Havana, Cuba and how to get scammed while not caring

Last December my girlfriend and I were looking to have a quick and easy getaway to somewhere warm and easy to manage for a long weekend.  Cuba popped up because it recently airlines had just announced commercial flights.  It was a done deal.

Now, I have to mention because when I was looking at this trip I was worried about the visa.  Don’t do that.  There is no form you need in advance.  When you get to the airport tell the agent the reason for your trip among the given reasons and then they will give you your visa right there and from then it is basically like any other flight, easy peasy.

After 1 brief layover in Florida we are in Havana.  Now there are a lot of nice, cheap AirBnB option in Cuba and I can almost promise you all of them are probably pretty solid.  That being said, the water occasionally didn’t work in ours but who needs it anyway, it was right next to a bar.

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The bar/old fort right by our AirBnB

The ambiance of Havana is very upbeat and friendly.  There is clearly poverty as well but at the same time everyone seems optimistic and willing to help.  This may tie into the premise of the article as well in that they are trying to get something from you, but it doesn’t feel like a scam.  Here’s an example.  On our first night out we were walking around the neighborhood of the bar we just left and a younger guy walks up and asks if we want to salsa.  I assume this is some kind of ruse to get us into a crappy club but I say yes because well, I do want to salsa.  He walks us no more than 20 yards to this outdoor bar/garden with a live band and asks for me to pay his cover to get in.  I assume this is part of the scam but it was only a few dollars so I say why not.

After we get in this guy is sitting with us, talking to us, seeming genuinely interested in the conversation.  I’m having a good time and I offer to buy him a beer, he accepts.  After a few more minutes he offers to show us some salsa moves.  I’m basically a natural, if you were wondering.  He says he is going to say hi to some friends and come back and we figure we will never see him again.  Yet at this point we basically got to talk to a local, learn some moves, and find a place we definitely would not have found for the price of a few dollars.  It isn’t much of a scam if I feel I should at least buy him another drink for the effort.  Then, to our surprise, he even comes back.  He takes us closer to the dance floor again and shows us some more steps, talks with us, and basically treats us way better than I expect anyone to treat me after only knowing me a couple hours.

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across from the salsa club

Now I’m not trying to sound condescending but I’ve had enough travel experiences where I’m wary of what people offer me out of the blue.  However at this point this guy seemed to genuinely want to help us salsa for only buying his way into the club.  He could have hung with us all night, in fact he may have wanted to but we actually were ready to head out and said our goodbyes.  He wanted to meet up the next night and do it again.  This is experience basically sums up my trip to Havana.

This brings me to my next experience.  Our AirBnB host connected us with his friend who offered to drive us around whenever we needed all day for less than a Lyft ride to my local liquor store.  We used him almost everyday of our trip and I would like to think we actually ended up friends.

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He also drives a sweet lime green Lada

When we told him we wanted to go to the beach but it seemed far he took us to his favorite beach outside of Havana called Santa Maria.

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He then stuck around on the beach with us most of the day.  He took us to some of his favorite local restaurants and even took us to a local liquor store over the course of 3 days.  Later on he drove us up to the fort near Havana to watch the firing ceremony, which we would not have even thought about if it wasn’t for this guy and it was very cool.

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Market area in the fort

With the amount of effort he was essentially a private guide.  We ended up buying him meals and tipping well because it just didn’t seem like a fair trade off.

I also really want to buy a Lada now…

On another day we were walking around Old Town and stopped into a bar for a drink.  While we were there this guy started talking to us for about 30 minutes.

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Just like the others he was super engaging, friendly, and also fairly drunk.  He then walked us all around Old Town basically giving us a private tour for close to an hour.

The rub on this whole thing?  He wanted us to come eat at his friend’s restaurant.  I mean I was hungry before the tour he could have just asked us that at the start.  Anyway, we went, bought him a mojito, and felt incredibly satisfied.

We also got a bonus experience when we got to witness a capsized boat get knocked around.  Don’t worry, everyone was rescued.

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With our driver’s help we also hit Cuban Chinatown where Meghan fed some cats, the Castro Museum, Art Museum, Old Town shopping, a few Anthony Bourdain recommended spots, and ended with drinking on the wall along the waterline like salsa champions we were born to be.

I give Havana 10 out of 10 mojitos and I plan to go back this year.  Maybe I’ll even run into my salsa friend.

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