Vinales to Cienfuegos, Cuba

Alrightly then!

So, yeah, I got scammed today.

But, you know, like a good adventure, you have to lead up to it!

So, let’s set the stage…

Leaving Vinales

Today was a travel day.   A long travel day.

I was to leave Vinales at 8am and finally arrive at my new home in Cienfuegos 13 hours later, at 9pm.

I had a collectivo coming to pick me up at 8am which wasn’t a problem since I was up at the crack of dawn at 6am.

I finished off yesterday’s blog while packing and watching a little John Wick.

I also woke up to some pretty heavy rain.   I will say, I’ve been dodging the rain pretty damn good as this was only the second time I’ve seen rain on this trip and the first time only last 10 minutes while I stood under an awning eating ice cream.

My driver came by just before 8:30 and I was on my way out of Vinales.

Collectivo to Havana

To get to Cienfuegos, you have to go through Havana and there are a couple of ways you can travel from city to city here.

One is by collectivo (a shared taxi) and the other is on the government run bus company, Viazul.

Again, I had to throw away a perfectly good bus ticket I had previously bought from here to Havana as the bus was scheduled to arrive in Havana just 15 minutes before my next bus to Cienfuegos was leaving.

Oh, that’s great, you think, right?   Just a 15 minute wait in between buses!

Well, sadly, if you don’t physically checkin at the bus station an hour before, they give away your seat to anyone who’s waiting to buy a last minute ticket.

So, I was left with the choice.

I could still take the bus but I’d risk having them give away my seat and, since the bus runs only once a day, it would mean an extra night in Havana and alot of plan changing for the next few days.


I could throw away the ticket and just take an earlier collectivo to Havana, spend a couple hours there for lunch, and then hop on my afternoon bus to Cienfuegos.

So, yeah, I threw away my $12 ticket and I was leaving Vinales in a collectivo.

The collectivo I arrived here in was just a taxi with 4 of us crammed in there so, of course, I was expecting the same thing.


This time it was a big, old, van/bus.

Honestly, I don’t even know what this car was.   It was like a larger version of a 1950s car with room for 14 people to sit.

Anyway, when I think of collectivo, this is what I think of so I happily walked on board and the 12 of us made our way to Havana.

Hola Havana

Three and a half hours later we had arrived in Havana.

As we approached the city, I was getting a little bit worried (a common theme with transportation the rest of today by the way) as the driver hadn’t asked any of us where he was dropping us off.

If he just dropped us all off in Old Havana, I’d have to take another $10 taxi to get to the bus station which is 12km away.

Thankfully he finally asked us where we were going and I could breath a sigh of relief.

A few minutes later I was dropped off right in front of the Viazul bus terminal.

It was noon.   I showed my bus ticket to a man at the front of the terminal and he directed me to the correct checkin counter.

Despite not being able to communicate with anyone, I was able to checkin and exchange my printed out ticket for an “official” written ticket with my name on it that he had waiting for me in a pile on the desk.

I was also able to checkin my main backpack right away which was awesome because I thought I’d be lugging that around for the next three hours.

After a fiasco at the 50 peso public toilet in the bus terminal where the female attendant was yelling at me in Spanish through the door because, as it turns out, the toilet didn’t flush, I headed out of the terminal.

I had three hours before my bus departed…

Revolution Square

Havana’s famous Revolution square is just a 10 minute walk from the terminal and, since I had been staying a fair distance away when I was in Havana last week, this would be my one and only chance to visit it.

It is literally a big square.

Like, I’m not even kidding.   It puts the squares and plazas you see in every European city to shame.

It was huge.   And, it was completely empty.

To the right was a huge statue and memorial to José Marti and to the left were the infamous buildings you see on every tourist photo from Cuba.

I’m talking about the buildings with a big, black, metallic outline of Che and of Castro on them.

Yeah, those ones!

With that done, there was just one more thing to do here during my pitstop in Havana.

Get some lunch!

Meeting Yohn

I had actually naively thought there’d be some places to eat around the terminal but I hadn’t passed by a single place so far.

I rounded the corner and stopped in the shade to pop on my phone to look up places nearby on the map.

No sooner than I had pulled out my phone, a friendly man named Yohn started talking to me.

Now, obviously I’ve had this experience many times during my stay here in Cuba.   This time, however, instead of just saying I was alright and thanks anyway, I decided to engage him in conversation.

For one, I was hungry and maybe he could point me to where the restaurants were, and secondly, I literally had 3 hours to kill so why not spend some of that time chatting with someone.

Upon hearing I was hungry, he offered to lead me to a Paladar (a small family run restaurant) to get something to eat.

Perfect!   Just what I was looking for!

Now, as we walked the 15 minutes to the place, I knew I’d have to tip him at the end for his help.   Kind of an unwritten rule in countries like this.   They help you, you help them.

No worries though cause it was actually a great help.

Yohn speaks broken English while I, well, I have very broken Spanish if you can even call it that.

Despite that, we actually had a great conversation and had time to learn about each other.

He is a medical student currently in his 4th year of a 10 year program.   Naturally, he’s never traveled so he had alot of questions about Canada and other places I’ve been.

Things like what the temperature was, who our “president” was, and if people in Canada liked salsa music.

At 12:30 we had arrived at the Paladar.

Now, if I was just on my own, I would have never in a million years known to stop here for lunch.

From the outside, all you see is a little shop selling the usual sundries – soap, rum, candy, you know, the Cuban staples.

Behind the shop though was an area to eat.   It was almost like a dining room table at someone’s house.

This was perfect!   An authentic meal at someone’s home with my new friend!

What could go wrong?


Okay, now if you just scrolled all the way down here just to read about me getting scammed, shame on you!

I’m kidding.   I know my blogs are long and, sometimes, you just wanna get to the good part.

You should, however, pop up one section to read about how I came to be here.

Anyway, I was sitting here at the dining room table of someone’s home.

Yohn said they had chicken, pork, and fish available.

I opted for the pork with rice and Yohn asked if it was alright if he ate too.

I knew this implied I was also buying him lunch but, honestly, I was totally cool with treating this man with a meal.

Our conversation had been great and he had led me to this unique experience so I happily said “yes, of course, of course!”

It took awhile for our food to come out but I had so much free time before my bus, I didn’t even care that it took over 45 minutes to get my lunch.

Besides our conversation was still flowing and I was taking it all in.

What a great experience.   What a great adventure I kept telling myself as I sat there.

The lunch itself was great.   A plate of banana chips in the middle to start with and a nice, big, juicy pork chop with rice and veggies to eat.

Then, it happened.

Honestly, I only have myself to blame.

My big mistake?

I never asked what the prices were beforehand.   Obviously, I’m used to seeing a menu with prices before I order but, this time, I didn’t.

The funny thing is, I literally had heard about someone getting scammed this way less than a week ago and I still stupidly fell for it.

Now, after having quite a few meals here in Cuba, you start to learn what the average price for a meal should be.

Basically, drinks are in the 300-600 peso range ($1-3) and meals are in the 1400-2400 peso range ($6-10).

Also, these prices were for nicer sit down restaurants, so you’d expect a meal out of someone’s house to be less.

All told, quick math in my head for two meals and two drinks each should be about 5000 pesos which is about $20.

After the plates had been cleared, I waited for the owner to give me a bill.

My face literally turned white when instead of an itemized bill, he showed me a calculator with the number 15,175 on it.

Oh, shit!

I fell for the scam.

Was Yohn in on it too?   Most likely.   I’m guessing along with his free meal, he gets a cut as well.

I knew I had been scammed and they knew that I knew I had been scammed.

And now, I had to just fork over the money.

I literally emptied out my wallet of my US dollars and pesos as the rest of my money was tucked away in an envelope in the bag I had already checked in at the bus station.

Such a shame because, up until that moment, I was having a great time.   I’m all about unique adventures and experiences, so I was on cloud nine.

Soon after, we left the restaurant and Yohn and I parted ways.

I was off to the bus terminal and he, most likely, was headed back to the Paladar to take his cut.


As I walked back alone to the bus terminal, I thought about the whole situation.

I was annoyed that, despite being very vigilant in avoiding being scammed, I fell for one of the oldest ones in the book.

I was also annoyed that this amazing adventure and experience had been taken away from me and soured by the scam at the end.

And then, I thought more about it.

In the end, the difference between what I thought I’d pay (5000) and what I paid (15000) was only $40us or $60 in Canadian money.

60 bucks.

Would I survive without 60 bucks?   Of course.   I’ll be just fine.

Does that 60 bucks help out these Cubans who only earn the equivalent of $20us a month?

Most definately!

Honestly, I want to help Cubans.   I want to tip them well, I want to be able to help them where I can.

Does it suck that they got this 60 bucks through scamming?

Of course it stings but at the end of the day, it was still a great experience and, well, I now have another amusing travel story to tell as I’m telling it to you now.

So, yeah, I got scammed but at the end of the day, I’m okay with it.

You just have to laugh, realize you fucked up, and continue on your adventures.

Speaking of which…

Bus to Cienfuegos

I had returned to the bus depot by 2pm.   My bus didn’t leave for another hour and a half but, honestly, despite doing what I think was an official checkin earlier, I wasn’t taking any chances and wanted to be here an hour early just in case.

By the way, turns out I didn’t have to be and my checkin earlier had me covered.   They weren’t giving my seat away.

As I had eluded to earlier, it’s kind of stressful when you’re doing something for the first time without all the information you should have.

Yes, I had followed the info I had read online about buying the tickets ahead of time and making sure you’re at the terminal an hour early, but I had no idea what would happen from there.

The digital display of the different buses didn’t show anything like “arriving or delayed” or even what stand number the bus would be boarding from.

As for asking that information, yeah, that was hard too.

The lady at the front just told me to go to the Viazul waiting room but that was it.

Do I wait there until 3:25 and then go to board my bus?   Where do I go to board it?

So many questions…

I finally just started asking (through my Google Translate) people around me who were also waiting.

It didn’t help that most people there were waiting for a different bus leaving just 5 minutes after mine so I wasn’t feeling so confident I was in the right place.

Finally, I found a couple going on the same bus who were also as lost as I was on what happens next.

At least I wasn’t alone.

At just before 3pm, a man peaked his head in the door and announced something in Spanish.

More than half of the waiting room got up and left to board their bus.

Was this my bus?   Should I go with them?   I had no idea.

Turns out it was for a different bus.

At least someone came to announce the bus departure so my confidence level was going up that someone would eventually announce when it was time to board my bus.

At 3:15 another group of people just randomly got up and headed out the waiting room door.

Did they know something I didn’t know?   Were they boarding my bus?

A sense of relief came over me when a few minutes later they came back in.   I went up to them to ask if they were waiting for my bus and they were indeed which meant there were now more than 10 people waiting here for the same bus.

My confidence grew more and more.

Even as the boarding time of 3:25 came and went, I didn’t lose my confidence.

And then, at 3:40, the guy came in and announced our bus.


The bus itself was pretty comfortable.   The seats were nice which was not what I was expecting and the a/c was on.

This would turn out to be a comfortable 5 1/2 hour ride south to Cienfuegos.

I actually spent the first hour chatting with my seatmate, Mick from the UK, about Cuba and traveling in general.

Then it was time to put on some tunes and just sit back, close my eyes, and enjoy the ride.

Along the way we did a 30 minute pit stop and stopped in a couple other cities before arriving in Cienfuegos at 9pm.

Hola Ceinfuegos!

By now, it was dark out and, unlike the streets in Vinales and Havana, there was nobody out and about.

It was like I had arrived in a ghost town.

I won’t lie – it was a little eerie and a little scary.

The casa I was staying at was only a 15 minute walk away and my casa host was waiting for me outside on the sidewalk.

After a quick checkin, I popped back out to grab a late night dinner at 10pm.

The restaurant I was going to was just a block away but it closed at 10:30 so time was of the essense.

Sadly, I was one of those customers, asking if they were still serving food right before they closed.

Anyway, there was a nice little band playing music and I sat on the patio enjoying my garlic chicken with rice.

Total bill, by the way was 1680 pesos (about $7) which just further enforces just how much I got ripped off earlier today.

Oh well, overall, it was a pretty decent day considering how long I had to travel to get here.

I’ll be in Cienfuegos for just 2 days before heading to Trinidad the day after tomorrow.

It’s the last week of Cuba Trip 2024 but there’s still do much more out there…

Cuba Trip 2024, Trip Journal, Vinales, Havana, Cienfuegos, Cuba
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  • joann pfeifer says:

    Being an American who has had many trips to Cuba, i was so impressed, and thoroughly enjoyed your blog.. yours was one of my favorite blogs i have read, really good info, pictures, and you can tell you did alot of good reserach Of cousre i would of suggested you be sure to bring a first aid kit, and mosquito spray .lol.. I posted it on the Cuba forum trip advsior, i thought it was so good ! Glad you were able to go with the flow, and enjoyed Cuba ! joanna

    • Todd Slater says:

      Thanks for those kind words.

      I’ve always told people that my blog was not a typical “here’s all the info you need about x, y, and z” and more of a trip journal, literally a diary of how my days were and what I did.

      I’m hoping people who read it get inspired to go backpacking and see all the world has to offer them and for them to get a glimpse into what it’s like to be a solo traveler with both the ups and the downs that come with it.

      And, yes, definately first aid kit and mosquito sprays should have been no-brainers lol

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