The ultimate guide to handle jineteros in Cuba,
by Manuela Hollós,
Cuba Custom Tours Contributor…
My favorite thing about Cuba is Cuban people. They are warm, friendly and able to deal with all kinds of trouble with a smile on their faces. They are generous to each other and have a strong sense of community.
This is all true. But this doesn’t mean that you can arrive in Cuba and act like you are in wonderland. You’re not. Like in any other place in the world, there are ““bad”’ people in Cuba too. The difference is that, being one of the countries with the lowest crime rates in the world, they will, at most, pickpocket you. And many will probably (try to) trick you.
So I’ve made this practical guide with some tips to handle jineteros, the Spanish word for this kind of tourist scammers. At first, I was going to use the word “avoid” in the title. Then, I changed my mind and decided on “handle” instead. Why? Because 1) there are so many jineteros all around that it’s pretty much impossible to actually avoid them. And 2) because I don’t want people to avoid them as if they were some kind of pest. I have had many local insights by talking to them, since they love to chat.
It’s important to mention the difference between jineteros and jineteras. Besides the obvious gender difference, jineteras is commonly used to designate prostitutes. So if you’re a man, you will probably be offered these services directly, especially at night.
For obvious reasons, I don’t feel comfortable to give you advice on this matter! So just take the regular caution as you would in any other place.
Given that, let’s say they will usually approach you in a friendly manner (“where are you from?” is a classic), engage in a conversation and then do one of the following:
– Offer to take you to a restaurant (paladar) or a private house (casa particular).
Level of harm: low. I once accepted it and I was taken to a restaurant; they got a commission for that. No big deal, right? It’s the same procedure that big companies, such as Booking.com, work. They can get this commission for pretty much every place in the city, so if you don’t like one, you can just ask him/her to take you somewhere else. But a good tip is to have an idea of price range, so you don’t get fooled by overpriced services.
– Ask you directly for money or things
Level of harm: low. Well, there are beggars all over the world. The difference is that in Cuba you can be sure they at least have a house, basic food, healthcare, etc. You won’t see kids on the streets and that’s one of the best things about this country. I’m not saying you shouldn’t help them. Obviously, if you feel like doing so, go ahead, especially if they ask you for drugstore items, rare (and expensive) in Cuba. Just try not to get too emotional, as there is always a sick relative and all kinds of sad stories. It’s really difficult to know what is true or not, so, when in doubt, just follow your heart!
– Offer to exchange money and sell cigars
Level of harm: medium. Exchanging money at the streets is a definitive NO in any place. I hope you already know that. Chances are that you will get counterfeit money, or other scams. Always do it in a Cadeca, the official exchange office. Still about money, be careful with the two currencies (CUC and CUP), since one is worth 25x more than the other. Check your change whenever you buy something, but keep calm because after a few days it will be just natural.
About cigars, many people will offer to sell them at a better price. The standard story is that workers from a cigar factory get one box per month and then do a monthly fair to sell them and get an extra income. Pretty reliable, right? Wow, how lucky you are to be there on the right day and time! But it turns out that every day is the day of the monthly fair. Yes, the cigars are fake. And, no, if you’re not an expert you cannot tell.
If they offer you other kinds of drugs, I strongly recommend that you decline. Cuba has a very strict drug policy and you can get in real trouble if you are ever caught.
– Distract you in order for someone else to take something from your pocket
Level of harm: high. Way less common, but still can happen. So the golden rules for smart tourists still (and always) apply: use money belts, don’t carry your original passport and don’t take too much money with you.
Take care and you will be fine! Cuba is one of the safest countries in the world, and I’m sure you will have plenty of fun.