Written by Kieran Proctor

Never Change Money On The Street In Cuba!

So, in order to thoroughly research this story, I actually engaged the services of two street scammers. And, I’ll preface ...

So, in order to thoroughly research this story, I actually engaged the services of two street scammers. And, I’ll preface this article by stating that I knew, in advance, what they would do. As I had been watching them operate for months.

Now, our first scammer worked on the corner in front of the Capri hotel (21 y N) until he was arrested in early 2022. The second scammer is his colleague and currently works the corner of 21 y N.

The first scammer still operates the same business he had on 21 y N before his arrest. Yet, he now works two blocks down, on the corner of 21 y L. He is performing money exchange scams, pimping women and selling cocaine and marijuana.

The first scammer’s favorite places to pick off tourists, are in front of the Cochina de Esteban and the Hotel Havana Libre. Or cruising past his old spot, outside Hotel Capri (21 y N).

Yet, the fact that he’s out of jail and doing the same thing he was arrested for, is a testament to just how brazen (and stupid) these criminals are. Here is a picture of his arrest in January 2022. 

Money exchange scams in Vedado Cuba
A Jinetero being arrested in Varadero, Havana Cuba. He was caught perpetrating tourist scams.

Picking up the first scammer, as he walked through the underpass of the Tryp Hotel Habana Libre, looking for unsuspecting tourists, he took me through the series of ‘rat holes’, he uses in Vedado.

I got an in-depth look, at where he stashed the money he steals from tourists and the scam he’s running. Though he didn’t at the time know, I was making notes of all his locations.

How The First Scammer Operates In Vedado Cuba

The shops with which the first scammer deals are as follows:

Money is changed (illegally) at Mercado Agropecuario in Vedado, on the corner of 21 y J. The scammer then stashes the exchanged cash, at the premises on 21, directly behind Mercado Agropecuario. Before leading tourists to Villa Hostal Giselle (Villa Hostal Giselle).

He tells the tourists to wait on the front steps of Villa Hostal Giselle, for his partner to bring the cash. Only for nobody to ever turn up with the Cuban cash. And by which time the scammer is nowhere to be found.

The Second Money Exchange Scam In Vedado

The second scammer, who is the current owner of the turf on 21 y N, in front of the Capri Hotel, has a similar yet less subtle operation. The second scammer is a partner in crime and protege of the first. And indeed these two scammers do work together, covering different ends of the same street (21 between O and I).

The second scammer also sells marijuana and cocaine, pimps out women and offers currency exchange services. Yet, he will take you to a functional restaurant on San Lazaro in Vedado, called Locos Por Cuba.

The restaurant changes its money at black market rates, to the Cuban Government’s much maligned USD. Which is illegal on two fronts.

The restaurant changes to USD on the black market to avoid paying their Cuban taxes. And the restaurant participates in our second culprits tourist scam. Splitting the money they’ve stolen from tourists staying in the Hotel Capri, Habana Libre and Hotel Nacionale, with the scammer.

Now, Locos Por Cuba would likely try to claim that it was an employee (or customer) changing money. And that they were doing it for themselves, inside the restaurants kitchen. They may even try to claim that they were unaware of the scam happening on their premises, despite it occurring in their own small kitchen.

But, having spent many months watching these guys operate, I know they have 2 types of money exchange scams.

Two Types Of Money Exchange Scams In Vedado

In one scenario, a scammer will quote a lower price than the black market and work as an intermediary, scalping a large chunk for themselves. Usually locating someone to change money with, via WhatsApp groups.

Yet, in the second version of the money exchange scam, the scammers operate in tandem with the establishment they take you too. They will outright rob you and split the profit with that establishment.

In both of these scams, I can confirm that the establishments were working in tandem with the scammers, to rip off tourists. As I’ve personally seen them on many occasions, slip money to the staff.

Now, the money that they are stealing from these tourists would otherwise be spent at the hotels these scammers target. The hotels targeted are the Capri, Habana Libre and the Hotel Nacionale. Which is to say, these two twits and business like Loco por Cuba and Mercado Agropecuario, are stealing from the Government and the Cuban people.

The money that these guys get from tourists, could otherwise be put through the hotel coffers and go toward funding government programs, like healthcare and education. It could be used to improve Cuba’s hospitals and schools.

What Is A Jinetero?

In Cuban slang there are jinetera (female) and jinetero (male). The female version came first. And the female version originated with a speech by Fidel Castro, where he famously claimed there were no prostitutes in Cuba.

Castro’s central premise in that speech, was that the good little communist ladies, weren’t sleeping with foreigners for money or material goods. They were merely riding the tourists for their own pleasure. Thus, the term ‘jinetera‘ appeared and in English, it literally means ‘jockey’.

The male equivalent is jinetero. And the male version differs significantly from the female. The female jinetera is a western style ‘gold digger‘. A woman who dates lots of men with money, to afford her lifestyle without working.

The connotations associated with the jinetero (male), are much wider than the jinetera. Jinetero’s ride the tourists all over town, trying to extract cash through scams, prostitution and the sale of illicit drugs.

The jinetero (male) is a prostitute, pimp, drug dealer and professional criminal. And indeed, our first street scammer has a lot of gay mannerisms. So many gay mannerisms, that even my gay Cuban friends thought the scammer was gay. And none of us would be surprised, if he was also selling his own ass to tourists (he’d likely enjoy dropping the soap in prison).

You can tell jinetero’s who approach you on the street to go away, but well, most of the time they simply won’t. If one of them bothers you, then do complain to your hotel or casa particular host, so they can be arrested.

Don’t feel sorry for these people. Because they often sell their own sisters, girlfriends and wives into prostitution as a side business. These ‘street jockeys’ deserve prison.

Never Do Business With A Jinetero Street Hustler

Think of it this way, would you conduct a currency exchange with a cocaine selling pimp, in your home country or anywhere else in the world? No, you wouldn’t. So, you shouldn’t conduct money exchanges with them in Cuba.

If some random person walks up to you on the street and offers to ‘change the money’, you shouldn’t even acknowledge them. Just keep walking. If they can’t drag you into one of their currency exchange scams, the very next thing they will offer, is prostitutes and drugs.

If you need to change money, I would urge you to ask your casa particular host. But don’t fall for money exchange scams, with a street hustler.

Where Can I Get More Information About Cuba?

I’ve made my Complete Guide To Traveling Cuba available on this website. And I recommend you read it, before traveling to Cuba. It will help you navigate Cuba and Cuban society.

My Cuba travel guide will save you a lot of time and money on your next trip to Cuba. Cuba is not the sort of destination in which you can arrive unprepared. Read the most complete Cuba Travel Guide.