some places are hard to reach via public transport and you may want to spend a few extra moments at the bus station to check if other travelers are willing to share a taxi with you.

black and white carriage in cuba

Maybe the horse is a safer bet? 🙂

It will be faster, and the price won’t change much. Bus rides are OK, if you can put up with the bus stopping whenever the driver has to pick up or drop off something (ie his groceries for the day!), or with the super-low air conditioning that makes you freeze even when it is really hot outside.

Means of transportation vary – from the regular old Russian ladas, to new toyotas, to the amazing vintage cars (some are very well kept), to rotten cars made up of pieces of various different ones. Not to mention the bici taxis, the coco taxis, the horse carriages and the camionetas – not for the faint hearted – that you will see in each city.

 

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Comments 61

  1. Was in Cuba a week ago and had the most incredible time. In Viñales, I really recommend the “Casa Dovales” amazing people, great hospitality, the rooms were perfect, and the food I ate in the house was very good as well. Definitely is a must go to if you go to Viñales.

    1. Thanks for your suggestion Marc! It’s always nice to have people recommending places they have visited themselves in Cuba!

    2. Hello! Thank you for your suggestion! Do you have e-mail address of Casa Dovales in Vinales, please? I would like to go there in 10 days. I am leaving to Cuba! 🙂 Thanks!

  2. Wow amazing post! I’ve been visiting Cuba on February and fell immediately in love. Also currently blogging about it. My first time solo travel ever and I’d do it again!!

    1. Thanks Asli! Glad you like it and you couldn’t have chosen a better place to travel solo, what an experience !

  3. Such a great guide! I went to Cuba in 2014 and am glad I did. It was one of the most amazing places I’ve ever been to (my photos don’t do it justice).

  4. Hey Hey,

    we really liked your report on Cuba. It is an amazing country that is totally unique in the world. Everybody seems to be afraid of the change that the open politics will bring to Cuba. But we believe that the Cubans and their country will stay as they are – authentic and outgoing 🙂
    We have also been to Cuba for a couple of weeks and mostly stayed at casa particulars. Only there, you will get the inside information and get to know this country 🙂
    Maybe you would also like to read about our experiences:
    https://weareleavingtraces.com/2016/04/25/havanna/

    See you!

    1. Thanks for stopping by! Glad the article was useful for you and that you had an authentic stay in CUba 🙂

  5. Hi Clelia, completely agree with your guest poster’s recommendation to stay in casas particulares, for exactly the reasons stated – cheaper, better, more authentic, friendlier! I also noticed that your guest poster says “What can be tricky about casas particulares is the booking system. Cubans mostly work via phone. They hardly use emails and internet to sort their business”. This is exactly why our small company exists – to simplify the booking process for independent travellers and to make managing the casa easier for the hosts. Please feel free to check us out and embed a link to us in your blog if you think our services might be useful for others

    Cheers!

    Admin Comment: Please note that adding links to the comments is not allowed as per our terms & conditions. Thank you for your understanding! Clelia

    1. Hi Clelia, not a bother, hadn’t realised that was part of your T&Cs. Would be good to provide your readers with a convenient means of actually booking casas though, so maybe worth linking in the main body of text?

      1. Hey Matthew, being this my full-time job, I usually have a paid service for the companies (or private) that want to promote their properties/business. If I had to add every link people ask me to, there wouldn’t be an article anymore, just a long list of links, plus (and this is even more important), I prefer to link to companies that I have either tried for myself and can personally recommend or that are somehow well known or someone else have tried them, hence I am sure I’m giving my readers some added value.

        I hope this clarifies the terms & conditions of my website.
        Kind Regards

        Clelia

  6. Amazing Cuba blog post! Going there in February! Can’t wait! Thanks for useful tips especially for sharing some casa particulares 🙂

    Kristina

  7. This is an awesome Blog. Wish I found it before I visited Cuba. In December of 2016 myself, my wife and 10-year-old daughter traveled to CUBA from Atlanta on Delta Airlines for 1 week. We stayed at a different hotel every night and traveled to a different location every day. I struggled gathering recent information when organizing our trip, like this blog, I wanted to help as many future CUBA travelers as possible by creating 15 short videos.

  8. Hi, greetings from Estonia!
    I wanted to ask about accomodation in Cienguegos: how did you get touch with Olga and Eugenio? I cant find they contacts anywhere… any email would be very helpful 🙂
    BR Andres

  9. Pingback: (Recipe) Natilla from Cuba – travelandlipsticks.com

  10. So if the internet connection is Cuba is not as good as people say what would you recommend? do you think my local verizon would be more reliable during roaming mode then the service that they offer there, I plan to attend and I want to constantly send pictures to my family and friends so is important forme.

    Great post by the way.

  11. Wow Claudia! Now that I’ve booked my tickets to Cuba next month I read your article. WOW, WOW, Super-WoW. You spent a lot of time on this and it has a ton of juicy, useful info. Particularly the contacts for the Casa Particulares.

    I’m so psyched about this trip! Thank you so much for writing this.

  12. Thanks For all the great information Claudia. Myself and my teenage daughter are travelling to Cuba from Ireland at beginning of May and as 2 women travelling you’ve reassured me and we cant wait to go. Cuba just looks fantastic we’re going to stay in Casas and travel around. You’ve included loads of helpful information. Many Thanks and happy travelling 🙂

  13. Great post Claudia with nice image. After read this post I experience that you have been very closely touch with the Cuba cultures and their peoples. However next year I have a trip planning for Mexico and no doubt those we included the Cuba in our trip map. Already booked a private vehicle for our trip from a transport agency as “Dtourscancun”. Hope we would have an unforgettable trip from there.

  14. Pingback: How To Plan A Vacation The Right Way | NTripping

  15. Nice, Claudia! Cuba is on my list of must-see. Couple of months ago we went to St. Petersburg with Travel all Russia to see Mother Russia and how people are living there. Eastern Europe, Cuba and few other countries should be seen by everyone, they’re very different to our mainstream attractions! You can feel the charm of the past, it really is something special. Glad you’re visiting countries as such!

  16. Pingback: Interview With Travel Blogger Claudia Tavani Of My Adventures Across The World

  17. Great post! Cuba seems like an amazing destination. All the history there, it seems very interesting. And seeing your pictures make me want to visit and know more about this place! 🙂

    Best,
    Julie.

  18. Gah! Clelia, I’m so jealous. I want to visit Cuba so bad. I was in Haiti recently and I was planning on going but there were such infrequent flights from Haiti (only Mondays and Fridays at a certain time) and it just didn’t fit my budget or timeline. I need to go. It’s been a top pick of mine forever.

    1. I also want to go there one day, this massive guide is from another Italian girl who’s an expert of South America. I saw your pictures of Haiti…not bad at all! We are definitely lucky people!

  19. Cubans proudly wear hot rollers to curl their hair while going to work in the morning and prepare amazing meals by using simple ingredients.

  20. Hey guys, I have been planning a honeymoon to Cuba, and my wife and I purchased some attractions tickets, for the BonAppetour dinners (a dining experience with locals: here is the link: http://www.bonappetour.com)
    If you guys want it, please let me know, I can sell them to you for a cheaper price!

  21. Claudia-What a great comprehensive guide you’ve put together and certainly helpful for anyone traveling to Cuba-not just budget travel! I am going in February and was thinking of a visit to Las Terrazes as I write about sustainable living and thought it looked interesting. Could you expand on your comment. Feel free to email me directly if that makes more sense. Thanks so much.

    1. Well, there isn’t much ecology in there altogether. The place is strikingly at odds with the surrounding environment and clorex is used to wash everything – surely not environmentally friendly!

  22. Wow, Claudia, you certainly did put a lot of energy and love in this extremely complete guide to Cuba. I’m so inspired by it and I’ve been wanting to visit Cuba for so long, this might be the final push I needed!

    Thank you so much for such detailed info! You rock!

    1. It is a country of many contradictions. It makes you exhausted while you are there, but you can’t help falling in love with it. Anybody should go, and I want to make sure that backpackers have the best experience ever!!

  23. I knew about bringing cash but didn’t realize that there isn’t ANY wi-fi in Cuba! I’m going in early April so I guess this means I’ll have fewer things to recharge and will have to wait to do social media sharing until I get home! Thanks for the scoop.

    1. I’m a Cuban American who left the country 45 years ago, I’ve been back several times visiting family. It’s a unique country and the people do whatever they can to survive. Havana is nice but it’s not the real Cuba. It’s the capital city. To really experience the real Cuba you have to stay in the small towns. Like Remedios or Placetas. I’ve done a few write-ups about Cuba. Here’s one of them: http://carmensluxurytravel.com/2014/04/remedios-cuba/

    2. Thanks Kay, I will ask Claudia if this internet thing is 100% true everywhere… I guess that maybe you could work with social media in some places (like in the big cities?) but I need Claudia to answer as I have no idea!

      1. You do get to log onto social media. But why even waste your time to do that? Internet is SLOW. You won’t have wifi at all. You can only access internet at ETECSA places as a travellers, or some state owned hotels may have a computer but internet is slow. Just don’t waste your time: enjoy it now, post later!

    3. You can get on social media from ETECSA centres. But why on earth would you waste your time on it, when you can be sociable with the locals? In Cuba, do as the Cubans 😉

      1. Claudia you are right. Internet access is useless in Cuba. In October 2015, I spent 10 days, travelling to Habana, Vinales, Cienfuegos, Trinidad and Santa Clara. I talked to many Cubans, in particular the wonderful chicas, they gave me a lot of insight views. I had a fantastic time in Cuba without internet access.

        1. Hello Wolfgang,
          We are looking to do the same route in Jan 2016, how did you travel between towns? transport is my biggest concern at this time and don’t know if it’s ok to leave until we arrive and rely on taxis,
          Any advice is appreciated
          Cheers

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